The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive launched with six games in the US. While they were all visually impressive for the time, they weren’t as good as the Nintendo games that were available on the NES. The six games, Altered Beast, Space Harrier II, Thunder Force II, Super Thunder Blade, Last Battle, and Tommy Lasorda Baseball showed off what the system could do. Altered Beast was the pack-in game for the system and did a decent job of demonstrating the advantages of the Genesis over the NES. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I’m not sure if any of the other launch titles would have done any better.
Originally released in 1988, Altered Beast proved to be a popular arcade game outside of Japan. This led to Sega’s decision to use the game as the pack-in game for the Genesis. It also showed how they were planning to use their arcade games to build up a library of games before Nintendo could release their next system. These games were designed on different versions of the System 16 arcade board, which was also the basis for the Genesis.
Altered Beast is a two-dimensional side-scrolling beat’em up set in ancient Greece. You play as a Roman Centurion, not sure why you don’t play as a Spartan or someone from another Greek city state, and your goal is to help Zeus defeat an evil wizard. Along the way you collect power ups, which only last for one level, and fight a boss. It’s a short game with only five levels. This is fine for an arcade game, but for a home console release it makes for a very short game. Other arcade beat’em ups would have levels added to them when they were ported over, but this probably hadn’t been thought of at the time. Sega would do this with the release of Golden Axe.
The game play for Altered Beast is simplistic. This isn’t anything new or bad. Most games in the genre have the player punch, kick, and jump or some variation of those actions. However, this game would have been much better if they had included weapons and the isometric angle of Golden Axe, Double Dragon, or other beat’em ups. This would have made the game play much better than what it was. I like Altered Beast, but it just isn’t one of the games I go back to. There are many other beat’em ups, many of them made by Sega, I would rather play than this one.
Space Harrier is a series of third-person rail shooters. They started in the arcades in 1985, and in 1988 Space Harrier II was released on the Genesis. There wasn’t an arcade version of the second game. I think this game does a great job of faking a 3-D game with enemy sprites scaling back and forth on the play field, and the constant scrolling ground. I like to call this a game of lies. You’re not in space, and you’re not playing as a Harrier. You’re just some dude in a red jump suit and a high-powered vacuum cleaner. It is a fun game though!
You don’t have to beat every level of Space Harrier II in order to see what the game has. Like Mega Man, you can pick any level you want to start at. This made the game a bit more fun. Especially if you aren’t very good at games like this, then you can play a few different levels until you get the hang of it. This isn’t a game I would want to play for a long time though. There were better shooters, but none were as visually impressive at the time as Space Harrier II.
Thunder Force is a free roaming shooter made by Technosoft in 1983. The second game, Thunder Force II, was one of the better launch titles for the Genesis. It was also a free roaming shooter which had some side-scrolling levels. The series would move away from free roaming with the third game. Technosoft was known for the Thunder Force series and the Hertzog series. They would go out of business in the early 2000s, and their game library would be bought by Sega.
Thunder Force II is a very fun shooter, and the free roaming style is one I wish other games would have emulated. There are a bunch of different weapons you can collect and alternate between during the game. Your goal is to destroy a series of bases and move on to the next level. The bad guys in the game are the ORN Empire and they have created a new battleship to help them take over the universe, because of course they have. The story really isn’t important in a game like this, and the game play is what carries the day.
Altered Beast, Space Harrier II, and Thunder Force II are the games I like from the launch line up. The other three games aren’t all that great in my opinion. The next three games, Super Thunder Blade, Last Battle, and Tommy Lasorda Baseball aren’t very good. The only reason I don’t like Tommy Lasorda Baseball boils down to me not liking baseball or baseball video games. Also, I just think there are better baseball games out there like the RBI Baseball series and Baseball Stars. I’m not going to get into it much more so let’s move on to Last Battle and Super Thunder Blade.
Thunder Blade was released by Sega in the arcades in 1987. You controlled a helicopter with a joystick. This was a much better way to control yourself in the game. Super Thunder Blade was the follow up and was released a year later for the Genesis. This is probably the worst of the launch titles. I hated the way the controls worked, the one hit deaths were annoying, and I found it annoying to track the enemy projectiles. It tries to play like Space Harrier; however, I feel like Sega did a better job it when you compare it to Super Thunder Blade.
Last Battle is a version of Fist of the North Star. It was heavily changed when Sega brought it to the US. They basically butchered it from a story and a graphics standpoint. The character names were changed or tossed into a blender because they make no sense, what the characters say makes them all sound like the radiation on the planet has melted their brains, and all of the typical Fist of the North Star brutal kills were removed. In the Japanese version the enemies explode when you hit them, and in the US version they just fly off the screen.
The game play is the best thing about the game, even if the exploding enemies have been removes. This is a side-scrolling beat’em up, and I think it plays better than Altered Beast. I don’t like it as much as Altered Beast though. There are alternating paths in Last Battle, granted they lead to the nonsensical dialogue from the characters. It also doesn’t set up who these other people are. You play as Aarzak, which the back of the box tells you how to pronounce, but none of the other characters are set up. So, you meet a bunch of people, who might have been in the anime or the manga. I feel like I should like this game. There is just so much that annoys me about this game.
The six launch titles were okay, and got the Genesis started. Other games would come along and many of them were much better. They showed off the graphical capabilities of the system and brought some arcade games into the home. There just wasn’t a Mario killer in the lineup. Sega also had to deal with issues of getting their product into stores and getting more games into their library. They would eventually do this as we move into the 90s.
Looking back at these launch titles, I think it is fair to say the line up wasn’t great. This is a modern perspective which doesn’t put the games into context. At the time, the late 80s, these games were pretty good. The hard thing, at least for me, is trying either balance these two perspectives or go for one over the other. The more I think about this, I have to say the line up was rather weak when you think about the games on the NES. As more games were released for the system, especially in 1990, the Genesis became much more competitive.