Trilogies on the Sega Genesis

To see three games form the same franchise released on a single console is now rare. It happened more frequently in the days of cartridge consoles, and was a sign of success for both the system and the franchise. Sequels to popular games are common, as are franchises that span more than one generation, but three games subsequently released on the same console was a cool thing. I'd like to recount the trilogies that were released for the Sega Genesis. Some franchises went beyond three games, and there are spin offs as well, but I'll try to keep to the main line of each franchise. There may even be more. 

Double Dragon

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Double Dragon III: The Rosetta Stone

Double Dragon IV: The Shadow Falls

This is a tale of disappointment on several levels. The arcade original was a landmark brawler, and it was heavily anticipated when announced for the NES. The game was understandably stripped down for the 8 bit processor, and restructured to work within the limited confines. It was a good game, but two player co-op was removed. When I heard that this was released for the Genesis, I thought it must surely be just like the arcade. Well, it is but it isn't. The two player co-op is there, the graphics are there, but the gameplay is kinda broken. The enemy speed is laughably fast and erratic. This is such a shame, a wasted opportunity. Double Dragon II the Revenge was also an excellent arcade game, and was also released to the NES to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, it was only released in Japan and not released here in America for some unknown reason. When the series did return to the Genesis for the exclusive Double Dragon III and Double Dragon V (what happened to IV?), the gameplay appears to be programmed by people who have no concept of what made the first two games great. This sort of thing is common, when a series remains with a certain publisher but the talent responsible for the series' name has moved on. A tragic tale of botched opportunities.

Golden Axe 

Golden Axe II

Golden Axe III

This is an example of an homegrown Sega arcade hit that was proof that the Genesis could bring arcade action home. It was one of the first medieval themed brawlers, which was refreshing in an age of games with urban themes. There are three selectable players to choose from: the standard warrior, the axe-wielding elf, and the Amazon. Each has different strength and weaknesses, and varying skill with magic. The magic was one of the highlights of the game, the other being two player co-op. Even though is may seem rudimentary when compared to the brawlers that appeared later in the system's lifespan, this is still a top ten Genesis game for me. Golden Axe II was the console exclusive sequel, which was a fine game in its own right, but paled in comparison to the impression that the first game had. Golden Axe III was released in Japan only, which was a shame, as it was in some ways the deepest of the three game. GA3 had branching paths, different endings, a more robust albeit difficult move set, and new playable characters. The magic was a disappointment compared to the first two games, but it definitely should have been released domestically. It is playable now on a plethora of Sega game compilations and online services. 

James Pond: Underwater Agent

Jame Pond II: Codename Robocod

James Pond III: Operation Starfish

A cartoony platformer where you control a fish, the first game garnered much praise for its charm. Loosely tied to a spy theme ("Pond", as in "Bond"), your missions vary and the cuteness is eventually besmirched by its difficulty. EA invested more into the sequel: Codename: Robocod. Eschewing the spy motif, James Pond now sports a metallic appearance, with the ability to extend his torso to reach high platforms. This new mechanic keeps the gameplay fresh. The third game drops the robotic theme and introduces a bevy of gadgets that can be used such as spring boots, bombs, a fruit gun, jetpack, and so on. The series not too popular on the Genesis, but it was also released for various computers, and so that explains the justification for continuing the series.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park Rampage Edition

Jurassic Park The Lost World

Movie licensed games will always exist, but back then they were generally tied to a specific movie. Jurassic Park games are loosely based on the movies, taking the action approach whenever possible to maximize the excitement of the dinosaurs. The first two games: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition are both standard run'n gun platform games with not much innovation. The third game, The Lost World, stretches the capabilities of the Genesis to new heights with impressive sprite scaling and psuedo 3D effects. It is very much a poster child of games that took advantage of the collective knowledge on how to program for a system by end of its lifespan. 

Micro Machines

Micro Machines 2

Micro Machines 96

Micro Machines Military

An Unlicensed series by the small toy car franchise, Micro Machines is a decent overhead racing game franchise, evoking RC Pro AM, but maybe not as tight nor engaging. The game comes in an odd, arch-shaped cartridge. Playing the game alone is OK, but the real essence of the game comes through multiplayer. The competitive racing is compelling, the tracks fun and inventive, and the control is serviceable. There were four games in the series, although I think that only the first was released in North America, and the later three were not brought over. The later games came on cartridges that had two additional controller ports to allow four player simultaneous racing. 

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat II

Mortal Kombat 3

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

The notorious frame-capture fighting series that was a prime weapon in the 16-bit console wars, Mortal Kombat's blood code on the Genesis steered many kids towards the blast processing side of the aisle. There were four games released for the Genesis, each one adding more and more characters and features. There's not too much to say that hasn't already been said.

Phantasy Star II

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium

The first Phantasy Star game on the Master System was a tour de force, and is still overlooked as a cornerstone of role playing game influences. The series continued on the Genesis and had a very strong showing. PS2 was a mammoth adventure, the first RPG that I ever played. It came with a thick hint book and a map, without which I would have been lost for sure. The story blew me away, bringing in mature existential themes and solid character development. The graphics were sharp and music was catchy. I loved everything about it. By the time the third and fourth game arrived I had stepped away from gaming so my experience with them is limited, but I await the day to start those adventures as I did as a fifteen year old with PS2.

Road Rash

Road Rash II

Road Rash 3

Electronic Arts was leading the charge in the early days of the Genesis, with more releases than any other third party developer/publisher. Road Rash is a gritty, innovative motorcycle racer where you set upon street racing campaigns, earning cash and upgrading your bike all the while. The kicker is that you can attack other racers, literally knocking them off their bikes. This adds an interesting dynamic as they develop a memory, and interactions change based on how you have interacted with the other racers, who ride the same circuit that you do. The gameplay is smooth even though the frame rate is understandably choppy, but you do feel the sense of speed, and environmental hazards play a large role in the races. The sequels offer up more of the same.

Shining in the Darkness

Shining Force

Shining Force II

I don't have any experience with these games, another series for me to explore when I retire.

The Revenge of Shinobi

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Shinobi III: Revenge of the Ninja Master

This series is perhaps my favorite on the console. I first played the Revenge of Shinobi in 1989 at my friends house the summer before eight grade. I was blown away by everything about it: the realistic graphics (compared to the NES), the amazing soundtrack, the ninja magic, it was all revolutionary. The game is filled with cameos from Hollywood lore, such as Rambo, Spider-Man, Batman, the Terminator, and Godzilla. These would be altered in later revisions. Shadow Dancer, while not a direct sequel, was a faster paced game with arcade like action. Player movement is faster, shiruken are faster, there is no life bar, but bumping into enemies does not cause damage. You now have a dog companion, who follows you around and helps to immobile enemies so you can take them out.  The music is great, although it does not compare to ROS. This game is very underrated, perhaps because it plays differently than the other games in the franchise. It just might be my favorite of the bunch. Shinobi III picked up after ROS, and tweaked it for a smoother control, adding feature like running, air attacks, hanging and climbing. The graphical detail is increased, This game seems to be the fan favorite, and I get it. All the games are qo good, they are the quintessential Genesis games.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 + Sonic and Knuckles

Often referred to as the game the boosted the Genesis into the mainstream, Sonic needs no introduction. President of Sega of America, Tom Kalinske was clairvoyant in deciding to replace the pack in game of Altered Beast with Sonic in the summer of 1991. Along with the growing library teen oriented games, the aggressive ad campaign, and Electronic Arts sports games, the Genesis found its legs and took off. The game itself was a spectacle to behold; no other game imbued the same sense of speed as Sonic the Hedgehog. This visual of Sonic racing through the loops of Green Hill Zone are forever etched in commercials comparing the Genesis to the newer Super Nintendo. The bright and colorful graphics, the poppy music, and fast gameplay made Sonic a watershed game. The console wars were legit. The sequels offered more of the fast gameplay, introduced new characters, and in general improved upon the formula. Interestingly, Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles were intended to be one huge game, but deadlines were not met, and a game had to be produced for the holiday season, so the decision was made to split the game into two, and release the first half as Sonic 3, the second as Sonic and Knuckles. This is why Knuckles has "lock-on" technology, allowing for both carts to be connected and played as one. 

Streets of Rage

Strees of Rage 2

Streets of Rage 3

The beat' em up genre of games was arguably at its most popular in the early 1990's. Arcades were fraught with them, people couldn't get enough of them. Sega realized this, and Streets of Rage was released. Wisely prioritizing 2 player co-op, the game was a smash. Satisfying action and collision detection, excellent graphics, a fantastic soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro (known for the Revenge of Shinobi soundtrack), and an over the top special attack that calls for a police aerial bombardment, the game was another statement game from Sega. Streets of Rage 2 improved on everything without changing the premise. The number of playable characters increased from 3 to 4. The gameplay has been amped up, with each player have a more robust move set. Koshiro pulls off the impossible by topping his previous soundtrack effort. This is the game that is generally regarded as the best beat 'em up of the 16-bit generation, and deservedly so. Streets of Rage 3, while a great game in its own right, takes a bit of a step back. The gameplay is good, but the enemies are tougher than ever, so the challenge is greater. There are some graphical changes made to the domestic release, such as censoring certain character sprites, and changing the color of Axel's outfit to yellow and black. While noticeable, this is not a big deal. The music has taken a severe experimental turn, and comes off as unhinged and more noise than composition. I prefer to play the import version (Bare Knuckle III) for the "normal" level of difficulty and restored character sprites. Even though the third entry is weaker, this trilogy is synonymous with the heyday of the Genesis.

Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf

Jungle Strike

Urban Strike

Electronic Arts scored a massive hit with Desert Strike. It is a cross between a shoot 'em up and a strategy game. Displayed in an isometric view, you pilot an apache helicopter on various missions. This game is not played like a typical shooter, there is limited speed, ammunition, and armor. Movements and attacks need to be measured and deliberate, or you will end up a smoking wreck. The sequel, Jungle Strike takes place in South America, focusing on the war on drugs. The third game, Urban Strike, takes place on US soil, as you battle domestic terrorism. 

Thunder Force II

Thunder Force III

Thunder Force IV

Just as Streets of Rage is the definitive beat 'em up series on the Genesis, the Thunder Force series is shooter equivalent. TFII was a launch title, and possible the of the launch lineup. TFIII is my favorite. The amazing graphics (see Gorgon the flame level), the power ups, and the music are all S-tier. The game requires a mix of reflexes and memorization, and can feel a bit easy to those who have played it over and over, but I don't consider that a bad thing. TFIV was renamed "Lightening Force" when it was released domestically for some reason, but the game is identical. This game boots up to a metal anthem the makes the capacitors of the Genesis pop with vibrancy. The visuals get yet another boost, with multiple scrolling background layers, and enemy fire originating from the background and seemingly merging with the foreground. Halfway through the game your ship gets fitted with the impressive Thunder Sword weapon that has limited range but is devastatingly powerful. It would have been nice to have more than just one game on the recently released Genesis mini, especially since Sega owns the rights. Maybe someday a collection will be released.

Valis II

Syd of Valis

Valis III

The school girl acton platformer genre was more common in Japan, but third party publisher Renovation decided to port over Valis to the states with little fanfare. I don't suppose it sold very well, since copies seem to be rare. It's a decent game, if not a little underwhelming. The second game released here was Syd of Valis, which was Valis II, but with super deformed character sprites. Valis III is more like a proper sequel, and added is the ability to play as three different characters. 

I don't think there is another system with more trilogies than the Genesis, but I could be wrong. If you know of any that I missed let me know!

Are Physical Game Releases Worth Buying Today?

With internet-capable consoles appearing in the seventh generation, purchasing games digitally online was realized, allowing for the convenience of buying and playing a game without leaving the house. Games were still produced in physical form, but availability in a store varied. The Wii storefront was the first offer licensed games in digital form. This was novel, and possibly contributed to the resurgent interest in retro gaming. All of the sudden, people had access to games that were long forgotten, at reasonable prices. While hardcore retro gamers were alway keen on the classics, casual players on modern consoles were drawn towards the nostalgia drug, increasing interest.

With advances in console technology, the level of production, complexity, and size of game files increased exponentially. This led to many physical games being released incomplete, with updates required before playing for the first time. This practice is now commonplace, and often expected. Some games have update files much larger than the initial game that was shipped, like Red Dead Redemption 2 on PS4. Take Cyperpunk as an example. The game is allegedly unplayable without the updates.

How long will modern games continue to be supported?

This begs the question, can a new game even be played today without the initial update? If you have to update up to 50% of a game in order to play, is it worth buying the physical copy of the game? It almost seems as if the games are mere license holders in order to download the game. In some cases, they literally are, as on the game box there may be a statment mentioning that no physical game is included, only a download code. The argument that was held for a long time was, if a server gets shut down, you can still play the game if you own a copy. Is this even true anymore? Let's say your PS4 or Switch dies. You have a copy of a game, but it required a large update. You buy a replacement console, and try to play that game, but the server is no longer active. Can you really play the game as intended? Maybe the game will start up, but might it be missing the second half of the game? Old game cartridges will always play all the way through, no internet connection required. The same cannot be said for modern games. 

Additionally, an interesting phenomenon is currently underway with gamers applying a collectors' mindset. People are buying new games and keeping them sealed, hoping the value will increase over time. This occurs with sealed retro games, why would it not here? The difference is that back in the 1980's and 90's, if a game was left sealed it was due to circumstance, not intent. A game may not have sold well, and thus had become overstock, for example. Kids back then did not buy two copies of a game; one to play and one to keep sealed. Games were relatively expensive then compared to today's prices, and the games were always opened and played.  There was no investor speculating. 

We have been seeing industry move at a glacial pace towards eliminating physical media. Then Microsoft initially released the XBox One not allowing for game sharing. The public backlash forced Microsoft to renege. Sony used that as a dig towards their direct competitor, by releasing a commercial that exemplified how game sharing could happen on PS4. Meanwhile, the online stores for all consoles continue to grow. In what could be considered the 9th generation of consoles, the PS5 and XBox series X both released digital-only and disc-capable consoles. This could signify the inevitable end of the collectable game. 

Some game collections include a download code as not all games are on the physical game

For those digital-only consoles, to what extent will the continue to be supported after the end of their natural life expectancy? It is not a guaranteed that all the games will be transferable to the next generation console. Even if you accept this, and try to keep the console alive, the failure rate of modern systems is higher than the legacy cartridge-based consoles of yesteryear. Will simply backing the games up on a hard drive be a sufficient safeguard to ensure that you will be able to play these games indefinitely?

I know the general sentiment of wanting physical copies of games is still strong. Companies like Limited Run Games, Strictly Limited Games, Ultra Rare Games, and others capitalize on this for their business model. I will commend those companies for ensuring that the game is complete with no more updates before pressing physical copies. Those copies will indeed be future-proofed, and that is important. But for the large, triple-A releases with lots of expectations and fanfare, who knows how that will be handled. 

This is an interesting topic to bring up as we are now at a watershed moment in video gaming. How companies handle patches and updates for games beyond the scope of their life will be interesting to watch. For me personally, I have the deepest attachment to the older games, which were shipped complete and have no reliance on downloads. While I do primarily buy physical copies of games for the current consoles, I am questioning that practice. How about you? Do you stick with collecting physical copies of games? Do you buy digital copies only? What are your thoughts on this shifting landscape of game media?