Sega’s 90s dominance was quite the time to be alive, wasn’t it?
The Japanese gaming juggernaut took the fight straight to Nintendo with the Sega Genesis during the 16-bit era. And once the 32-bit generation kicked in, Sega kept the ball rolling with the Saturn. Unfortunately, Sega’s reign of dominance came to a disappointing end due to a series of terrible decisions made by the powers that be from the Japanese arm of the company.
Even though the Saturn had its fair share of issues that hampered its forward progress, it still put forth a line of games that are still worth their weight in gold. The Saturn played host to a number of amazing fighters, arcade racers, JRPGs, etc. We’re here to honor 25 of the very best and make sure all you young ‘uns out there know how dope the Saturn software library truly is. While it failed to leave a major mark on the world of gaming at the time, we still got love for the Sega Saturn.
The original Virtua Fighter wowed everyone with its focus on 3D visuals and a realistic approach to combat. Once the sequel hit the scene, the series reached another high and placed the series among the very best fighters on the market. Virtua Fighter 2’s cleaner visuals are a vast improvement over its predecessor’s blocky renditions of the roster, plus the gameplay is strengthened for the better. Furiously exchanging punches and kicks on Sarah and Shun-Di’s striking stages is still a joy to this very day.
Daytona USA is one of those classic arcade racers that has universal appeal. Racing around its busy tracks is a blast, the visuals still shine, and the soundtrack is simply amazing. The Hornet stock car is iconic thanks to the amazing 3D racer that gave it life. Drifting and power sliding around Dinosaur Canyon are still worth doing if you consider yourself an avid arcade racing fan. Shout out to composer Takenobu Mitsuyoshi for lending his vocal talents to Daytona USA’s super catchy OST.
The first Panzer Dragoon is definitely an enjoyable experience in its own right. But its sequel upends it in several ways. Panzer Dragoon II Zwei gives players a whole lot more to enjoy thanks to the presence of alternate routes throughout the story. And based on how you play, your dragon evolves along the way. Those two factors add a ton of replay value to the game, which makes it worth returning to or playing for the very first time. The on-rails blasting action remains intact here, so there’s plenty of fun to be had from this high-octane shooter.
Astal looks like a gorgeous piece of art that belongs in a museum. And whenever it’s in motion, you’ll quickly find yourself and everyone around you complimenting everything happening on screen. The simple act of punching, grabbing, and blowing out powerful gusts of air ends up being a lot more fun than you’ll think coming in. And the special co-op mode that lets you play as Astal’s helpful bird also ends up being entertaining in its own right. Astal is certainly a diamond in the rough that you should check out if your Sega Saturn nostalgia runs high.
It’s still hard to fathom just what the main goal is within NiGHTS Into Dreams’ awe-inspiring stages. Even still, the main gameplay hook still offers an engrossing experience like no other. Gliding through the air as Nights endeared itself to the child wonder that existed within all the young players that took a chance on it. The game’s highly endearing soundtrack, amusing boss fights, and joyful atmosphere all combine to present it as an unforgettable journey worth taking. Side note – NiGHTS Into Dreams’ stage completion theme is chicken soup for the soul.
Fighting Vipers may have implemented an approach to combat that’s similar to Virtua Fighter’s, but it takes things in a different direction in other areas. This fighter showcased a roster full of cool characters that sport some sweet armor that can actually come apart after extensive damage is done to them. It always feels good when you manage to send your opponent flying through the arena barrier with a well-placed strike. Fighting Vipers is pretty much Virtua Fighter with a much harder edge, a more rocking soundtrack, and super climactic match enders.
This pick on our list is one of the more underrated fighting game crossovers. Fighters Megamix not only features everyone from Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, but it also fills out its roster with outlandish fighters from other Sega IPs. Minds were blown back then once players unlocked the Daytona USA Hornet car, Janet from Virtua Cop 2, and even the AM2 palm tree. Fighters Megamix’s gameplay still holds up, plus it gives you plenty to do thanks to a full single-player mode suite. Here’s hoping this classic 3D fighter ends up as an arcade bonus in a future Yakuza game.
The jump from Panzer Dragoon to its sequel can also be said about the evolution of the first Virtua Cop to the second one. Virtua Cop retained everything the first game did while adding in different routes to embark on, which added more replay value to the entire experience. Rage and Smarty make their welcome return as the gun-toting saviors from the first game. But the addition of Janet truly makes this sequel that much more memorable. Virtua Cop 2 is a light gun gem that’s still worth its weight in gold.
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei perfected the on-rails shooting bits the franchise is known for. But Panzer Dragoon Saga upended the entire franchise and ended up producing a worthwhile deviation from the norm. This wonderful (and crazy expensive) RPG transports you back into the world of flying dragons and other otherworldly threats. The turn-based battle encounters offered more strategy and challenge than your average RPG at the time. Plus the game’s inspired locales and gorgeous FMV sequences push it to legendary status when mentioned alongside other notable 90s RPGs.
If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a Sega Saturn multitap peripheral back in the day, then you were able to get your money’s worth out of this multiplayer classic. Saturn Bomberman is one of the most refined renditions of the series – it features a combination of attractive 2D visuals, a worthwhile story mode, and the amazing multiplayer bombing competitions that fans have come to adore. Everybody and their grandmother can still enjoy every minute of the fast-paced, “explosive” madness Saturn Bomberman has to offer.
Guardian Heroes is one of the most ambitious beat ‘em up’s the genre has ever seen. That’s because it features a dizzying array of playable characters to master, a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” style of progression, and an RPG leveling system. The anime art style still makes this brawler a visual delight, plus it’s easy to get caught playing this one for hours thanks to its infinitely entertaining gameplay. Guardian Heroes is pretty much a precursor to what we got with 2013’s Dragon’s Crown.
Remember when Sega used to make some bangin’ Japanese-flavored strategy RPGs? Those were the ways, weren’t they? The Shining Force sub-series sits near the top of the list when it comes to the best SRPG games from Sega. Once the series migrated over from the Sega Genesis, it ended up producing its finest entry to date. Shining Force III retains the refined battle mechanics from past entries and makes sure to make them look their best. The 3D polygonal battle sequences are a welcome upgrade from the series’ former 2D presentation and the gameplay still holds up.
Daytona USA isn’t the only racing gem that the Sega Saturn houses. Sega Rally Championship is another go-to arcade racer that takes all the on-road action to the dirt. This game was quite the looker back in the day as it let you drive through gorgeous global locales and shred dirt in an effort to get first place. And just like Daytona USA, the tunes that play in the background for Sega Rally Championship are super catchy and are capable of putting you in a good mood while you regularly break the speed limit.
You can’t go wrong with a disc that compiles three quality Street Fighter games. The Street Fighter Collection that dropped in ‘97 features the OG version of Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Turbo, and Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold. The first two games are cool and all, but that third game is really worth the price of admission. Street Fighter Alpha 2 is great on its own, but the addition of Cammy threw in an extra little bonus for Street Fighter’s biggest fans.
The fact that we never got a Streets of Rage on the Sega Saturn is criminal. But at least we got a worthwhile beat ‘em up in the form of Die Hard Arcade. Playing as John McClane while your homie stepped into the role of Kris Thompsen made way for a game filled with some sick battles that were filled with special double-team maneuvers. You gotta give this game its props for being one of the first titles to introduce quick time events (QTE’s), by the way. The abundance of melee weapons and guns you can wield in this wild brawler makes Die Hard Arcade a must-have for every Saturn owner that loves a chaotic good time.
You rarely if ever see a whole lot of games dedicated to firefighting. When Sonic Team decided to step into that often ignored genre, it came away with a surprisingly fun and wholly unique IP. Burning Rangers is all about controlling an elite group of futuristic firefighters and venturing through burning locales in search of victims to save. Using a jetpack to move swiftly through said locales is part of the fun, plus the 3D anime art style gives the game its own identity. Burning Rangers is one of those one-off Sega IPs that could be done even better if a new entry came out today.
Shoot ‘em ups test every game’s quick thinking skills and mastery of careful maneuvering. The Sega Saturn had its fair share of air combat shooters that are filled with the sort of bullet hell traps that will make you sweat profusely. One of the best ones is Radiant Silvergun, which is a classic shoot ‘em up that does things differently by letting you down your foes with a rotating sword. The game’s mix of 2D and 3D visuals put it above many of its shoot ‘em up contemporaries, too. Radiant Silvergun is a masterclass in high-quality shoot ‘em up gameplay mechanics.
Capcom reigned as the king of fighting games during their 90s heyday. Once they began crafting Marvel Comics-themed fighters, they truly hit another milestone in their storied fighting game career. The first of those monumental efforts is X-Men: Children of the Atom, a quality 2D fighter that sports some of the best-looking onscreen interpretations of Marvel’s mutant contingent. There’s still a lot of fun to be had as you hop into epic clashes between Professor Xavier and Magneto’s opposing mutant stables. Plus the game’s character select theme is still quite catchy.
The next game in Capcom’s line of crossover fighters is just as good as the aforementioned one on this list. Marvel Super Heroes did things a bit differently by showing love to the entirety of the comic book juggernauts’ line of iconic heroes. The addition of Infinity Gems adds a cool little wrinkle to the gameplay – putting in work with Spider-Man with some sick combos, then using the Power Gem to create a copy of himself is just one example of the wild antics you can get up to in this fighter. Plus having to deal with Dr. Doom and Thanos in the game’s biggest fights spoke to the epicness Marvel Super Heroes entails.
Another Sega Saturn tactical RPG classic worth mentioning is none other than Working Designs’ Dragon Force. The game’s grand tale is wholly engrossing, the choice to take on the role of one of eight rulers provides plenty of replayability, and the battles that feature hundreds of soldiers clashing on-screen simultaneously bless it with one of its strongest attributes. Dragon Force’s addictive qualities come through as you steadily build your unstoppable army and make quick decisions in the heat of war.
This may be hard to believe for some of you reading this, but there was a period in time when Duke Nukem was the talk of the town. The game that pushed him to gaming superstardom is Duke Nukem 3D. The great Duke embarked on an alien-busting FPS in this memorable series entry and sounded so good while doing it. Blasting aliens and mutated humans while listening to Duke’s funny quips and taking in all the pop culture references still holds up.
That opening intro scene of Ryu and Cyclops shaking hands for the very first time will live on forever in the memories of 90s arcade devotees. Getting this dream fighter on consoles was a tough task for the less dedicated. But for those that went out of their way to spend some import dollars, they got treated to the best home port of the game. X-Men vs. Street Fighter brought together the very best of both rosters and placed them in one of the most hype 2D fighters of all time. Smashing Apocalypse with Akuma and Wolverine takes you back, doesn’t it?
Capcom raised the stakes on its Marvel Comics vs. World Warriors crossover games once again when it introduced Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. This updated version of X-Men vs. Street Fighter adds a few recognizable faces to the roster, such as Omega Red, Dan, and Sakura. The stages featured some new changes that resulted in some cool background cameos, which is a plus. Any fighting game that has Cyber Akuma as its final boss is amazing in our eyes.
The revolutionary survival horror franchise that’s still kicking to this very day got its start back in 1996. It appeared on a wide swath of consoles and that includes the Sega Saturn. The mansion horrors tied to the evil machinations of Umbrella made their debut here as players got to confront them all as either Jill or Chris. The first-ever Resident Evil is still capable of making you jump out of your seat – when those dogs come crashing through the hallway window, you can’t help but freak out every time.
You probably didn’t know Street Fighter Alpha 3 released on the Sega Saturn, huh? This version of Capcom’s highly lauded 2D fighter only came out in Japan, so that’s why you most likely didn’t have a clue. Just like the other versions that came out in the States, Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the Saturn is an infinitely replayable fighting game. The visuals got even better, the roster got filled with several new & returning faces, and the “isms” mechanic allowed for cool customizable battle mechanics.
Fighting robots is the sort of concept that will never grow old. Back in the day, Sega hopped into the sub-genre to produce an arena fighter that still holds up. Once you wrap your head around the game’s twin-stick control scheme and get the lay of the land, you’ll find yourself zipping all around your robotic rivals in no time at all. Virtual On: Cyber Troopers is a high-octane fighting game experience that features a roster full of the coolest looking bots in all of gaming.