While I actually have a little more childhood nostalgia for my original Nintendo system, the Sega Genesis system I eventually received one Christmas is tied to a lot of fond memories I have of being an early teen, especially memories involving my dad. He got one too so we could play together when my sister and I would go visit him in the summers, and we had a blast. When visiting him recently, we found that old Sega in storage and I played the devil out of it. Here are the three games that—even after all these years—are still an amazing way to kill a rainy afternoon.
Side note: I hated the game Battletoads. Every time I mention Sega someone brings up how much they loved Battletoads, but it always felt like a third-rate knockoff of the Ninja Turtles to me. Meh. Pass.
#3: Golden Axe
I used to be in a bowling league as a young teen (clearly I was a super-cool and popular kid) and the bowling alley had a Golden Axe console, and I obsessed over playing it every chance I had. The game's beauty is in its simplicity: You pick one of three characters (the dwarf, the barbarian, or the amazon) and then you just chop away at your enemies until you win or die. It’s a basic sword-and-sorcery beat-‘em-up game where you move from village to village battling an assortment of soldiers and creatures and giants until you face off with Death Adder, who wields the powerful “golden axe”. Each character gets magical lightning, earthquake, or fire powers to use in battle as well. It’s a surprisingly short game, and there’s not a lot of variation in gameplay. It got to the point where I could beat it in one sitting and then I’d start over and use a different character and do it again. But it’s highly amusing in short bursts, and it has stood the test of time. In fact, I kinda want to go play it right now. I’ll be right back…
#2: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition
OK, next up is NBA Jam: Tournament Edition! My father and I played NBA Jam all the time in arcades (remember those?) and we spent a full summer back in ’92 trying to beat it and only succeeded on my last night in town before I had to fly back home. We had the original on Sega too, but then came the Tournament Edition, which included more players and hidden features. Whether alone or with my dad, I spent more hours playing this than perhaps any other game in my life. Which is weird because, again, the gameplay is fairly simple and consistent. And entirely unfair. The computer is designed to be a total asshole, and will do anything it can to try to bury you in the fourth quarter no matter how far ahead you might be. That made beating the machine incredibly satisfying. Looking back, some of the stats didn’t really align well with certain players. For example, Alonzo Mourning had a 5 out of 10 for his three-point percentage, when he really didn’t take many three-point shots in real life, and when he did he didn’t often hit them. And even with that 5/10 rating, I’ve played games where he was on fire from three all game long. Insanity. Still, the crazy dunks, the funny call-outs (“Is it the shoes?!”), and the nostalgia all make it a great game to own, even in 2015.
#1 Pirates! Gold
Ahoy, its’ Pirates! Gold. The best game about pirates ever created. And it’s one of my favorite RPGs ever, with a surprising amount of possible endings. It’s the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean, and you can choose to align yourself with either the Spanish, English, French, or Dutch (or multiple nations, once you’re in-game) across a variety of decades and periods, and then you are allowed to select certain skills such as fencing, gunnery, medicine, charm, and more, and each selection, from time period to loyalty to skill, has its own weaknesses and strengths. With a vast map of cities and towns to sail to, you go around sacking and pillaging cities, attacking shipping as well, looking for buried gold, running side-quests for governors of various towns, seeking out family members, trying to track down silver trains and gold fleets, winning over a young lady’s hand in marriage, just a ton of things to do while trying to make a buck with the sword. Even the silly music that goes with it is addictive and gets in my head years later. As a kid this was a dream game, since I was kind of a pirate/history nerd, and I still break this out and spend a few hours now and then to see how I’ll end up. Maybe a pauper this time, or a thief, a simple merchant, a tavern keeper, or maybe an admiral or a wealthy farmer, on and on. How much you accomplish and how many daring feats you perform all add up (or subtract) from what you can possibly retire as. It’s a wonderful game, with intricacies at every corner. This is hands down my favorite Sega game.