Console Challenge

Console Challenge Day 6: Top 7 best Sega Master System games!

Now, there are no limits.
-Master System slogan



It’s Day 6 and time is absolutely flying by!

Thus far we’ve encountered Commodore, Atari, and Nintendo but today sees Sega make their appearance in our Console Challenge. To usher in the units of the Ages, I’m proud to feature a talented creator and retro gamer, and one of the nicest people you could ever meet: Hungry Goriya. Yeah, that’s a super slick Zelda reference, kids.

You can find Hungry Goriya just about anywhere where gaming is the word: in caves you can only discover with bombs, on YouTube, on Twitch, and of course here on WordPress at their self-titled blog of blogs. Check Goriya’s content out and give them a follow! Below you’ll find HG’s top 7 best Master System picks. Let us know what your choices for top games would be in the comments below!

-The Well-Red Mage


The Sega Master System is an 8-bit gaming console that was released in various regions between 1985 and 1989. Though the Master System went very much unnoticed in North America during those early years, many gamers that fell in love with its rival, the Nintendo Entertainment System, are just now catching onto the Master System’s impressive game library. Below are seven games that I would personally consider some of the best and most unique on the system.


Snail Maze (Karoshi Corporation, 2004) (4).png

#7. Snail Maze

Snail Maze is a game built right into the console that never saw a physical release on cartridge or card. You play as a snail that must maneuver through the maze levels, but for something with such a simple premise, the game is quite challenging. With each new level comes a longer trek with less time allotted, making later levels harder to get through. Failing to complete a level puts you right back to the beginning. Thankfully any frustrations will be washed away with the game’s music: a repeating, upbeat song that’ll no doubt become embedded in your brain-folds for hours after you put down the controller.



#6. Penguin Land

Penguin Land can be summarized as Get Your Egg to the End of the Level: The Game. You play as a penguin that is tasked with shuffling an egg down through many platforms and obstacles without cracking it or allowing it to be lunch for polar bears. As the levels progress, the game becomes quite difficult and involves a lot of trial and error to ensure your egg’s safe passage. There is substantial replay value since it’s unlikely you’ll ever play any stage the same way twice. Like many games starring penguins, wholesome fun and adorable graphics are plentiful.




#5. Dragon Crystal

Dragon Crystal is a rogue-like adventure that packs in the randomness that lovers of the genre are likely to revel in. You play as a child who wanders into an antique shop and gets drawn into a magical world. To escape, you must find the dragon crystal, which is inconveniently placed 30 floors below where you begin your quest. Managing victory in Dragon Crystal is possible with a bit of strategy and luck since each playthrough is completely randomized. Items such as scrolls, rods and rings can help you or make your game unbeatable, and you will never know their effects until you try them out. Though it can be frustrating at times, the gameplay is highly addictive. Once you start, you won’t want to stop until you free yourself from the game’s fantasy world.




#4. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

Alex Kidd games were numerous on the Master System, but one of the best was Alex Kidd in Shinobi World. The brightly coloured stages are craftily designed with plenty of secrets to find. Compared to many clunky action platformers of the day, the game’s controls feel great and fluid. Alex has a mixed arsenal of offensive moves to make each stage’s endeavour feel different, like turning into a chaotic tornado or morphing into a fireball after swinging around posts or ropes to plough through enemies. There is also a lot of replay value to keep people hooked after a first playthrough. Completing individual stages or rounds without taking damage or losing a life will grant players a point bonus, great goals for those that like the challenge of a perfect run. All of this fun is set to remixes of classic Shinobi tunes, along with some Japan-inspired music to establish each stage’s unique ambience.



#3. Master of Darkness

Master of Darkness is another take on the “kill Dracula, save the world” horror game phase that overtook video gaming in the late 80s and early 90s, but it stands apart from other games like it for a few reasons. The game taps into a level of grittiness and edginess that is unmatched by other 8-bit titles with similar themes. Enemies are not just the usual fare of zombies or forest creatures gone bad. They can be possessed inanimate objects that come to life to bludgeon you to death or frightening apparitions that fly at you from all angles. The levels are absolutely gorgeous with the different areas looking leaps ahead of what would normally be found on a system from this era, and a fully fleshed out story brings a thread of continuity throughout the stages. The game’s tension is maintained as the game progresses not just through its visuals, but with gradually increasing difficulty and a fitting horror-based soundtrack.



#2. SpellCaster

SpellCaster is a difficult game to classify because it embodies so many different genres all at once. It manages to be an action platformer with an occasional point-and-click interface, but also has RPG elements. You play the role of Kain, a SpellCaster who has been called upon to save old Japan from evil forces that are destroying his people. With a gripping story and lots of cryptic undertones in its imagery, players are in for a wild ride through jungles, forests, pyramids, the ocean, and many other locations that each poses their own individual trials. Along with tricky platforming portions, progression through the game requires puzzle solving and quick thinking using Kain’s spells and special abilities. Once the story picks up, this is a game you won’t want to put down.



#1. Phantasy Star

Phantasy Star is one of a few really great turn-based RPGs for the Master System. The best thing about this game is its story and characters. Though it doesn’t travel too far off of the Save the World path, players don’t start the game off as a chosen saviour to conquer evil. Instead, you play as Alis, a regular person seeking to avenge the death of a family member who finds herself in all sorts of trouble not too soon after taking up the cause. The world of Phantasy Star opens up slowly and presents unique challenges as you progress through the different landscapes.  Much of the challenge comes from scouring caves and labyrinths for party members, useful items or top-notch equipment that will test your map-making skills, and you literally have no idea what will be around each corner. Phantasy Star’s music is beautifully crafted and does a great job of keeping your motivation high even in the darkest of places. Phantasy Star is a foundational game that was first to mix science fiction into role-playing games and consequently launched a well-loved game series that is near and dear to many.



Honourable Mentions

There are so many great games for the Master System that I just couldn’t bear to leave some of these unmentioned entirely. Unfortunately many greats I wanted to talk about were mostly improved ports from older systems that were not allowed on the list, but that aside, here are a few other truly awesome games you might consider checking out! Thankfully the Master System is region free between North American NTSC and PAL regions, so you can enjoy that entire library of games.

Psychic World
Ys: The Vanished Omens
Miracle Warriors
Fantasy Zone II
Cloud Master
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar


33 replies »

  1. Well, there’s already a ton of Phantasy Star love here it seems- and deservedly so! It’s an amazing game and I’m glad it’s at the top of your list!

    I’ve never heard of most of these games, but Master of Darkness sounds right up my alley. I may need to check it out, if I get the chance!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks to Hungry Goriya I actually know a few of those games! SpellCaster and Phantasy Star. I really liked PS and found out my BFF’s fiance is a huge fan, too! I also loved the Star Wars comparative. I kind of want to look at some of the more recent iterations of the series 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am surprised more people aren’t madly in love with Phantasy Star, or the Master System for that matter! It’s really hard to ignore the parallels between Phantasy Star and Star Wars after you first notice them. I loved making that video because I love both of those series so much, and frankly, I’m glad they have so much in common. I’ve heard PSIV is the best of the original bunch and people keep encouraging me to skip 2 and 3 and jump right in. I don’t think I can though… hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to explore one of those games yourself some day!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think it’s because the Master System isn’t as well known? At least I didn’t know anything about it until I saw your videos. It’s really a shame, because graphically, it blows the NES out of the water, but I think Nintendo had more games and more aggressive marketing.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, you’re absolutely right. Nintendo definitely had the market in North America, and a comparatively enormous library. I think the Master System had less than 200 games released here vs. a library of close 800 games for the NES. Huuuuge difference! I’m glad that I’ve discovered the Master System later in life. Though I think I would’ve loved it earlier on, it means more to me now to be experiencing a brand new-to-me set of games that are essentially an extension of everything I loved for the NES.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Another awesome list. The Master System may not have made the intended splash in the USA, but it was still quite the contender. What always attracted me to it was the smorgasbord of Sega’s arcade games. Shinobi, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, OutRun, Hang-On, After Burner, Alien Syndrome, and more. Frankly owning an SMS is worth it just for those. But then there are the quirky games like Fantasy Zone, and Penguin Land. Or arcade ports the NES never saw like Captain Silver, and Time Soldiers. That’s before you get anywhere near the scope of RPGs. Europe, and South America got all of those, and then some. So it wasn’t squashed by the NES in every region. Much like the C64, its worth owning in addition to Nintendo’s “Totally not a VCR.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks! I’m happy to have at least had a chance to discover it later in life. I’ve never loved a lot of the arcade-style games as much as others and have always gravitated toward the RPG side of things on every console I’ve owned, but you’re right! There were a lot of great games for this system!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Great list, with some unexpected choices. I always had a soft spot for Snail Maze, as it was hidden on my system. From my own standpoint, I’d ahve possibly included: Wonderboy3 – The Dragon’s Trap, Sonic 2, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Hang On, Land Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Xenon 2 and California Games.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks! Snail Maze was hidden on mine too and I was floored the first time I found it. That tune is just so catchy and the levels are really, really tricky! The other games you mentioned here are all great ones. I haven’t played Wonder Boy 3 yet, but it’s one that I’d really like to get around to sooner than later!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great list with some interesting picks. Definitely thumbs up for Phantasy Star; I played it on Game Boy Advance rather than Master System but it’s a great experience wherever you play it, and it was a pleasure to manually draw maps while I was playing — not done that for a long time!

    Master System is a retro console I’d like to add to my collection sometime. I never had one back in the day, but I always enjoyed when I had the chance to play one over at a friend’s house. I’m a big fan of its sound chip, it has a rather pleasantly distinctive sound to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! If it had been my choice the whole list would’ve been RPGs, but I figured I should try to diversify a little! Phantasy Star was such an amazing game and I am sad I’ll never be able to experience that one new again. The sound on the Master System is pretty great overall. There are some people that find it way too screechy and swear by the FM chip, but I like the music without that kind of modification. Have you ever heard any songs from Miracle Warriors? That has a really amazing soundtrack!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Phantasy Star is a real treat! It definitely deserves all of the praise it gets and then some in my opinion. It’s the little touches that really set it apart from other RPGs, like seeing each character’s attack on enemy sprites, the little animations from the enemies themselves in battle, and the seemingly random twists the plot takes that make it a really unique adventure. I hope you have the opportunity to play it sometime!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. So I don’t know that I’ve ever even seen a Master System before? I’ve heard of them of course but I remember being surprised they existed! I always thought the Genesis was Sega’s first. Shows what I know about retro gaming haha!

    Anyhow, Phantasy Star is a game I’ve always been wanting to try. It’s nice to see it cap your list! Thanks so much for participating!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Same! I never knew the SMS was a thing until well into the original PlayStation’s life cycle. A high school friend had one stashed away in the closet, along with a handful of games.

      I finally got around to playing trough Phantasy Star this year and it’s fantastic! Excellent music and pixels, and trasitioning from top down 2D exploration to full on first-person 3d dungeon crawling would have blown my 6-year-old mind.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Don’t feel bad about not knowing about it sooner. I still run into people on the internet that have no idea what it is even now, and I’m always really happy to have the opportunity to fill them in!

        I’m so, so glad that you enjoyed Phantasy Star. I always love playing foundational games in a series to see where everything grows out from, and Phantasy Star really set the bar high. I hope when I get around to playing its successors that they’re at least that good.


    • It was my pleasure to be a part of this! I also never knew the Master System existed until a few years ago. My boyfriend said he wanted to buy one, and when I first saw the box art for some of the games, I was definitely turned off. Taking to the internet and seeing the lineup of such popular franchises had me scratching my head and once again wondering how it’s possible that I missed the whole thing. It’s really just more NES in my mind. Who can argue with more NES?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My experience with the Master System was limited as I never owned one personally. My neighbor did have one though and some of my favorites from playing it there were: Phantasy Star, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and Double Dragon.

    Liked by 1 person

      • If you have the Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection you should have the entire series, although PS1 is hidden. As for recommending it, I’m not sure it holds up particularly well but might offer a cool look back at some early RPG design.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I just got my own Master System a few years ago so I’m still pretty new to the system myself. I’m happy you had the opportunity to play Wonder Boy in Monster World since it’s one of the harder to get titles for the system. I have only played the original Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land, and Monster Land’s obscure money-finding tactics frustrates me to no end. I wanted to include a Wonder Boy game on this list but I’ve only played those two, and neither of them sparkled very brightly to me. I’d like to play Monster World.

      I don’t think I’ve seen how Double Dragon looks or plays on the Master System. I’ll have to check that one out!

      Liked by 2 people

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