I recently picked up a copy of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed as something to satisfy my kart racing itch until the next DLC pack for Mario Kart 8 becomes available in May. Even though it's as plain as day that this game uses the Mario Kart series as a point of inspiration, it provides enough unique challenges and charms to make it fun in its own right. Furthermore, it's Sega we're talking about here--the company that's known for innovative racing games such as Turbo and Out Run--so it just wouldn't be right if Sega didn't contribute something to the current selection of game mascot-themed kart racing titles.
I've been playing video games for decades, so I was amused to see how Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed incorporates so many of Sega's past hits (e.g., After Burner, Golden Axe, Shinobi, etc.) into a single game. With Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony dominating the home consoles, I sometimes have to remind myself that Sega was once a major player in both the arcade and console markets and not just a producer of third party titles. With that in mind, here's a list of my five favorite titles from Sega's yesteryear that provided many hours of entertainment for me during my formative gamer years. Read on for my complete list, in chronological order.
1. Zaxxon (1982)
Most space shooter games from the late '70s and early '80s were either 2D side-scrollers (Defender) or 2D top-down scrollers (Galaxian, Galaga). Zaxxon pushed the space shooter into the third dimension by taking an isometric approach, which added a completely new set of challenges to the shooter format. Indeed, Zaxxon was one of the first titles to demonstrate that future of video gaming would be found in 3D graphics, not the 2D graphics that were the standard at that time. It should also be noted that Mattel's ColecoVision console heavily hyped its mostly arcade-faithful port of Zaxxon as part of its launch to sway gamers away from the Atari and Intellivision consoles.
2. Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (1983)
Like any other game developer, Sega has plenty of licensed titles in its catalog with varying degrees of quality. What makes Sega's Star Trek game boldly go where no tie-ins games went before is that it brilliantly used vector graphics to bring the Trek experience to the arcades, allowing players combat Federation villains such as the Kligons through two simultaneous perspectives: the main first-person screen and the overhead third-person radar screen. As an additional nod to the franchise, the sit-down version of the game was designed to look like the captain's chair as it has appeared in the early Trek movies. Essentially, Sega did for Trek in Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator what Atari did for Star Wars with its vector-graphic arcade game from the same era, and both delighted fans of those franchises to no end.
3. Choplifter (1985)
I've written about this title before, but Sega's arcade version of Choplifter is so good that it's worthy enough to mention again. It's colorful and engaging, and it presents enough diversity in its mission locations and challenges that you feel compelled to play through all four levels just to see the full range what it has to offer. From shooting down jets in the desert to fighting off jet pack-equipped soldiers over a futuristic city skyline, Sega's Choplifter delivers.
4. Alien Syndrome (1987)
As a die-hard fan of the Alien franchise, I couldn't get enough of this run-and-gun game; in fact, it reminded more of the Alien and Aliens movies than the official Aliens arcade game by Konami. In Alien Syndrome, players find weapons, save cocooned humans, fight off waves of strange extra-terrestrial creatures, and evacuate spaceships before they self-destruct; if that doesn't sound like an Alien movie, I don't know what does. I was so obsessed with this game that I bought the Sega Master System (SMS) instead of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), under the conviction that the port of Alien Syndrome for the SMS would be the best because it was a Sega title. Sega proved me wrong--the NES port was much more faithful to the arcade original than the SMS port--which is the main reason why I never bought another Sega console after that. The 2007 sequel to Alien Syndrome wasn't that great, either.
5. House of the Dead (1997)
House of the Dead is Sega's answer to Capcom's Resident Evil series, except that it forgoes the survival aspects of game play (i.e., managing limited resources such as weapons and ammo) and focuses solely on the gore-soaked, rail-shooting action. House of the Dead: Overkill is the most notorious title in this franchise, but every entry in this series is fun to play for both horror and shooter fans alike.
Honorable Mention: Ghost Squad (2004)
If Sega's House of the Dead is a simplified version of Resident Evil, then Sega's Ghost Squad is a simplified version of military-themed first person shooter games like Call of Duty. So why is it on this list? Because in its port of Ghost Squad for the Nintendo Wii, Sega was willing to include a bonus feature called "Paradise Mode" where the guns are replaced by water pistols, knives are replaced by bananas, and the enemy soldiers are replaced by bikini-clad women. Even the ruthless enemy bosses don't go unscathed--how they're changed for this version of Ghost Squad is something that you must see for yourself.
Above and below: Sega's Ghost Squad, in both regular and Paradise versions.