Many people know about the Sega Dreamcast and its revolutionary capabilities (quite impressive for a late 90s home video game console). However, few know about its predecessor- the Saturn, which was designed to compete with Sony’s PS1 but performed below expectations. Of course, I’m not talking about hardware performance because this console had a technological theme park of gizmos and chips packed into its little plastic box.
No, I’m talking about the sales- between 1995 and 1998 (when it was discontinued), Saturn sold only 9.26 million units. Now, you might think that number isn’t super low but let’s put things in perspective. The PS1 sold over 100 million units, and the N64 over 30 million.
Why did Saturn underperform in sales? After all, Sega’s marketing was pretty strong back in the late 80s and early 90s (especially for their Genesis console). To see why this console failed, we must consider what it was going up against.
It’s not that the Saturn is bad, but the PS1 and N64 are just better. They were easier to program for and had hardware that was better suited to 3D. While the Saturn was capable of 3D, it was in reality a 2D monster- perfect for running arcade games in true arcade quality.
Another thing that killed Saturn was its lack of decent 3rd party titles after the initial launch window, an essential factor in driving sales for any console. However, this console did give us some legendary games such as Panzer Dragoon and Virtua Fighter. Talking of legendary games, here are the top 40 Sega Saturn games of all time that you must play.
Panzer Dragoon Saga
This is the first Panzer Dragoon game to completely switch genres and move into roleplaying, compared to its predecessors which were rail shooters. The transformation was executed masterfully, resulting not only in the best Saturn game of all time but also one of the best JRPGs of the 1990s. You play Edge, he’s the main protagonist and flies a laser-shooting dragon (you read that right).
Nights Into Dreams
If you look at this game and think “wow, that’s similar to Sonic”, you’d be correct because both games are developed by the same team. Nights Into Dreams follows the story of two teenagers who find a way into the dream world. It’s being threatened by a wizard who wishes to affect the real world by causing chaos inside this imaginary one, and you must stop him.
Treasure, the developers of Radiant Silvergun, were initially apprehensive about the financial viability of releasing an arcade shooter in the late 1990s. However, the game performed extremely well thanks to its innovative level design and combat system. Right from the start, your character gets access to a wide variety of weaponry that tackle different problems.
There are lasers, scatter shots and autocannons. You can combine the attack types to create an entirely new weapon system with advanced capabilities. And the best part is that your ship has a sword for close-range combat, which can be swung in a circular arc to damage all nearby enemies.
Sega Rally Championship
Modern racing games owe a lot to Sega’s Rally Championship which pioneered the idea of driving on different surfaces and dynamically shifting car handling in accordance with the surface. Gravel, grass, mud, sand, dirt, etc. all have unique frictional and hardness values which affect how a car tire/ suspension system will act. Plus, the game has a ton of race tracks located in exotic locations around the world (African Savannas, Monte Carlo, South American Jungles).
The Legend of Oasis
One of the most unique action RPGs of its time, The Legend of Oasis tells the story of Leon- a warrior on a quest to defeat the wizard Agito. It features real-time combat with a multitude of weapons, each with its own special move. You can also fire magical orbs at objects to summon spirits that help you fight enemies or solve puzzles.
Before Nathan Drake, we had Lara Croft. A suave British lady hailing from a wealthy family who spends her time touring exotic locations around the world in search of ancient archeological artifacts. She is acrobatic, cool-headed, and always knows how to get out of a tough situation.
Lara’s adventures take her to many ancient and abandoned tombs/ caves where she has to fight against everything from wild animals to stone sculptures and even zombies. Of course, there are also human rivals looking to get their hands on whatever it is that Lara is looking for.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
When Capcom released the first Street Fighter Alpha game, it was an immediate hit. In essence, it was a combination of various elements from prior Street Fighter games with an art style borrowed from X-Men: Children of the Atom. Characters were taken from both the first Street Fighter game, as well as Final Fight.
Eventually, Alpha became its own sub-series separate from the regular numbered SF titles. SF Alpha 3 is the final one in this series, and it gets rid of the manual/ auto system. Instead, you now have 3 different fighting styles to switch between- each offers a different combo gauge and special moves.
The original Resident Evil is basically an interactive horror B-movie with cheesy dialogue and a plot that exists just so characters can go from point A to B. Nevertheless, it has this unique personality and charm that few other horror survival games will ever replicate. Talking of horror survival, Resident Evil practically pioneered the entire genre (which would later give us games like Dead Space).
In this game, you’re locked inside a mansion filled with horrifying creatures that want to tear you apart and eat your insides. You’re part of a special police squad known as S.T.A.R.S and are trying to escape this mansion. Over the course of the game, you get to know how this zombie infestation began and who’s the mastermind behind it all.
Shining the Holy Ark
When Sega created the first Shining game, it was heavily inspired by CRPGs such as Wizardry. Hence, it played like a first-person dungeon crawler with spells and stats. Shining the Holy Ark steps it up a notch with a more advanced plotline that’s focused on an older gamer demographic (young adults, rather than kids).
It also features early 3D graphics, through the use of polygons. However, movement is node-based rather than freeform (most computer RPGs at this time featured free-form movement).
Like many JRPGs, you have a party-based combat system in which there can be up to 4 characters. Members can be switched out mid-battle with others who are in the reserve pool.
Stock car racing is a form of racing in which production models are used rather than cars specifically built for racing from the ground up. These production cars are modified with better engines, transmissions, tires, suspension, etc., but they are still models you can buy at the showroom. This is what Daytona and NASCAR used to be in the old days.
Daytona USA is of course based on racing held in the Daytona International Speedway in Florida. It uses a replica of the actual track with checkpoint-based racing, and you can compete with up to 39 other AI-controlled cars. When Daytona USA was released, critics praised it as one of the foremost technological achievements in console gaming.
This was due to the use of effects like texture filtering and texture mapping, along with a high poly count and attention to detail. You can also switch between 4 different camera perspectives, and the game runs at 60fps which is really impressive for a console made in 1995.
Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean
This is an old-school RPG that was originally supposed to release on SNES, but it got delayed and was eventually ported to Saturn instead. Legend of Eldean is a JRPG that contains a mix of western and eastern game designs. The combat system and UI feel very much like what you’d get in a western RPG, while the character designs and party system are lifted from JRPGs.
A game with an odd premise but fun gameplay, Burning Rangers was developed by Sonic Team for Sega’s Saturn console. It’s set in a futuristic world where mankind has made all sorts of scientific advances, creating a utopia for the global population.
However, we just haven’t figured out how to deal with fire so a specialized squad of firefighters is needed (that’s you). And instead of a navigational map, you get directional instructions via voice from an overhead director. The game plays like a 3rd person action adventure and has robotic enemies who shoot fire at you.
World Heroes Perfect
World Heroes is set in a fantasy universe where time travel has been invented. But instead of using it for looking into the future/ past, we use this time machine to gather “World Heroes” who are basically fighters from different periods in history. They are all gathered up in one location and fight each other in a Mortal Kombat-style tournament.
Virtua Fighter 2
Virtua Fighter didn’t stand the test of time like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, but it pioneered the use of motion capture and texture mapping in 3D fighting games. Upon release, Virtua Fighter was praised by gamers and journalists for being one of the best-looking games of its time. Virtua Fighter 2 is the only mainline game of the series to feature adjustable arena sizes.
Die Hard Arcade
An officially licensed game made by Sega and based on the first Die Hard movie. In which John McClane tries to rescue his wife and other hostages from a gang of European terrorists while trapped inside a skyscraper. This game takes a few liberties with respect to the plot because this time the terrorists have kidnapped the U.S. President’s daughter.
McClane is sent into the building to save her. He can use melee attacks such as punches and kicks or blow enemies away with grenade launchers and anti-tank guns. The game is a beat ‘em up, although its move set is fairly complex to the point where it feels more like a fighting game with weapons.
X-Men vs Street Fighter
A crossover fighting game featuring our favorite mutants against some of the top Street Fighter legends. Imagine Wolverine vs Ryu or Cyclops vs Cammy. There are a total of 17 playable characters in this game, with 8 on the side of X-Men and 9 on the side of SF.
For X-Men, the character designs are based on the 1990s animated series (sprites taken from Children of the Atom). Street Fighter characters reuse sprites from SF 2. You select teams of 2, with the ability to tag in your partner at any time during the match.
It’s important to remember where modern cinematic story-driven linear FPS games came from. If you liked the campaigns in Call of Duty or Medal of Honor, you should understand that they were inspired by old-school rail shooter classics such as Virtua Cop. Talking of which, Virtua Cop was also praised in its time for technological innovation since it was the first action game to use texture-mapped 3D graphics.
This is a game many have forgotten (although it did get a comic book). But anybody who owned a copy of Last Bronx on Saturn in the 1990s probably has fond memories of it to this day. It’s a basic 3D fighter with some really cool animations that were done via early motion capture technology.
And no, motion capture is nothing like what Mortal Kombat used at that time. Mortal Kombat used digitized sprites derived from video footage. Motion capture is a lot more detailed and produces far better animations.
If you love action RPGs, you should definitely give this one a try. Guardian Heroes combines the elements of beat ‘em up with roleplaying in a pretty unique way. The 2D graphics still hold up pretty well to this day and I must say this is one of the best-looking 2D games from the 1990s.
Thanks to Sega Saturn’s impressive processing power and large video memory reserve, it could handle really detailed sprites. Treasure (the devs) took full advantage of that fact and created an excellent-looking game. While the action is pretty good, attention must be drawn to the choice-driven storyline which has branching paths and multiple endings (pretty impressive for a beat ‘em up game).
Sega were true innovators when it came to 3D fighting games, and they did a little crossover title featuring characters from many of their popular franchises. Originally, this game was planned as a gateway of sorts to get players interested in Virtua Fighter 3 (which never got a Saturn port). There are even characters from Daytona USA and Virtua Cop 2 in this game which is pretty neat if you’re a Sega fan.
Like previous Bomberman titles, your goal is simple- getting to the exit. In order to do so, you place bombs in strategic locations that will explode after a certain amount of time. Nearby enemies are eliminated and destructible blocks will be turned to dust, opening new paths.
You can ride a dinosaur, which hatches from an egg. There are 3 levels to each dinosaur- baby, adolescent, and adult. If you take a hit while riding your dinosaur, it will absorb the impact.
Virtua Cop 2
The successor to Sega’s famous Virtua Cop, a linear rail shooter in which you play as a special police officer (similar to SWAT). You and your partners are trying to shut down an evil criminal empire that’s rampaging through the city, engaging in terrorist activities. While most of your movement occurs automatically along a fixed rail, you are occasionally given the option to select one of two paths.
This is a new addition and wasn’t present in the first game. You can also shoot boxes to reveal power-ups. Just be careful to not shoot civilians by accident.
Baku Baku Animal
The first Sega game on PC to be network-compatible, Baku Baku Animal is a falling-block puzzler. The way this game works is pretty simple- you have a group of animals and food items arranged in neatly colored blocks with icons on top. These fall from the top of your screen and you must arrange them in a way that each animal is adjacent to its preferred food item.
If the animal eats a block, it disappears and you get points. Arranging food blocks in a chain creates combos and drops random blocks into the enemy’s box. The first player to hit the ceiling loses.
How about a first-person shooter set in a mythical Egyptian city? Exhumed is a game about defeating mysterious warriors who are trying to uncover ancient secrets within Egyptian tombs. They wish to resurrect an ancient mummy and bring chaos to the world.
You’re part of a special squad sent in to defeat these guys. Many elements of this game are similar to what you see in The Mummy, except that the movie came out nearly 3 years after this game.
Panzer Dragoon II Zwei
A game in which you ride armored dragons that shoot lasers. And the dragon has multiple forms that are unlocked as you play through the game, with each form changing appearance and abilities. The game’s plot functions as a prequel to the original Panzer Dragoon.
Panzer Dragoon 2 introduces a special move called the “Berserk Attack” which is charged up when you defeat enemies. Once the gauge is ready, you can unleash a devastating strike that hits every enemy on the screen for massive damage.
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem is the archetypical cigar-chomping macho super soldier. He culls endless hordes of cannon fodder with an ever-expanding roster of giant weapons while dispensing cheesy quips that inflate his ego and insult the enemy at the same time. Duke Nukem 3D is like Doom, but with aliens instead of Demons, and a protagonist who’s much more charismatic.
A simple side-scrolling shooter in which you control giant robots that can turn into spaceships armed with lasers and missiles. These robots are called Buster Gears and they can be upgraded with new weaponry (only in their fighter configuration).
When your Buster Gear transforms into its bipedal robot form, it loses speed and maneuverability. However, it can shoot in a 45° arc instead of just straightforward. And heavier weaponry can be accessed in this mode.
Shining Force III
Remember Shining the Holy Ark? Well, this game is a sequel (rather, it’s the final part in a series of sequels). Its gameplay is somewhat similar to Final Fantasy Tactics since both used grid-based movement with an emphasis on strategy and planning.
As expected, there are potions and spells that you gain over time (or purchase from a store). Character classes determine their base stats and special abilities.
Wipeout XL was ported to Saturn after its initial release on PlayStation. And it features an amped-up version of the anti-gravity racing leagues from previous Wipeout games. The new anti-gravity racers are much faster and can be equipped with really powerful weaponry to deal with any rivals who dare to overtake you on the track.
Mega Man X4
It’s not particularly innovative or groundbreaking, but it manages to refine the Mega Max X formula to perfection. Mega Man X4 lets you play as X or Zero, both of whom are Maverick Hunters searching for dangerous Reploids that are a threat to humanity. Zero is ideal for melee combat since he uses a sword, while X is better at taking enemies out from further away with his energy cannon.
Command and Conquer
Westwood studios practically invented the entire RTS genre with their sci-fic classic Dune II. That game introduced many concepts we take for granted these days in a modern RTS game. Some examples- fog of war, resource collection for building units, base-building, world maps, etc.
However, they really stepped it up to the next level with Command and Conquer which is a game set in an alternate history timeline. Its plot contains a mix of global politics and resource wars along with bits of sci-fi. Compared to Dune II, C&C has superior AI and menu systems with much-improved graphics and level designs.
One really cool fact you may not know is that every C&C box contained 2 identical discs. That’s because this game supported online multiplayer and encouraged you to play with friends. The packaging itself read “A second copy, so you and your friends can destroy each other”.
You see, Wolfenstein 3D laid out the groundwork for modern FPS games. However, its control systems were quite clunky and the level design felt claustrophobic. Putting it bluntly, the game hasn’t aged very well.
Then we got Doom, which was an evolution of the formula laid out by Wolfenstein. More freedom in terms of movement, faster gameplay, etc. And then came Quake which is an even faster and more brutal version of Doom, designed for multiplayer gameplay.
If Wolfenstein and Doom led the way for modern FPS games, Quake was the game that popularized competitive multiplayer shooters. It uses gothic architecture and has this dark, demonic vibe to it which really drew in teens and young adults looking for something edgier than your typical Nintendo game.
A strategy game featuring artillery team combat. You command groups of worms armed with modern military equipment, and the goal is to wipe out every enemy unit. The last man (or team) standing wins.
Much like Scorched Earth, a lot of your weapons follow ballistic trajectories. Explosions cave in the terrain, resulting in the formation of pits that function as temporary trenches. There are bodies of water on the edge of each map, worms can die by falling into these.
This is the very first Virtual On, (also known as Cyber Troopers) which was initially released in arcades in early 1996. Essentially, it’s a 1 v 1 fighting game similar to Virtua Fighter. But instead of people, you’ve got these giant mechs that are armed to the teeth with sophisticated weaponry.
There’s a demonic mage who creates his very own dimension into which he brings lost souls. He does this after watching the sorry state of the actual world in which he once lived. Deciding that there is no other way but to recreate the entire thing from scratch, this mage puts his powers to use.
He starts bringing in the souls of dead folks who are worthy. And how do you pass the test? With a fighting match, similar to Mortal Kombat.
Say you purchased the Sega Saturn in hopes of playing Sonic-Xtreme. We all know in retrospect that it never got released due to underwhelming sales figures for the console. However, all hope isn’t lost as you can still play all Sonic games that were released for Genesis.
The ports aren’t emulated, they pretty much run like native versions. Some patches to fix bugs have been added for a more stable experience.
Sonic Jam also contains a central entertainment hub which is sort of like a collector’s house for Sonic fans, rendered in 3D. Here you can access all sorts of trivia, behind-the-scenes material, etc.
Manx TT Superbike
The Isle of Man TT is the most dangerous, adrenaline-filled road bike racing event on this planet. What makes it so thrilling is the track layout and speeds at which bikes fly through the turns and curves. Manx TT Superbike emulates that feeling in a video game format by using lots of corkscrew turns, chicanes, high-speed straights, etc.
X-Men: Children of the Atom
For fans of the 1990s animated X-Men TV series, this game is the best way to actually experience your favorite characters in an interactive medium. It even features the original voice actors from the animated series. Magneto is the main villain, and the story is based on a comic book plotline called “Fatal Attractions”.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
It’s a remake of 1992’s Lunar: Silver Star Story with new characters and outcomes. However, the core plot remains unchanged. It’s also one of the few Sega Saturn games that supports a MPEG card for high-quality video cutscenes.
Sound and graphics have also been improved, and the English localization has more accurate translations compared to the original version. Apart from the improved graphics, the use of fully animated cutscenes is also a boost to player immersion.
In the fictional world of Dragon Force, there are 8 different rulers fighting against each other over territory. You select one of the factions and can command an army of up to 100 people with battles taking place in real time. There are roads and castles between kingdoms, which can be used to transport and station troops.
On paper, Saturn’s hardware was quite impressive. It had 8 processors in total, including 2 CPUs and 2 video processors. Sega added a 2nd video processor extremely late into the developmental cycle, just to compete with Sony’s upcoming PS1. And if we look at things like polygonal fill rates, maximum resolution support, video memory, etc. Saturn actually wins out.
In fact, it even has more sound channels than the PS1 which means the Saturn should have better audio. In reality, the PS1’s audio quality was higher because it could decompress samples in real time (something Saturn couldn’t do). As a result, developers had to make smaller audio samples for Saturn and all those extra audio channels were a waste.
While Saturn has 2 video processors, most developers only used the first one since programming both GPUs simultaneously would have been too time-consuming. And that’s a shame because many special effects such as transparency were linked to the 2nd GPU. That’s how most games ended up looking better on the PS1 despite the fact that it’s behind the Saturn if we just compare spec sheets.
Sega also soured their relationship with developers by reserving many of the best development libraries for their own first-party stuff, and not sharing it with 3rd party studios. All this, combined with a crowded release window that coincided with the PS1 and N64 meant that the Saturn was doomed to fail from the start. It was also supposed to get Sonic X-treme, the first 3D Sonic game ever, which was eventually canceled (putting another nail in the Saturn’s coffin).