During the 8-bit and 16-bit generation of home consoles, a company’s console offering was only as strong as its flagship platform game’s star. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog and the Turbo Grafx 16 had Bonk. With the dawn of the 32-bit era in the mid-1990s, Nintendo relied on Mario to play the leading man in Mario 64, the Nintendo 64’s opening display of the system’s power. Sony found a mascot in Crash Bandicoot, a leading man who appealed to the PlayStation’s older target demographic. Sega, however, never released a proper Sonic the hedgehog title for its ill-fated Saturn console. Despite this fact, Sega delivered many classic platform games for its Saturn console. The characters were often quirky which reflected the out-of-the-box thinking that went into many of this innovative platformer’s gameplay mechanics. In retrospect, the level of creativity and attention to detail that went into many of the top Saturn platform games is truly astounding.
12) Croc: Legend of the Gobbos
The multi-platform Croc suffered from the occasional wonky camera angle, but that was to be expected in the early days of free-roaming 3D platformers. Croc was an endearing character and the gameplay advanced the platform genre without resorting to tried-and-true derivative gimmicks.
11) Shinobi Legions
Sega brought its familiar Shinobi franchise to the Saturn with this 32-bit entry that featured digitized graphics. The gameplay stayed true to the established conventions of the Shinobi franchise which minimized the learning curve of the controls, allowing gamers to focus on the new challenges of this very well-designed platform title.
10) Tryrush Deppy
Many of the Saturn’s best titles never made it to American shores and Tryrush Deppy is a perfect example of epic platform gaming that we missed out on in the States. Tryrush Deppy featured clever interactive devices and well-sorted out controls, making for a very playable and beautiful platform game. Prices for the Japanese import title tend to be steep, but it’s money well spent for fans of classic platform games.
9) Bug! & Bug Too!
These Sega games provided Saturn’s early adopters with classic platform gaming that included mild 3D attributes. The controls were responsive and the visuals were rendered beautifully. This was a clear first-party homage to the honesty of classic platform titles.
The hand-drawn visuals in this game stood in stark contrast to the rough 3D polygonal models that were littering the gaming world in 1995. Astal’s lush pastel colors really created a dreamy world that was just entertaining to watch, but the solidly designed gameplay mechanics pushed this one into the upper-tier of platform games for the Saturn, or any system.
The multi-platform Pandemonium was a stellar achievement in terms of gameplay and graphical design. The game’s world was rendered in 3D but the gameplay took place along a 2D pathway which allowed for advanced visual content without the wonkiness that plagued early 3D platform games.
6) Mr. Bones
Sega really honed into their quirkiness during this era and perhaps no major US Saturn release is more indicative of that off-beat mojo than Mr. Bones. The game is comprised of a series of mini-games that create a truly captivating experience. This title has a true personality that was a fresh relief in an age of rehashes.
5) Clockwork Knight 1 & 2
The Clockwork Knight games were largely overlooked at the time of release due to the fact that many saw traditional 2D platform games as passé. Boy, did those people miss out on a truly exciting and engaging gaming experience when they passed on these two gems. The pre-rendered world of toys is still beautiful to this day and the fun-loving atmosphere and puzzle solving moments are a testament to sound game design.
4) Silhouette Mirage
This title’s levels are structurally built like an old school platform game from the 16-bit era, but the developers added gameplay features that mesh RPG elements into the side-scrolling formula, elevating Silhouette Mirage into its own realm of gaming experience. This is sadly another great title that never made it out of Japan, but import copies are available, albeit pricey.
3) Three Dirty Dwarves
Three Dirty Dwarves offered inventive gameplay devices and amazing levels of interactivity with the backgrounds. Spot-on control schemes and an immersive multi-play mode further added to the playability. Grab a couple of your friends and introduce them to one of the most engaging platform games of all-time.
2) Burning Rangers
Burning Rangers took the platform genre and changed the rules. The gameplay was dynamic in a way that made gamers rethink what it meant to play a platformer and the graphics were stunning for the time. The game was released at the end of the Sega Saturn’s short life and is a swan song of sorts for the system as the title was also a technical showcase of many effects that detractors said were impossible on the console.
Yuji Naka, the man behind Sonic the Hedgehog, gave us this gem in 1996 and, although it never enjoyed the sales success of the Sonic franchise, he delivered one of the most memorable and iconic video games ever released. The game’s point system was intricately designed but the controls and premise were so intuitive that it truly allowed you to grow into the game and learn its subtleties without ever becoming frustrating. The beautifully engineered learning curve was the perfect complement to the lushly designed visual style of Nights. The graphics were surreal and dreamlike in a way that no one had ever seen before in a video game; the convergence of the smooth gameplay mechanics and dreamy visual effects created a gaming harmony that has not since been touched.
The contributor looks back on his gaming years by classifying them into two distinct eras: pre-Nights and post-Nights.
More from this contributor:
The Top 5 Racing Games for the Sega Saturn
Top Five 3D Fighting Games for Sega Saturn: A Retro Look Back
The Racing Games that Paved the Road for Gran Turismo: A Look in the Rearview