Time for another top 5, in reverse order again, although I already spoiled this if you read my Top 5 games post. Again these are my favourites, so the rankings have been influenced by nostalgia and sentiment. I will throw the “almost made it” machines onto the end.
Number 5 – SEGA Master System
The only system in this list that I don’t currently own, but that’s simply because I play the games on my Mega Drive to save space. I grew up in a house with 4 older sisters, and fondly remember early years with the shared Texas TI99 and then a ZX Spectrum, but it wasn’t until the Master System that I would get a machine of my own.
I received the Master System II machine with built in Alex Kidd in Miracle World for my birthday. I shortly after received The Ninja and Transbot and these were the only games I owned for a year or so. Transbot doesn’t really hold up so well now, but I loved them all and Alex Kidd remains a favourite today. Fortunately, at the time I received my console, two of my sisters’s partners also owned Master Systems, with a good collection of games. Through borrowing their games I discovered (and played to death) Fantasy Zone, Operation Wolf, Rocky, R-Type, Rampage and Moonwalker. It was also the beginning of the age of video game rentals, and the repeated renting of Bubble Bobble started a series of gaming with one of my sisters that would continue throughout my childhood.
On Twitter recently, @nakamuramartin started a conversation about retrogaming, asking people to identify the console that they had the most nostalgia for. (Well it was recently when I started writing this…) In my case nothing tops the Master System for that.
Number 4 – SEGA Dreamcast
The Dreamcast did so many things right, and in many ways was just a bit too early. Online gaming on consoles wouldn’t really take off until home broadband was more widespread. I was one of those who did play a lot of Dreamcast online, making full use of the available keyboard & mouse setup to play Quake 3 Arena 2 v 2 Capture the Flag. It pains me to this day that consoles supporting keyboard & mouse for FPS games didn’t become the norm. (PS3 showed such promise when Unreal Tournament 3 supported this setup and I loved it. Interestingly it also supported mods and it was relatively easy to port mods from the PC version over.)
Another win for the machine was the availability of relatively inexpensive but quality Arcade Sticks. These are still sought after now, and very popular for the modding community to upgrade the components and make them compatible with more modern consoles. Having access to these for my favourite genres of shmups and fighting games really made the console shine in my eyes. The console is still regarded as a powerhouse for these two genres particularly, and this is largely how it earns a place in my top 5.
A lot of criticism the Dreamcast does receive is about that controller. I did find it good for the racing games on the system, and for me it is still the best way to play Crazy Taxi outside the arcade. However, I can’t recommend it for those genres mentioned above, and understand completely if you wrote off FPS and Fighting games on Dreamcast at the time because the controller was pap.
I keep one setup now, and still return to it regularly for Mars Matrix and trips to Street Fighter Alpha 3. It also still looks great on my HDTV, thanks to that VGA adapter.
Number 3 – SEGA Mega Drive
Another system on the list heavily influenced by nostalgia, this was the natural progression from my Master System, and still remember the Christmas it turned up. I had the pack in with Mega Games 2, and spent so much time with Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and the Revenge of Shinobi. Sonic the Hedgehog blew me away, and much like with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, I still can’t walk past the first Sonic game without at least doing the first couple of stages. So, so good.
Co-op gaming with my sister continued here, with Toejam & Earl being the game of choice. Also fond memories of playing hours of 3 & 4 player James Pond: Aquatic Games, such a great multiplayer title. I also enjoyed watching my sister play through Ecco the Dolphin, and being thoroughly confused by that final boss. (I found the game too terrifying to play myself, and still struggle with it now!) It’s such an iconic game though, I’d love a new Ecco game.
There are so many memories from the Mega Drive, and I hope to cover some of my favourites from the system in future posts. I recently picked up an EverDrive cartridge for mine, and am enjoying discovering those titles from the excellent library of 16 bit shmups I missed first time round. It’s a joy in full 60hz RGB.
Number 2 – PlayStation Vita
Probably the only system in the list that some people might find surprising, but bear with me. The second place spot was previously occupied by the Atari Jaguar (!) for the simple fact that it housed my previous favourite game of all time, Tempest 2000. I am happy to replace that in my life with the Vita, since TxK took over as my favourite game, and is exclusive to the Vita. At least with Tempest 2000 I can play an almost as good version on my number 1 console…
I adore the Vita, it’s so good at what it does. It has an excellent collection of shmups, the first time I’ve really enjoyed them on a handheld. The PSP did a decent enough job, just never found it comfy enough for extended play times. Wipeout 2048 is superb and there are so many great indies that although multiplatform, I still consider them ‘best on vita’. Games like Velocity 2X, Rogue Legacy, Limbo, Thomas Was Alone etc.
Number 1 – SEGA Saturn
I’m certainly not alone in this choice, although at the time you could barely find people who had even heard of it. The console that really made me feel like the Arcade experience was possible at home. SEGA Rally, Virtual Fighter 2, Virtua Cop, these were the games I wanted to play constantly. Digging deeper, particularly into the Japanese library, you discover that it has one of the greatest librarys of 2D shmups and fighters ever. SNK and Capcom both put some superb titles onto this machine, often making use of the 1-4MB RAM expansion card to achieve amazing arcade ports that just weren’t possible otherwise.
This was also the last system I played a lot with my sister, before we grew up and moved out. We lived on Bust-a-Move 2 (Puzzle Bobble) and it remains my favourite Puzzler/Match 3 to this day. We even had the Bubble Bobble & Rainbow Islands pack, and played that together feeling nostalgic for the Master System.
This is close to being my most played console, and is in constant contention with my more modern machines. I love it and if I only had one machine it would definitely be a SEGA Saturn.
I could have been a contender…
PSX – This was close, as it does have some absolute gems. Racing games in particular really stand out, I have found myself picking some of these up again to play on my PS3. If anything though it is partly represented by the PS Vita, since playing Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain and Kula World on that is a joy.
Neo Geo Pocket Colour – I have such affection for this console, and I still think it has the best thumbstick of any handheld. A bigger library and a backlit screen would probably have secured it’s place in my top 5, I still fondly remember getting mine at UK launch. I’ve yet to find another handheld that is so satisfying for fighting games.