BEST SEGA GENESIS PLATFORM GAMES

  • Sega Genesis brought arcade gaming home with large sprites and exciting platform game offerings.
  • Earthworm Jim 2's wacky design and gameplay elements make for an unfocused but entertaining experience.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 3 introduced Knuckles and catchy music, becoming a colorful and memorable classic.

The Sega Genesis's arrival in 1989 marked a new era of 16-bit video gaming. Releasing two years before the SNES, Sega Genesis and its aggressive marketing campaign offered a genuine contender to the home console market domination of Nintendo. The hardware was based on Sega’s System 16 arcade board, and it was predominantly in arcade ports where the console excelled. Among the many advertising successes Sega had was the promise of arcade gaming in the home.

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Though offering large sprites and numerous ports from the arcade did contribute to the console’s success, it did have a lot more to offer than that. Among the many outstanding titles on the Genesis were its platform game offerings. Below are the best Genesis platform games.

Updated May 15, 2024 by Mark Ward: Platformers are by far one of the most popular types of side-scroller there is, and Sega clearly saw this trend from a mile away on the Genesis. Whether or not these games were primed for a pop culture takeover (which a few were) was secondary to the fact that they were largely just fun to play.

That's because each one had some sort of gimmick to differentiate it from its mountains of competition. If players were lucky enough to be a Genesis household growing up, there was simply no shortage of great platformers to get their hands on, which is why this list has been updated to include a few more of the console's greatest.

Earthworm Jim 2

GameFaqs Rating: 3.75/5

Earthworm Jim 2
Platform(s)Sega Saturn, PC, Game Boy Advance, PS1, SNES, Genesis
ReleasedNovember 15, 1995
Developer(s)Screaming Pink, Shiny Entertainment
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Wacky level design.
  • Has an unconventional protagonist.

The Sega Genesis was known for delivering games featuring mascot-worthy characters in a bid to draw in audiences of all ages. This is something that the Earthworm Jim series, and in particular, Earthworm Jim 2, seemed to be unconcerned with. For example, it had a level descriptively titled "Jim's Now a Blind Cave Salamander" that has players floating around some presumably fluid-filled cavern with things that look like taste buds on the walls for no discernible reason.

In fact, Earthworm Jim 2 is filled to the brim with gameplay elements, level-design choices, and a "story" that just doesn't make sense, all of which can make the game feel a bit unfocused at times. Regardless, it's a joy to progress through the title and overcome whatever gimmick the next level will present to the player.

QuackShot

GameFaqs Rating: 3.92/5

QuackShot
Platform(s)Sega Saturn, Genesis
ReleasedDecember 19, 1991
Developer(s)Sega
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Combat and traversal utilize the same useful tool.
  • Is a globe-trotting adventure.

One of Disney's storied 90s video games, as well as another in their veritable duck empire of the time, QuackShot Starring Donald Duck is a great action-platformer with some fascinating combat and, at times, frustrating traversal mechanics. Donald is given a plunger gun that can stun enemies, as well as shoot at walls to create platforms for him to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

Donald also has a temper meter that, when full, allows him to rush passed enemies in one of his signature fits. This, along with all the other modes of traversal in the game, helps to justify the Indiana Jones-style get-up and wide range of settings that players' favorite fowl finds himself in.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars

GameFaqs Rating: 4.00/5

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Remasters some of the greats while also including an entirely new game.
  • Shakes up the gameplay formula without changing the experience.

The Wily Wars is a remaster of three excellent platformers as well as an entirely new experience titled Wily Tower. The gameplay here is just what players remember, with some of the simplest, yet challenging platforming and combat there is.

Wily's Tower, though, allows the player to have a bit of fun with Mega Man's past. On top of taking on stages in any order, like usual, before each stage, players choose a loadout of powers derived from the three other games in the compilation. This feature may make things slightly easier, but it also makes for a really fun remix of Mega Man's iconic "play in any order" formula.

Castlevania: Bloodlines

GameFaqs Rating: 4.00/5

Castlevania Bloodlines
Platform(s)Switch, PS4, PC, Xbox One, Genesis
ReleasedMarch 17, 1994
Developer(s)Konami
Genre(s)Action-Adventure

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Puts the focus on exciting boss battles.
  • Delivers a unique graphical style to help stand out from its predecessors.

Arriving in 1994, Castlevania: Bloodlines would bring the franchise to the Sega platform with an experience tailor-made for the console. Long sprawling levels were replaced with action-packed stages and boss rushes, for a signature Sega arcade experience through the Castlevania franchise. Set in 1917, the player takes the role of either John Morris or Eric Lecarde as they travel across Europe to halt the resurrection of Dracula. Graphical effects and a raised level of gore make this a visual standout not only for the Sega Genesis but for the franchise itself at the time.

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Fast-paced, visually dazzling, and keeping the Castlevania gameplay formula intact this is one of the series’ best titles. One not to be missed by Genesis owners and enthusiasts.

Sonic The Hedgehog

GameFaqs Rating: 4.05/5

Sonic the Hedgehog
Platform(s)Switch, PC, iOS, Android, Nintendo 3DS, Genesis
ReleasedJune 23, 1991
Developer(s)Sonic Team
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • First-of-its-kind level design to match its quick gameplay.
  • Beautifully realized, colorful levels.

In 1991, Sega successfully launched a mascot platformer to rival Mario and the console war was on. The original Sonic the Hedgehog brought fast-paced gameplay and unique level design to platform games never seen before. Playing as the titular character, players must clear stages to free captive animals on a quest to stop the evil Dr. Robotnik. Along with the vibrant visuals and unique take on platform gameplay, this original Sonic title would also mark the distinct Sega Genesis sound.

Today, this title shows its age and its sequels would improve it considerably. Yet, this is a classic 2D platformer and stands as the best-selling Genesis game of all time.

Dynamite Headdy

GameFaqs Rating: 4.06/5

Dynamite Headdy
Platform(s)Master System, Game Gear, PC, Genesis
ReleasedAugust 4, 1994
Developer(s)Treasure
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Solidified the developer's penchant for visual flair.
  • Heddy's detachable design is useful in gameplay as well.

A creative platformer that stood head and shoulders above a sea of ever-arriving Sonic clones, Dynamite Headdy was released in 1994 to critical acclaim. Developer Treasure had a proven track record delivering the run and gun masterpiece Gunstar Heroes and brought their skill for visual creativity to this standout title. Players control Dynamite Headdy, a puppet with a detachable head who must stop King Dark Demon, an evil puppet bringing all he comes across under his control. The detachable head mechanic not only offers attacks from range but traversal and power-up abilities and was rightly labeled innovative for the time.

One of the platform’s visual feasts offering a bright color palette, large sprites, and impressive animation, Dynamite Headdy is a highlight of the entire Genesis library.

Ristar

GameFaqs Rating: 4.07/5

Ristar
Platform(s)Game Gear, PC, iOS, Android, Genesis
ReleasedFebruary 16, 1995
Developer(s)Sonic Team
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • One of the last great Genesis titles.
  • Ristar's extendable arms make for some inventive gameplay.

Ristar would be released late in the Sega Genesis life cycle and would get somewhat lost in the sea of 2D platformers on the market at the time. Sega, before its release, had hoped for Ristar to be the inheritor to Sonic’s throne as the company’s mascot platformer. Controlling cartoon star Ristar the player must stop Kaiser Greedy a space pirate from controlling the planet leaders of the Valdi System.

Without a doubt, one of the best-looking titles on the Genesis, Ristar makes a worthy attempt at mixing up the standard run and jump platforming mechanics. Traversing stages and obstacles requires using Ristar's extendable arms in the eight possible directions. This 1995 game would slip past many because of the impending arrival of the Sega Saturn and other promising 3D consoles, but for a Genesis platformer, it’s among the best and most inventive.

Rocket Knight Adventures

GameFaqs Rating: 4.17/5

Rocket Knight Adventures
Platform(s)Genesis
ReleasedJune 16, 1993
Developer(s)Konami
Genre(s)Shooter, Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • One of the console's cutest mascots.
  • Fast-paced gameplay that can give Sonic a run for his money.

Konami released a slew of stand-out games in the 16-bit era and among the very best of them is Rocket Knight Adventures. The player controls a possum knight named Sparkster as he takes the fight to the evil Devotindos Empire. Sparkster made for a unique platform mascot. Not only a possum, not only a sword-wielding knight but one equipped with a jetpack no less.

This wild creativity is the very making of a fast-paced engrossing side-scrolling adventure, as the jetpack enables huge bursts of speed and the ability to bounce off walls. Typically celebrated as one of the Sega Genesis's best games, Rocket Knight Adventures stands out for its creativity, superlative visuals, and fast-paced gameplay.

Shinobi 3: Return Of The Ninja Master

GameFaqs Rating: 4.18/5

Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master
Platform(s)PS3, Switch, PS4, PS2, PC, Nintendo 3DS, Genesis
ReleasedJuly 22, 1993
Developer(s)Megasoft, Sega
Genre(s)Platformer, Action

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Quick and satisfying combat.
  • One of the more grounded platformers released for the Genesis.

The third entry in the Shinobi series proved a roaring success emphasizing speed and smooth action over difficulty. Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master was released as a sequel to the widely acclaimed The Revenge of the Shinobi. Once again the player controls Joe Musashi as crime syndicate Neo Zeed arises once again to threaten the world.

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Providing the hack-and-slash gameplay that the series was built upon, this title adds new features including wall jumping and midair strikes. Initially intended to be released a year early, Sega kept the game in-house for a year to bring it up to a standard they were satisfied with. Bringing the ability to run and making speed the key element of the gameplay would raise this platformer to another level. Shinobi III has received numerous re-releases since its 1993 debut.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3

GameFaqs Rating: 4.29/5

Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Platform(s)PC, Genesis
ReleasedFebruary 2, 1994
Developer(s)Sonic Team
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Serves as the introduction of fan-favorite character, Knuckles.
  • Includes a memorable soundtrack, partly put together by Michael Jackson.

Selling over four million copies globally, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was a resounding critical and commercial success upon its 1994 release. The player controls Sonic on Angel Island in pursuit of Doctor Robotnik only to be ambushed by Knuckles the Echidna (in his series debut). Sonic 3 would tweak the absorbing formula by adding elemental power-ups and 3D-based special stages to the speedy side-scrolling action.

Michael Jackson would provide music for the game’s soundtrack only to leave the project halfway through. It remains in question how much of Jackson’s work remains in the game’s catchy soundtrack.

Offering some of the most colorful and memorable stages in the franchise, Sonic 3 is not to be missed. A much-celebrated and re-released classic for the 16-bit console.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2

GameFaqs Rating: 4.30/5

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Platform(s)Switch, PC, 3DS, Genesis
ReleasedNovember 21, 1992
Developer(s)Sega
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Allowed for player-controlled spin-dashing.
  • Introduced the ever-helpful character, Tails.

Winning two Golden Joystick awards in 1992 and grossing over $450 million, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took Sega’s mascot from a Mario contender to a true rival. Desiring to improve upon the groundbreaking original in every way, Sonic 2 offered faster gameplay, more vibrant visuals, and a plethora of original level designs. The game would also debut a 2 multiplayer element and, perhaps most significantly, the ability for Sonic to spin dash on his own accord. Offering something of a rehash to the original story, the player controls Sonic as he travels across West Side Island freeing animals from Dr. Robotnik’s clutches.

Debuting Tails offered a subtle difficulty reduction with his ability to collect rings and hit bosses for the player. An iconic game with an equally iconic soundtrack, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains celebrated for good reason.

Sonic & Knuckles

GameFaqs Rating: 4.31/5

Sonic & Knuckles
Platform(s)Xbox 360, PC, Genesis
ReleasedOctober 18, 1994
Developer(s)Sega
Genre(s)Platformer

What Makes This Sega Genesis Platformer Great?

  • Technically speaking, is a game of excellent leftovers from Sonic 3.
  • Allows players to choose between two, now iconic, characters.

Sonic & Knuckles stands as an exceptional platformer on the Sega Genesis. Both Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were initially developed as one title, but due to cartridge and budget restrictions had to be split into two separate games. The cartridge would be designed to have an adapter on top of the cartridge for the player to place Sonic 3 on top and play the title in full as originally envisioned.

Players can control Sonic or Knuckles as they once again try to halt Dr. Robotnik from launching the Death Egg. Despite its similarity to Sonic 3, the game offers some outstanding level design and graphics for Sega’s 16-bit hardware.

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