The Grand 2021 Master System Spree

In a previous blog, I mentioned that I would be moving on to play Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on PSP. It seems that the curse of the game has followed me, as I bounced off it immediately, for the sixth time! In the first week of September 2021, I decided to plug in my Sega Master System, for when my PSP was charging. Instead, I ended up rifling through an auction lot of cartridges that I bought a decade ago, when collecting was still viable.

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As a proud Master System defender, one of my more validating moments was hearing the Cuphead developers mention their love for the underrated console. It's with this same passion that the mere act of holding the rectangular controller led me to load up game after game. I thought that it might be neat to rate the ones I ended up giving a try.

The 11 games in the list will be ranked from 1, being the worst, to 11, which is the best in this specific batch.

List items

  • Called World Soccer here, this game is an example of what football games in the eighties felt like, pre-FIFA. There is barely any content, either single play or penalties, for one or two players. The screen scrolls in bits and the players can only be controlled when the ball is at their foot. On top of that, goal attempts follow the field movement, making any step a struggle.

  • Once again, this game is slightly different here, called World Cup Italia '90. As we hit the nineties, the 8-way movement is more fluid, but the grotesque speed of play makes it impossible to get through a whole championship. It is, however, faithful to the tournament, stages and all.

  • The Cyber Shinobi is not a game that's representative of Sega in its prime. The action platform game with giant sprites looks choppy and plays even worse. The boss designs are beyond simplistic and the level design isn't much better. It can pass a Shinobi smell test, but that's about it.

  • I wanted to love this game so much. This platform game is adorable, with multiple playable characters. The gameplay, however, takes every wrong lesson from the Sonic franchise, with hindered momentum and constant leaps of faith. There was an attempt to make a memorable game here, but it's ultimately indefensible.

  • On the other side of the coin, I didn't expect much from The Ninja, but it was totally serviceable. A simple, but more agile take on the Commando arcade shooter. There's some decent level variety to keep you on your toes and the only downside is that it has a bad ending, unless you find obscure items. The one musical track might also become grating.

  • It's a bit of a bummer for this classic that the action platform game is probably impossible to complete on original hardware. The difficulty is just unfair. Until then, the journey will take you through a stellar Eastern presentation, with multi-leveled gameplay fields. Being careful and mindful in every action, while navigating enemies and traps, really nails that capable ninja feel.

  • This side-scrolling shooter was another neat surprise. While it has a hard time to render all the bullet hell on the screen, it is cute enough to keep trying. Cloud Master even winks at their peer in Fantasy Zone, by offering a dimension door to a power-up shop. As always, this game is tough as nails, but it is doable and rewarding to finish, even if it's just to see the silly boss designs.

  • Before Astro's Playroom, the best pack-in game for consoles was Alex Kidd. The platform game is a classic and showed off exactly what the Master System does best. The worlds are a blast of color, cheerful music and challenging obstacles. Every few levels, you'll also get a vehicle as a nice reward. While it's a great time to play, it is a hard game to finish, but it will be fun while it lasts.

  • This port is one of my favorite iterations of the board game, because it's obtuse and cluttered in just the right ways. Making smart business decisions can keep the game going for ages, making it a perfect way to pass an evening, just watching the big character sprites go around the playing field. Every time the dog gets sent to jail, I laugh like I'm eight years old again.

  • With license games being my thing, I was extremely surprised to find out that this platform game is excellent. Mickey jumps through lively worlds on the way to save Minnie. There's even a little Mega Man in there, complete with a variety of boss fights. It's one of the best produced games on the console, in my opinion.

  • The classic that formed a legacy of platform games. With a flawless atmosphere and self-evident yet challenging gameplay, Prince of Persia comes close to being one of those perfect games. Grab ledges, jump over spikes and fight guards to escape the dungeon and save the princess. This game holds a strong personal importance, but even beyond this bias, the sheer deliberate nature of every screen is just plain admirable. They don't make them like they used to.