In 2023, Sega revealed its intentions to revamp some of its most beloved arcade games, such as Crazy Taxi and Golden Axe, for present-day home gaming systems. This is a valuable initiative as contemporary players, who grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, may not be aware of the company’s impressive legacy. Despite being seen as a perpetual runner-up in the competition between gaming consoles, Sega was a dominant force in the arcade industry for many years, with some of its biggest hits emerging during the era of the Sega Saturn. Therefore, let’s take a moment to recognize the top coin-operated games in the manufacturer’s extensive history.
15. After Burner (1987)
After Burner, a game created by designer Yu Suzuki, is a remarkable addition to the taikan series of hydraulic coin-operated cabinets. This flight combat game offers an unparalleled level of intensity, as players are able to enter the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat and take to the skies. With impressive pixel explosions, barrel rolls, and fast-moving scenery, this game provides an immersive Top Gun experience.
14. Zaxxon (1982)
Previously, most games involving space navigation only allowed movement in a horizontal or vertical direction. However, Sega opted for a unique approach by introducing isometric scrolling. This resulted in an intriguingly immersive space shooter game for its time, enhanced by the control scheme where the joystick controls altitude instead of horizontal movement on the screen. The space fortresses in the game have a sharp and almost mathematical design, resembling giant circuit boards, which still have a visually appealing aesthetic even today.
13. Virtua Racing (1992)
I struggled to choose between this game and Super Hang-On, but ultimately decided on the first installment in Sega’s Virtua series of 3D arcade games. It’s a racing game focused on Formula 1, with three tracks to race on. The graphics, created with flat-shaded polygons, give it a realistic appearance similar to a military or aerospace simulator. Powered by the innovative Model 1 arcade technology, the game ran smoothly and seamlessly, enhanced by its wide widescreen display for a more immersive experience. This marked the start of modern 3D driving games.
12. Last Bronx (1996)
When discussing Sega and 3D fighting games, Virtua Fighter is often the first game that comes to mind, but the company has also created numerous other exceptional titles in this genre. While I could have chosen the visually impressive Fighting Vipers, I have decided to highlight another game from AM3, which offers a darker and grittier experience. This game features motion-captured street fighters and includes combat with weapons such as nunchucks, tonfas, and swords. It is set in a post-economic collapse Tokyo and has a intense techno soundtrack, making it a popular game in Japan. However, it did not receive as much attention in the western market due to the popularity of Soul Edge at the time.
11. Alien Syndrome (1987)
This game combines elements of Gauntlet and Aliens in a traditional two-player shooter. Players control crew members aboard a spaceship that has been taken over by slimy alien creatures and dome-headed monsters modeled after HR Giger’s creations in Ridley Scott’s film. With a variety of powerful weapons, such as a flame-thrower, the game creates a highly suspenseful atmosphere and adds a touch of horror to the scrolling shooter genre.
10. The House of the Dead 2 (1998)
For the past 20 years, Takashi Oda’s horror game sequel has been a popular attraction in arcades. It features a visually stunning setting in Venice, where you take on the role of a special agent fighting against a zombie outbreak. Despite its intense action and gore, the dialogue in the game is poorly written and lacks emotion.
9. Space Harrier (1985)
The main gameplay of Space Harrier is not very impressive, as the unique 3D-style action that moves towards the screen hides a lot of the details of the main character who is powered by a rocket. However, the game’s hydraulic cabinet that moves up and down adds an exciting rollercoaster experience and showcases the design philosophy of taikan. This enhances the psychedelic space adventure happening on the screen. Additionally, the audio is fantastic. Many gamers from a particular generation will always remember the iconic phrase: “Welcome to the Fantasy Zone. Get ready!”
8. Crazy Taxi (1999)
During the years 1999-2001, Sega utilized its versatile Naomi technology, which was inspired by the Dreamcast console. This resulted in the creation of a standout game called “Crazy Taxi”. Unlike traditional racing games, the objective of this game is to navigate through a city and pick up customers who have urgent demands, then drop them off as quickly as possible to earn money. Despite its easy accessibility, the handling model offers hidden layers of depth that allow players to perform impressive dash and drift moves to multiply their score. With its humorous and vibrant gameplay, “Crazy Taxi” perfectly captures the essence of Sega’s best work during a nostalgic time period.
7. Golden Axe (1989)
Inspired by the films of Conan, designer Makoto Uchida utilized his knowledge gained from the imperfect Altered Beast to develop the quintessential high fantasy adventure game, showcasing a trio of unique protagonists, undead soldiers, powerful muscular fighters, and stunning battle animations. Players could acquire enchanted potions from gnomes, ride ferocious fire-breathing dragons, and each level would commence with frightened villagers fleeing in terror. This game is the epitome of arcade design in the late 1980s.
6. Virtua Cop 2 (1995)
The first Virtua Cop game featured two police officers, Michael Hardy and James Cools, who were quick to use their guns as they fought their way through city streets filled with both criminals and innocent bystanders. The sequel offers a similar experience, but with improved 3D graphics and more diverse enemies. Players will navigate through a bustling downtown square, a luxurious cruise ship, and a moving subway train, with each battle showcasing impressive depth and variety thanks to the skills of developer Sega AM2.
5. Shinobi (1987)
Taking advantage of the popular fascination with ninjas in the 1980s, Shinobi stands out as a fantastic side-scrolling action game. Its protagonist, Joe Musashi, employs a combination of kicks, punches, and an endless supply of shuriken to defeat a diverse group of mercenaries hired by the dangerous criminal syndicate Zeed. Along the way, he also saves hostages. With its high-energy and intense gameplay, sequel Shadow Dancer was also highly praised.
4. OutRun (1986)
Yu Suzuki managed to capture the true essence of the 1980s in Outrun – from its synth-heavy soundtrack to its vibrant atmosphere and flashy cars – making it one of the top arcade games of the decade. With the ability for players to chart their own path on a global adventure, Outrun feels more like a carefree journey than a competitive race, foreshadowing the popular open-world driving games that would emerge ten years later.
3. Sega Rally (1994)
Sega Rally, created by Sega’s specialized AM3 division known for sports and simulation games, allows players to drive on a variety of road surfaces which impact handling differently. The game features low resolution but visually stunning vehicles, such as the Toyota Celica and iconic Lancia Delta, and takes players on a thrilling journey through rural lanes and perilous mountain passes. The Saturn version of the game was also highly praised for its captivating experience.
2. Virtua Fighter 2 (1994)
Yu Suzuki brought his obsession with detailed, intricate simulation to the fighting game genre via the original Virtua Fighter, but the sequel adds much greater character detail including (for the era) luscious texture mapping. Unlike the Tekken and Street Fighter titles, VF2 has no ludicrous magical moves or soap-opera story. Its hugely adaptable fighting mechanic, based on a range of real-life martial arts styles, provided authenticity and bone-crunching action.
1. Daytona USA (1994)
It’s no wonder that dual Daytona USA cabinets can still be found in almost every arcade by the beach or in the city. Sega AM2’s groundbreaking 3D driving game remains unrivaled in terms of handling, offering a seamless experience with exciting gameplay and visually stunning graphics. Its conversion to the Saturn console, along with Ridge Racer on PlayStation, marked the start of the 32-bit home console era. With countless hours of enjoyment and competition, Daytona USA truly cemented its place as a legendary game in amusement arcades.