This is the ten best master system games. While the 8-bit Sega Master System was designed and released as a direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), it was never able to crack the hold on the market. Many gamers still don’t know much about the system. Nintendo’s grip on the American market and break the ironclad exclusive licensing agreement Nintendo had with many 3rd party developers doomed the Master System from the beginning.
Which is too bad. The Master System (or Sega Mark III as it was known in Japan) was a step-up from the NES, with more powerful hardware, and the ability to run both cartridges and Mega Cartridges. The system also offered accessories like 3D glasses and a light gun.
The Master System constantly struggled to fill out its library with games, since so many developers had exclusive licensing deals with Nintendo. Sega ramped up developing of its games to fill out the library, often launching a game after only three months of development.
With the rise of 16-bit gaming and the launch of the much more powerful Sega Genesis, Sega ceased supporting the Sega Master System (even though the console still sells well today in countries like Brazil).
Even with a limited gaming library, the Sega Master System offered some breakout titles.
How We Chose Our Ratings for the Best Master System Games
Reviews are, by their nature, opinion-based.
But we’ve made every effort to balance opinion with facts and insight from outside reviewers.
For each review, we’ve not only taken a close look at the game but gone back to tabulate past reviews from both critics and gamers. Where possible, we considered the gameplay elements, technology, and graphics in the game to shape the review.
We considered games that were not just fun (even though fun is a critical factor) but also had that little something extra to give it an edge over similar games. We’re looking for games that people talked about and recommended for years after the game was released.
Let’s dive into our review of the Best Master System Games.
Prince of Persia
Alex Kidd In Miracle World
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap
Space Harrier 2
The Best Master System Games
Despite a lack of 3rd party developers adding games to the system library, the Sega Master System offered titles that are still impressing gamers today. Here’s our list of the Best Master System Games.
The first game on the list of the best master system games is an obscure title that has become a cult hit for the Master System.
Psycho Fox is a platformer with elements of an action game. You play a fox priest who must fight against the Madfox who has taken over a shrine of the Fox deity. You must travel and defeat the evil minions. Along the way, you meet a bird that can turn into a weapon and discover the power to turn into different animals. Each animal has unique abilities.
It’s a clever concept, and I know of no other game with a fox priest. But, some of the elements struggle to make a cohesive game. Sometimes the game moves too fast to be a platformer, and sometimes it’s too slow to be an action game. The result it a lot of fun, but with pieces that feel out of place.
For fox deities and weaponized birds, we give Psycho Fox 3 out of 5.
Prince of Persia
Granted, many could finish the entire game faster than watching one of the Rocky movies; this was still a standout title for the Sega Master System.
Based on the series, like Rocky, you face foes from the movies. In between bouts, you have training sessions with Micky. Each fight was more difficult than the previous and lasted 15 rounds. Each foe required a different strategy to beat, and many times you had to keep learning the moves of an opponent before you could win. There was also a two-player mode. One player controlled Rocky, while the other could select one of his foes.
The game had strong controls that were used in later titles like Heavyweight Champ. It also had some of the best graphics on the Sega Master System
For an Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang in 8-bit form, we give Rocky 3 out of 5.
Alex Kidd Miracle World Master
A side-scrolling beat ‘em up action title that improves on the excellent Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2 is an easy choice for the Best Master System Games list.
In the game, you have different characters to choose from, each with their attacks and special abilities. You move through the game defeating enemies and bosses until you take on the infamous Mr. X who has kidnapped one of your allies. There are some different enemies such as bikers and ninjas to battle, and an impressive list of moves for each character. Along the way, you can pick up different weapons like knives and baseball bats.
There are similar titles out there, including Final Fight and Double Dragons, but many still call Streets of Rage 2 the best of the side-scrolling street fighters. With unique characters and special moves that keep the gameplay fresh, its still a fun game today.
For ninjas and baseball bats, we give Streets of Rage 3.5 out of 5
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is an excellent game that suffered because it came out on the Master System rather than the NES, but many regard it as one of the best titles to come out for an 8-bit system.
As both a platformer and an action-adventure game, Wonder Boy II offers nonlinear gameplay. You’ve been cursed by a Mecha Dragon and must recover the Salamander Cross to break the curse. To win, you travel the Monster Land to find clues and items to defeat the Vampire Dragon who holds the Salamander Cross. Along the way, Wonder Boy learns how to take on different shapes, each with the different abilities he needs to navigate areas in the Monster Land.
With colorful, cartoon graphics and fun, action-packed gameplay, Wonder Boy II was a highlight for the Master System.
For a Mecha and Vampire Dragons, we give Wonder Boy II: The Dragon’s Trap 4 out of 5.
A shooter that has been ported to numerous game consoles over the years, R-Type was originally an arcade game before the first port to the Sega Master System.
The game has several levels with a boss at the end of each. With a ship, the player navigates terrain and uses a variety of weapons to defeat enemies. Along the way, the player can acquire a power-up called a “Force” which can be used as a floating weapon platform or to provide more weapons to the ship.
As fun as the game was, it was also notoriously hard. The only way to learn and navigate levels was by trial and error – normally a lot of errors. R-Type was also unique in the different weapons the ship could acquire. Many levels could only be defeated with the right weapon.
For relentless enemies, we give R-Type 4 out of 5.
A highly successful game both critically and commercially, Out Run is one of the best master system games by Sega.
A 3D racing game with a soundtrack you could control, gameplay was fairly simple. You have a car (a Ferrari Testarossa Spider) and a timer. There’s a destination you need to reach before time runs out.
With curves in the road and hills, you can’t easily see oncoming traffic. Every time you hit an obstacle or another car, you slow down and lose time. Along the way, you have checkpoints that add time and choices of routes to different environments. It’s a simple idea, but highly effective. With an awesome soundtrack and relentless gameplay, Out Run was another excellent port from the original arcade game
For Ferraris and slow traffic everywhere, we give Out Run 4 out of 5.
The first in the famous series of RPGs released by Sega, Phantasy Star broke ground as one of the first story-driven games released in America. It also offered a female protagonist, another feature that set it apart from other games.
The game offered a fairly open world experience, with towns you could visit and interactive dungeons. Like most RPGs of the time, the hero would meet others who could join the party and assist in adventurers. As the game went on, the weapons and magic of the hero grew more powerful, and in later levels was so visually impressive that players would often replay levels just to see the special effects.
Unlike other titles, Phantasy Star was able to create 3D-style graphics for the dungeons in first person view using some clever graphics tricks. Dungeon battles offered enemies with increased frame rates adding even more impressive graphics. Overall, Phantasy Star was an excellent first title in the series.
For visual effects, we give Phantasy Star 4 out of 5.
Space Harrier 2
Most anyone who owned a Sega Master System knew Alex Kidd and played Alex Kidd in Miracle World since it was built into the console. It’s a good thing this was one of the Best Master System Games and an excellent platformer.
The plot was simple. Alex Kidd is a martial artist who learns he is the son of King Thunder. Janken the Great has kidnapped his brother, Egle, and Egle’s fiancée. Egle is supposed to become the new Thunder King. So Alex sets out to defeat Janken and rescue his brother.
Through 17 levels, Alex must avoid obstacles, solve puzzles and defeat henchman of the evil Janken. Along the way, he can discover hidden areas and find items. He can discover treasure to purchase helicopters and motorcycles before finally facing Janken in an epic castle battle.
The game also has no save feature, but on the Game Over screen, players can input a code to restart a level with a small cost of in-game currency. With a variety of screens and challenges, as well as secrets to discover, Alex Kidd in Miracle World has a lot to offer gamers.
For martial arts and motorcycles, we give Alex Kidd in Miracle World 5 out of 5.
Almost everyone knows of the Prince of Persia games. The game has appeared on numerous consoles and systems. The Sega Master System version was a high mark for the original game.
The story is simple. The Sultan is away in a foreign land, and the evil wizard Jaffar has captured his daughter. You have 60 minutes to navigate through the treacherous dungeon and castle to her tower and rescue the princess. Along the way, you must defeat evil henchman as well as a doppelganger summoned by a magic mirror.
The graphics of the game were exceptional and based on the real-life movements of gymnasts and sword fighters. With the added power of the Master System, the graphics come to life, and the game is a delight to play.
For evil wizards and princesses, we give Prince of Persia 5 out of 5.
No list of the Best Master System games would be complete without a Sonic game.
Sonic Chaos keeps everything fans knew and loved about previous titles in the series and then improved on it all. The story was simple, Dr. Robotnik stole chaos emeralds from South Island, and Sonic is off to recover the crystals and save the island.
Only this time, Sonic is joined by Tails as a playable character. Sonic and Tails play differently, giving players different options for conquering levels. The game also adds gameplay elements like a Spin Dash or Super Peel-out for Sonic. Tails can fly, and as a player, you can control the flight.
By the time Sonic Chaos was released, players could see how Sonic had looked and felt in 16-bit, but Sonic still brought the speed and gameplay for the Master System.
For robots and hedgehogs, we give Sonic Chaos 5 out of 5.
Buyer’s Guide to Sega's Best Master System Games
?Many of the games on this list become ports on other systems, including the Sega Genesis that followed the Master System.
Many of those ports weren’t nearly as successful as the original for the Master System. When reviewing or considering games to purchase, keep in mind the core gameplay elements to review whether the port was successful or not. Updated graphics may be nice, but not if the gameplay is flawed or doesn’t run as it should.