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The 20 Best Master System Games Of All Time!

The Master System might not have had as large a library as the NES, but sported numerous landmark titles that quite literally changed the game and helped cement numerous genres moving forward. It might look more like a tape recorder than a home console to the modern observer, but back in the day, the Master System was an advanced piece of technology that introduced gamers to a world of new possibilities, both in terms of graphics and scale.

In fact, it was actually more powerful than the NES and outsold it in Europe and Brazil, but was severely hampered in Japan and the USA by the restrictive, platform exclusivity policies of Nintendo.

But that didn’t stop millions from enjoying the hell out of the numerous, awesome titles that came out on the Master System, leaving lasting memories in the minds of many gamers.

If you’re curious about retro gaming, or perhaps found yourself a functioning Master System hidden away in the dusty recesses of your attic or basement (bonus!), read on to find out some of the best games to ever come out on the console, and some useful links to help get your hands on a few. But be warned, some of the titles are extra rare, so a few of them might actually cost you as much as a new PS4. No joke!

Phantasy Star (Best)

  • Released: 1987
  • Developer: Sega

Widely considered one of the very best games of the Master System, the seemingly immortal Phantasy Star paved the way for jRPGs on console with a range of gameplay mechanics — now considered standard in the genre — that were fresh and exciting at the time. Open-world, narrative-drive, with turn-based battles and experience points, Phantasy Star was praised by critics and fans alike for the then-unprecedented scope of the game and its comparatively crisp visuals. Essentially the Skyrim of the Master System, Phantasy Star was way, way ahead of its time in many respects and lives on today with the newly released (newly for the US, at least) Phantasy Star Online 2.

Look for Phantasy Star on: Amazon

Wonder Boy in Monster Land

  • Released: 1987
  • Developer: Westone Bit Entertainment

The sequel to the more simply titled Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a linear, platformer precursor to the ARPG that has players working their way through 12 levels of monsters to confront the final boss, the vicious Mecha Dragon. Think of it as 8-Bit Skyrim, with players accruing gold and progressively upgrading their armor, gear, and weapons on their way to the conclusive battle. The colorful graphics, memorable soundtrack, and immersive world-design earned the game critical praise and made it a must-play for fans of the Master System.

Look for Wonder Boy in Monster Land on: eBay | Amazon

Wonder Boy III

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Westone Bit Entertainment

Many remember Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap as the pinnacle of the Master System — as the single best game ever produced for the platform. If there was a number one slot for the greatest Master System game ever made, this might be it. It continues off where the last game left off, with Wonder Boy cursed by the Mecha Dragon, transformed into the Lizardman. Unlike previous installments in the series, the game is non-linear, with multiple environments open to explore and return to as Wonder Boy acquires new abilities, equipment, and other transformations. Overall, it shares many gameplay mechanics with modern ARPGs and is a strong contender for the best 8-Bit title of all time.

Maybe that’s why it got a PS4 remake in 2017!

Look for Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap on: eBay

Buy the PS4 remake: Amazon

Psycho Fox

  • Released: 1989
  • Developer: Tokai Communications, Sega

Psycho Fox is a somewhat questionably translated, utterly addictive platformer with some of the best-looking, most polished graphics to come out on the Master System. Rather than trying to push for pseudo-3D, Psycho Fox owns its cartoonish, pixel-art look with pride. The game uses an interesting, character-switching mechanic that is, quite admittedly, similar to the one on display in the upcoming Genshin Impact, in which players can freely switch between a team of animals with their own abilities and playstyles.

Look for Psycho Fox on: Amazon

Rampart

  • Released: 1990
  • Developer: Atari Games

Rampart is considered by retro-gamers to be the godfather of all tower defense games. The game centers around the upkeep and defense of a player-controlled territory and castle from an onslaught of invading ships. The meat of the game lies in maintaining and repairing damage sustained between subsequent attacks while destroying the enemy fleet, controlled by A.I or another player, with an array of cannons.

Look for Rampart on: LukieGames | Amazon

Impossible Mission

  • Released: 1984
  • Developer: Epyx

Impossible Mission is kind of like a Master System game incarnation of what little kids think secret agents do for a living. Infiltrating the airs of evil scientists teeming with robots, racing against time to collect puzzle pieces. It was one of the most popular games on the Master System and is fondly remembered as one of the best OG platform adventure games. And no, it has nothing to do with Mission Impossible, ironically.

Play Impossible Mission: RetroGames

Look for Impossible Mission on: Amazon | eBay

Gain Ground

  • Released: 1988
  • Developer: M2, Sega

Starting out as an arcade game, Gain Ground moved across multiple platforms and is still remembered as one of the most awesome games on the Master System.  An action-strategy at its core, gameplay takes place in levels populated with a number of enemies and controllable characters, only one of which can be used at a time. The game has twenty playable characters, each their own playstyles and variety of attacks, and 50 levels of arcade-style floor clearing and plenty of epic boss battles.

Look for Gain Ground on: eBay

California Games

  • Released: 1987
  • Developer: Epyx

California Games is a compilation of games like Footbag (or hacky sack as you might call it), Half-Pipe (or Vert Skating, as you might know it now), Flying Disc (Come on, it’s called frisbee) and Surfing, among others. All of which were somewhat hilariously characterized as “popular in California” which was, we guess, a selling point back in the ’80s. Surfing makes sense, at least. It was Epyx’s most successful game and provides a lot of straightforward, simple fun with broad appeal.

Look for California Games on: eBayAmazon

Shinobi

  • Released: 1988
  • Developer: Sega

Shinobi is a classic, decades-spanning franchise with its beginning in the days of arcades where the addictive side-scrolling gameplay and instadeath mechanic made it an immediate smash hit. The game revolves around a modern-day ninja (what was with the ’80s and urban ninjas?) named Joe Musashi as he runs around laying waste to a terrorist organization for kidnapping some of his students. Why would a terrorist organization make its primary objective to target the students of an urban ninjutsu teacher? Who knows. It’s just fun.

Look for Shinobi on: eBay | Amazon

Alex Kidd in Miracle World

  • Released: 1986
  • Developer: Sega

The first in one of the most successful franchises for the Master System, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was originally intended to be a Dragon Ball game but when Sega lost the license in the middle of development was recreated into a brand new IP. And while some of the Dragon Ball roots are still visible in some of the level designs, the action-adventure game remained memorable enough to merit a 2021 remake a full 35 years later for the PS4 — which was coincidentally just announced this month.

Look for Alex Kidd in Miracle World on: eBay

Sonic the Hedgehog

  • Released: 1991
  • Developer: Ancient

The Master System edition of the original Sonic the Hedgehog — the game that would kick off an enduring, and universally liked franchise — is actually a port from the 16-bit Sega Genesis. The SMS version would, however, prove wildly successful and to great critical acclaim. The game sports pretty advanced graphics (relatively speaking for the console) and introduced the original, vanilla sonic gameplay and characters that would live on for… well, seemingly forever.

Look for Sonic the Hedgehog on: eBayAmazon

The Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

  • Released: 1990
  • Developer: Sega

The Castle of Illusion is one of the trippiest games ever, irrespective of platform, and fittingly so. The plot follows Mickey as he moves through the interdimensional innards of the titular castle on a quest to save Minnie Mouse from Mizrabel, the evil witch, traversing numerous illusory environments to search for the Gems of the Rainbow because… well, they’re just important. It gets pretty weird, in a good way, as you travel through a Wonderland-style world called Toyland, an obligatory Enchanted Forest, and a few other equally outlandish levels before finally questing through the Castle itself to confront Mizrabel.

Look for Castle of Illusion on: eBayAmazon

Buy the 2013 Remake: Steam | PS3 | Android | iOS

Golden Axe Warrior

  • Released: 1991
  • Developer: Sega

It’s Zelda. Sure, it technically isn’t it, but for all intents and purposes it’s Sega’s not-so-subtle-whatsoever clone of Zelda. Think Conan meets Zelda. Seriously, just change the sprites, a few words here and there, and photoshop a quick poster and you’ve got a brand new, old Zelda game. Open world, RPG adventure goodness. Somewhat underrated compared to the other bigwigs of the Master System era, it really does capture the adventurer’s spirit in exactly the same way as Zelda, which is, most certainly, not a bad thing — all ethical dilemmas notwithstanding.

Isn’t kind of weird, though, that the cover of Golden Axe Warrior has a warrior with a… golden sword?

Look for Golden Axe Warrior on: eBayAmazon

Ninja Gaiden

  • Released: 1992
  • Developer: SIMS

While Ninja Gaiden was a latecomer to the platform, with it actually being released after the Master System had already been discontinued in Japan, it nonetheless became a memorable hit that spawned a decades-spanning franchise. The game follows Ryu Hayabusa as he embarks on a hack N slash adventure to regain the all-powerful Bushido Scroll after it was stolen from his village by the Shogun of Darkness who also felt it important to massacre everybody Hayabusa ever knew. Which is a pretty provocative move on the Shogun’s part.

Look for Ninja Gaiden on: eBay

Master of Darkness

  • Released: 1992
  • Developer: SIMS

Master of Darkness is another game released by SIMS in 1992 that bears no relation to the Shogun of Darkness from Ninja Gaiden — and indeed has more than a passing similarity to the Castlevania games. You step into the shoes of a psychologist who is surprisingly adept at vanquishing undead as he goes after Dracula himself in his… castle. We did say it’s like Castlevania, didn’t we? The game does more than stand on its own legs, however. It features the same action-platformer style and challenging gameplay that made it’s cousin series what it was, and was extremely popular at the time.

Look for Master of Darkness on: eBay

Kung Fu Kid

  • Released: 1987
  • Developer: Sega

Kung Fu Kid, in retrospect, something like a bit of a cash grab riding the wave of the Karate Kid and Hollywood’s subsequent obsession with martial arts that proved to be one of the 80’s busiest genres. The action-platformer gameplay is almost stupidly simple and the boss fights are, for the most part, incredibly easy to cheese. But… and this is a big but, people loved the game. Critics panned it, but people bought and loved it, so it’s probably worth a shot for anyone who has a non-fossilized Master System hidden somewhere in their house.

Look for Kung Fu Kid on: eBay

R-Type

  • Released: 1987
  • Developer: Irem

R-Type started out as a simple arcade game in a similar vein to Konami’s Gradius, the progenitor of many a lookalike, and carved for itself a big enough niche to merit a port to the Master System that is still fondly remembered by many old-school gamers to this day and considered in many lists as one of the greatest games ever made. R-Type is a sidescrolling space combat shooter with a heavy emphasis on upgrades and quickly escalating difficulty that makes for some of the most addictive gameplay that holds up surprisingly well even today. Highly recommended for anyone curious about the Master System.

Look for R – Type on: eBayAmazon

Asterix

  • Released: 1991
  • Developer: Sega

Apart from sporting an impressive aesthetic fidelity to the original comics, the Asterix sidescrolling platformer and its sequel provided some of the best two-player gameplay on the Master System. Players would run a typical platformer adventure gamut set in the world of the IP, but could choose to play as either Asterix or Obelix. Both characters had different abilities that changed the way players could progress through the same level, giving a wonderful sense of variability and more replay value than was typical of other SMS platformers of the day.

Look for Asterix on: eBay

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

  • Released: 1990
  • Developer: Sega

A crossover between Alex Kidd and the by-then successful Shinobi, Alex Kidd in Shinobi world pokes fun at a lot of the characters and elements of the original modern-day ninja game while making for yet another solid platformer. The game quickly makes it clear it’s main purpose is parody, opening with an ancient being known as the Ghost of the Dark Ninja kidnapping Kidd’s girlfriend, and Kidd getting infused with the strength of the Dark Ninja’s original vanquisher. From there on out, the game loosely follows the progression of Shinobi proper and is simply a lot of fun for fans of both games.

Look for Alex Kidd in Shinobi World on: eBayAmazon

Double Dragon

  • Released: 1987
  • Developer: Technōs Japan

Double Dragon paved the way for the beat ’em genre with a pretty innovative combat system compared to other games of the era. A straightforward beat ’em up, Double Dragon has you using a variety of attacks by chaining together certain key combos — sure, standard-issue nowadays, but for 1987 this was groundbreaking. And, as the name suggests, Double Dragon is nothing but better with two players, stepping into the roles of ultra-Americans Jimmy or Billy Lee, twin brothers that look nothing alike except for a striking resemblance in their ability to plow through enemies.

Look for Double Dragon on: eBayAmazon


There you go! A list of 20 dad-games for you to chuckle and shake your head at, or, if you’re old enough, to recline into a warm pool of pure nostalgia with. It’s quite possible you’ve seen a few of these games before, with a few fond memories suddenly wrenched from the forgotten hallways of your mind. If not, we hope you enjoyed learning about some of the foundational games that helped build up the Skyrims, the Assassin’s Creeds, the Cyberpunk 2077s of today. The

And a special thanks to the World of Longplays Youtube channel for keeping a lot of these retro games alive with excellent, otherwise hard to acquire footage.