Top Games by Yu Suzuki [Best Recommendations]

Before Yuji Naka popularized the Sega brand and the Genesis console with Sonic the Hedgehog in the 1990’s, Yu Suzuki served as the top dog to the company’s arcade division. Just like some other famous Japanese developers such as Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, Suzuki does not really play games but enjoys music, movies, and racing, and they factor into his games.

In fact, he got into gaming by chance. In comparison to other programmers from past and present, Suzuki’s path to becoming one of gaming’s biggest contributors was a rather unique one. Prior to graduating from the electronic and computer engineering division of the Okayama University of Science, he wanted to be a dentist but he was unable to pass the exams.

In addition, he also pursued a career as a rock musician in his twenties that took inspiration from rock legends such as Van Halen. While Suzuki obviously could not reach the legendary level of Van Halen in rock, music would still play a major factor in his games and he would personally contribute to the soundtracks.

In case some of you readers did not know, Japanese university students have the chance to interview for a job shortly before they graduate. When it was time for Suzuki, after interviewing with other tech companies such as Toshiba, he thought that Sega would offer him unique challenges and that the company had a bright future, and that games would be a great avenue for him to utilize his education despite not being a gamer.

In 1983, he joined Sega and the rest is history as he made an impact in the gaming industry and in turn, become one of the industry’s greatest legends. So what are some of his top games? Read today’s list to find out!

10. Virtua Cop

  • System: Arcade, Saturn, PC, PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: Sept 1994

While PC first shooters such as Doom and Wolfenstein were the rage at the start of the 1990’s, Suzuki’s Team AM2 popularized arcade light gun games through Virtua Cop. While PC shooters are with a keyboard and mouse, arcades can use a light gun modeled after let’s say a six-shot to give players an actual sensation of firing a gun at a criminal. Though Virtua Cop is by no means the first ever light gun game but is recognized as the first light gun game in 3D.

In addition to being the first to use 3D graphics, it is recognized for its physics where players can shoot through glass to take down an enemy. The game allowed players to aim for certain parts of the body where if you shoot an enemy in the arm, they will react with pain to the arm showing a unique AI and realistic animation. However, it has penalties where if you shoot a hostage, you lose a life to really test your reflexes.

Its console releases for the Saturn and PlayStation 2 also included a light gun to play the game like you are at the arcade. Since the game moves for you like a rail shooter, but at a slower and appropriate pace compared to other Suzuki’s rail shooters such as Space Harrier and After Burner. When you play on a mouse or controller, the thrill is entirely gone so getting the light gun is a must-have. Thanks to Virtua Cop, we now have shooting games from House of the Dead to Time Crisis that simulate the feel of firing a gun.

9. Virtua Racing

  • System: Arcade, Genesis, 32X, Saturn
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: 1992

Though Virtua Racing was not the first 3D arcade racer in history, it is undeniably one of the most impacting. Like many of Suzuki’s arcade originals, despite having releases on Sega consoles, it is always going to be a novelty that is best experienced in its arcade cabinet. As we are going to see on this list, Suzuki displays his love for racing in its many forms. Virtua Racing represents the Formula-1 sub-genre of the sport. Despite how far racing games have evolved the past twenty-five years, so much of the genre whether they would be by Sega or not have Virtua Racing to thank with its presentation.

While it may not seem like a big deal to younger gamers, Virtua Racing was the first racing game to have real-time camera view changes with options such as the first person, the third person from behind, or an overhead third person view to showcase its speed and rich environments. While it only has three tracks, what it lacks in quantity it makes up for with excellent quality in course detail and difficulty that offers excellent replay value. It is one of the first and few arcade racers to have editions that offer simultaneous eight-player action.

In addition, the game adds in some realism by requiring you to make a pit stop like a real racer to upgrade your tires of you are going to lose traction and control. Despite its age, it gets the job done in giving players their need for speed.

8. Ferrari F355 Challenge

  • System: Arcade, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: 1999

While Ferrari F355 Challenge does have releases for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, it is just one of those games that is best experienced in the arcades. It was one of the first racing simulators that had not only one screen, but also three screens to have a view of the front, left, and right. And depending on your skills, you have the option of driving automatic, using paddle shifting, or stick shifting with a clutch to get a pure driving experience. Players felt like they were driving a real Ferrari and Ferrari liked it to the point that they now feature it in their own museum.

The game is detailed to the point that Suzuki took the time to collect data on the F355 model firsthand from studying its acceleration, cornering, and braking to make it as accurate as possible. Not only did he collect data from his own driving experiences, he even used data from professional racers. As you drive through some real-life circuits from Motegi to Long Beach, you can enjoy some metal tracks.

So if you want an ultimate driving experience with a Ferrari, F355 Challenge is the game for you. While buying an actual arcade cabinet is certainly going to cost you money, no one can deny it is much cheaper than buying an actual F355.

7. OutRun

  • System: Arcade, Genesis, Master System, Saturn
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: 1986

Despite Ferrari F355 Challenge being the more modern simulation racer to feature the desired and unaffordable Italian car, it was not the first Sega or Suzuki game to feature the hot brand. A decade prior to Ferrari F355 Challenge, there was OutRun, where the featured car is a convertible Ferrari Spyder. While the game is a driving simulator by Suzuki’s insistence, some of its more gimmicky features take influence from a personal favorite classic movie of his, Cannonball Run, a crazy racing movie that runs across the US.

While most racing games traditionally follow a racetrack a player must follow such as Suzuka or Indianapolis, OutRun offers more freedom where if you hit a checkpoint, you have the choice of taking the left or right road, and it is not about making a right or wrong choice. Whichever road you take, it leads you to a finish if you can beat the time limit but it offers you a variety of environments to enjoy. You can enjoy a fictional world that mixes the coastal sceneries of Monaco, the Grand Canyon, a country road, the wonders of the mountains, and the city lights. Because of all of these choices, it offers its own unique sense of replay value. In addition, it was also one of the first games that gave players the option to choose whatever songs they wanted to listen to as they play, and it offers a nice selection of tracks that range from relaxing to intense.

6. Hang-On

  • System: Arcade, Master System
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: 1985

Prior to the debut of Hang-On, arcades had a very negative image in Japan despite that they are still thriving to this day. The people of Japan thought of them as a place where only delinquents hang out. However, that did not stop Suzuki from pursuing his dream of wanting to make a game that everyone could enjoy. Shortly before its release, Freddie Spencer was considered the best motocross racer in the world and Suzuki was a big fan of him. He loved his style of riding and that he used a Honda motorcycle. Taking inspiration from that, he made Hang-On, a motorcycle racer where the cabinet represents a motorcycle similar to what Spencer used.

In addition to its then-revolutionary cabinet, the game’s presentation allowed players to feel like they are maneuvering a bike from a third person perspective on a race track thanks to the introduction of the super scaler engine. The game made players feel as if they were really riding a motorcycle by using the right handlebar to rev up the bike and including handle breaks. If you had to move left or right, you would lean the motorcycle to move in that direction. For people that could not ride a motorcycle, especially children, this was the best way to capture that thrill. Not only did it save arcades in Japan, it became an international hit.

5. After Burner

  • System: Arcade, Amiga, PC, MSX, NES, PC Engine, Sega 32X, Master System
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: Jul 20, 1987

Shortly after Top Gun soared through the box office in 1986, Suzuki took influence from the movie and made After Burner, a rail shooter where you fight Soviet model MiGs with your F-14 like you are Maverick flying into the danger zone. In addition to featuring the F-14, much of the game’s soundtrack with its heavy guitar riffs obviously pays homage to the movie. Just like how OutRun and Hang-On have cabinets that represent their respective gimmicks, After Burner’s cabinet would represent the cockpit of a fighter jet. Some would be open, and there are versions that are closed-in.

Some versions would even have moveable cockpits that made you feel like you were flying. Due to space and budget issues, some arcade locations would have a standard stand-up cabinet but still maintain its fighter jet joystick and lever for breaking and boosting (which is featured in the Shenmue demo, What’s Shenmue?). The game is easy to pick up and hard to master with bogeys everywhere firing at you. Its numerous stages bring you to the Grand Canyon, a European village, and over the ocean. So if you enjoy the eighties with its music and Ronald Reagan’s call for patriotism, After Burner is a classic you do not want to miss.

4. G-LOC: Air Battle

  • System: Arcade, Master System, Genesis, Game Gear
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: 1990

G-LOC is pretty much a spiritual successor to After Burner in being a fighter jet simulator, but its presentation offers a purer simulated experience. Like After Burner, its cabinet represents a cockpit but takes it to the next level. The title stands for G-Force Loss of Consciousness and as opposed to being a rail shooter when you are always moving forward and moving the fighter jet around the screen, the cabinet moves with the player and you can enjoy it in the first person. It could go upside down, sideways, etc. Thankfully, these cabinets had the proper safety belts necessary for players to enjoy. This cabinet was known as the R-360 cabinet.

In addition to taking down enemy jets, players can bomb enemies on the ground such as tanks and ships. In fact, these features were things Sega wanted to make for a very long time but could not due to technological differences prior to G-LOC’s development. While it does have releases on home consoles for the nineties, nothing can ever top the experience in an R-360 cabinet.

3. Space Harrier

  • System: Multiplatform
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Dates: Dec 1985

Games like G-LOC and After Burner were already conceived at Sega for a time but were still difficult to develop prior to their debuts. A previous producer at Sega wanted to make an on-rails cockpit shooter with a fighter jet, and before 1985, which was then considered difficult to pull off.

In order to get around this obstacle while maintaining its original vision as a rail shooter, Suzuki changed it to a sci-fi oriented game (taking a mix of influences from Space Adventure Cobra, Gundam, and The Neverending Story) where the character wears a jetpack and shoots down aliens, monsters, and meteor rocks with a laser with the game’s then-groundbreaking scaling animations. With the joystick, players could have the character running in the foreground, or have him flying around the screen, which also contributed to its appealing visuals.

Prior to its release, shooting games were not that popular because they were criticized for being too difficult. Suzuki wanted to correct this by implementing a targeting system so whenever the enemies would get close, players could hit them while they were difficult to hit if they were scaled small on the screen to indicate distance.

Despite Suzuki’s recommendations and changes to the initial concept, Sega was still skeptical on whether or Space Harrier was going to succeed because its cockpit style cabinet was costly. If in the event Space Harrier failed, Suzuki would forfeit his salary. Thankfully, history proved that the game became a huge success for its cabinet design, gameplay, and trippy visuals.

2. Virtua Fighter

  • System: Arcade, Saturn, PlayStation 2
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: 1993

The pinnacle of Suzuki’s works in the arcade is without a doubt, Virtua Fighter, which happens to be recognized by the Smithsonian Institute of Science and Technology. Shortly after 2D fighters with fireballs like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Fatal Fury made their marks in the arcades, Suzuki and Sega threw their hat in the ring by making their own fighting game, Virtua Fighter, the first ever 3D fighting game. While the graphics of the first game look primitive compared to today’s Virtua Fighters and the rest of the 3D fighting genre, for its time it was state of the art in the same way the first King Kong and Godzilla movies were for their respective debuts. Not only did it introduce 3D graphics to fighting games, it presented 3D movement with its fixed camera movement.

Thankfully, there is Virtua Fighter Remix, an improved version of the first game with improved textures with the character models. The model 1 arcade board that the game was programmed on was made possible thanks to a mix of Sega’s in-house technology and some hardware borrowed from Lockheed Martin.

While the characters in 2D fighters had their distinct fighting styles and moves, Virtua Fighter took that concept to a realistic level. It was one of the first franchises to introduce a system that balanced striking, grappling, and counters that related to the fighting styles each character used. In fact, Suzuki and his team traveled to China to learn martial arts first hand in order to make this game. Though some people may understandably not be fond of such a feature, Virtua Fighter introduced ring outs which take influences from sumo. While the control scheme has always been simple (with only a joystick, punch, kick layout) compared to most fighters, it still offers a very deep moveset for each character, and a dedicated learning curve for disciplined players that makes them feel like they can earn a black belt in the characters’ martial art.

1. Shenmue

  • System: Dreamcast
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2
  • Release Dates: Dec 29, 1999 (JP) Nov 8, 2000 (US)

Last, we cannot deny Shenmue, what many of its fans consider the best game of all time. Shenmue was initially intended to be a Virtua Fighter RPG starring Akira Yuuki. As development progressed, Shenmue became its own distinct game while still maintaining its influences from Virtua Fighter by having its combat system as a beat ‘em version of that game, and many characters and their fighting styles are exact copies of select characters from Virtua Fighter (ie, Ryo as Akira, Chai as Lion, Chunyun as Sarah).

In addition, players can learn martial arts techniques from other NPCs as they demonstrate and explain them. When the player has the opportunity to practice it, they must “translate” the instructions onto their controller. If in the event you have trouble, the appropriate controls would appear on your VMS.

Beyond being a martial arts epic, it is the ultimate simulation of suburban Japan in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. You could explore every aspect of Ryo’s home and dojo. It was rich in detail from his house to Yokosuka harbor. Its sequel offers a bigger world with the crazy world Hong Kong and the beautiful nature of Guilin province in China. While it is considered the first modern open world game, Yu Suzuki conceived the game as a new genre known as FREE, short for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment. And no one can deny its rich and cultural soundtrack with its melodies and authentic use of traditional Chinese acoustics with its theme song (with a good mix of some rock and J-Pop here and there).

Upon the third disc of the first game, you get a job as a forklift operator at the docks and make some money and when you have free time, you can even play at the arcade with games such as Space Harrier and Hang-On at your disposal. While the English dub has been subject to ridicule and been part of its controversy and charm to Westerners, Suzuki admitted to liking it. And after over fifteen years in development hell, Shenmue III is coming back in 2018 thanks to the support of its cult audience by making the most successful Kickstarter for a game. Will the third game live up to the hype and its legacy? We have to wait and find out.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the games of Yu Suzuki are not something you play but experience, which was always the intention of every game he has produced. Whether it would be in a cockpit of a fighter jet, behind the handlebars of a motorcycle, or exploring suburbia 1980’s Japan and the streets of Hong Kong, you feel like you are there. While technology has advanced since the releases of these classic titles, they hold up not because of their historical value, but that they are still enjoyable and offer a thrill that modern titles have yet to capture in a way ONLY Suzuki can. While he helped pave the way for 3D in gaming, it was not just the style that brought them tremendous success, it was the rich substance that holds them up.

For Virtua Fighter, it offered a deep system that tries to simulate an old school concept of MMA with style vs. style. For characters like Jacky who use Jeet Kune Do, they emphasize on speed and punches in bunches. For others like Aoi who are small, they rely on counter grappling and small joint manipulation to defeat a bigger opponent by using their aggression against them, which is the point of Aikido. A good percentage of 3D fighters tend to appeal to casual gamers that allow button mashing and there is nothing wrong with that, but the fact that Virtua Fighter is not that kind of game show that real fights are not won by just randomly busting out punches and kicks, but with pure skill and strategy.

While open world games are not uncommon in today’s gaming, Shenmue fans feel that it still holds up because there are many praised features that Shenmue has that many open world games today severely lack. While Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto allow you to explore a world that dwarfs Shenmue’s, it lacks a unique interaction that Shenmue had by talking to the townsfolk and looking at every single object.

In Shenmue 2, if you need to find a place, you can ask someone and in some instances, they are even willing to take you there. Even Yakuza, its spiritual successor also from SEGA, lacks this personal feeling of an open world that fans love Shenmue for.

Shenmue feels like a world you can experience while a large percentage of open world games feel more like a digitized playground you are free to mess up. By no means are we bashing modern open world games and that those features are bad, it is just that Shenmue brings you into its world and open world games outside of Shenmue do not 100% capture that. So if you want games that truly take you inside their world and live it as opposed to playing it, the works of Yu Suzuki are it.

Virtua-Cop-2-game Top Games by Yu Suzuki [Best Recommendations]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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