Top Games by Yuji Naka [Best Recommendations]

Few designers can claim the same influence that Yuji Naka has had in the gaming industry. Who else can say they were involved in the creation of a mascot that could rival Mr. Video Game himself, or push online technology in gaming hardware to a new level of acceptance? Yuji Naka has certainly left his mark on the gaming industry since first starting up at Sega, and while he’s fallen out of the limelight somewhat since his departure, he’s still working towards the next great thing at Prope.

Yet somehow, Yuji Naka seems to be left out of the conversation of the all-time great industry figureheads. Maybe it’s because he’s always been more in a production role than a directorial one. Maybe it obscures his input as being purely business driven, but Yuji Naka has always had his heart in game design first and foremost. We thought we’d give him a bit of recognition today with a countdown of what we felt were his best or most influential titles!

10. Sonic Adventure

  • System: Dreamcast, GameCube, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: September 9th, 1999 (US)

It’s an epic spanning multiple characters! Dr. Eggman has shattered the Master Emerald in one of his nefarious plots to once again harness the power of the 7 Chaos Emeralds. Rather than join together, Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles split up into teams to deal with the situation. Sonic and Tails set out to track down the Chaos Emeralds while Knuckles locates the Master Emerald shards. But they’ll end up needing more help finding them than they realize they need. Maybe Amy and Big the Cat can lend a hand?

Sonic Adventure is a product of its time. As a character, Sonic missed out on the entirety of the Sega Saturn, so no one was really sure how to actually translate the character into 3D. Not only that, but even the nature of platformers changed. They were less about traveling along a path to an end point, and more about free-range exploration. Adventure was about the most interesting thing that could be done with the character at the time, focusing more on the thrill-a-minute spectacle of the application of Sonic’s speed, like running away from a killer whale or leaping from platform to platform amidst the top of a tornado.

9. Burning Rangers

  • System: Sega Saturn
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: May 31st, 1998 (US)

Fire: simultaneously one of humanity’s greatest assets as well as one of its greatest dangers. Even in the distant future, fire will remain a persistent threat. In fact, as society relies more and more on electricity, one could even argue that managing with the flames that erupt from inevitable overheating of machinery will become even more of a threat. And in Burning Rangers, you’ll do that! You’ll play as various members of an elite squad of firefighters deep into the future, rescuing people from being engulfed by the endless blaze.

Why HASN’T anyone delved into firefighting as a subject in game design anyway? It’s such a vital service provided by national governments everywhere and lends itself naturally to the white-hot tension that it seems like studios would be clamoring to make one for themselves. Yet somehow Burning Rangers remains one of the only honest to god attempts at tackling it as a serious subject matter. Maybe it bit off more than it could chew given the Sega Saturn’s issues with running 3D, you gotta give it to Burning Rangers; it at least went for it.

8. Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg

  • System: GameCube, PC
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: September 23rd, 2003 (US)

You may not believe it, but all chickens live in Morning Land. It’s true! It’s one of the few places where they could live in peace… that is, until Dark Raven showed up. Now, Morning Land is in peril, and the human realm is next unless someone does something. That someone would be Billy Hatcher, who gets transported to Morning Land and is bestowed the Legendary Chicken Suit, which gives him the power to maintain eggs. He’ll need to use the powers of the Chicken Suit save the 6 Chicken Elders in order to even stand a chance against Dark Raven.

Was it the chicken theme that killed Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg? Probably; which is a shame, because hidden behind the dorky rooster puns was a rather innovative take on the then tired 3D platformer genre. Rather than just simply making eggs as a collectible ala Stars or Jiggies, you actually had to nurture each egg you came across in order to hatch it. Hatching it would reveal all sorts of different rewards, like extra lives and animal helpers, and often these contents were randomized. This made sure that no one quite had the same experience twice, adding to the alluring of the mystery of the eggs!

7. Rodea the Sky Soldier

  • System: Wii
  • Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten, NIS America
  • Developer: Prope
  • Release Dates: November 10th, 2015 (US)

It’s been 1000 years since Rodea was forced to shut himself down. See, he had to put himself into hiding while holding half of the Key of Time in order to keep it safe from Emperor Geardo, the ruler of the Naga Empire. Geardo was hellbent on conquering Rodea’s homeland of Garuda. However, since Rodea’s a robot that naturally means that he can be rebooted. He’s discovered by a young mechanic girl named Ion, who rebuilds him upon discovering his remains. Now Rodea’s back and ready to fight off the Naga Empire once more.

While Rodea the Sky Soldier did come out on other systems outside of the Wii, we really only saw fit to mention the Wii version on this list since the Wii U and 3DS versions are fairly different. The Wii version is the only one that was made with Yuji Naka’s guidance and, with all due respect to the other versions, it really does show. Rodea the Sky Soldier was really made with the Wii motion controls in mind, using the Wii remote to fling Rodea across wide, sprawling maps and meant to capture the thrill of flight. Do yourself a favor and track down the Wii version of the game, which only saw an incredibly limited release as a pack-in with the Wii U version at launch.

6. ChuChu Rocket

  • System: Dreamcast, GameBoy Advance, iOS, Android
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: March 7th, 2000 (US)

The premise couldn’t be simpler. There are mouse-like creatures called ChuChus that want to launch into space, but they can’t seem to get themselves organized enough to make it to their rocketship. Of course, it doesn’t help that KapuKapus (cat monsters) are chasing them down. All you have to do is guide the ChuChus back to their ship while keeping them safe from the KapuKapus.

Of course, the real meat of ChuChu Rocket comes from its insanely addictive multiplayer mode. ChuChu Rocket is actually noteworthy for being one of the first online titles that got real backing from a console maker. Nintendo had toyed with online functionality on its consoles here and there, but ChuChu Rocket is the first that really took full advantage of what the service could provide. It wasn’t just competitive online matches, but even had map editors that you could upload to the servers and share with people across the world!

5. Phantasy Star Online

  • System: DreamCast, PC, GameCube, Xbox
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: January 29th, 2001

Humanity thought Ragol would a habitable planet. We even scouted it out ahead of time using the Pioneer 1 7 years ago. However, contact with the Pioneer 2, which carried most of the settlers planned for the Pioneer Project, was lost. The only option left is to send scouts down to Ragol to investigate what happened and hopefully discover what happened. You’ll play as one such scout, called a Hunter, and hopefully, uncover the secret of what happened to the settlers.

Of course, you may not even realize there’s any plot at all to Phantasy Star Online. After all, it’s not really the focus of the game. Really, Phantasy Star Online is more about the fun of teaming up with your friends and hacking and slashing your way through waves and waves of enemies. It’s a loot-based grind not unlike the Diablo franchise, but with a more traditional 3rd person behind-the-back view, putting you right in the middle of the action. It’s a pretty simple game, to be honest, but that doesn’t keep it from being wildly addictive to this day. Diehard fans even set up their own servers just to keep the game alive!

4. Samba de Amigo

  • System: Arcade, Dreamcast, Wii
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: October 16th, 2000 (US)

Break out the maracas, it’s time for a fiesta!... well, some plastic ones, anyway. Samba de Amigo is controlled solely through a special, maraca-shaped controller, and all you have to do is shake to the rhythm of the beat! Well, shake to the rhythm while positioning your maracas in the correct position to boot. Don’t let the motion controls scare you off though! It’s a great rhythm game that actually forces you to utilize your whole body!

The most striking aspect of Samba de Amigo is naturally going to be the theming. After all, who else is putting out South American-style rhythm games with Latin-infused dance beats? While accessory-controlled rhythm games weren’t anything new even in the year 2000, the unique subject matter gave Samba de Amigo an air of freshness. It never felt like it was capitalizing on a trend. In fact, you could almost say it was something of a visionary title, being one of the first big purely motion-controlled games before the Wii came along 5 years later!

3. Nights Into Dreams

  • System: Sega Saturn, PlayStation 2, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: August 20th, 1996

There are two lands that make up the dream world: Nightopia and Nightmare. Wizeman the Wicked, the ruler of Nightmare, wishes to conquer Nightopia and even move into the realm of the waking (our world). To accomplish this, he creates the Nightmaren to steal the energy from Nightopia. However, he doesn’t have complete control over the Nightmaren. Two of them, Nights and Reala, decide to rebel against him but are quickly imprisoned for their insolence. It takes the help of two humans, Elliot Edwards and Claris Sinclair, who happened to enter into Nightmare one evening, to free them and get their rebellion back in action!

Nights: Into Dreams is something of a de facto mascot for Sega’s failed Saturn console when they failed to produce a new Sonic game. It’s easy to see why as well. The trippy, dream-like imagery did a lot to establish a strong visual theming where the possibilities felt endless, and the gameplay felt like an evolution on Sonic’s open-ended linearity. It can be tricky to get a grip on at first, but it’s well worth the effort, as getting a handle on the mechanics changes it from being a dreamy adventure into an addictive time trial where you have to plot out your best route to finish the stage.

2. Phantasy Star II

  • System: Sega Genesis
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Dates: March 1990

It’s been 1000 years since the events of the original Phantasy Star, and not all as well. The computer system that currently guides and directs the Algo Star System, Mother Brain (no not that one), is on the fritz. Worse yet, Dark Force, the villain from the original game, has returned. You’ll play as Rolf and investigate what exactly is wrong with Mother Brain and fight off Dark Force once again.

Phantasy Star stands out even among its peers today almost solely for its setting. JRPGs are known to mix-in some sci-fi elements into more traditional fantasy settings, but very few have gone full sci-fi like Phantasy Star. You don’t just explore a single planet, but travel across the star system and explore entire other planets, set to a plot that might upset even Final Fantasy VII fans.

1. Sonic the Hedgehog

  • System: Genesis, GameBoy Advance, 3DS, Wii, PC, Android, iOS
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: June 23rd, 1991

The evil Dr. Robotnik has captured all the woodlands creatures and transformed them into robots! There’s only one creature who’s fast and cool enough to take him on; Sonic the hedgehog! Play as Sonic and run through levels at blistering speeds and take on Dr. Robotnik using lightning-quick reflexes, or maybe get some help from the magical Chaos Emeralds and transform into Super Sonic.

Look, you already knew Sonic was going to top this list as soon as you opened this article up. Can you blame us? Sonic was a revolution in the video game industry, but not specifically because of the labyrinthine level design or the focus on speed in the level design. No, it’s because Sonic was one of the first examples of a character who was specifically designed to be cool. Characters from Nintendo like Mario and Link were designed to be functional within their games and to be easily identified and distinguishable, but Sonic was a character you actually wanted to play as. We’re also kind of using the first game as a stand-in for all of the Genesis titles, so rest assured we’re largely recognizing the Blue Blur in general in this position.

Final Thoughts

Did you love the rhythmic bopping of Let’s Tap? Enjoyed guiding Ivy the Kiwi in search of their mother? Well, don’t just sit there! Let us know in the comments below and tell us about your favorite Yuji Naka games that we might have missed!

Sonic-Adventure-game-Wallpaper Top Games by Yuji Naka [Best Recommendations]


Author: Matt Knodle

I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.

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