Greendog: The Beached Surfer Dude! (Genesis, 1992)
The 16-bit era of gaming saw its fair share of innovation, but it also saw quite a bit of stagnation. I get the sense that a lot of developers used the powerful hardware to create the games they wish they could have made on the NES, free of the constraints of memory limits, two buttons, limited color palettes, etc. Which means we saw a lot of action-platformers in particular that do little to innovate in terms of gameplay mechanics - they're really just enhanced NES games. Which isn't a terrible thing. The increased power meant that a greater emphasis was placed on a game's setting and character. Or we might say that developers were forced to give their mediocre games a more distinct flavor, because they could no longer rely on the abstraction they could get away with on the NES and Master System.
Greendog is one such game. At its core, it does very little to differentiate itself from other games of the genre - you use a projectile (in this case, a sort of returning frisbee) to fight off the enemies, advance (mostly) left to right, pick up power-ups and health, and use tremendous leaping abilities to avoid obstacles. Hey - there's nothing wrong with that kind of standard action-platforming; there's a reason half of the 8- and 16-bit systems used it. But no one's going to making any remarks about Greendog's gameplay anytime soon, that's for sure. It's not particularly compelling; it isn't controller-throwing frustrating or unfair; it just sort of exists.
Ah, but the game's unique flavor - there's something to talk about, because I'm not sure of many games that can compare. Our titular hero, a beach bum surfer straight out of 1992, is tasked with finding some doodads scattered across the Caribbean. It's this setting that really stands out - levels include tropical jungles, Mayan temples, beaches. In the rare case that this setting is used in games, it's usually with an archeological bent, ala Pitfall. A few levels are urban, which is even more rare in gaming. A few others are scattered in - some frustrating (but brief) skateboarding levels (naturally), and a kind of bonus level where Greendog uses his "pedal-copter" to get between islands.
I can't even find muster enough spite for the game's pair of terrible underwater levels. The game just exudes a dopey, good-time vibe that makes it hard to hate. The gameplay itself is perfectly appropriate - Greendog strolls, not walks, and the pacing of each level could best be described as "languid." The music is perfectly matched - a truly excellent calypso soundtrack that does an admirable job of hiding the console's sound limitations. It's worth checking out - the gameplay will be forgotten in less than a day's time, but the unique vibe will linger.
A Game Gear port was also released a year later. It's little more than a pointless exercise in showing off the system's visual superiority over the Game Boy, all at the expense of playability. You know, like 75% of Game Gear releases.
All screenshots are my own; box art from GameFAQs.