Sega has always been a leader in Arcade games and every arcade you walked into, you always saw a row of Sega machines. From pinball machines to stand-up video games, Sega was in the front of the competition. But when it came to home consoles, Sega never really had great timing.
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Sega was a hit in Japan, and its main rival was Nintendo (Atari was pretty much out of the game now). Nintendo had the Famicom, so Sega decided to release the Mark I and later the Mark II. Things weren't going so well for Sega because of Nintendo's aggressive campaign strategy, so they upgraded their home console, and called it...you guessed it...the Mark III. Nintendo released a console similar to the Famicom, called the Nintendo Entertainment System (the NES) to the North American market. So Sega entered the American market too, but instead of manufacturing their own console, they enlisted Tonka Toy Corporation (yes, they made those yellow Tonka Trucks) to produce and distribute the Mark III in the United States, and they gave it the name, Sega Master System (SMS). That is probably one of the reasons that the console didn't do so well (and the fact that Nintendo didn't allow developers to make games for other consoles...it was all or nothing with Nintendo). Nintendo was smart when it came to distributing their own products instead of contracting out like Sega did. Contracting out is a way of lowering costs, but it also comes with a lot of disadvantages, like having to renew contracts every time they expired and the fear of having to rely on someone else's quality control, etc.
But besides the problems, Sega had a pretty cool console. The Sega Master System was better than the NES in some aspects. Although Nintendo had a better sound processor, Sega had Nintendo beat when it came to displaying colors on screen. The SMS could display 52 out of the 256 Colors available to the console, while the NES could only display 48 Colors. The SMS had some other things going for it. Some cool innovations that were maybe too early for the industry. The SMS console accepted two types of media. The standard Cartridge that loaded on the top of the console, and then the "card" that slid in the front. The Card was the size of a credit card. The downside was the games were not as advanced as the games found on the Cartridges. In a few years though, technology would have allowed them to program more advanced games on to the chips. But the idea didn't catch on, and a few years later, Sega dropped the Card media slot on the Master System II. Sega also put a covered expansion slot on the bottom of the console, and a number of accessories was planned but never came to pass. A rumored CD drive was suppose to be released (yes...Compact Disc) as well as a possible Hard Drive similar to the one released on the Nintendo Famicom in Japan. Not a lot of people realize that Sega was experimenting with optical drives and readers in the late 1970's.
The Control Pad featured 3 buttons; the D-Pad, which allowed you to attach a small joystick in the center of it, and 2 action buttons, Button 1 and Button 2. The NES had the SMS beat when it came to controllers. The NES Standard Control Pad had 2 more buttons (Select Button and Start Button) but the SMS Console had a Pause Button on it, so it really didn't need a Select Button on the Control Pad. The SMS also had several Officially Licensed controllers, like the Arcade Stick, 3D Glasses, and more. Also there was an abundance of 3rd Party controllers and stuff like Racing Wheels, Controllers, and extension cords for Controllers. The official Arcade Stick made driving games like World Grand Prix and OutRun much easier to control. Also the side-scrolling shooter, Trans-Bot benefited from the Arcade Stick too.
Sega also included A/V cords for use on TV's and VCR's that had A/V Jacks. The NES had the jacks on its console, but didn't include the A/V cables in the set, only the RF Cable. But most televisions only had the Antenna/RF Jack on the back, and it was the big screens that had the A/V Jacks so most people didn't have a chance to use the A/V Cables. But at least Sega was thinking. I also like the Light Gun that came with the system, called the "Light Phaser". The trigger was lighter, and it didn't make that loud "pop" sound that the NES Light Gun made. Safari Hunt was the rival to Nintendo's Duck Hunt, but I enjoyed the realistic shooting in Marksmen Shooting/Trap Shooting over either game.
Most of Sega's games were also found in arcades around the country, which was a good and bad thing. Nintendo had a few arcade hits, but had an abundance of developers who made exclusive console games. Side-Scrolling Shooters were abundant on the SMS, games like the Sci-Fi shooter, R-Type was a huge hit, and was all the rage in the arcade. Fantasy Zone was a colorful, Sci-Fi shooter as well, but had a "bubble-gum" feel to it. Fantasy Zone would later be an inspiration for the "new" Sega Dreamcast game, Dux released last year.
The Action Shooter Space Harrier featured some of the fastest 3D Effects seen outside the arcade (check out Shenmue for the Dreamcast...it features Space Harrier at the arcade in town). While Nintendo had the RPG‘s, Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, Sega had one of their own in the United States before Nintendo. Phantasy Star was a RPG (Role Playing Game) set in the future which had mixed reviews. You either loved it or hated it. I liked it, because I was into all types of games. I enjoyed a variety of genres, but a lot of diehard Sega fans only liked the Arcade style of games. Faster paced games are what really sold.
During the console wars, each tried really hard to outdo each other. Commercials and Magazine Ads are what fueled the fire mostly with ads like...."Sega Does, what Nintendo'nt" filling magazines across the country. But the introduction of mascots started to heat things up as well. Nintendo had two mascots, Donkey Kong and Mario. And when Mario got his own series (Super Mario Bros.), Sega struck back with a mascot of their own (no, not Sonic)....Alex Kidd. Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a fun side-scrolling Action/Adventure game that was more colorful and appealing than Mario's first installment. There were a couple more installments in the series, but for the most part Alex faded away due to the fact that Nintendo started a campaign to promote Mario and the "other" mascots by producing a cartoon TV series that was on almost every day when I got home from school.
Alien Syndrome was first developed by Sega for the Arcade and then ported to the Sega Master System (as well as Nintendo getting a watered-down version of the game later on). It was an "Overhead View" Action game which featured some aliens that looked like the ones in the movie Alien. The idea of the game was to go from ship to ship rescuing your captured friends, and defeating the boss in all seven ships. The game was later released on the NES by Tengen but wasn't as good. The graphics in the "remake" were horrible and didn't have the original arcade feel that made the game popular in the first place.
Many said that the Driving/Adventure/Shooter game, Action Fighter was just a Spy Hunter rip-off, but if memory serves me correctly, Sega released Action Fighter a couple years before Midway's Spy Hunter. In the game you drove a motorcycle that could shoot. You collected letters A to F. When you hit D, you change into a Porsche (or what looked like one), and when you collected F, your car is given wings and you take to the skies.
Black Belt was one of my favorites, and was much more fun than the way-too-short NES game, Kung Fu. It featured better graphics, more bad guys, longer stages, and better bosses. Vigilante was another fun side-scrolling action game.
Essential Sega Master System games...
Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Fantasy Zone II
Want to know another cool thing about the Sega Master System? It can play Import games on it without the use of extra software or modifications. The Sega Master System was a "region free" console that can play pretty much any game from its counter parts around the world. A few years ago I picked up the UK Import, The Terminator for the Sega Master System. Nintendo made it impossible to play Imports on their system because the Japanese NES (called the Famicom) used a totally different size and shape Cartridge. So forget ordering an Import game for your NES (unless you are a collector or have a Famicom). The Sega Genesis also featured an add on that allowed you to play previously released Sega Master System games which increased the library of games on the Genesis.
If you can still find a Master System or Master System II in good condition....GRAB IT! Sure you may not think it's a big deal, but once you start the console up and play a few classics, you will then rethink everything you thought about the SMS. Gamers didn't give Sega a real chance (and they haven't since). The Sega Genesis which followed the Master System has probably been the longest running console here North America. The Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast were advanced systems that never got the proper "light" and were pushed out by the Sony PlayStation and Sony PlayStation 2. I would really like to see Sega enter the console wars again, but from the looks of things, I really don't think they have any plans to do so even with rumors on the internet about a follow up to the Sega Dreamcast since this year (2009) is the 10th anniversary of the console.
3.6Mhz ZiLog Z80 Processor
64K RAM (8kb)
Texas Instruments VDP (Video Display Processor)
256 x 226
256 Colors (52 on Screen)
Texas Instruments Sound Processor
6-Channel Mono Output
Sega Mega Cartridge
2 Controller Ports
2 Media Slots (1 Cartridge, 1 Card)
1 Expansion Slot (not used in the United States)
Reset Button and Pause Button located on top of Console
($199.99 MSRP included Console/2 Controllers/ 1 Light Gun/1 Game Cartridge/RF Switch/AV Cable)
Manufactured by Tonka Toys for the United States
© COPYRIGHT 2009 Chris_Billings
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