Console of the Month (October 2017) – Sega Master System

Sega already had already made a name for itself in North America thanks to early 80s arcade titles such as Turbo, Congo Bongo and Zaxxon. In Japan, they had been playing second fiddle with their first foray into home console gaming, the SG-1000, which competed directly with Nintendo’s Famicom. Unfazed by their experience competing with the Nintendo juggernaut, Sega decided to try their success in a new market, North America, by releasing a revamped version of the SG-1000’s successor, the Mark III. Renamed the Master System, Sega would release their first North American console in the fall of 1986, one year after Nintendo’s soft launch of the NES. By late 1986, the NES was starting to gain momentum but wasn’t the dominating force it would soon become, so it felt like the perfect time for another console developer and manufacturer to dip their toes into the fragile home gaming market. Unfortunately by 1986, Nintendo had already established their third party practices of not allowing developers to make games for anyone but Nintendo which left Sega out in the cold when trying to get licensed games from such up and comers as Capcom, Sunsoft and Konami. That meant Sega had to do the heavy lifting when it came to game development. These titles needed to be knockouts if they were going to compete with the line up Nintendo had coming in 1987. Unfortunately for Sega, we know how the story went down in the 8-bit wars of the late 80s. Nintendo released a slew of iconic genre and console defining games in 1987 and Sega released…..Wonder Boy and Outrun. There was no competing and Sega wouldn’t become a legitimate player in home console gaming in North America until the Genesis. Strangely enough, while the Mark III/Master System was more or less a failure in Japan and North America, the console sold well in Europe and Brazil. Brazilians look back the Master System the way Americans look at the NES. With rose colored nostalgia glasses. It was/is so popular in Brazil that you can still find consoles being sold in store today! A neat footnote in the console’s history.

I was actually one of the few people growing up in my town that knew someone with a Master System. I had a cousin, a couple years younger than me, that owned one. I remember visiting him for a week one summer, guessing it was probably 1988, and he had this sleek, black console with game boxes made of plastic covered in a unique grid pattern covering them. At this point, I had not heard of the Master System and I was surprised to learn there was a contemporary alternative to owning a NES. I asked him about it and he was happy to show it off to me. I told him I had a Nintendo back home and he said that he had one too but sold it so his parents would buy him a Sega (which is what we called it). I remember playing Space Harrier, Hang-On/Safari Hunt and Outrun but not much else. I thought the games were fun but they couldn’t hold a candle to my Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, Metroid and Punch Out. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he’d get rid of his Nintendo for this Sega console but I didn’t want to insult him so I told him it was cool and we spent several hours over the course of the week playing it. I went home unfazed by this experience and if anything, it strengthened by belief that the NES was THE console to own. Anything else (Atari, Sega) was just grasping at straws. To this day, I think he wanted the Master System to be different from his peers. Maybe he wanted something exotic and unique to set himself apart from the NES fan boys I’m sure he was surrounded by at school. Either that, or else he believed that the Master System was the next big thing since it was technically more powerful than the NES and he wanted in on the ground floor. To be able to say, “I had it first.”

I didn’t have it first and didn’t pick up my own Master System console until the early 2000s. I’ve never been much of a collector of the Master System, always focusing more on the NES when buying games from that era. It’s always been one of those neat to own, but not that interesting to play video game systems for me but I’m hoping that I can gain a better appreciating for the Master System this month. I own a decent, if unspectacular, collection of popular SMS titles. No real heavy hitters when it comes to collectability/rarity but some of the better games for the system. I will be eager to play some of these games again for the first time in over a decade, so let’s get started.

Currently in my collection:

  • Master System console w/ 2 controllers. Currently using a 3rd party composite AV cable and a Genesis model 1 AC adapter. I do not own the original RF switch that came with the console.

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