It’s sad to see a company that I love fall into such disarray. A few weeks ago, SEGA reported a 7.1 billion yen loss (roughly 86 million dollars), which resulted in the company axing games off its 2012 line up. SEGA, a company responsible for several industry innovations (disc-based games, mobile memory cards, online console gaming, interactive voice gaming) suffered in a very unforgiving market. It has a rich history, that is both foreboding and uplifting, one that saw the company play the underdog role on several occasions. But with the Master System, SEGA proved it could produce great entertaining games and a powerful home console. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
Enter the SEGA Master System
The SEGA Master System (SMS), released in the United States at a $200 price point, was the Nintendo Entertainment System’s (NES) 8-bit competitor. On paper, the SMS was superior to the NES in terms of sound and graphics, but that didn’t mean anything without games–this led to the NES absolutely trouncing the SMS in terms of sales and public opinion. And as you will read later in this article, Nintendo had as much to do with the lack of software on SEGA’s console as SEGA itself. Pair that with SEGA’s ill-fated partnership with Tonka, and you’ll understand the challenges SEGA faced.
Companies that developed games for Nintendo’s console during the ’80s were permitted to work exclusively with Nintendo and Nintendo alone.
The NES hit store shelves before the SMS, and as such many developers flocked to it (many weren’t aware of the SMS’ pending release). In doing so, developers were subject to Nintendo’s draconian third-party policy.
Companies that developed games for Nintendo’s console during the ’80s were permitted to work exclusively with Nintendo and Nintendo alone. This led to just Activision, Parker Brothers, and SEGA itself supporting the Master System, which crippled the game library’s variety and quality. Still, the console trucked along for six years until it was discontinued in 1992.
The SEGA Master System served up some greatest games ever made. Here are a few prime examples.
Phantasy Star (1987)
Phantasy Star is an intriguing story of revenge, oppression, and eventually liberation. Getting your hands on a copy of the game was costly in 1987 as retailers sold Phantasy Star for a whopping $70-$80. But it was worth it! Phantasy Star, at its launch, was revered for its amazing graphics and rich characters. It’s also one of the first times with a female protagonist, Alis Landale. The plot holds up surprisingly well,too, so those willing to over look the dated graphics will find a compelling game.
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
This is an easy choice. Sonic made his debut on the SEGA Genesis in June 1991, but the blue blur also shined on the Master System later that year. It’s a toned-down port of the 16-bit version that features less graphical flare due to the SMS’ 8-bit horsepower. Sonic encourages speed and features some of the best platforming in any game. It also has one of the best chip tunes soundtracks of all time.
Alex Kidd in Miracle Land (1986)
Alex Kidd was SEGA’s Super Mario before Sonic took those reigns. Personally, this is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s graphically superior to Super Mario Bros., and features a larger range of colors and sounds. The boss battles are also quite interesting; each one sees Alex Kidd in a head-to-head game of rock, paper, scissors. There’s RPG elements, too; players collect in-game currency and uses it buy items to help them along the way. Alex Kidd is Miracle Land is an elite SEGA Master System title.
The three games noted above are the SEGA Master System’s gems. Sadly, the Master System also has some of the most atrocious games in video game history. These are the worst offenders.
Spider Man VS. The King Pin (1991)
This game is an atrocity, and a disservice to the web-slinger as it’s plagued with some of the worst controls in video game history. Players have to avoid many obstacles (like pitfalls and gaps), only to get squashed by extremely overpowered bosses. To make matters worse, there are several game-ending bugs. Avoid!
Alf is so awful that it makes the previously mentioned game look like an AAA title. The game gave players no direction as to what to do or where to go; it’s all trial and error (which would have been fine if the game was any good). There’s laughable hit detection that leads to unwarranted deaths, and the animations are primitive. You can finish the game within a half hour if you know exactly what to do–I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse.
Altered Beast (1989)
This Master System port still brings back horrible memories. Enemies flicker and tear due to the console’s limitations, and cheap tactics are used throughout the game. Zombies randomly rise from the ground, and if you are standing above one while it rising,there’s nothing you can do but to watch yourself die. Luckily, I only payed a dollar at a garage sale for this title, but til this day I think that dollar could have been put to better use.
Next: SEGA Shines
The Master System made it well into the early ’90s but SEGA had plans for the future. The SEGA Genesis was about to make a huge splash that would end up forever changing the gaming spectrum. Check back tomorrow for the SEGA Chronicles part II: The Genesis Years.