The Sega Master System was manufactured and released by Sega in 1985 in Japan (as the Sega Mark III), 1986 inNorth America, 1987 in Europe.
The original Sega Master System could play both cartridges and the credit card-sized “Sega Cards,” which retailed for cheaper prices than cartridges but had lower storage capacity. The Master System also featured accessories such as a light gun and 3D glasses which were designed to work with a range of specially coded games.
In the European, Brazilian and Oceanic markets, this console allowed Sega to outsell Nintendo, due to its wider availability. It enjoyed over a decade of life in those territories and was supported in Europe up until 1996. Up until 1994, it was the console with the largest active installed user base in Western Europe, peaking at 6.25 million units in 1993.
It’s cheaper price along with its higher-end specs made it a better alternative to the NES. The release of newer games demanding more powerful hardware specs did a lot to show Sega’s superiority over the NES and even contributed to Sega’s release of the Master System II, which was for the most part a cut-down version of the original.
The system has 2 9-pin controller ports, with each controller having 2 buttons (labeled 1 and 2) and an 8-way directional pad, created largely due to Nintendo’s copyright of their cross bar pad, which caused the Sega Master System controller to have more pronounced diagonals than their competition, but smaller N, S, E, and W controls. The pause button is located directly on the console.
The Sega Master System most interesting accessory was the Sega 3D Glasses, which was quite innovative at the time of its release. Gamers raved about them (and still do), because they provided a very immersive experience. Unfortunately, only six 3D games (Blade Eagle 3D, Maze Hunter 3D,Missile Defense 3D, Space Harrier 3D, Poseidon Wars 3D, and Zaxxon 3D) were released, and the glasses only worked with the first version of the SMS (SMS I). It never gained too much of a foothold, mostly because the SMS wasn’t that popular to begin with.
The Sega Master System’s version of the NES’s “Zapper” light gun was the Light Phaser, and was of higher quality. Modeled after the Zillion gun from the Japanese anime series, the Light Phaser looked so realistic that parents pressured Sega to alter it so that police wouldn’t think their children were running around with a real firearm! (If your Light Phaser has a hand-painted neon orange tip, you’ve got one of the rare “redesigned” ones.) The SMS also had the Power Ball Sports Pad which was compatible with several of the early sports games. Only Sports Pad Football was designed with this controller in mind, a testament to how bad it was.
Sega has always been a dominant force in the arcades, and the Master System was the company’s first chance to bring their quarter-munching hits to the small screen. The SMS sported excellent versions of games like Hang-On,OutRun, Space Harrier, R-Type, and Shinobi. There were also great original titles as well, including the Wonderboy,Zillion, and Alex Kidd series. In the Master System’s later years, there were impressive versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Strider, and Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.
But there just weren’t enough good games to keep the system afloat. It didn’t help that Sega’s conversions of their own arcade games weren’t even that good. The biggest problem, however, was Nintendo’s third-party developer policy.
At the time, if you programmed games for Nintendo… that was it. You programmed for Nintendo and no one else. This seriously hurt Sega, because developers were flocking to the more popular NES (or had signed up before the SMS existed). Later, Nintendo reduced these restrictions because of government pressure, but by that time the SMS was pretty much buried. As a result, the only outside developers for the SMS were Activision and Parker Brothers (though Sega did receive permission to “reprogram” numerous games developed by other companies). Sega did the rest of the games themselves.
CPU: 8-bit Z80 (3.58MHz)
RAM: 64K (8Kb)
Colors: 256 (52 on screen)
Sound: 6-channel mono