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1986: The Little System that Thought It Could
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on December 22, 2002   |   Episode 27 (Show Archive)  

   
The Scoop: Sometimes when a company tries to rip-off a good idea, it can backfire in their face. Take for example the Go-Bots, clearly a take-off of the Transformers. Or when the XFL tried to go head to head against the NFL. Or more specifically, when Sega first got the idea that they could take on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Back in 1986 gamers everywhere were rushing to get their hands on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the hottest video game system since pong. Hoping to ride on Nintendo's coat tails, Sega teamed up with toy truck company Tonka to bring the world the Sega Master System.

Offering arcade games like Shinobi, Wonderboy, and Dead Angle, the Master System set out
Sometimes when a company tries to rip-off a good idea, it can backfire in their face. Take for example the Go-Bots, clearly a take-off of the Transformers. Or when the XFL tried to go head to head against the NFL. Or more specifically, when Sega first got the idea that they could take on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Back in 1986 gamers everywhere were rushing to get their hands on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the hottest video game system since pong. Hoping to ride on Nintendo's coat tails, Sega teamed up with toy truck company Tonka to bring the world the Sega Master System.

Offering arcade games like Shinobi, Wonderboy, and Dead Angle, the Master System set out to carve a niche untapped on the N.E.S. But Sega wasn't able to convince as many third parties that they were a viable competitor to Nintendo, and consumers didn't buy it over the juggernaut that was the N.E.S.

The Master System did manage to offer a few features that were often ignored at the time. Sega was the first to bring gamers 3D glasses, not to mention a convincing 3D motorcycle racing game. But in the end Sega had to settle for a fight for second with Atari's 7800, a barely passable 8-bit system.

The Other Side: Even though the Nintendo Entertainment System sold many more units, the Master System was using superior hardware. But then, if history has proven anything, it's not the system with the best hardware that wins, it's the number of units you sell. Just look at the Nintendo 64 or Xbox, both systems offered far superior hardware performance, but neither could come close to first place.

The Impact: The failure of the Master System may have actually been a blessing in disguise. Sega was able to take the loss in stride, and turned things around with the release of the Genesis. Hoping to get the jump on the 16-bit market, Sega released the Genesis almost two years before Nintendo unleashed their Super NES. Having learned their lesson, Sega was able to stand up and hold its ground against what was once considered a unstoppable beast.

The Sega Master System would get another chance for success before the century was over. Hoping to
cash in on the success of the portable GameBoy, Sega released a color system called the Game Gear. Not long after the release of the 8-bit portable, Sega released an adaptor that enabled gamers to play their Master System games on the go.

It is also worth noting that Sega released a Master System converter for their Genesis, but only the first two models. This large device sat atop the early Genesis units and played these long forgotten games. This peripheral wasn't overly popular, and they are hard to come by these days.

Where Are They Now?: Although the Master System may not have been a financial success, it did manage to leave enough of a mark where we are talking about it to this day. Games first seen on the 8-bit system are now starting to find their way to the current generation, with remakes, updates, and of course best of collections.

And starting next year, updated remakes of Master System classics like Alex Kidd and Phantasy Star will hit your PlayStation 2. These new versions will add new elements, monsters, and graphics, while still keeping it as similar to the original as possible. Sega seems to be committed to remembering the history of the Master System even if the rest of the world isn't.
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