Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vintage Gaming: The Sega Master System

I haven't really talked much about my love for old-school video games on this blog yet, so what better time to start than now. Time to get schooled on the SEGA Master System.

SEGA Master System (1986)

I've always enjoyed older video games more than the newer ones. New games tend to get extremely complicated and addicting, with more movie sequences than actual game-play. Sure, the graphics are awesome and the stories are pretty cool...but nothing beats playing a quick round of Super Mario Brothers or Tetris, ya know what I mean? Today's games are just too engrossing and time-consuming. I'll take a two-button controller game over anything out there today, thank you very much.

Growing up as a wee lad, I never had the Nintendo. I had the Sega Master System. I thought it was awesome, but quickly learned that I was missing out on all the games my friends were playing. While the rest of you got your kicks from games like Metroid, Zelda, Mario, Castlevania and Paperboy...I was playing Black Belt, Captain Silver, Ghost House and Alex Kidd.

I didn't miss out too much, though. Like I said...every other kid in America had a Nintendo. So any time I wanted to play a game everyone else had heard about, I just went to a friend's house.

The SEGA Master System had some good games, but it never really had any big hits. Games like Altered Beast and Golden Axe had popularity as arcade games, but were ultimately ignored when they were released on the Master System.

Despite its shortcomings, the SEGA Master System was way ahead of its time (you can say that for most of SEGA's gaming consoles). The Master System was the first video game console to feature proper 3-D games. You had to purchase the super-stylish black 3-D glasses separately, but in my opinion they are worth tracking down. I lost my 3-D glasses over the course of time, yet I vaguely remember them as being pretty awesome.

The SEGA Master System was also the first system to feature "card" games, where the games were on  cards rather than a cartridge. This was something that was later copied by the Turbo Grafx 16 in 1987 when NEC released the console to the Japanese market (TG-16 later got its US release is 1989).

The card games didn't really take off at the time. They are hard to track down these days. I never actually had any of them, but if I ever see one at a garage sale or a thrift's mine.

My favorite games for the Master System were Captain Silver, Altered Beast, Golden Axe and Shinobi. I had a score of other games, but most of them kinda sucked. The problem with the Master System games was that they usually only had 4 or 5 levels, and were so ridiculously hard that you couldn't get to the end of the game. Master System games were notorious for programming issues as well, which made games like Altered Beast fun to play for about 5 minutes.

Altered Beast (1988)

Shinobi was equally as fun/frustrating, as you were a ninja going around saving kidnapped children from bad guys. The gameplay was simple enough. However, that never made any of these games easy to play.

Shinobi (1987)

Ultimately, the SEGA Master System was doomed to fail in the American market. Nintendo already had a stranglehold on the home console market, and most of the games that were released on the Nintendo were exclusive to Nintendo. SEGA got their payback in 1989 with the Genesis system, but that is a tale for another day.

All in all, the Master System is a fun vintage system to have if you can find it for really cheap (with some games added to the deal as well). I've had my system for nearly 25 years and it still plays as well as it did when I was a kid. I wouldn't pay a lot of money for it if I were you, but I certainly wouldn't pass it up either!

Captain Silver (1987)


  1. I need to find one of these somewhere. I think one of the dirt comic stores in Lansing had one last year. I should have bought it!

  2. If you ever come Atlanta, all you gotta do is plug it in bro. :)

  3. Replies
    1. I've seen them on eBay anywhere between $30 and $100. I recommend getting one that comes with some games, as the games can be hard to track down for good prices.