|SG-1000 Mark II|
|Master System II|
|Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 7800|
|SG-1000 Mark III|
|North American Release|
|South Korean Release|
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The Master System was the SEGA's first console in markets outside of Japan. It was made to compete with Nintendo's Nintendo Entertainment System, and went on sale in 1986 in North America and 1987 in other territories.
In North America, since Nintendo had a lock on third parties at the time, most of the games released in North America were developed in-house by SEGA. In the long run this hurt the Master System's chances of being accepted by the mainstream gaming community, which by this time had already embraced the NES.
In Europe and South America, where Nintendo's third-party restrictions did not apply, the Master System was a major success, significantly outselling the NES in these regions. A re-release in 1990 as the Master System II did little to help recover the Master System's flagging popularity in North America but became very popular in Europe and South America.
The Master System (often abbreviated to SMS, short for SEGA Master System) is a third-generation video game console.
The original Master System could play both cartridges and the credit card-sized SEGA Cards, which retailed for cheaper prices than cartridges but had a 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 video games that had been developed specifically to take advantage of these peripherals.
The Master System was released as a direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the third generation of video game hardware. The Master System was technically superior to the NES, which predated its release by nine months in North America, but failed to overturn Nintendo's significant market share advantage in Japan and North America.
In the European, Oceanic and Brazilian markets, this console allowed SEGA to outsell Nintendo, due in part 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.
The console was redesigned several times both for marketing purposes and to add features, most notably in Brazil. The later Game Gear is effectively a hand-held Master System, with a few enhancements.
In 2009, the Master System was named the 20th best video game console of all time (out of 25) by the North American video gaming website IGN, behind both its competitors, the Atari 7800 (ranked 17th best) and the Nintendo Entertainment System (1st). They cited the Master System's small North American games library, coupled with the highly uneven quality of the few games that were released: "Months could go by between major releases and that made a dud on the Master System feel even more painful." In contrast to the more limited North American library, however, SEGA Europe continued to release a "drip-feed of quality titles" for the Master System in the European market (such as Mercs, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Streets of Rage 2) up until the mid-1990s, helping it "cling to its significant market share" up until then. Retro Gamer credits the console with generally "introducing many gamers to the concept of the 'Home Arcade'."
Though the NES had a larger library of games overall, they were mainly made by third parties. Due to third-party licensing restrictions, the Master System had most of its North American releases developed by SEGA themselves, but in Europe, where third-party restrictions did not apply, the Master System had a lot more third-party games.
The SG-1000 Mark III was redesigned by Sato for release in other markets. This was mainly a cosmetic revamp and the internal components of the console remained largely the same, although the cartridge port on the Master System has a somewhat different pinout than the Mark III and games cannot be exchanged between the two without an adaptor.
The Master System was released in the United States in June 1986, hitting the market less than a year after the Nintendo Entertainment System was released and pre-dating the re-branded Japanese release. The console went in sale initially for US$200.
By 1988, Nintendo commanded 83% of the North American video game market share. SEGA did not want to risk challenging Nintendo directly and instead contracted Tonka to market the Master System in North America. However, as a toy manufacturer, Tonka had no experience or knowledge of electronic games and their marketing skills proved extremely poor. One of Nintendo's policies was that its third-party licensees could not release any video game on competing consoles and the resultant lack of third-party support left the Master System deprived of many arcade and NES hit titles. Activision and Parker Brothers were the only two third-party companies publishing for the Master System in North America, but both companies withdrew their support in 1989 and neither company had released more than five video game titles for the platform.
In 1989, SEGA was preparing to release the new 16-bit Genesis in North America, and displeased with Tonka, took over marketing duties itself. It designed the Master System II, a low-cost Master System that lacked several of the original console's features (including the SEGA card slot). In an effort to counter Nintendo's Super Mario Bros, the new system included Alex Kidd in Miracle World playable without any cartridges; hence replacing the built-in Snail Maze and Hang-On/Safari Hunt video games of the original system. SEGA marketed the Master System II heavily; nevertheless, the unit sold poorly in North America, especially since it had already been superseded by the Genesis. In 1991, Nintendo was found guilty of violating United States antitrust law and forced to abandon some of its licensing practices, but the Master System had already been eclipsed long ago with no signs of ever recovering. By early 1992, the Master System's sales were virtually non-existent in North America and production ceased. The Master System had sold 2 million units in the United States.
In sharp contrast to its performance in Japan and North America, the Master System was very successful in Europe. SEGA marketed this console in many European countries, including several in which Nintendo did not sell its consoles. It enjoyed strong third party support in the continent, including from American video game publishers that had not released titles for the platform in North America. It had some success in Germany, where it was distributed by Ariolasoft beginning in winter 1987. In France, the console was distributed in 1987 by Mastertronic France, from September 1988 until September 1991 by Virgin Loisirs, and then from September 1991 onwards by SEGA France.
In the United Kingdom, it was distributed by Mastertronic (which later merged with the Virgin Group), and in Italy it was distributed by Giochi Preziosi. In its first years it overshadowed the Nintendo Entertainment System but wasn't as successful as the Atari ST and Amiga 500 Personal Computers, which were mostly used as gaming machines. The NES only gained a good market share in these territories later in its lifespan, after the release of the Mega Drive. The console was produced far longer in Europe than in Japan and North America. It was eventually a major success in Europe, where it outsold the NES by a considerable margin. Because of the success in Europe, SEGA decided to open its SEGA Europe division.
As late as 1993, the Master System's active installed user base in Western Europe was 6.25 million units, larger than that of the Mega Drive's 5.73 million base that year. The Master System thus accounted for nearly half of the active installed base for consoles in Western Europe in 1993 (13.51 million), and combined with the Mega Drive, SEGA represented the majority of the console user base in Western Europe that year. The Master System's largest markets in the region were France and the United Kingdom, which had active user bases of 1.6 million and 1.35 million, respectively, in 1993. The combined total for the peak active user bases in all Western European markets (600,000 for Belgium in 1991, 400,000 for Italy in 1992, and 5.8 million combined for the other markets in 1993) add up to 6.8 million units in Western Europe between 1991 and 1993.
The last licensed release in Europe was The Smurfs: Travel the World, released by Infogrames in 1996. Its successor, the Mega Drive, which was also successful in Europe, was supported up until this time as well. However, both were discontinued so that SEGA could concentrate on the Saturn.
Brazil was the most successful market for the Master System. Tec Toy, SEGA's distributor in Brazil, was responsible for marketing and sales. Both the Master System and Master System II have slight differences in the external appearance of the console, but are still extremely similar to the Master System outside of Brazil.
At least five versions of the console were released between 1989 and 1995 and several games had been translated into Portuguese. Phantasy Star was the first game completely translated to the Brazilian Portuguese. Brazil also produced many original games, like Sítio do Pica Pau Amarelo (based on the works of Monteiro Lobato), Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum (from the TV Cultura series) and TV Colosso (from the Rede Globo series).
By 1996, Tec Toy had sold 2 million Master System and Mega Drive units in Brazil. In Brazil, the Master System had a larger install base than the Mega Drive and outsold later consoles up until the 2000s. By 2005, the Master System and Mega Drive had sold more than 2 million units each in Brazil. As of 2010, both Master System and Mega Drive are still being produced in Brazil, now with several games running direct from the memory, and, as of 2006, the cartridge slots have been removed from the Master System, as the cartridges are no longer marketed.
The latest version is called Master System Evolution, and includes 132 built-in games.
In 2002, Tec Toy, motivated by the success of the Master System in the Brazilian market, decided to continue producing more games. By the end of the 1990s, there were well over 70 Brazilian variants of the original Master System games. The system was re-released again by changing the color of the console to a white hue. A number of games were exclusively released in the Brazilian market for the Master System.
Later, Game Gear video games were ported to the Master System and several original Brazilian titles were made for the system. Tec Toy also produced a licensed version of the fighting game Street Fighter II for the Master System. The console production was familiar to the Brazilians, which explains the success in that market.
One of the more notable Master System consoles in Brazil was the wireless Master System Compact developed by Tec Toy. The console transmits the A/V signal through RF, dispensing cable connections. It was produced from 1994 to 1997 and is still a target for console collectors. A similar version, called Master System Girl, was also released in an attempt to attract female consumers. The only difference in this version is a strong pink casing and pastel buttons.
In 2009, the Master System Evolution was released in Brazil.
|Physical dimensions||Width: 365 mm |
Depth: 170 mm
Height: 69 mm
|CPU||8-bit Zilog Z80. The maximum addressable memory is 64 kB|
|RAM||64 kbit (8 kB), can be supplemented by cartridges|
|Graphics RAM||128 kbit (16 kB)|
|Media||Master System Cartridge, SEGA Card|
|Output||A/V Output, RF Output|
One of the most unusual features of the Master System is its dual media inputs: one cartridge slot and one card slot. The card slot accepted small cards about the size of a credit card, much like the later PC-Engine.
The cards and cartridges both serve the purpose of holding software. However, the cartridges had a much higher capacity, while the cards were much smaller (holding a maximum of 32k). SEGA used the cards for budget games, priced lower than the typical game.
Almost all cards are games, but the 3-D glasses card served an entirely different purpose. The 3-D glasses plug into the console via the card slot, and allow 3-D visual effects for specially designed cartridge games. In this fashion, both media inputs worked in tandem.
The card slot was removed in the redesigned Master System II, providing support for only cartridges. This helped to reduce the cost of manufacturing the console since the cards were unpopular and few card-based games were made. Most of the card games were later re-released as cartridges.
A floppy disk drive add-on for the original Master System was developed, but never released.
- Controller 3: 2 buttons, hole for a screw-in thumbstick.
- Controller 4: 6 buttons, very similar to the Mega Drive's 6 button pad; released in Brazil only.
- Control Stick: 2 buttons and a stick similar to a gear stick, but on the right side and the buttons are on the left side.
- Light Phaser: Light gun, not compatible with Mega Drive light gun games.
- SEGA Remote Control System: remote controller.
- SEGA Sports Pad: trackball controller.
- SEGA Handle Controller: (Steering Wheel controller for driving-/airplane games).
- SG Commander: a standard controller with built-in rapid fire.
The Master System controller has only 2 buttons, one of which additionally performs the function of the traditional "Start" button; the pause button is on the game console itself. The original controllers, like SEGA's previous systems, has the cord emerging from the side; in 1987 the design was changed to the now-typical top emerging cord. Some controllers also include a screw-in thumb stick for the D-pad.
The controller uses the prevailing de facto Atari-style 9-pin connector and can be connected without modification to all other machines compatible with that standard, including the Atari 2600, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum with Kempston interface or similar.
When Street Fighter II was released (in Brazil only), a new six-button controller similar to the Mega Drive controller was also released. The current Brazilian Master System consoles come with two six-button controllers.
The later Mega Drive controllers generally work fine on the Master System, with buttons B and C corresponding to 1 and 2 respectively and the other buttons not doing anything. A few Master System video games, such as Alien Syndrome will not function properly with these controllers unless a modification is performed on the Mega Drive Controller, even on a Mega Drive equipped with a Power Base Converter.
The Light Phaser was a light gun created for the Master System, modelled after the Zillion gun from the Japanese anime series of the same name. The phaser was heavier than its Nintendo counterpart, the Nintendo Zapper, but is considered by some to have a more responsive trigger and more accurate targeting. As with the Japanese-market Nintendo Zapper, the Light Phaser looked realistic enough to warrant parental pressure to alter the device so that police would not confuse it with a real gun. Altered Light Phasers are distinguished by a hand-painted neon orange tip and are much rarer than their solid color counterparts. Tec Toy also released a blue Light Phaser in Brazil.
For the Master System there were a lot of video games in development that specifically can be played with the Light Phaser, among others the following:
- Marksman Shooting
- Trap Shooting
- Safari Hunt
- Shooting Gallery
- Gangster Town
- Missile Defense 3-D
- Rescue Mission
- Rambo III
- Operation: Wolf
- Assault City
- Laser Ghost
- Space Gun
SEGAScope 3-D Glasses
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The SEGAScope 3-D Glasses rapidly alternate between the left and right lenses being opaque, used in tandem with two different alternating images flashed from the TV synchronized with the switching of the 3-D Glasses to create a natural stereoscopic 3D effect. The Master System glasses can only be used in the original Master System, since it hooks up directly to the card port not found in the Master System II. This system allows 3-D graphics in full color. The technology takes advantage of the interlaced video output of contemporary CRT televisions, displaying the left image in the top field and the right image in the bottom field. A similar unit was produced for the Family Computer, called the Family Computer 3D System. Only eight Master System games are 3-D compatible.
- Blade Eagle 3-D
- Line of Fire (hold buttons 1 and 2 while switching the system on for 3-D mode)
- Maze Hunter 3-D
- Missile Defense 3-D (also requires the Light Phaser gun)
- Out Run 3-D (playable in 2-D via the console pause button)
- Poseidon Wars 3-D (can also be played in 2-D mode without glasses)
- Space Harrier 3-D (can also be played in 2-D mode without glasses by entering THREE as your initials on the high score screen)
- Zaxxon 3-D (playable in 2-D via the console pause button)
With the use of the Power Base Converter, all peripherals are fully compatible with the Mega Drive.
Remote Control System
The remoteler is a joypad with a built infrared system and a receiver for the signals. Manufactured by WKK Industries, it is not an official product from SEGA and was distributed only in small quantities.
During its lifespan, the Master System was built in several variations.
Master System II
In 1990, SEGA was having success in North America with its Genesis and as a result took back the rights from Tonka for the Master System. It designed the Master System II, a low-cost Master System that lacked the reset button, expansion port (which was never used), and SEGA Card slot of the original. Since the card slot was also used as a connector to synchronize the 3D glasses with the original Master System, the Master System II couldn't use the 3D glasses.
Master System 3
The latest version is the Master System 3 (a completely different unit to the original Master System III which was a grey Master System II) released by Tec Toy. It has a brand new modern black design, with details in blue. Even with the visual changes, it was not renamed, save switching the Roman number in the name to a decimal number. Although outwardly similar to the Master System II, the Master System 3 featured internal changes that allowed it to handle cartridges up to 8 megabits (1024 kilobytes) in size.
The Master System was re-released in a smaller handheld form factor in late 2006. This small handheld device is powered by 3 AAA batteries, has a brighter active matrix screen, and contained 20 Game Gear and Master System video games. It was released under several brands including Coleco and PlayPal.
The Master System technology lived on in SEGA's Game Gear, which was based on the technology found in the Master System. Due to its architectural similarity to the Game Gear, software companies were easily able to make versions of their games for both the Master System and Game Gear. In fact, many Game Gear titles that were released in North America and Japan were released alongside Master System versions of those games in Europe.
The Mega Drive is backward compatible with the Master System, despite having a differently shaped cartridge slot. SEGA developed a pass-through device for the Mega Drive, allowing Master System cartridges to be played on the newer system. It was called the Power Base Converter in the US, the Mega Adapter in Japan and the Master System Converter in Europe. The somewhat large device plugs into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot, covering the entire circular top of the system. Master System cartridges and cards can then be inserted into the device and played on the [[Mega Drive[[ using Mega Drive Controllers. Due to its size and shape, the converter will not fit properly with the Mega Drive II, necessitating the use of the Europe-only Master System Converter II, or a third-party converter cartridge.
|This section requires expansion.|
On the original release of the Master System, a hidden game known as Snail Maze is built into the console, which was a number of labyrinth puzzles with a time limit. This game can be accessed from the system BIOS by starting the system without a game cartridge inserted and holding Up and buttons 1 and 2 simultaneously.
Astro Warrior is integrated into one version of the console (the SEGA Base System, which was slightly less expensive and lacked the Light Phaser). Hang-On and Safari Hunt are also integrated into another version of the console. Additionally, the original North American release of the console (which included the built-in Snail Maze) came bundled with a cartridge containing both Hang-On and Safari Hunt. Some versions only had Hang-On built in. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is integrated into Master System II consoles in North America, Australia and Europe. Sonic the Hedgehog is integrated into newer PAL Master System II consoles. It was later ported to the Game Gear.
A marketing agreement between SEGA and the producers of the anime Zillion resulted in a video game based on the anime series in which the protagonists use a pistol which is nearly identical to the Light Phaser, including the cable.
A number of Master System games are available for download on Nintendo's Wii Virtual Console in North America, PAL territories and Japan. The first game released for this service was Hokuto no Ken, on February 26, 2008, and later, Fantasy Zone, released on March 11, 2008. Both were released in Japan, at a standard cost of 500 Wii Points (though Hokuto no Ken costs 600 points, due to the game's source license). In North America, Wonder Boy was the first SMS game released for the service on March 31, 2008. Fantasy Zone was also announced, but its release date was on April 14, 2008. In Europe, both Fantasy Zone and Wonder Boy were released on the same day. The option to switch to FM audio, for the handful of games that used it, is available for all regions.
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- Master System at the Open Directory Project
- Master System at the SEGA Archives (official website by SEGA of Japan)
- Master System at SEGAFans
- Master System Museum
- SMS Console Database
- SMS Power - Unreleased games discussion/exhibition.