A Look at the Sega Master System

So, the Sega Master System. Sega's first home video game console, which for the longest time I thought wasn't even released in America. I'm sure that's better than most people, who probably aren't even aware of its existence, or have heard of it but never actually seen one and believe it's some kind of myth.

The Master System fared even worse than the TurboGrafx - 60 games released in America, versus the TG-16 getting a little over 100. It didn't help that Sega didn't seem to know what they were doing when they made this thing.

The System Itself

Mine is a little scratched up from the previous owner(s), but ignoring all that, this thing's kind of ugly. When I got my Genesis I made sure to get the Model 2 because I thought the original was also bloody ugly. There is a SMS remodel, but it's rarer and also doesn't play card games. There's also a converter for playing SMS games on a Genesis, but it only works on the Model 1 Genesis. Plus, I scored a great deal on an eBay auction for my system and fifteen games including Phantasy Star and Golvellius. So, the ugly model it was.

Earlier models come with two slots to put games in. One is on the top of the console for cartridges. The other is in front of the system for card-based games. Also, if you start up this model without any games plugged in, then on the instructions press Up and buttons 1 and 2 on the system you can access a built-in game where you guide a little snail through a maze. I really couldn't play it because I could barely see vertical walls that were only one "square" tall. I believe the Model 2 comes with Alex Kidd in Miracle World built in.

The Controller

Anybody notice something about this thing? You have the control pad, and two face buttons called 1 and 2... notice something's missing? That's right, there's no Pause button! It's on the console!

This means if you have to Pause your game, you have to take your eyes of the screen and reach over to the console, and press the Pause button on it. At least my TurboGrafx and its three-foot controller cord got me used to keeping a game system right next to me.

Also, the control pad sucks. Because of its square shape, how freaking tiny the controller is (that image is maybe 75% its actual size), and how the input area is split up, I found myself pressing the diagonal directions all the time, totally screwing my games over. Fortunately, there's a very easy way to fix this - you can use a Sega Genesis controller in the Master System (okay, easy if you own a Genesis, but if you don't have a Genesis you probably don't have a Master System either). I've been told you can also use the Genesis controller in Atari 2600s and Commodore VIC20s. Neat. Unfortunately, the Master System still won't read the Pause button on the Genesis controller, meaning you still have to use the button on the system, but at least the games are now playable.

The Games

I photographed five games for a reason: they all look the same. Every game cartridge is black with a red and white-gridded sticker (except for Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, which is blue. Can't say why) with the game's name. Kind of dull.

Dragon Crystal is a European game, but it also looks the same. There's no region encoding in SMS cartridges, so this means you can play European games on an American Master system, which is spiffy because Europe got more games, probably the most in fact.

One interesting tidbit related to this is the Master System's final release in America, Sonic the Hedgehog. It's stupidly common in Europe, but the American version fetches over $100 on eBay and get this - the only difference between the two versions is the American version has a UPC sticker on its outer case covering the European one. Sega merely stuck the American UPC code stickers on some European printings and sent 'em our way.

Let's look at some game covers!

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