Retronauts Blog 8: Sega's Masterful Moment (Addendum)

This week — or maybe next week, or possibly last, I’m not very clear on this point — marks the 20th anniversary of the Sega Master System. Now, last year was the NES’s 20th anniversary, and we marked the occasion with a really enormous blowout. For the SMS… we’re posting the two-page write-up I put together for EGM.

Bias? You bet.

Well, OK, not really. I don’t have anything against the Master System — in fact, I bought one and gave a bunch of its games a fair shake two summers ago. The problem is… well, there’s just not that much to say about the system. The EGM piece could probably stand to be expanded on ever-so-slightly, I guess (since the EGM Retro style is deliberately fatuous) — but not by much.

Part of the problem (for me) is that I only knew a single person who owned a Master System back in the day, and he had serious compensation issues. I’d go over to his house to check out his games and he’d spend the entire time talking about how much better the SMS was than the NES; he’d come over to my place to play NES and harp on the most mundane details as proof of the SMS’s superiority. “Zelda II has such slow text scrolling! NES games are for idiots.” Or, “That Blaster Master stage four music is too creepy. Videogames shouldn’t sound like that. Master System is better.”

In other words, I had lots of practice for the Internet.

The bigger issue at hand is simply that the Master System, despite having superior hardware to the NES, lacked the breadth and depth of its competition’s library. Sega did lots of clever things with their first internationally-distributed console, but they fell flat when it came to wrapping up third-party support. And we all know that third-party software is what makes a console great! (Except, ironically, Nintendo’s more recent entries in the hardware arena, which have largely gotten by on in-house stuff.)

But I come to praise Master System, not to bury it. Despite some tough times, it had its moments. And I cling to these tiny bits of Sega nostalgia to convince myself I’m not really just a hopeless Nintendo fanboy at heart.

Read on, gentle pilgim, for the world’s worst Master System retrospective. Ever! >>