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! >>

24 thoughts on “Retronauts Blog 8: Sega’s Masterful Moment (Addendum)

  1. I didn’t have my own Master System growing up, but I had a spoiled friend who had one and I was the only one who played it. It was kind of bad since I’d talk him into getting the latest and greatest games that I wanted to play and he’d get his dad to buy them…then I’d hang out at his place and play through them. So, I managed to play the crud out of Phantasy Star, Outrun, After Burner, and lots more and I think my friend was just happy to have the company while his divorced “bachelor once again” dad spent every evening out with another sketchy lady. I even have a soft spot for the snail maze game. ^_^

  2. Note to self: Jeremy cannot write more than twenty-five words about Blaster Master without mentioning the stage 4 theme.
    Then again, that happens to be the only song I can hum from that game.

  3. I had a Master System when it came out, and didn’t own an NES until after I got my Genesis. It was easy to see the system was more powerful than the NES, but I wouldn’t say the games were much better, obviously.

    With that said, the system had it’s moments. I still think Phantasy Star is the best 8-bit game ever made, it was so far ahead of it’s time, and in some ways still is. I also fondly remember beating the world high score in R-Type on the system, which apparently still stands in Twin Galaxies database.

    It will never match the NES in number of hits, but it has a special spot in gaming history.

  4. so all those years of hanging out with nice, friendly people has prevented me from becoming an internet master?

  5. I don’t think I even heard of the Master System until 1999, when I first met Mr. Internet and started downloading SNES roms like crazy.

  6. I probably shouldn’t have written that. Anyway, a friend of mine had a Genesis -the only one I saw outside a box… ever- and over the years would say the same things about it being way better than the SNES. Still, he played far more time on my SNES than on his Genesis.

  7. it’s okay, because you already owned the catridge version of those ROMs you downloaded.

  8. I always wondered about the intelligence of the rom community with the “you must own the original cartridge or delete within 24 hours” disclaimers.

  9. One of my friends had a Master System. I went over to his house to play it sometimes. I think the only game I really liked on the Master System was Fantasy Zone: The Maze. Phantasy Star was ahead of its time but I hated the dungeons, and the SMS version of Spy vs. Spy was better than my NES one.

  10. Master Blaster’s fourth level music WAS pretty unsettling, though. I used to stay up late, well after my parents had gone to sleep and the house was dark, and try to figure out a way to escape from that stupid maze, all the while checking the shadows for, well… I don’t know what I expected to find there, exactly, but the music creeped me out.

    I’m really partial to the water level’s music, though. You know, if you really loved us, you would stick it to the man and post MP3s of all those songs on your site. But you don’t really love us, do you? No, your heart is as black as the night.

  11. In Sega’s defense, Nintendo forbade any 3rd party from developing for other systems at the time if they wanted to develop for the NES.

  12. I gots to come down with Mr. JuanFrugal on this one. I never even heard of the Master System until like a decade after the thing had died.

    So the nostolgia for franchises like Phantasy Star is so totally beyond me. I never touched really heard much of the series until PSO came out (which was good, if repetitive), and when I did try an old school Phantasy Star, it felt hopelessly archaic. Nostolgia is funny like that I guess.

  13. I was lucky that, around the beginning of the SNES, that i met a kid who had a SMS, had all the good games, and was totally bored of them and enamored of his shiny new Super NES when i met him. Of course, i had weird luck like that. Back in the NES days i knew a kid who’s parents bought him two new games a week and all he liked was Tecmo Bowl.
    It pays to be a good borrower (i.e. the one who always takes care of your stuff and returns it in a timely manner)

  14. SMS had some memorable games. Black Belt for instance where people fragmented into little squares when you killed them. It also features a boss fight finish where you suspend a woman in the air by punching her in the chest. Plus you can’t beat the box art (with the exception of Pro Wrestling) The boss theme for Black Belt occasionally gets caught up in my head too. Also, the SMS has the best version of Ghostbusters of the 4 or so versions I’ve played.

  15. One of my neighbors had the SMS. He played a lot of Wonder Boy and it freaked me out.

    Then again, I really enjoyed the Blaster Master music, stage 4 the most.

    It’s like it’s opposite day, except instead of a day, it’s my entire life!

  16. The only SMS I encountered was at the apartment of one of my Dad’s single friends. Whenever we visited, I played his two games, Afterburner and Missile Defense 3D. The 3D glasses were crazy-amazing on MD3D. I loved how the final screen was a tense shot above ONE city block, and you had to stop any descending (but cute) missiles you failed to hit on the last few lockdowns.

    I wonder if there was a symbolism between the Sega Master System and the single guy…
    I have to wonder why he got the Sega over the Nintendo.
    He was into guns, so maybe MD3D sold him over Hogan’s Alley and the Crapper light gun.

  17. I take issue with this: “I can, however, respect that it was a groundbreaking game that by every right should have spawned a franchise equal to Final Fantasy. But it didn’t.” Technically this is correct, since Phantasy Star is not equal to Final Fantasy, it is above it. However, it seemed that you might have been implying it was below. Please to elaborate.

  18. Seems to me like you’re just beeing fanboyish Onomarchus- if you ask the average, non-hardcore gamer they probably wouldn’t even know what Phantasy Star is. Not to rag on its merits as a game(because PS is awesome), but sales figures and international popularity don’t lie- Final Fantasy is the larger, more popular franchise.

  19. Uh, yeah, don’t be a dope. The word “franchise” implies business fortunes more than subjective quality. Let me know when any Phantasy Star game comes even slightly close to moving the same number of units that a Final Fantasy title does.

  20. I never thought I’d see the day that ToastyFrog of all people in the cosmos equated the success of a franchise with business fortune. I’m so astounded I find that strangely nifty, like if the news were broadcast upside down one night with no one remarking on it.

    I honestly don’t know if I can live up to the title of Phantasy Star fanboy, but I would love to and I take that as a compliment.

    Also, I’m sore because I can’t find my old copy of Zillion.

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