Master System – master of the 8-Bit console

How the Master System was the master 8-Bit console by Jason Delacey

It didn’t really take off in the USA – dwarfed by the mighty NES in terms of sales and number of games – but in the UK (where I grew up) and many other parts of Europe, the Sega Master System was king of the 8-bit consoles. I know for some people this may sound crazy, but the Master System sold well even after the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive over here) was released. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at what made the Sega Master System so awesome and what it was like growing up in a place where more kids had a Master System than an NES!


Sega Was Everywhere!

You remember the late ’80s and early ’90s with mega-retailers like Toys R Us – their shelves stacked high with NES games right? Oh, and the barely visible half-a-bay set aside for the Sega stuff? Well, in my local store it was the exact opposite. Any retailer that sold video games would have way more Master System games than NES ones. Sega was everywhere and it’s popularity was high for some time. Long after interest for the Master System died in the USA, games that were released for the Sega Game Gear would also see a release on the Master System in Europe and Brazil.


Arcade Action At Home

Ok, so that may be overselling the power of the Master System just a bit but arcade gaming was still a big deal back then and to have a home console that came anywhere close to recreating the experience was just amazing. Sega brought arcade classics such as Outrun (everyone I knew had at least one version of Outrun in their collection!), Space Harrier, Afterburner and Hang On right into your living room. Ok, they had their limits but having these games was a huge deal and something that certainly made the Master System stand out.

Arcade style action


More Colours Than a Rainbow

In my opinion the Master System graphics were better than those of the NES. That may sound like a bold statement, but the Master System had a much better colour palette and when this was used right many games looked simply amazing. Don’t take my word for it – just look at Donald Duck: The Lucky Dime Caper and put it next to anything on the NES! Agree? Ok, if witches kidnapping ducks aint your thing then what about the Sonic games, Mickey Mouse or Golden Axe? I’d say these all eclipsed what was being done on the NES.

Super range of colours


Just Like Its Big Brother

One interesting thing about the Sega Master System was that it had many of the games that the Sega Mega Drive was famous for. The popularity of the Master System in Europe and Brazil meant Sega deemed it worthy to make versions of many popular Mega Drive games. The quality of these games differed, but you would be surprised at how well some of these turned out. Streets of Rage, Shinobi, Strider, Road Rash and many more games that were iconic titles on the Mega Drive all had ports for the Sega Master System.


Sonic Was An 8-Bit King

The Sega Master System has its very own library of Sonic games. Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic Chaos and Sonic Spinball all were released on the console. Each are fun platformers in their own right and well worth checking out. One interesting thing about the Sonic games on the Master System is that to make up for the lack of system speed, the games featured more exploration. This makes them different to the Genesis games and adds layers of fun.

Sonic The Hedgehog on the Master System


Sonic Was Built In

As mentioned, the original Master System sold well in Europe but the release of the budget Master System II saw the console really take off. Due to the low asking price and cost-effective games it became a smash with families. But there was another reason that the Master System II was seen as such a great deal – it came with the original Sonic The Hedgehog game built into the console! This made what was already a great value console seem even better in the eyes of both dedicated gamers and parents alike.


So while overall the Master System may not have come close to matching the NES in terms of world-wide sales, it was still a big hit in some places. Many gamers in the UK and Europe regard the Master System and its games with the kind of fondness that many American’s feel for the NES. So please don’t think of the Master System as doomed to the dungeon of forgotten consoles just yet. There are some awesome games on there that are well worth checking out.

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