Although both of these were good ideas that I might pilfer the next time i have writers block, I decided to instead to take his third idea of “5 things I hated about the Sega Master System” because it had all the main components of a good blog: crapping on something from the past, fear, shame, abandonment, and ultimately redemption. Plus unlike the other ideas, which I would have had to think about, this topic is ripe in my mind for things I could readily talk about. Sure I know this is primarily a comics blog, but most comic book readers are also pretty avid gamers too, so I thought you’d cut me some slack if I delivered the goods on a decent article.
Some background first however. First, before any out there calls foul on this blog, let me remind you that I played the Sega Master system heavily growing up. In 4th grade instead of getting a Nintendo like the rest of my peers, I got a Sega. It remained my only system for 4 long years during which I played nearly every game I could get my grubby little hands on.
Second, I fully realize that the Sega Master system was technically a better system than the Nintendo. It had a better graphics engine, better sound, and as a result was quite capable of being flat out a better 8 bit entry to home gaming if it had been given a shot. Unfortunately, as the below list will reveal, the 5 things that I hated about the system are actually fairly close to the real reasons the system failed to kick Mario’s sorry ass around the block and back.
1) Lack of Third Party programs/support:
Ok, let’s just come out and say this one first as it’s obviously the most blatant issue and the most universal one that still plagues systems to this day. Flat out, in order to have a good system, you need to have good games. It’s rule number one.
And there were plenty of third party programers from Konami, to Tecmo, to Capcom who were making excellent games for the Nintendo back in the day, so much so that it was really these games that we more often remember as being what made the Nintendo special. Games like Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man.
However, all of these games could have also appeared on the Sega Master System like so many cross console games released today. That is until Nintendo made all these publishers sign some agreement in order to get their “seal of approval” that they would only make available the game on their system.
And in that post “Atari video game crash of ‘83” world, quality or at least the promise of quality was all everyone cared about in order to wash the taste of failure out of the mouths of so many toy stores that had been burnt by these video game companies sticking them with crappy products they couldn’t sell, so they went along… leaving Sega with a pitiful library which lacked many of the biggest of the heavy hitters.
Who knows what could have happened if things were different? Maybe if these publishers could have the same games with better quality graphics, maybe the Sega would have won that battle in the end. After all this is also what sunk the Nintendo WiiU recently, so third party support is huge!
I’ve played the Ninja Gaiden game that Tecmo eventually was allowed to release on the SMS after it had long died in America. The game almost looks 16 bit its that crisp. It’s hard to deny that truth.
2) No Alex Kidd in Miracle World 2:
Ok, so lets forget about the third party and talk about things that Sega did have control over, namely the games they created. The games that should have stood toe to toe with Mario, Zelda, and Metroid.
The biggest one of these is Alex Kidd in Miracle Word which has pretty much been universally heralded as not only one of the top 3 games released on the SMS, but one of the best 8 bit games period.
There’s no doubt that I love this game. It was really the first game I couldn’t put down it was that good. Unlike Super Mario Brothers, it had a variety of different items you could use like a pedalcopter and invisibility powder, interesting boss battles, a stronger story, and yet was still a crushingly hard side scroller.
So why didn’t Sega make a proper sequel? Alex Kidd was their mascot at the time for Pete’s Sake. Surely, that would mean you’d want to shove that brand recognition down our throats by making more quality games featuring this big eared rock breaker.
No, instead you had to wait years and years later to finally get a real sequel on the Genesis in Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle, but by that time, nobody cared. Mainly, because in the meantime, they pushed lackluster sequels that had nothing to do with the first game at us in hopes we wouldn’t notice. Sega, I hate to break it to you, but we did. High Tech World was the worst game I ever played.
3) Lack of RPGs:
After Alex Kidd, the second most revered game on the SMS is the original Phantasy Star.
A marvel of 8 bit RPGs, it had colorful graphics, incredibly engaging story, and first person dungeons. I was never a huge fan but my older brother played the crap out of this game and I loved watching him do it.
So if all that is true, why not release more RPGs like this for the SMS? It seems there was a pre made segment of the population that would have eaten it up with a spoon.
Maybe it’s because the genre of RPG was still in its infancy. It’s true that the Nintendo didn’t have a ton of these games either, but at least they had both Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. I think the boat was missed in importing some other Japanese RPG over on to the American shores and showcasing it on the SMS.
At the very least, they could have put out something to directly compete against Nintendo’s Action RPGs like Zelda or Faxanadu. Golvellius was a good start, but they definitely should have forced Compile to make a Golvellius Sequel for the SMS only to cash in on its success.
4) Lack of Arcade port gaming:
Another thing that the SMS did better than the Nintendo was in the field of ports of the big Arcade games of the day. They had Space Harrier, Hang On, Chop lifter, Wonder Boy, Out Run which were made specifically by Sega so it was a no brainer that these games were ported on to the SMS (No Congo Bongo or Zaxxon though which always puzzled me).
However, third party games like Double Dragon and Rastan were also extremely more faithful to their arcade counterparts than the Nintendo versions. Maybe Sega should have struck a deal with Namco and brought high quality versions of Pac man, Galga, and Dig Dug to the SMS.
Sega could have cornered the market on that which would have had to make Nintendo wince a bit. Just think of a TMNT 8 bit Arcade game version on the SMS with sweet ass graphics.
5) Lack of a Pause Button on the controller:
Finally, this design flaw of the Sega Controller really still irks me to this day. The pause button is so important to everything about gaming that it boggles my mind why anyone would think it would fine to have it located figuratively miles away on the actual console itself instead of where it needs to be with the rest of the buttons.
And after the start button became important as a menu button in Action RPGers, the notion of it not being readily accessible really drives home what a colossal blunder it is.
Maybe this is why Nintendo won the battle, because of these intuitive decisions that seem so simple yet have a profound impact. Whether that’s guaranteeing third party games, making quality sequels to beef up brand recognition, or building a flat out better controller, the evidence definitely seems to point in the direction that Nintendo knew what they were doing with the NES, and Sega did not. Or at least not enough to make gamers like myself still not feel royally screwed some 20 some years later.