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The Sega Master System





I grew up playing the NES and have no nostalgia or memories of Sega's 8-bit console, the Master System. In fact, I hadn't even heard of the Master System in the '90s. I always assumed Sega's first console was the Genesis/Mega Drive, and that they had only made Arcade games prior to the release of that console.


In 2001/2002, I came across an NES site called NES Player (mentioned in my previous blog about gaming sites I used to visit). They had several shrines (pages dedicated to certain NES games), one of which was about Duck Hunt. NES Player's Duck Hunt shrine had a page comparing Duck Hunt to a similar game called Safari Hunt. It was on this page that I found out that Sega released a console prior to the Genesis called the Sega Master System, a gun peripheral similar to the NES Zapper called the Phaser, and a 2 in 1 cartridge similar to the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge called Hang-On & Safari Hunt. I was mainly a Nintendo guy at that point (though I liked the PS1, the Genesis, Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast, and some PC games), so I didn't really have any interest in the Master System when I found out about it. Even so, I still thought it was interesting that Sega released a console before the Genesis/Mega Drive.

In 2018, I played the Master System for the first time with a friend. The game we played was Double Dragon, which is kind of different than the NES and Game Boy versions that I'm more familiar with (note: I'm silent and off-screen in this video; my friend was the only one who talked). In 2021, my friend decided to give me his Sega Master System collection, the console, ten games, two Controllers, the Phaser, and hookups.

This blog focuses on some of the games that I currently have for the console, as well as some of its interesting features.

The Sega Master System

The Controllers



The Master System's Controller resembles the NES Controller, with a rectangular shape and a similar button layout. The Pad, however, is inferior in my opinion (though it is a little more comfortable), because it seems to be more sensitive than the NES's Pad. And there's no Start button (even though some games tell you to "Press Start"). Instead, there are 1 and 2 buttons with the 1 button acting like a Start button. There's a Pause button on the console. 


One interesting feature, which likely would've blown my mind if I knew about the Master System in the '90s, is that the Sega Genesis Controller is compatible with the Master System. It doesn't make use of the added buttons, but it does work.

The Built-In Games



Another interesting feature of the Master System is its built-in games, which varies depending on the model. The most common built-in game is the Snail Maze game, a very simple game where you control a Snail and are given a minute to make your way through a maze. The Snail Maze game can be played by turning the Master System on with no cartridge inserted, and holding up on the Pad and Buttons 1 and 2 while the Sega logo is being displayed. In addition to this game, my Master System also has Hang-On and Safari Hunt built into it (which I also have on a 2 in 1 cartridge). If the system is turned on without a cartridge and no buttons are pressed, it loads up Hang-On & Safari Hunt. Other models of the Master System have other games built-in.

The Phaser


The Master System's Light Gun, used in certain games such as Safari Hunt. While not as iconic as the NES's Zapper, I suppose many would think it looks "cool" in comparison. It's fairly accurate, but as with the NES's Zapper it only works on CRT TV's (it doesn't work properly on a modern HDTV).



Games on Cartridges 


These are some of the Master System games that I have right now that I thought I'd talk about.

Hang-On & Safari Hunt



As mentioned above, Hang-On and Safari Hunt are not only built-into my Master System but I also have them on a cartridge. This 2 in 1 cartridge was one of the cartridges included with the Master System, like how Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt was included with the NES. These were the first Master System games I came across (but not the first ones I played) when I found out about the Master System on an NES site called NES Player in 2002.



Hang-On, based on the Arcade game of the same name, is similar to Mach Rider for NES in that you ride a Motorcycle that moves at different speeds, and have to avoid obstacles. Not surprisingly, being an Arcade-style game (and originally released in Arcades), it has a time limit. There are some checkpoints, but there's little room for error as the game only gives you just enough time to reach them. The background changes when you reach a checkpoint. Unlike the Arcade version, the Master System version doesn't have any music during gameplay (just a short tune on the title screen, and another tune when the game is over). Which is a little weird and somewhat disappointing, considering even Mach Rider (an early black box NES game released before Hang-On) has music that plays during gameplay. Still, Hang-On can be fun to play on occasion and is fine if you want some quick Arcade-style gaming for about fifteen minutes.


Now let's talk about the other game included in this cartridge...


Also part of the above 2 in 1 cartridge is Safari Hunt, a game that makes use of the Master System's Light Phaser gun.


As you can see, this is basically Sega's version of Duck Hunt. You shoot Ducks, as well as Fish jumping out of the water. Similar to how Duck Hunt requires you to shoot a certain amount of Ducks to move onto the next round, Safari Hunt requires you to score a certain amount of points. Simply shooting Ducks won't give you enough points. You'll need to shoot the Fish as well, which give you 1000 points each.



The scenery and wildlife changes as you progress. You'll notice Bears, Birds, Armadillos, Monkeys, Spiders, Bats, and Panthers.

Since the Phaser doesn't work properly with modern HDTV's, getting good quality screenshots captured directly from my Master Sysfem was difficult compared to the other games listed in this blog. My Master System had to be plugged into a CRT TV so that I could start the game, then I had to plug it into my Capture Device (which works with retro consoles but connects to HDTV's). My Capture Device sometimes takes a little while to pick up a signal, and If you don't do anything in this game it ends and goes back to the title screen after about a minute. So, taking screenshots during gameplay was a little difficult.

Wonder Boy 



You might think that the Master System ripped off the NES. In some ways maybe, but here's an instance where the Master System got something before the NES. The first Wonder Boy and first Adventure Island are very similar games, both based on the Wonder Boy Arcade game. They have different main characters, different titles, and different music, but basically the same levels and gameplay.



Both games play pretty much the same. You need to keep collecting fruit so that your energy meter doesn't run out. You can find eggs in the levels that contain a weapon (an Axe), a Skateboard, or a Fairy who makes you invincible for a short time (Adventure Island has a Bee instead).



Adventure Island has superior controls and music, in my opinion. Wonder Boy has a catchy theme, but my main complaint about its soundtrack is that it plays the same music for every level except the levels that have bosses. Adventure Island's theme plays only on some levels, with water levels and cave levels having their own music. I've listened to the Wonder Boy soundtrack on YouTube and the game does have an unused music track that, presumably, would have played in the water or cave levels. Too bad it's unused.

While I do like Adventure Island a little more, I still think Wonder Boy is a good game and it is definitely one of my favorite games on the Master System.

Double Dragon




This was the first game I played on the Master System. I played it with a friend in 2018, and we made it to the last level. I had no idea that he would give me this game along with the rest of his Master System collection three years later. I grew up playing the Game Boy version of Double Dragon (and still have my original copy), and have also played the NES version several times.


The Master System version of Double Dragon is, in many ways, similar but also different than the NES and Game Boy versions. The NES version has a two player mode with players taking turns playing as one character: Billy Lee, as well as a Versus mode with several characters to choose from. The Game Boy version is one player only, except for a stripped down version of the Versus mode from the NES version. The Master System version has a two player co-op mode like the Arcade version, with Player 1 controlling Billy and Player 2 controlling Jimmy. This is the standout feature of the Master System version. Gameplay is otherwise pretty similar.



As in other versions, you can use weapons such as a Baseball Bat and a Whip.


The Master System version has shorter levels, but improved graphics and in some cases is a little bit closer to being like the Arcade version. And while the music, in my opinion, isn't quite as catchy as the NES and Game Boy versions, I still like how the music sounds in the Master System version. The music tracks in Level 2/Mission 2 and Level 3/Mission 3 (pic above) are my favorites.





Not much to say about this. Paperboy, like other Arcade games such as Pac-Man, came out on just about every game system you can think of. Arcade, NES, Master System, Game Boy, etc., etc. The N64 got a 3D version, and PS2, GameCube, and Xbox got the Arcade version in Midway Arcade Treasures.


This screen appears right before you deliver papers. showing which houses you need to deliver to (subscribers) and which ones you don't need to deliver to.


The Master System version plays the same as most other versions. You deliver Newspapers to subscriber's doorsteps or mailboxes. Throwing papers in mailboxes (imagine doing that in real life) gives you more points. If you miss a subscriber's house or mailbox, or if you throw a paper at a window or somewhere besides the doorstep or mailbox, you'll lose subscribers. There are various obstacles that you have to make sure you avoid, like cars, people, dogs, and other things.


After delivering papers, you ride your bike through an obstacle course (called the Training Course in the Arcade version) where you can throw papers at targets for more points. 

The music in the Master System version is awesome, like many other versions of the game.


Out Run



Another instance of Sega releasing a game first. Sega's Out Run was the inspiration for Nintendo's/Square's Rad Racer (which I still have my original copy of that I've had since the early '90s). Both games are very similar.



Rad Racer has a turbo feature, two vehicles, and a 3D mode. Out Run has low and high gears instead of turbo (common in Arcade racing games of the '80s, like Pole Position), and the tracks have multiple paths (there are sections of the track where the road splits).



Both games have multiple music tracks to listen to while you're cruising by beaches and cities. Crashes also look cool in both. Out Run's scrolling is a little choppy compared to Rad Racer, though its visuals are definitely better. 

Out Run is often considered to be the better game, though I like both.

Fantasy Zone II



A shoot 'em up (or "cute 'em up" as some people may prefer calling it) similar to games like Gradius, Life Force, Twin Bee, and R-Type. Other than that, I'm not too familar with the Fantasy Zone series. When it comes to shoot 'em ups, I'm more into Space Invaders, Galaxian, Galaga, Gradius, Life Force, Contra (a "run and gun"), Smash TV (a "multidirectional shooter"), Star Fox (a "rail shooter"), and Alien Hominid (also "run and gun"). Fantasy Zone II was my introduction to the Fantasy Zone series. It has kind of a cute look to it (like the TwinBee games), which is why some call it a "cute 'em up" instead of a shoot 'em up.



The game seems to be most similar to Defender, in that the screen scrolls left or right and various enemies are after you in most directions. There are several warps in the levels that take you to other sections.

Great Golf



A basic Golf game. Visually, it's more detailed than regular black box Golf for NES. You can pick Stroke Play or Match Play. There are both male and female Golfers. Like many of the Golf games on NES, there are two views: an overhead view, and a view from behind the Golfer.



The NES was, is, and always will be my favorite game system. That being said, I cannot deny that the Master System had potential, good ideas (like built-in games and compatibility with Genesis Controllers), and has its fair share of classics. It is also interesting playing different versions of games that I played on Nintendo systems, such as Double Dragon and Wonder Boy (Adventure Island on the NES), and games that inspired some games on the NES, such as Out Run (which inspired Rad Racer).

In the future, when I add more games to my Master System collection, I might make more blogs about the Master System's games. As the Master System didn't really catch on in the U.S. and Canada, its library of games is pretty small compared to the NES and Genesis. However it was more popular in Europe, and got a ton of cool games there that weren't released in the U.S. and Canada. Interesting that while most gamers in the U.S. and Canada were playing the NES, most gamers in Europe were playing the Master System. As someone who's been importing games and related items for decades, I'll likely be importing several Master System games. The console also isn't region-locked, so playing imported games is easy. It also has an active Homebrew scene, with ports of Game Gear games and new games created by fans.

Game screenshots captured from a real Sega Master System, not an Emulator.


Edited by MegaMan52
Fixed typos and added pictures and videos


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