No matter where you may stand on the whole Nintendo vs Sega debate, there are two indisputable facts when it comes to their 8-bit systems: Nintendo’s NES was far more successful, but Sega’s Master System was more powerful. With Nintendo’s NES coming out approximately 9 months before Sega’s Master System, Nintendo was headlong into building up popularity for their NES, but in that time Sega made the Master System more powerful. Even so, with Nintendo’s tight grasp on licensing games for the NES, marketing manners and many other factors, the Master System, sadly, never stood a chance.
I must admit that the Master System wasn’t as high on my list of wanted consoles as say.. the NES top loader, but it was always there. As research for the system, I spent countless hours studying video game comparison for the few games that were released for both the NES and the Master System, with the Master System version almost always looking the best. I had always hoped to acquire a Sega Master System (or Power Base converter for my Genesis 1) on a vintage gaming hunt, but sadly I had only found one at Disc Replay and one at an indoor flea market, both of which were priced too high for the thrift hunter within.
Being fed up with waiting I decided to just go ahead and pay a little more than I normally would, just to own the system and see what it was all about. After spending some time with both the actual system and some emulation, just to get a feel for what the games I don’t own felt like, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Master System. Although I now love the Sega Master System, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s faults, chief among which is the pause button being built into the console, instead of conveniently on the controller.
Another issue is the standard look that almost all of the game boxes and cartridge labels have, instead of flashy artwork it all seems pretty stock and boring. Finally, and it may seem trivial, but the cartridges are pretty hard to get out of the system. There is very little sticking out to grasp on to, which seems to result in transferring sweat and grease to the cartridge’s label, which seemingly helps it deteriorate.
I do, however, quite enjoy the D-pad on the Master System’s controller, a full 8 directional, concave pad that I find to be very comfortable. The 1 and 2 buttons on the controller are large, comfortable and number 1 doubles as the Start button, again perhaps there should have been a single start/pause button (like the Genesis!), but that is well past debate. The Sega Light Phaser feels much better than the NES Zapper, and for some unexplainable reason, makes shooting games more fun!
Now lets talk about games. The Master System’s library is nearly half that of the NES, which some may think that would cut down on the junk, and you’d be wrong. The Master System does have it’s share of pure gems such as; Golden Axe Warrior, Ys, Out Run, Hang On and quite a few more, but it also had it’s share of complete trash. And when I say a game is trash, it was completely unplayable. Albeit, I was using the emulation to test most games, and I did test a few games I now own and hated them on emulation, yet love them once the controller is in my hands. Let that last sentence stand for itself.
Overall I find it sad that the Sega Master System seems to be a massively overlooked system. The games that are good, are great, but sadly the games that are bad are terrible! My only true gripe goes back to the Pause button being mounted within the console itself and not on the controller. The thrift hunter within me is mostly upset that I’ve never seen a single Sega Master System game anywhere other than Disc Replay, so snagging them at a good price is going to be impossible, but at least finding them isn’t.