NES vs Sega Master System: My Personal Opinion

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.

Posted January 24th, 2012

About the author

Samuel Floyd first fell into video gaming with the Atari the mid-90s! Always late into the system wars, Samuel enjoys that as he acquires them when they're cheap and the hot titles of yesteryear are bountiful. Samuel loves RPGs, his favorite being Crystalis for the NES.


owls October 17, 2012

I don’t think it’s strictly accurate to say the Master System came out 9 months after the NES. The Famicom had been on the market for over 2 years before the Mark III hit stores in Japan.

    Samuel Floyd October 17, 2012

    The NES was released in North America as of October 1985, as where the Sega Master System was released June 1986. “approximately 9 months before Sega’s Master System” And I don’t see what the Famicom and Mark III have to do with this article, I’m strictly speaking of American releases, not their Japanese counterparts.

Kikkihiiri October 14, 2013

Dont be a jackass you clearly said there that sega developed master system only 9 months after nintendo came out. The nintendo-system was already made in 1983!!!

    Samuel Floyd October 14, 2013

    Can you read simple English? “With Nintendo’s NES coming out approximately 9 months before Sega’s Master System”. NES, not the Famicom.

Kikkihiiri October 14, 2013

you clearly said there that sega developed master system only 9 months after nintendo came out. The nintendo-system was already made in 1983!!!

    Samuel Floyd October 14, 2013

    Again, if English isn’t your first language please learn to understand it. If English IS your first language, please learn it all over again. “COMING OUT” means to debut (dey-b-you). THE AMERICAN NES was released in October 18, 1985. Although it is basically a Famicom inside, it was a totally different market than in Japan. As we never saw a Famicom in the states we didn’t know of any such hardware, so the NES was our first Nintendo system.

bartle doo December 12, 2013

Dude you don’t get it, the technological gap is 2 years, not 9 months. You go by initial release dates when discussing stuff like that.

People will think, “wow the SMS is so much more powerful, even though it was only released 9 months after the NES?”

Yes the SMS is far more powerful, it has 4x more RAM than the NES, and can do 16-colour sprites. But thats because its 2 years newer.

    Samuel Floyd December 12, 2013

    Its not like I’m trying to compare the Atari 2600 to the PS4 and wondering why the Atari is so vastly outdated. These were 2 systems that went head to head for a short time. And the point of the article, even though heavily bathed in my own opinion, was to show how the NES was never superior to the SMS yet still won any kind of war due to Nintendo’s marketing tactics. But readers will come in with their nerd torches flaming and read what they want to read, no matter how its literally written, and accumulate their own thoughts.

bartle doo December 12, 2013

Well look at the previous complaints you got, for stating that the SMS is only 9 months newer. You’re providing incorrect information, U.S. release dates don’t mean shit.

Sega made sure the Master System was more powerful during Jul 1983-Oct 1985, not Oct 1985-June 1986.

    Samuel Floyd December 12, 2013

    This is NES vs SMS, not the Famicom, I hope you realize that. The Famicom had a completely different MARKET than the NES, same creature inside the shell, but they are different as well. The Famicom never had a lockout chip, NES did/does. Famicom is 60 pins, NES 72. Everyone comes in and had their own opinions about the NES vs SMS debate and thats fine. Look I’m not being a dick and trashing these comments like I could, I’m approving them and giving my rebuttal. People want to get into fine details about the Famicom vs SMS and thats their fault, not mine. This is NES vs SMS.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.