Sega Genesis

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Where were you when the 1980’s were about to end?

As the 80’s drew to a close, so too did the magnificent 8-bit era that had charged the entire decade. For me, this was many fabulous years of Atari games followed by a collector-frenzied console crash followed by a year or two of Commodore 64 followed by Nintendo’s regime. It seemed as the 90’s loomed near that there would be no stopping Nintendo. Their name was gold, at least to the players. Console wars always seemed pretty close from my perspective, but I was sure nothing could touch the NES’ stranglehold on video gamers in 1989.

One September day in 1989 I found myself standing inside a Toys R Us with money burning a hole in my pocket. I had specifically gone there that day to buy one of the new 16-bit consoles. The Sega Genesis system which had been well-hyped for most of the year was now on store shelves. The TurboGrafx-16 by NEC had been launched several months earlier and I chose to wait that one out a bit since there were very few titles available at first. Now, standing in that store, I found myself jumping back and forth between the Turbo display and the Genesis display. It was a difficult decision. Remember, the only Sega system we really got to see at this point in time was the Master System, and that didn’t satisfy enough US gamers in its time. So the question: go with the newcomer who got to market first, or go with the well-known developer who fumbled their first US effort? Buy the system that comes with Keith Courage (whoever that is) or the one with the arcade game Altered Beast? Factor into this decision the fact that Genesis had a Power Base Converter available, allowing me to play my Master System cartridges too.

$189.99 later, I was home with the Genesis and its pack-in game, Altered Beast. My initial impression was that Sega had hit the nail on the head with their ad campaign “Welcome to the Next Level”.

If you actively played video games from the 70’s through the 80’s and into that brave new world promised by 16-bit gaming in the 90’s, you know that feeling when seeing technology make new strides in home gaming. The Atari 2600 made you feel that way. The ColecoVision made you feel that way. Even the NES made you feel that way. But did you ever see such a huge jump as the one made by the 16-bit era? Playing Altered Beast at home was truly the first time I felt arcade gaming was right there on my TV set. It didn’t seem “ported”, it seemed like the actual game. The rich colors, the sound, the speedy game play. Where was the flicker, the slowdown, the things that I had come to expect from a first-generation game on a next-generation system? Altered Beast was the first of many pleasant surprises for me as a Genesis gamer in the 90’s.

The early days of the Genesis were much like others of the time: a waiting game. It seemed that weeks would go by without a new release, and I recall spending more time with the Power Base Converter (and ultimately going back to Toys R Us to buy that TurboGrafx-16) than with the Genesis games. There was a little fear that Sega might not get the third-party support that submarined their 8-bit console. Games were on the way, however, and those cloudy days gave way to the brilliant sunshine of Electronic Arts, Renovation, Tengen, Namco, Seismic, Taito, and many more. By mid-1990 there was no doubt that this system was going to be a keeper, and with Nintendo hedging over their 16-bit efforts, the year was Sega’s, who stormed into the decade like a lion. And the best was yet to come.

By mid 1991, with the certainty of a strong contender in the Super Nintendo system which was due out in time for the holiday season, Sega had launched into an advertising campaign the likes of which we may never see again. With great ferocity they challenged the giant with advertising slogans like “Sega Does What Nintendon’t”, and featured magazine and television ads that compared their super-speedy “Blast Processing” against the seemingly mired in molasses Mario. With Sonic the Hedgehog at the helm, the company went from upstart with a cause to king of the hill in just two short years. It was a lot of fun to watch. Sega seemed to be having as much fun as its players were.

Many a classic was designed and unleashed in those early years, with the most memorable surely being the Sonic the Hedgehog series. With Sega translating many of their arcade hits to the Genesis, gamers had access to near arcade-perfect ports of games like Out Run, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts and Golden Axe. They also produced a number of incredible original games like Toe Jam & Earl, sequels to the Phantasy Star series, and the side-scrolling battler Streets of Rage. Third-party developers stepped up big time to offer a mix of arcade and original titles as well, with truly memorable offerings like Renovation’s shooter Gaiares, Dreamworks’ Target Earth, Electronic Arts’ sports titles, Tengen’s arcade ports of Pac-Mania and Pit-Fighter, and Treco’s surprising strategy RPG WarSong. There was something for everyone.

Those early years gave way to new competition when Nintendo finally released their 16-bit console, appropriately titled the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo entered the 16-bit wars with a serious contender and these wars immediately snuffed out the TurboGrafx-16 but raged on between Sega and Nintendo for several glorious years afterward. Sega supporters would refer to the Genesis’ faster processor, which allowed games like Sonic and many sports titles that could never be duplicated on the SNES. Nintendo supporters stood behind the console’s obviously richer color palette, graphic special effects, and superior sound technology. Though you’ll hear it both ways, neither system really “won”, though both of them were winners in retrospect.

There were many more great titles for the Genesis after 1991, but I’ll leave the detailed listings to cover these for you. Other surprises surfaced as the years went by and technology continued to allow innovation in home gaming. The Sega CD was released in 1993, an add-on to the Genesis that allowed games to play off of CD-ROM with additional graphic and sound muscle, and while the Sega CD wasn’t the success Sega had hoped it would be, it surely wasn’t the flop that the 32X add-on – a device that promoted the 16-bit processor to the 32-bit world of power – was. You can read more about Sega CD and 32X in their own sections, as they certainly have stories of their own.

Genesis fans saw many hardware options besides these take shape over the years, from the “all-in-one” Sega CD and Genesis duo systems X’Eye (by JVC), CDX (by Sega), and Mega LD Module (by Pioneer), three different versions of the Genesis console itself, and even a handheld unit capable of playing all of the Genesis cartridge games in the Nomad. There were light guns, a mouse, several attempts at virtual reality controllers (remember The Activator or the Batter Up controller?), a modem, 4-player adapters… heck, it even has a whack-a-mole controller!

1997 saw the end of production for the venerable Genesis system, as Sega had already launched their full-on 32-bit CD-based game system, the Saturn. The Genesis would be the last cartridge-based system from Sega as well as the last system allowed to run a full life cycle, as the Saturn and later, the Dreamcast met unexpected early demises.

Year of Release: 1989
Retail Price at Launch: $189.99
Media Type: Cartridges
Processor: Motorola 68000 (16-bit)
Processor Speed: 7.67 MHz
Memory: 64K RAM, 64K Video RAM
Resolution: 320 x 224
Colors: 512
Colors on screen: 64
Max sprites: 80
Sprites size: 32x32
Sound: 6-channel Stereo
Cartridge size: 256kb - 4meg

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Last updated: Saturday, October 13, 2007 07:32 PM