Astro Flash/TransBot

TransBot_JP

That card looks like it could easily be shaken up in the loose packaging.

 

TransBotUS

TransBot is a vision of wire frame and off-model Transformers.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 12/22/85

 

Pour one out for Orguss, the SG-1000 horizontal shoot-em-up that could have been great. The ability to mutate between ship and robot whilst flying was a novel idea ruined by a needless time limit. If you try flying through the game strictly as the robot, you won’t make it to the end before you run out of time. Use the traditional ship and you’ll (barely) make it to the end, only to be forced to transform into the robot to beat the final boss. If the robot indeed hampers your progress and is only useful for one portion of the game, why bother giving gamers the option to morph into it? Yes, the illusion of choice was indeed strong with Orguss. And yet, had the time limit been excised, the game would have ranked alongside Star Jacker as one of the SG-1000’s more creative shooters.

The foundation of Orguss was good enough for Sega to develop a followup of sorts for the Mark III: Astro Flash, or TransBot as us Westerners call it. Gone are the imposed time limit and the ability to transform into a robot at will. Indeed, TransBot begins like any other traditional horizontal shooter: with you controlling a ship while enemies hurtle themselves recklessly in your direction.

 

Astro Flash (J) [!]002

                       Space: the final what-have-you.

 

After a few seconds of mindless button mashing, a truck drives across the bottom of the screen. Shoot it and collect the question mark bubble to kick off a roulette of power-up options at the top of the screen. Your power-ups are brought to you by the letters ‘B’ through ‘F’ (‘A’ is your standard weapon, while ‘G’ is ammunition refill). ‘B’ and ‘D’ represent lasers and torpedoes respectively, while ‘C’ ‘E’ and ‘F’ transform your ship into a robot with all the benefits that entails: triple shot, wide laser, and Front and Back fire. All of the power-ups have a limited amount of times you can use them (as seen on the ARMS meter at the top right of the screen), but the power-up trucks appear often enough that you never really need to use the standard weapon. Not all of these power-ups are created equal, though. Torpedoes are the only power-ups that can destroy mines, for example, and you’ll need them to progress to the second stage and the eventual end of the game.

 

Astro Flash (J) [!]000

Your building blocks are no match for my outstretched robot arm!

 

Yes, TransBot only has two stages before the game repeats with harder enemies. I’m sure I’ve ranted about short game lengths before, but two stages is ludicrous, even for 1985 standards. When 1942 emerged in the arcades in 1984, it had thirty-two hard-as-balls levels. Heck, even when you compare shooters on Sega systems, the SG-1000 Star Force had close to a dozen levels. But I digress. The two stages included are, to be fair, perfectly dark and atmospheric. The first stage takes place on the surface of an alien planet, while the other occurs in a metallic tunnel underneath the planet’s surface. To even access the second stage, you must make it through the first stage by not dying once while also destroying the otherwise indestructible mines with the torpedo power-up; I didn’t know about these conditions at first, so I went in circles for awhile, wondering if the alien surface was the entire game. The second stage is shorter than the first, with slightly tougher enemies in an enclosed space. It also ends with an AT-ST Walker boss who shoots baseballs at you. Destroy this Nolan Ryan/Star Wars mashup, then prepare to Do the TransBot all over again.

 

Trans-Bot (UE) [!]000

      The AT-ST Walker failed to prepare for this epic battle.

 

Despite the game’s repetitious nature, TransBot is still an improvement over Orguss. The action is much faster than the latter game (more than two enemies on-screen at once? I do declare!), and the varied power-ups add some spice to the potentially bland proceedings. It’s a shame Sega couldn’t have thrown in a couple extra stages, but as early Mark III/Master System shoot-em-ups go, you could play a lot worse.

 

C+

Satellite 7

Satellite 7

            So many satellites! So little bullets!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Shoot-em-up

RELEASE DATE: 12/20/85

 

Just as there is no cure for the Teddy Boy Blues, there is no explanation for Satellite 7. This game doesn’t feature one satellite, let alone seven of them. Heck, it doesn’t even take place in space. It’s a vertically-scrolling shoot-em-up that combines the creature design of Galaga, the mechanics of Xevious, and the enemy flight patterns of Star Force. Sounds like a potentially winning triple threat of inspiration, does it not? Alas, the amalgamated aftermath is generic shmup 101, a game that feels as though Sega forced it into existence for reasons unknown.

In Satellite 7, you control a nondescript ship through a landscape covered in moths, seahorses, and other bug-eyed creatures too large to splat on your ship’s windshield. The overgrown creatures are relentless: they zig diagonally across the screen, then zag towards you before dropping a bomb and disappearing. Lord help you when two different creature types enter your point-of-view: chaos forms quickly from their varied movement patterns, and it’s all you can do to avoid them and their projectiles. The shelled crab boss is insanely difficult too, with his combination of homing missiles and stray projectile. “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind,” indeed, and for seemingly little purpose.

 

Satellite 7 (J) [!]001

          Bloopers make a very special cameo appearance.

 

You have two attacks, a straightforward feast of rapid-fire, and bombs that drop too slowly and precisely on the ground below. Different colored stars – green, red, yellow, purple, and white, almost all the colors of the rainbow – appear occasionally on the playfield, as well. Collect five of a certain color (the amount you’ve collected is shown on the right hand side of the screen) and your ship will receive an enhancement, like extra speed, faster fire, temporary invincibility, etc. The stars are Satellite 7‘s one slightly innovative note, but they feel underutilized. For how sparingly they’re given to the player, they don’t provide enough of an upgrade to warrant collecting them.

 

Satellite 7 (J) [!]000

Surely they could have chosen a more pleasant shade of puke for the ground, yes?

 

The two features you’ll notice when you first play Satellite 7: the game takes place in the daytime; and the music aims for silliness, which gives the otherwise sterile events of the game a slightly maniacal feel. With the benefit of daylight, we can see that Satellite 7‘s events occur above Earth or an earth-like planet with a highway system, an ocean, forests, and evil metal buildings on the ground. The flittering music grows wearisome after a couple minutes. I think it’s supposed to add a degree of whimsy to the otherwise rote act of shooting and dodging, but the aggressive cheeriness accomplished nothing but eye-twitch and brain ruts.

 

Satellite 7 (J) [!]002

The crab boss looks like all of the other creatures in the game mushed together.

 

If you’ve followed my reviews for any amount of time, you know I love shmups, even ones that aren’t very good. Satellite 7, however, has such a tossed-off, grab-bag feel of “Hey, these elements worked in other shooters, right?”, as if Sega had to rush a shoot-em-up onto the Mark III before the end of 1985. Sega’s subsequent poor treatment of the game confirms their lack of interest. The game was never released in arcades – unusual for a shoot-em-up, and when one considers how often Sega’s SG-1000 titles either came from arcade or were given arcade ports. Satellite 7 also never received an official release outside of Japan (the shmup was included alongside dozens of other games in a Brazilian DVD/Karaoke/Master System combo machine in 2009, but one wonders at the legality of the game’s presence in that mix). What all this speculation amounts to is: Sega doesn’t care about Satellite 7‘s presence in their back catalog, and neither should you.

 

D

Great Baseball

Great Baseball

Look at that batter hit the ball! Wow, he’s good!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 12/15/85

 

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Sega’s Great Baseball worships at an altar dedicated to Nintendo’s Baseball. Save for slightly better graphics and speedier gameplay in the former, the two titles couldn’t be more alike in style, play, and sound. As one of the few fans of Baseball, I believe that the similarities between games are a good thing; certainly Great Baseball is an improvement over whatever Champion Baseball was trying to achieve. But the fact remains that Sega could have gotten into a lot of legal trouble with Great Baseball – assuming Nintendo knew of the game’s existence in the first place.

Anyone who has wrestled with Nintendo’s Baseball probably recalls cheap AI, incompetent in/outfielders who can’t catch or throw to the proper base, and fouls aplenty. Great Baseball refines these quirks/flaws into near perfection – for an early baseball game devoid of options or stats, anyway. AI is tough, but fair, the in/outfielders can both catch and throw to the appropriate base, and fouls? Well, there’s still plenty of fouls, but they feel like a result of your poor batting stance rather than the game’s error. The baseball players too are more colorful and detailed than the blocky sprites of Baseball. Otherwise – and I can’t stress this enough – every feature is the same: from the placement of the score box, to the way the pitchers stand before throwing the ball, to the flashing “Home Run” letters. Great Baseball is Baseball in HD after a couple Red Bulls.

 

Great Baseball (J) [!]000

Take me out to the baaall game/Take me out to the… courthouse?

 

Great Baseball does add a difficulty selection option on the main menu for both one and two-players, and a Home Run Contest. In the latter, you try to get as many home runs as possible – up to twenty hits or misses. The computer controls the pitches, but never deviates from a down-the-center, straight-and-true pitch. Thus, it’s pretty easy to rack up the home runs if you know the right time to swing. An all-around interesting diversion for about five minutes, but acquiring home run after home run doesn’t have the same feel unless you’re actually playing a game.

 

Great Baseball (J) [!]002

Looks like I hit a Homer. Again and again! And again and again and again!

 

Speculation time: Sega could have gotten away with copying Baseball because, at the time of Great Baseball‘s release, Nintendo was focused on marketing and distributing the first waves of NES’ in the United States and likely not giving a damn about a new Sega system in Japan. Or perhaps Nintendo noticed a couple years later? When Great Baseball was released in the US and Europe in 1987, it was a completely different game, though both versions were developed by Sega. Perhaps Sega didn’t want to push their luck with Nintendo by releasing the Mark III version in different territories, or perhaps the Mark III version was just feeling dated two years after its release.

 

Great Baseball (J) [!]001

                               Get up offa that thang.

 

Any gaming superheroes that have any ideas as to how Sega evaded a lengthy court case with Great Baseball, please leave them in the comments section. Lest we forget (and just in case I have any youngins in the audience), Sega and Nintendo were honest-to-God rivals back in the day – or at least, in ’85, Sega was desperately hoping they would be. Great Baseball could be seen as Sega’s pitiful plea to Nintendo. “Notice us! Appreciate us! Look, we made your Baseball game better!” And they did. By using Baseball as a template, Great Baseball became their greatest sports game to date, precisely because it doesn’t play like crap their other sports games.

Stealing is wrong.

 

B+

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Pit Pot – The Magical Castle)

Pit Pot - The Magical Castle

There’s certainly nothing magical about this cover – it just plain sucks.

 

AstroWarriorPitPot

Europe got an additional game for their cash. C-C-C-Combo Breaker!

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Dungeon Crawler

RELEASE DATE: 12/14/85 (JP)

                                     1986 (EU)

 

Dungeon crawlers, they want my soul. Pit Pot‘s no Shining in the Darkness or anything, but you’ll still want a fine quill pen and some graph paper if you hope to make it out of Expert difficulty without the princess coppin’ an attitude.

In Pit Pot, you play as a knight exploring an enchanted castle for treasure, adventure, and the fair hand of “the princess.” The castle has a king’s ransom of rooms, many of which have up to four entrances and exits, and all of which have at least one piece of treasure. Collect them all, of course: loot and plunder is a rich knight’s game. But you’ll especially want to collect the cross, a vial of potion, and a ring. The cross prevents the princess from turning into a witch, the potion wakes her up (sleeping on the job, just like every princess), and the ring, well – if you like it, then you’re gonna put a ring on it. Failure to have collected all of the treasure upon finding the princess results in her turning her back on you and your immediate death. There’s no way to know if you have all the treasure when you approach the princess, either – no “Items Left” menu or on-screen counter. When you see her, hope to everything sacred and pure that you have it all, or your Love will indeed be over.

 

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Japan)001

                  My wife says this to me all the time.

 

What makes Pit Pot different from other early dungeon crawlers are the stone floors that make up each room. These floors can be bashed away with your hammer, the knight’s apparent weapon of choice (were all the swords taken?). Sometimes you’ll need to destroy sections of the stone floor in order to make hidden treasures appear. Other times, the stone floor pattern will not allow you to fully explore the room – usually because of a special treasure that can only be accessed from one direction. When this happens, go around to other rooms and eventually circle your way back. This is where your quill pen and graph paper come in handy: to remind you of where you came from, and to note if there’s any treasure still waiting to be collected in a certain room. Also, if you’re playing on any level other than Practice, trolls and dragons will crowd the floor. While you can destroy them atop the stone floor, be aware that this will create holes which the knight can fall into. Better to dispose of the trolls on indestructible tile.

 

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Japan)002

         The trolls aren’t very bright, but they are aggressive.

 

There’s also an Edit mode, which was taken out of Pit Pot upon its Western release. Players outside of Japan aren’t missing much, though: the mode only allows you to create one room, not a full dungeon. Once your room has been created, the game asks you to pick your difficulty. Do so, and your masterful creation will be tacked onto the pre-generated map layout that accompanies whatever difficulty you chose. Now, I understand that even on the Mark III/Master System, RAM was limited, but if you’re gonna include an Edit mode in your game, make sure it’s a worthwhile endeavor, not a disappointing tease.

 

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot (Japan)003

                                    Death becomes me.

 

Each of the four difficulties has slightly varied, increasingly difficult maps, perfect for easing the player into the game. One should start on Practice difficulty to get a feel for the game’s mechanics and layout, then play Beginner to dive into Pit Pot proper. Average and Expert continue the madness, of course, but all four difficulties are more than conquerable if you keep track of where you’ve already explored. Pit Pot isn’t the most challenging game for those already accustomed to dank climates, understated puzzles, and confusing maze layouts, but it is a worthwhile introductory dungeon crawler for any aspiring explorers.

B-

Great Soccer

Great Soccer Mark III

                            “Ole!” and so forth.

 

GreatSoccerEU

I wonder how much this hand model got paid.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Sports

RELEASE DATE: 10/27/85 (Mark III, JP)

                                     1986 (UK)

 

Remastering games from previous generations is all the rage today in the gaming industry. Remasters don’t cost as much as a full game to produce, and fans still scoop them up as if they never played the game before. I don’t quite understand the phenomenon myself: unless the upgrade is significant, i.e. a graphical/audio upgrade from SD to HD, then what’s the point? I will, however, make an exception for Sega’s Great Soccer. The game is a much-improved remake/remaster of Sega’s SG-1000 atrocity, Champion Soccer. And while I would normally cry laziness, Sega refined Great Soccer to the point of playability. Sure, there’s no additional content to be found in the game: once again, no teams or stats to choose from (we’re still in ’85, lack of content makes sense). You can, however, pick up a controller and start kicking a soccer ball with relative ease, and that’s more than I can say for Champion Soccer.

 

Great Soccer (J) [!]000

                                 I’ll show you “In goal”…

 

So yeah, how ’bout that foozball? Pick from three difficulties on the selection screen – Amateur, Semi-Pro, and Pro – and get to kicking. Amateur is like kicking a soccer ball to yourself, the opposing team hardly does anything. Semi-Pro gets a little tougher: balls get kicked out from under your feet, but with perseverance, you can make goals. Pro is like playing your first soccer game ever against Brazil: you won’t really know what’s happening, and you will lose hard.

There’s a red arrow that hovers above the player you control at all times. You can pass the ball to other players that have a grey arrow above them with Button 2. Button 1 propels the soccer ball forward, hopefully to a good place, like into the goal or between one of your opponent’s eyes. When you approach the goal, you’ll notice a red arrow (which you can control) pinging back and forth between the goal. Control the arrow away from the goalie, then launch the ball into the goal for jubilation and merriment. Repeat several times and you have yourself a perfectly cromulent soccer game.

 

Great Soccer (J) [!]001

                       Doesn’t feel so good, does it, CPU?

 

Great Soccer is better than I expected, and not nearly good enough to be called ‘great.’ While the game is an adequate representation of bare-bones soccer, it’s also the kind of circa-launch sports title that, like Nintendo’s Baseball, needs an additional player and some alcohol to merit more than a ten minute play window. I’m too tired to drink and I don’t have any friends, so, sorry Great Soccer, I will live to goal another day.

 

C+

Teddy Boy Blues

Teddy Boy

Soooo the Mark III’s cover art is the game itself?

 

Teddy Boy US

At least the US release has the iconic wire-frame background.

 

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 10/20/85 (JP – Mark III)

                                     1986 (US)

                                     1991 (re-released port, Mega Drive, JP-only)

                                     07/26/92 (re-released port, Mega-CD, JP-only)

                                     03/18/94 (re-released port, Mega-CD, JP-only)

 

In order to play the blues, you have to become the blues. You have to let the painful experiences of your life guide your hands across your instrument. You have to let every wretched memory inform the notes that carry you to catharsis. Teddy Boy? He’s got problems, but between you and me, he’s just a boy with a lower-case ‘b.’ Boys have traumatic experiences, sure, but they won’t be able to process them until they’ve got thinning hair and unrelenting stomach fat. Teddy Boy’s instrument of choice – a Tommy gun of some kind – sings well enough, but it’s informed by youthful aggression, not decades worth of poor life decisions.

So Teddy Boy: he’s got his Tommy gun and a helluva jump. He’s stuck in these creepy looping mazes, filled with barbaric toy demons come to life, and the demons – unsurprisingly – want Teddy Boy’s blood. The creatures range from snails to worms to ninjas (among other entities), and they emerge from fluffy dice that count down from 6 to 1 before finally disappearing. Luckily, Teddy Boy’s gun makes short work of them. When he shoots the demons, they shrink down to miniature collectible size; the perfect size for storing bonus points. Shoot and collect all the shrinky demons, then move on to the next nightmare.

 

Teddy Boy Blues (J) [!]000

Look Teddy, get that gun out of my face. I just want to know what’s goin’ on!

 

There’s very little structure to Teddy Boy’s antics – an observation, more than a criticism. The demons bounce around mindlessly, waiting for Teddy Boy to shoot through blue barriers before seeking his flesh. The looping levels are disorienting, and do an excellent job at making one believe Teddy Boy and his blues have more depth than they really do. Like I stated earlier, Teddy Boy’s got problems, but can’t-stop-the-ache, low-down-dirty blues? I think not. Teddy Boy’s Blues is a made-for-TV fantasy movie filtered through a child’s vivid imagination.

Teddy Boy’s Blues also happens to be one of the first Mark III games. While I’d like to say there’s a world of difference between this game, and the what-felt-like-thousands of SG-1000 games I played, the only difference of note would be the sharper, more colorful graphics (not a surprise, given the Mark III’s expanded color palette) and the surprisingly catchy music that sounds like it inspired some tracks in the Mega Man series. Gameplay-wise, Teddy Boy Blues is simplistic and would have fit right in with the rest of the SG-1000 library.

 

Teddy Boy Blues (J) [!]001

                                  The colors, children!

 

The jaunty soundtrack, Teddy Boy, his blues or lack thereof: none of it adds up at all. Further investigation reveals that 80s Japanese pop star, Yohko Ishino, lent her name, face, and song, “Teddy Boy Blues” to Sega to promote the game. The game’s soundtrack is singularly comprised of Ishino’s song on repeat. And hachi machi, is it ever catchy, both in-game and live. Ishino might struggle to hit some notes (I guess that’s why they call it the blues), but that saxophone rips. it. up. It’s nearly as compelling as the one in George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” but you didn’t hear that from me.

 

 

Teddy Boy Blues was also released on the Master System as Teddy Boy in different regions, with the only difference being the main theme song. Yohko Ishino and her amazing 8-bit rendered orchestra remained behind in Japan, replaced by a more traditional arcade tune – not terrible, but also not nearly as memorable.

 

[SegaNet] Teddy Boy Blues (Japan)000

                A pox on those God-forsaken alarm clocks!

 

But Sega didn’t let Teddy Boy and his melting subconscious rest on the Mark III/Master System, oh no. Sega released a port of Teddy Boy Blues on the Mega Drive for their Japan-only Game Toshokan. Slight, but worthwhile digression: The Game Toshokan service was a precursor to the Sega Channel, and allowed Japanese Mega Drive owners the chance to play and download free games exclusive to the service – as long as you had a Sega-licensed Mega Modem and a special cartridge plugged into the Genesis. The service itself was unbelievably forward-thinking for 1991, but (digression over!) the 16-bit Teddy Boy Blues leaves much to be desired. The graphics have been upgraded to Mega levels of quality, and some of the level design and characters have changed completely. The music, however, has been replaced with… nothing; only the sound effects remain. Isolated sound effects aren’t always a bad thing: grimy, metallic noises are some of the Mega Drive’s bread and butter. But for whatever reason, the fluffy dice that spits out enemies have been replaced by annoying alarm clocks. Every time the clock counts down a number, the alarm goes off and shatters my mind. The alarm rings six times a level, more than the lethal dose, and more than enough for me to shimmy back to the Mark III version and sax my blues away.

 

SingSegaGameMusic_cover

                        Are the letters comprised of pizza???

 

The Teddy Boy train rolled on in 1992: not with a sequel, but with a bizarre Mega-CD port that came stuffed onto a Japanese-only music album. “SING!! Sega Game Music presented by B.B. Queens” is a Sega tribute album that includes exclusive Sega theme covers by the Japanese pop band, B.B. Queens. The album itself is available to listen to on Youtube, and it’s, uh… wow. The Japanese singers sing painful English lyrics “inspired” by different Sega games, like OutRun, After Burner and Teddy Boy Blues among others. I’m being polite when I say the synth-heavy, loud guitar music is dated now, and was likely dated upon its release in ’92. If you’re not strong enough to click the Youtube link, imagine George Michael and Guns ‘n Roses conceived a Japanese love child several years prior to its actual birth, and that the child, once born, liked to play Sega games. The Teddy Boy Blues port can be played by putting the SING!! CD into a Mega-CD Drive and pressing “CD-Rom.” It’s exactly the same game as the Mega Drive version, but with B.B. Queens music to guide your surreal journey.

 

Game no Kanzume Vol. 2

Sega, please put more than two seconds of effort into your game covers. Sincerely, everyone.

 

Truthfully, given the strangeness of Teddy Boy Blues, the Mega CD port with B.B. Queens music is probably the quintessential version. There’s nothing like gunning down peppermints while “I Fight (FIRE WITH FIRE)” plays in the background to psych you out before bedtime. There’s another Mega CD port of Teddy Boy Blues found on the Game Toshokan compilation, Game no Kanzume Vol. 2 (cover pictured above). Because it’s a Game Toshokan port of the Genesis version, however, the isolated sound effects return. And who wants to deal with annoying alarm clocks when you could be navigating loops at the “Speed of Love“?

For as interesting as Teddy Boy Blues‘ history is, the game itself is less deep blues, more elevator jazz: there’s art to both, I suppose, but the latter is sterile, while the former carries weight and purpose. I like Japanese madness as much as the next gamer, but behind Teddy Boy’s ceaseless smile and jaunty beret is a character with very little to do. Perhaps Sega meant him as a potential mascot, perhaps not. All I know is, Sega developed Alex Kidd a short time later and Teddy Boy was relegated to compilation status. Almost thirty years later, a sequel is nowhere to be seen, and Teddy Boy’s gotta be pushing middle-age. Now that‘s blues-worthy.

 

C+  –  Mark III

C-  –  Mega Drive

B-  –  B.B. Queens Mega CD version

C-  –  Game no Kanzume Vol. 2

(Grades based solely on music or lack thereof. Gameplay is the same in all versions).

The Mark III/Master System

 

SegaMarkIII_JP_Box_Front

               Sega: “Let’s try this console thing one more time!”

 

Sega Master System Box

                                          America: “What’s a Sega?”

 

RELEASED: 10/20/85 (JP); as the Master System – 10/86 (US), 8/87 (UK), 10/18/87 (JP), 09/04/89 (BR)

PRICE: 15,000 yen (Mark III – JP), $150/200 (US), 99.95 pounds (UK), 16,800 yen (JP), $1,500 (BR – not a typo)

TECH SPECS: Z-80 8-bit processor running at 3.58 Mhz, 8Kb of RAM, 16kb of VRAM.

Video processor: TI-TMS9918 capable of 32 simultaneous colors.

Sound processor: TI-SN76489 capable of 4-channel mono sound

(FM sound unit in Master System models is a Yamaha YM-2413 capable of 9-channel stereo sound)

# OF GAMES: approx. 318 games, though there are likely many more

UPDATES: Official – Master System II (1990)

# OF UNITS SOLD: 10-13 million between 1985-1993 (does not include Brazil figures past 1993)

 

There’s a reason the SG-1000 is a footnote in Sega’s history: the majority of the games, the stiff, awkward controls, and the lacking console architecture were all subpar, even upon the system’s release in 1983. By the time 1985 rolled around, the SG-1000 was running on fumes, as signified by Sega’s overreliance on the optional-but-necessary-if-you-want-to-play-new-games peripheral, the Card Catcher. While many of the 1985 Sega Card games were actually quite decent, it’s clear upon playing those games that the system’s limited power was being maxed. When Doki Doki Penguin Land looks like an early Famicom game on a system with the power of a ColecoVision, well, get out the balloons and champagne, Sega! The system has run its course. With the Famicom’s power, influence, and sales continually growing, there was nowhere for the SG-1000 to go, but away, and as quickly as possible.

Thus two and a half years after the release of the SG-1000 (and a mere one and a half years after the SG-1000 II “upgrade”), Sega released the Mark III in Japan on October 20th, 1985. Unlike the SG-1000 II, which was a cosmetically revamped SG-1000 with no internal changes, the Mark III was a whole new system designed to compete with the more advanced Famicom. The advanced visuals and extra RAM gave the system a boost over its main rival: Sega Mark III games were graphically more impressive and speedier than Famicom games. Also, the system was backwards compatible with all SG-1000 cartridges and cards, another added bonus for Japanese consumers who may not have been so eager to purchase another Sega system so quickly after the SG-1000’s debut.

 

Sega_MarkIII

After the Mark III’s release, Sega wouldn’t choose white as their predominant console color until the Dreamcast.

 

According to SegaRetro, the Mark III sold one million units in the first year of its release in Japan and was considerably more successful than the SG-1000. Despite the Mark III’s superior system specs, the Famicom’s two-year grip on the Japanese console market prevented it from toppling Nintendo’s warhorse in either console’s lifespan. Sega was too little, too late with their new console, a decision they would later try to reverse with the early releases of the Mega Drive, the Saturn, and the Dreamcast

Even though the Mark III wasn’t the success Sega wanted it to be in Japan, that didn’t stop them from rebranding the system for other territories a year later. Sega saw Nintendo’s success in America and decided that it too wanted a piece of the reforming Western console market. Sega debuted the “Master System” at the Consumer Electronics Show in June of 1986. While the Japanese Mark III was white and looked very much like a rearranged SG-1000 II, the Master System boasted a sleek black-and-red color scheme that distinguished it from Nintendo’s neutral (read: boring) gray on the NES. Also, the name change: “Mark III” only made sense in territories that received the SG-1000 I and II. The “Master System” moniker was one of several options that Sega had thought up, and was apparently chosen by Sega employees throwing darts at names on a white marker board.

 

Sega-Master-System-Set

                 Where’s my 3D glasses and Light Phaser? I want the future, now!

 

The Master System released in North America in October of 1986 in two iterations: the Sega Base System, which included the system and two control pads for $150; and the Master System which included the system, two control pads, a Light Phaser, and a pack-in game Hang On/Safari Hunt for $200. The Base System was dropped sometime around 1987 or ’88 after the Master System proved to be the better-selling bundle.

“Better-selling” is a generous term, though. The system only sold 125,000 units upon the first four months of release compared to the NES’s staggering two million units within the same time frame. Sadly, like in Japan, this dramatic sales difference would extend throughout both console’s lifespans. The NES sold over thirty-four million units from 1985-1994 in North America, while the Master System could only muster up two million units in North America by 1993. Sega’s silver lining: even with the thirty-two million units difference between the two consoles, the Master System still holds a second-place title in the 8-bit console “war,” ahead of Atari’s 7800.

 

Atari-7800-Console-Set

                          I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at here.

 

The Master System’s inability to gain even a reasonable foothold in the North American market came down to a poorly perceived game library, and Sega’s inexplicable decision to sell the system’s licensing rights to the toy manufacturer, Tonka, in 1988. One could only assume that Sega thought the Master System would be able to gain more traction in retail outlets through a toy company (somewhat similar to Nintendo’s initial branding of their Famicom as an “Entertainment System,” not a video game console). Since Tonka had no prior history in selling consoles, however, they didn’t really know what they were doing and the Master System’s continuously poor sales reflected that. By 1990, Sega would reacquire the rights to sell the Master System in the United States from Tonka, but by then, the console had ceded its position to the Genesis.

The games: Lord have mercy, the games. While first-party titles like Sega’s own Phantasy Star could hold their own against some of the big N’s releases, Nintendo had a staggering amount of (mostly) excellent third-party support – third-party support that Sega couldn’t touch, thanks to Nintendo’s strict licensing practices. As with the SG-1000, it was up to Sega’s own development teams and a couple third-parties (Activision and Parker Brothers, respectively) to bolster the system’s library. The result? While the Western Master System’s library is more polished and better-playing than the SG-1000’s paltry efforts, it doesn’t compare to the sheer gold found in the NES library.

 

Wonder_Boy_III_-_The_Dragon's_Trap_boxart

                            You tried, Wonder Boy.

 

Europe began to receive the system beginning in late 1986 in Germany and Italy, and continuing into 1987 in the UK and France. Home computers ruled the gaming landscape throughout Europe in the 80s, but the Master System was able to make a somewhat sizable impact compared to other consoles of its day: 6.8 million units by late 1993 in Europe alone. The Master System is actually more widely regarded in Europe than the NES, thanks to better third-party support (Nintendo’s exclusivity agreements didn’t reach Europe) and Nintendo’s strange lack of presence in the region.

Brazil is perhaps the most surprising region where the Master System flourished. Distributed by Tec Toy beginning in 1989, the console’s popularity exploded due to the lack of competition. The system was so popular, in fact, that there are a number of games for the system released exclusively in Brazil (the 1997 conversion of Street Fighter II being among the most notable). SegaRetro claims that the Master System and new games are still being released in Brazil to this day, but I was unable to find a link that verifies this.

 

MasterSystemGirl

Interested in the stylish Master System Girl? Only in Brazil!

 

Japan replaced the Mark III with a revamped Master System (built in FM Sound Unit! A port to plug in the 3D glasses! The future is now!) in October 1987, but despite the slight upgrades, the revision failed to bolster sales. So too did the 1990 Master System II, a complete rework of the console that did away with many of the original system’s features including the power light, the card holder, expansion port, audio/video output, and reset button. The MS II was cheaper, of course, but it was released about a year after the Genesis, and as such, failed to catch on in the wake of its much more impressive 16-bit brother.

While the Master System had a healthy long lifespan in both Europe and Brazil, Sega of Japan stopped producing cartridges for the system in early 1989, directly after the release of the Mega Drive. America’s final Master System release would be Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, after which the system was effectively “dead” – or so it seemed.

In fact, the Master System architecture was alive in well in Sega’s first portable console, the Game Gear. Released in 1990 in Japan and 1991 in America and other territories, the Game Gear was, for all intents and purposes, a portable Master System with a greater palette of colors and stereo sound. While the cartridges weren’t interchangeable, many early Game Gear games found their way to the Master System as ports. Due to the lack of solid games and the handheld’s ability to munch through six AA batteries in less than five hours, the Game Gear didn’t sell nearly as much as Nintendo’s Game Boy. But, in North America anyway, the Game Gear did sell more than the Master System, which hopefully gave Sega some much-needed closure.

 

SONY DSC

            The Master System’s legacy lives on in this clunky fellow.

 

If nothing else, the Master System was a giant leap forward for Sega from the SG-1000: sharper, more colorful graphics, tighter controls, and – even with the lack of third-party support – better games. It’s unfortunate that, in both America and Japan, the system was overshadowed by the success of the Famicom and NES. As with the SG-1000, though, Sega learned from their experience with the Master System. Their next console, the Mega Drive/Genesis, proved to be the game changer the Master System should have been, and bolstered Sega into realms of popularity previously reserved for Nintendo.

 (All images courtesy of Wikipedia and SegaRetro)

SegaDoes Podcast Episode 10: Get Set to Hang On

Welcome to double-digits, folks. There’s no going back now. Listen to/Download Episode 10 here.

Because of the month-long gap (or so) between Episode 9, we have twelve SG-1000 games we cover in this episode. Hang on to ya butts:

 

Doki Doki Penguin Land

Drol

Chack’n Pop

Bank Panic

Rock n’ Bolt

Elevator Action

Soukoban/Shove It!…The Warehouse Game

Championship Lode Runner

H.E.R.O.

Champion Ice Hockey

Hang-On II

Bomb Jack

C_So!

 

These are the remaining 1985 SG-1000 games. Next episode will see us focus on the Mark III and its launch games, hopefully in two weeks or so.

All questions, thoughts, or concerns should be directed to the comments section below. As always, thanks for listening!

What’s Goin’ On with SegaDoes.com?: September and October edition

Greeting and salutations from the depths of my sleep-deprived mind!

I just wanted to give a brief update on some upcoming happenings and some already-happeneds around the site.

First off, as some of my more eagle-eyed readers may have noticed, I have taken down the Peripherals sections from below each system. Originally, I was going to write articles about every single worthwhile peripheral released for Sega’s systems; “worthwhile” meaning the peripheral was notable in some way i.e. the Dreamcast Keyboard for Typing of the Dead or the Master System’s 3-D glasses for Zaxxon 3-D (among others). But it all comes down to this: I want to devote more time to the games themselves and articles about the peripherals get in the way of that. Instead of full-fledged articles, I’ll be including information about specific peripherals into reviews of the games that use them. I doubt anyone really cares about this change, but I felt like it should be noted. First up: Hang-On II and the Bike Handle.

This brings me to my next subject: time, or lack thereof. I’m currently getting ready for a cross-country move at the end of September. The move is about three weeks away, which gives us time to prepare, but as it so happens, the company I work for is also undergoing a major transition of its own right this moment. As a result of my company’s transition, I’m working more hours, along with preparing for a humongous move at the same time. All this to say, the next month or two on Sega Does might be a bit lacking in content. God willing, the podcast will continue unabated (Podcast #10 is coming, hopefully by the end of this week), but reviews might decrease to about three or less a week until I get settled into a new town/new apartment/new job/new life – ETA mid-to-late October. Please understand.

Thanks for your continued readership. I’m really looking forward to digging into the Master System library with you all.

- DC

C_So!

C-SO!

                          Who’s the real bully?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Sega

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: 1985

 

C sos, Shee shos, by the Cee Cstore? Close!

C_So! is a stranger-than-usual SG-1000 game that involves a young child punishing bullies by death of seesaw. Your job is to lure the bullies onto the seesaw, then jump on the opposite end to either fling them upwards or stomp them with your small child stompin’ shoes. Slay all the bullies and collect every item in the level to progress to the next one, while also avoiding killer balloons that float rampantly around. The balloons have no purpose beyond extra points, and while you can’t kill them via seesaw, often they will inexplicably fly across the screen and burst against the wall of the level. I’ve tried to figure out the balloons’ unreasonable actions, and their reason for being – perhaps because the game stars children and balloons could be considered scary to some kids… I guess? They don’t seem to have much purpose other than to loiter and annoy, but hey, extra bonus points for popping them all; bonus points were cool once.

 

C_So! (Japan)001

                   The sprites look so moldable, like putty.

 

I am usually among the first to embrace weirdy games like C_So!. Getting revenge on bullies via playground equipment? Quick, shove the controller in my hand! But despite C_So!‘s novel premise, the game itself never plays quite right. First and foremost: the levels are not assembled well at all. There’s trampolines and long jumps and long falls and warping doors and mile-high ladders and items in odd locations, and clusters of seesaws in a chunk of the level, and no seesaws in other parts of the level. Indeed the levels look as though the game designers vomited a bunch of random in-game elements onto a black screen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, C_So! has a level editor. Place your seesaws in the middle of nothing! Color your bullies purple! (not sure why the bullies have a variety of different colors. I think their color might relate to their movement patterns, but I’m not sure). While I’m usually right crap with level editors, I could make better levels than the ones found in the game themselves. Perhaps that’s the point of these crappily designed levels, to make players feel smarter than they are with the level editor? I wouldn’t put it past a game as strange as this.

 

C_So! (Japan)000

                                     Not my playground.

 

I got to the third level of C_So! multiple times before I see-ed my last saw. I’m sure I could have gotten past it eventually, but frankly, the game felt like work. Bullies rarely go where you want them to go, and you’re on a time limit so you have to follow them around and hope they make their way to a seesaw. Then you have to make sure they walk onto the seesaw at the correct angle, which means you wait for them to walk to the edge of the seesaw before jumping backwards and flinging them upwards. Launching bullies is totally doable, and I got better at it with time, but I never really enjoyed myself. And games, above all else, are about enjoying yourself. Sorry C_So!, I don’t think you and I will ever C eye to eye.

D