PRODUCED BY: Sega
RELEASE DATE: 01/26/89 – (JP), 1989 – (US), 1990 – (EU)
1993 – (Master System Converter II, EU)
The Power Base Converter (also known as the Mega Adaptor in Japan and Master System Converter in Europe) was one of the first and best peripherals released for the Genesis. By shoving this unwieldy device into the top of your Model 1 unit, you could play Master System games, both cartridge and Card, and use peripherals like the 3-D glasses and the Light Phaser.
The poor Genesis and its face hugger attachments.*
Even at this relatively early point in console history, backwards compatibility for Sega was nothing new. When the Mark III launched in Japan in 1985, it was compatible with every SG-1000 cartridge and card game released. This was a smart move on their part, given the short lifespan of the SG-1000 and Sega’s need to release new hardware in frequent intervals. The Power Base Converter merely continued the BC trend. For Sega fans who still had their Master System collection, but wanted to move over to the Genesis, the Converter was a Godsend. It was also a way for Sega to expand the console’s library early on. If you were a consumer who just bought the Genesis, but never owned the Master System, a paltry thirty-five dollars would allow you to play the latter console’s entire library.
The same, only in Japanese and with the superior Mega Drive logo.*
How did Sega achieve such witchcraft? The Master System’s central processor and sound chip – Zilog Z80 and the SN76489 respectively – were included in the Genesis hardware. Also, the Genesis’ Sega 315-5313 Video Display Processor is able to run the Master System’s VDP mode 4. With only this info, one might assume that you could shove a Master System game into the Genesis and off you go, but this is not the case. The cartridge slot of the Genesis is shaped differently than the Master System’s, which is why the Power Base Converter is needed. Once the Converter’s attached and “a Master System game inserted, the system’s bus controller chip (later integrated with the I/O chip into a single multi-purpose ASIC) will put the Z80 in control leaving the 68000 (the Genesis’ central processor) idle” (Sega Retro, Power Base Converter). In essence, a Master System lurks within the Genesis and the Power Base Converter is the conduit needed for it to function.
A Model II‘s innards, courtesy of http://djoen.dommel.be/Console/md2/md2.html.
The Power Base Converter is a brilliant device and perfect for Model 1 Genesis owners, but don’t bother if you own a Model 2 or Model 3. The Converter won’t fit on a Model 2 unless you modify its casing, and it won’t fit on a Model 3 whatsoever. Rather than deface a perfectly good (and increasingly rare) peripheral, better to find a Model 1 Genesis and use it the way Sega intended. Europe is the one exception to the rule. They received the Master System Converter II, a funky-looking piece that somewhat reminds me of the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge and allows you to play Master System games on a Mega Drive Model II. Europe presumably received the latter due to the Master System flourishing well into the mid-90s there.
Looks like an evil tower rising out of the system (thanks to sega-16 for the photo).
Though I have no personal recollection of the Genesis launch, it seems that the Power Base Converter was only used to bring early adopters into the fold before it was quietly phased out. I owned a Genesis by late 1991 and was an avid reader of game magazines like EGM and GamePro by 1992, but I didn’t even know the Power Base Converter existed until years after Sega stopped supporting the Genesis. This isn’t to say that those magazines didn’t make some mention of the device in their pages in the 90s or that the Converter had completely vanished from stores. Only that, by the time Genesis got cookin’ with Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage II, and other popular titles, the Power Base Converter was already unnecessary for new Sega gamers. The Mega Drive had its own games to advertise and they were far superior to the ones on the Master System.
The Power Base Converter was already being offered for free in Sega deals around the summer of ’90.
Today, the device can be found on eBay and Amazon for between $70-80, about double of the original asking price not adjusted for inflation. If you already have a Model 1 Genesis (or a Model 2 in Europe) and are interested in playing the Master System library but don’t want another system crowding up your house, the Power Base Converter is the perfect starting point.
*all photos courtesy of SegaRetro unless otherwise marked