Oh we’ve got a good one for you, folks. So good that no excuse about how the Chomp’s been (or hasn’t been) over the summer can keep this post from getting uploaded before midnight. Twenty-five years ago to the day, the Sega Genesis debuted in the North American market!
The first North American Genesis design. Photo comes from wikipedia.com
Boy, do I feel old.
Technically, this post can be considered as being almost a year late, since the Mega Drive, the first incarnation of what would be the Genesis, was first released in Japan on October 29, 1988. Since I didn’t do a post on the Mega Drive, I’ve decided to celebrate the Genesis’ 25th on the day it debuted in the North American market. Without further ado, let’s get into some history.
For much of the 1980s, Nintendo’s Famicom (released as the Nintendo Entertainment System here in North America) dominated the home video game console market in Japan and the world since its debut in 1983. Sega had previously entered the home video game market in 1983 as well with the release of the SG-1000 and the Sega Mark III (known as the Sega Master System abroad) two years later. Even with the Master System’s success in Europe, neither console was able to put much of a dent into Nintendo’s total worldwide sales.
Despite the mostly lukewarm returns from its previous two efforts, Sega decided to jump back into the home console market. The company had a battle ahead of it, as Nintendo’s dominance had only strengthened. In 1987, NEC released the powerful 16-bit PC Engine (known internationally as the TurboGrafx-16) gaming system in Japan to much acclaim. To keep pace, Sega decided that its next effort should have more horsepower, and Masami Ishikawa (who had previously worked on the SG-1000 and Master System) was selected to lead a research and development team to create the company’s next project, a 16-bit console of its own.
Dubbed the “Mega Drive”, Sega’s new console was to be powered by the Motorola 68000 processor, and used a motherboard similar to the ones used in the company’s arcade machines. A top-loading cartridge based system, the Mega Drive was built for performance, and was capable of running home versions of Sega’s arcade offerings at the time.
Upon its release in 1988, the Mega Drive failed to get much of a foothold in the Japanese home console market, coming in third behind the PC Engine and the still top-selling Famicom. In January of the following year, Sega announced that it would be releasing the Mega Drive in North America.
In the North American market, Sega got aggressive. It upped the fire with its advertising campaign, and came out with guns blazing from the jump. Due to a trademark dispute with the American company Mega Drive Systems, Inc., Sega renamed its console the “Genesis.” The company boldly got after its rival Nintendo, leading to the now classic (and infamous) “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” ad campaign (video uploaded by SegaCDUniverse).
From the time the Genesis hit the North American market in 1989, its rivalry with Nintendo sizzled. Nintendo increase the heat itself with the release of the Super Famicom (AKA Super Nintendo) in Japan the next year and in North America and the UK in 1991 and 1992 respectively. For much of the early to mid 1990s, Sega versus Nintendo was the talk of the video game world.
Around the mid-1990s, Sega began to focus its efforts on its upcoming 32-bit console, the Saturn. Sega sold the Gensis until 1997, when it turned over the licensing of the console to Majesco. In 1999, Majesco ended discontinued sales of its Genesis units. While on the market, the Genesis was estimated to have sold around 40 million units worldwide, making it Sega’s top-selling console.
I remember the first time I played the Genesis was at a shopping mall (remember those?) back in the early 1990s. The original Sonic the Hedgehog was loaded up in the console, and every kid within earshot of it was captivated by the system.
When it was my turn to play, I was immediately floored. After playing the NES for a few years, the leap from its 8-bit gameplay to the 16-bit experience the Genesis offered was huge. The gameplay, graphics, sound and music (especially the music) were all mind-blowing at the time. I nearly got motion sickness playing as Sonic because he was so friggin’ quick. He moved across the screen in a fashion different from any other character seen before, and it was amazing.
The Genesis was my second video game console, the first being the NES. I received it as a gift on Christmas in 1994, and I still have it, box and all, to this day. My console is the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 bundle, which consists of that game, a controller, and the Model 2 version of the Genesis system.
Thanks, mom. Photo comes from Amazon.com
A few years later I received a 32X, one of two add-ons for the system (the first being the Sega CD) for my birthday, and I honestly enjoyed it. I had a few games for it, namely Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, T-Mek and Star Wars Arcade (which according to YouTube, is not impossible to beat). Video game history may not be entirely kind to the 32X, but it was given with love and I still love it.
It was cool to me. Photo comes come from Segaretro.org.
Some of my best memories of gaming as a kid come from playing Genesis games. It was the console that allowed me to play the first copy of a Street Fighter game I ever owned, in this case Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition. For that alone, it’s special. Hard to believe that Sega’s out of the console business, its last one being the Dreamcast which deubted in 1999.
Guile (L) brought the sonic but M. Bison (R) brought the boom. Pic comes from Giant Bomb.
That about does it for this segment. For more on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, do check out the redoubtable Jeremy Parish’s article on the system from last year, and SegaRetro.org for general Sega info. Happy 25th Genesis! Until next time.
Peace & Pixels