This Week’s Purchase: SEGA Master System (plus additional SEGA items)
Anyone following DC may be vaguely aware of the evolution of my SEGA collection, and in the past I’ve documented both my Mega Drive and Dreamcast buying sprees. Alongside the Saturn my collection was nearing completion, and finally this week I turned my attention to the one console that was notably absent; the Master System.
There’s something really satisfying about buying videogames by the box full. It certainly helps that buying in bulk usually results in big savings, and purchasing a large box of ‘SEGA crap’ cost me only a little more than many of the Master System auctions I’d been watching on eBay went for.
For £49 (inc. p&p) I bought the Master System of my dreams, and the lot also included a Master System II, a Mega Drive, and an assortment of games, leads and controllers. Having already amassed a small pile of miscellaneous SEGA accessories this buy worked well for me, as there were a few necessary items missing from the bundle that I already owned. This included a composite cable for A/V output and an official controller to use instead of the included Control Stick (an incredibly poorly designed device that has the buttons on the wrong side).
A few decent games were bundled too, including Sonic Chaos, Castle of Illusion and Psycho Fox. A couple of weeks ago I’d bought some additional titles in anticipation of my purchase (and also partially because they were going for 50p each) so already had Sonic 2, Marble Madness and a few other games to get the collection started.
The Master System is a great console that I’d recommend for similar reasons to the Mega Drive. Unlike its original competitor (the NES), the Master System and its games can be purchased for a very reasonable price, and many of its most iconic games are still pretty cheap. This is simply down to demand, and as the console sold notably fewer units than the NES (it wasn’t till the Mega Drive had been out a few years that SEGA really took off) both the hardware and software should theoretically be harder to come by.
However, these poor sales do perhaps account for the fact that the Master System is a little more expensive than the Mega Drive, and additional problems are caused by the fact that the Master System II (which is slightly cheaper) removes a few of the console’s features that modern gamers are likely to appreciate. Firstly the MS II doesn’t have an A/V output, meaning a RF cable is your only option. In comparison, the original Master System can be connected to the television using either a composite cable or RGB scart, giving two levels of increased picture quality. The MS II also doesn’t have the SEGA Card input, meaning it wont play SEGA Card games or work with certain accessories such at the 3D glasses (which I have every intention of buying).
The system may be smaller but it’s also pretty ugly, and without all these additional features the Master System I is the console I’d personally recommend.
I’ve only had the system a week, so I’m certainly not the authority when it comes to software, but I will say that so far I’ve been really impressed with what the console has to offer. In particular the Sonic games are all great fun, and notably different to the Mega Drive titles I’ve played to death over the years.
The three Sonic games were also released on GameGear, but look nicer (as you’d expect) on the Master System. Whilst they once stood out as 8-bit games in the 16-bit era, they now have a distinct retro charm to them. Sonic Chaos in particular is quite different to other titles in the series, and includes power-ups and gameplay mechanics not seen since. Anyone who’s played Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins probably knows that ignoring the conventional and ‘canon’ elements of a series can sometimes work, and Sonic Chaos does something similar with SEGA’s mascot.
Then there’s Castle of Illusion, which has always been one of my favourite platformers. Oh, and Marble Madness, which is as ambient, as atmospheric, and as enjoyable as ever. Whilst the Master System was criticised at the time for the slow pace at which compelling software was released, looking back there’s certainly no shortage of classic games.
Overall I’ve been pretty impressed with the Master System so far, and would definitely recommend it. It’s got the price edge over the NES and a selection of great games. Whilst the system is not without its quirks (for instance the start button is found on the console itself rather than the controller) overall it has stood the test of time pretty well, especially considering that it wasn’t very popular to begin with. For today’s audience it’s also got a few surprising features, such as built in games on certain machines, the ability to plug in and use Mega Drive controllers, and a series of games that run in stereoscopic 3D. These are next on my purchase list.