The Sega Master System is an 8-bit cartridge-based video game console that was manufactured by Sega and was first released in 1986. Its original Japanese incarnation was the Sega Mark III (although the "Master System" name has also been used in Japan). In the European market, this console launched Sega onto a competitive level comparable to Nintendo, due to its wider availability, but failed to put a dent in the North American and Japanese markets. The Master System was released as a direct competitor to the NES/Famicom in the third videogame generation. Despite its shaky performance in the major territories, it enjoyed over a decade of life in smaller markets. The later Sega Game Gear is effectively a hand-held Master System, with a few enhancements.

History Edit

During its lifespan the Master System was built in several variations. The article Variations of the Sega Master System includes a more detailed view on these.

Japan Edit

The Sega Mark III was released in Japan on October 20 1985 to compete with the Famicom, following on from the SG-1000 and SG-1000 II. The Mark III is built similarly to the SG-1000 II, with the addition of improved video hardware and an increased amount of RAM.

The system is backwards compatible with earlier SG-1000 titles. As well as the standard cartridge slot, it has a built-in slot for "Sega Cards", which are physically identical to the cards for the Sega SG-1000 "Card Catcher" add-on.

Sega MarkIII

The Sega Mark III, the original Japanese version of the Master System

The Mark III was redesigned as the Sega Master System for release in other markets. This was mainly a cosmetic revamp and the internal components of the console remained virtually the same. The redesigned console was itself released in Japan in 1987, with the addition of a built-in Yamaha YM2413 FM sound chip, Rapid Fire Unit, and 3-D glasses adapter; these were sold separately for the Mark III.

Sega Master System game cartridges released outside Japan have a different shape and pin configuration to the Japanese Master System/Mark III cartridges. This may be seen as a form of regional lockout.

Typical of the era, game consoles have a mascot character. Sega's 2nd mascot was Opa-opa from the arcade game Fantasy Zone (which was also available for the system), as referenced in the manual for Zillion. Later on, especially in Western territories where Fantasy Zone was less popular, Alex Kidd emerged as a mascot. It is unclear if his mascot status was ever official, or if it were simply perceived because of the similarity to the Mario games that represented the competing Nintendo console. When Sonic the Hedgehog became the official Sega mascot in 1991, games were also produced for the Master System, but none of these were ever released in Japan for the system, the Game Gear being the favored platform for these ports.

Neither the Japanese Mark III nor the Sega Master System were commercially successful, due to strong competition from the Nintendo Famicom, which held the 95% of the market share there.

The last licensed release in Japan was Bomber Raid, released by Sega in 1989.

North America Edit

The system was redesigned and sold in the United States under the name Sega Master System in June 1986, less than a year after the Nintendo Entertainment System was released. The console sold for $200. The Master System was subsequently released in other locales and markets, including a second release in Japan in 1987 under the new Master System name. The Japanese Master System includes a built-in 3-D glasses adapter, rapid fire, and a Yamaha YM2413 FM sound chip, all of which were separate accessories for the Mark III.

By 1988, Nintendo commanded 83% of the North American video game market share[1] and the rights to the Master System in North America were sold to Tonka, but its popularity continued to decline.[2]

Master System II

Sega Master System II

In 1990, Sega was having success with its Sega Genesis and as a result took back the rights from Tonka for the SMS. It designed the Sega Master System II, a low-cost Master System that lacks the reset button, expansion port (which was never used), and card slot of the original. The card slot was omitted because there were only about a dozen card games. Any card game can be packaged as a cartridge, with some of these re-released in this way. Since the card slot was used as a connector to synchronize the 3D glasses with the original Master System, the SMS2 cannot use the 3D glasses.

In an effort to counter Nintendo's Super Mario Bros., the new system included Alex Kidd in Miracle World playable without any cartridges. Sega marketed the Master System II heavily; nevertheless, the unit sold poorly in North America. By 1992, the Master System's sales were virtually nonexistent in North America and eventually ceased.

The last licensed release in North America was Sonic the Hedgehog, released by Sega in fall 1991. Some European games were still released in Canada for some time, though.

Europe Edit

In Europe, the Master System was very successful. Sega marketed the Master System in many countries, including several in which Nintendo did not sell its consoles.

It had some success in Germany, where it was distributed by Ariolasoft beginning in winter 1987.

In France, during the time the Sega Master System has been on sale, the console was distributed by the Virgin Group.

In the United Kingdom, it was distributed by Mastertronic, who later merged with the Virgin Group.

In Italy it was distributed by Giochi Preziosi and in its first years it overshadowed the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES gained a good market share only later in its lifespan, with Sega Mega Drive already released.

The console was produced far longer than in Japan and North America because of its greater popularity.Template:Verify source. It is generally considered a success in Europe where it competed and managed to rival the NES. Because of the success in Europe, Sega decided to open its Sega Europe division.

Due to its architectural similarity to the Game Gear, software companies were easily able to make versions of their games for both the Master System and Game Gear. In fact, many Game Gear titles that were released in North America were released alongside Master System versions of those games in Europe.

As in North America, Sega was able to launch the redesigned Sega Master System II. This system included Alex Kidd in Miracle World, or later Sonic the Hedgehog, as a built-in game.

The last licensed release in Europe was The Smurfs: Travel the World, released by Infogrames in 1996. Its successor, the Mega Drive, which was successful in Europe, was supported up until this time as well.[citation needed] However, both were discontinued so that Sega could concentrate on the new Sega Saturn.[citation needed]

Brazil Edit


Sega Master System III compact: Brazilian variation of Master System II.

Brazil was one of the Master System's most successful markets. It was marketed in that country by Tec Toy, Sega's Brazilian distributor. At least five versions of the console were released between 1989 and 1995 and several games had been translated into Portuguese. The characters in these games had also been modified so that they appealed to Brazilian mainstream audiences (for example, Wonder Boy in Monster Land featured Mônica, the main character from a popular children's comic book in Brazil, created by Maurício de Sousa). Brazil also produced many original games, like Sítio do Pica Pau Amarelo (based on Monteiro Lobato workmanship), Castelo Rá-Tim-Bum (from the TV Cultura series) and TV Colosso (from the Rede Globo series).


Master System Compact: wireless variant developed in Brazil.

Master System Girl

The Master System Girl

One of the more notable Master System consoles in Brazil was wireless Master System Compact developed by Tec Toy. The console transmits the A/V signal through RF, dispensing cable connections. It was produced from 1994 to 1997 and is still a target for console collectors. A similar version, called Master System Girl, was also released in an attempt to attract female consumers. The only difference in this version is a strong pink casing and pastel buttons.

Later in its life in Brazil, Game Gear games had been ported to the Master System and several original Brazilian titles were made for the system. Tec Toy also produced a licensed version of the fighting game Street Fighter II for the Master System. The console production was familiar to the Brazilians, which explains the success in that market.

The Master System is still being produced in Brazil. The latest version is the "Master System 3". It has a brand new modern black design, with details in blue. Even with the visual changes, it was not renamed, save switching the roman number in the name to a decimal number. It comes with 131 games built in, whose includes classic games, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd and Golden Axe. However, in Brazil, it is hard to find the 3-D Glasses, the Light Phaser and even cartridges, leaving most Brazilians with only built-in games. In this new version, the cartridge input was removed from the system.

Overall, the Sega Master System was mildly successful worldwide, but failed to capture the Japanese and North American markets. However, Sega was able to garner a greater market share with the Master System's successor, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis in Europe, Brazil, and North America.

The Sega Master System was re-released in a smaller handheld form factor in late 2006. This small handheld device is powered by 3 AAA batteries, has a brighter active matrix screen, and contained 20 Game Gear and Sega Master System games. It was released under several brands including Coleco and PlayPal.[citation needed]

Technical specifications Edit

  • CPU: 8-bit Zilog Z80A
    • 3.546893 MHz for PAL/SECAM, 3.579545 MHz for NTSC
  • Graphics: VDP (Video Display Processor) derived from Texas Instruments TMS9918
    • Up to 32 simultaneous colors available (one 16-color palette for sprites or background, an additional 16-color palette for background only) from a palette of 64 (can also show 64 simultaneous colors using programming tricks)
    • Screen resolutions 256×192 and 256×224. PAL/SECAM also supports 256×240
    • 8×8 pixel characters, max 463 (due to VRAM space limitation)
    • 8×8 or 8×16 pixel sprites, max 64
    • Horizontal, vertical, and partial screen scrolling
  • Sound (PSG): Texas Instruments SN76489 (note that the Sega Master System, Game Gear, and Mega Drive / Genesis used a slightly altered clone of the newer SN76489A, while the older SG-series used the original SN76489)
    • 4 channel mono sound (3 Square Waves, 1 White Noise)
    • 3 tone generators, 10 octaves each, 1 white noise generator
  • Sound (FM): Yamaha YM2413
    • mono FM synthesis
    • switchable between 9 tone channels or 6 tone channels + 5 percussion channels
    • Included as built-in "accessory" with Japanese Master System (1987)
    • supported by certain games only
  • Boot ROM: 64 kbit (8 KB) to 2048 kbit (256 KB), depending on built-in game
  • Main RAM: 64 kbit (8 KB), can be supplemented by game cartridges
  • Video RAM: 128 kbit (16 KB)
  • Game Card slot (not available in the Master System II)
  • Game Cartridge slot (not included on newer Brazilian models, as these have built-in games)
    • Japanese and South Korean consoles use vertical shaped 44-pin cartridges, the same shape as SG-1000 and Mark II
    • All other consoles use 50-pin cartridges[3] with a horizontal shape
    • The difference in cartridge style is a form of regional lockout
  • Expansion slot
    • Unused, pinout compatible with 50-pin cartridges (but opposite gender) in all regions

Media input Edit

One of the most unusual features of the Sega Master System is its dual media inputs: one cartridge slot and one card slot. The card slot accepted small cards about the size of a credit card, much like the later PC Engine / TurboGrafx 16.

The cards and cartridges both serve the same purpose—to hold software. However, the cartridges had a much higher capacity—while the cards are much smaller. Sega used the cards for budget games, priced lower than the typical game.

Most cards are games, but one card—the 3-D glasses— served an entirely different purpose. The 3-D glasses plug into the console via the card slot, and allow 3-D visual effects for specially designed cartridge games. In this fashion, both media inputs worked in tandem.

The card slot was removed in the redesigned Master System II, providing support for only cartridges. This act helped to reduce the cost of manufacturing the console since the cards were unpopular and only a few card-based games were made. Most of the card games were later re-released as cartridges.

A floppy disk drive add on for the original Master System was developed but was never released.

Game controllers Edit

  • Controller 3 – 2 buttons, hole for a screw-in thumbstick
  • Controller 4 – 6 buttons, very similar to the Mega Drive's 6 button pad; released in Brazil only.
  • Control Stick - 2 buttons and a stick similar to a gear stick, but on the right side and the buttons are on the left side.
  • Light Phaser – Light gun, not compatible with Mega Drive light gun games.
  • Sega Rapid Fire Unit - adapter to use rapid fire on standard controller; also not needed on a Japanese console
  • Sega Sports Pad - trackball controller
  • Sega Handle Controller - paddle controller
  • SG Commander - a standard controller with built in rapid fire.

Standard controllers Edit

Sega Master System Controller Diagram

The Master System's controller

The Master System controller has only 2 buttons, one of which additionally performs the function of the traditional "Start" button; the pause button is on the game console itself. The original controllers, like Sega's previous systems, has the cord emerging from the side; during 1987 the design was changed to the now-typical top emerging cord. Some controllers also include a screw-in thumb stick for the D-pad.

The controller uses the prevailing de facto standard Atari-style 9-pin connector and can be connected without modification to all other machines compatible with that standard, including the Atari 2600, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum with Kempston interface or similar.

When the game Street Fighter II was released (in Brazil only), a new six-button controller similar to the Sega Mega Drive controller was also released. The current Brazilian Master System consoles come with two six-button controllers.

The later Genesis/Mega Drive controllers generally work fine on the Master System, with buttons B and C corresponding to 1 and 2 respectively and the other buttons (most notably Start) not doing anything. A few Master System games, such as Alien Syndrome will not function properly with these controllers, and must be played with original Master System controllers, even on a Genesis/Mega Drive equipped with a Power Base Converter.

Light Phaser Edit

Sega Master System lightphaser

The Sega Light Phaser

The Light Phaser was a light gun created for the Sega Master System, modeled after the Zillion gun from the Japanese anime series of the same name. The phaser was heavier than its Nintendo counterpart, the Nintendo Zapper and considered by some to be have a more responsive trigger and more accurate targeting. As with the Nintendo Zapper, the Light Phaser looked realistic enough to warrant parental pressure to alter the device so that police would not confuse it with a real gun. Altered Light Phasers are distinguished by a hand-painted neon orange tip and are much rarer than their solid color counterparts. Tec Toy also released a blue Light Phaser in Brazil.

On one occasion, a Brazilian man used a Sega Light Phaser to hold a woman hostage for ten hours in order to pay a debit of R$ 42,00 (Approx. U$ 20).

SegaScope 3-D Glasses Edit

Master system 3d glasses

3-D Glasses and card adapter

The 3-D Glasses use small LCD screens to rapidly alternate between the left and right lenses being opaque, used in tandem with two different alternating images flashed from the TV synchronized with the switching of the 3-D Glasses to create a natural stereoscopic 3D effect. The Master System glasses can only be used in the original Master System, since it hooks up directly to the card port not found in the Master System II. Such a system allows 3-D graphics in full color. The technology takes advantage of the fact that televisions display an interlaced image, displaying the left image in the top frame and the right image in the bottom frame, so it tends not to work with non-standard televisions and most capture cards, which tend to combine fields. The same technique has been used with similar glasses for some 3-D films in movie theaters, though these have largely been replaced by newer methods that would not work on a home TV. Only eight Master System games are 3-D compatible.

With the use of the Sega Master System Converter all peripherals are fully compatible with the Sega Mega Drive.

Compatibility with the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis Edit

The Mega Drive/Genesis is backwards compatible with the Master System, despite having a differently shaped cartridge slot. Sega developed a pass-through device for the Mega Drive/Genesis, allowing Master System cartridges to be played on the newer system. It was called the Power Base Converter in the US, the Mega Adapter in Japan and the Master System Converter in Europe. The somewhat large device plugs into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot, covering the entire circular top of the system. Master System cartridges and cards can then be inserted into the device and played on the Mega Drive using Mega Drive controllers. Due to its size and shape, the converter will not fit properly with the Mega Drive II, necessitating the use of the Europe-only Master System Converter II, or a third-party converter cartridge.

Games Edit

SMS cartridges

Game cartridges for Japanese Sega Mark III (left), North American/PAL Sega Master System (right).


Astro Warrior is integrated into one version of the console (the Sega Base System, which was slightly less expensive and lacked the Light Phaser).

Hang-On and Safari Hunt are also integrated into another version of the console; additionally, the original North American release of the console came bundled with a cartridge containing both Hang On and Safari Hunt.

Sonic the Hedgehog is integrated into some PAL Master System II consoles. It was later ported to the Sega Game Gear. Another game which was integrated into the PAL Master System II consoles was Alex Kidd in Miracle World, instead of Sonic the Hedgehog

On the original release of the Master System, a hidden game known as Snail Maze is built in the console, which was a number of labyrinth puzzles with a time limit. This game can be accessed from the system BIOS by starting the system without a game cartridge inserted, and holding Up and buttons 1 and 2 simultaneously.

A marketing agreement between Sega and the producers of the anime Zillion resulted in both a game (Zillion) based on the anime series and the design of the Light Phaser attachment: the protagonists of the show use a pistol which is nearly identical to the Light Phaser, including the cable.

Virtual Console Edit

A number of Master System games are available for download on Nintendo's Wii Virtual Console in North America, PAL territories and Japan. It's still uncertain if the Game Gear games will also appear under this label.

The first game released for this service was Hokuto no Ken, in February 26, 2008, and later, Fantasy Zone, released in March 11. Both were released in Japan, at a standard cost of 500 Wii Points (though Hokuto no Ken costs 600 points, due to the game's source license). In North America, Wonder Boy was the first SMS game released for the service on March 31, 2008. [4] Fantasy Zone was also announced, but its release date was on April 14, 2008. In Europe, both Fantasy Zone and Wonderboy were released on the same day.

The option to switch to FM audio for the handful of games that used it is available for all regions.

References Edit

Much of the data for this article was taken from the SMS Console Database site.

External links Edit