Massive breakthroughs in the area of super conductivity! The 50th anniversary of Big Y grocery stores! A major overhaul in the U.S. tax code! A musical battle of epic proportions between Robert Palmer and...err...Eddie Murphy. Yes, we're back in the land of 1986.
Sega, or Service Games, was started in 1951 by a dude named David Rosen. He, like the rest of us, dreamed of making tons of money, and saw an interesting opportunity in Bizarro America (Or Japan, as it appears on maps. Keeping in mind, of course, that it works both ways. America is also the Bizarro Japan. Relativity, people...it works everywhere!). Rosen started bringing photo booths over to Japan and, oddly enough, it seemed the Japanese loved the things. As his business grew, he started expanding to other things including coin-op video games.
They started small in the Atari-driven market, but made a name for themselves with a title called Frogger. Because of that success and a few other arcade hits at the time -- After Burner, Out Run, etc -- they formed the idea to make their own home console. Apparently they were unhappy that the ports of their games couldn't be nearly as nice as the home versions. Thus, they tried their own hand in the consoles and invented the Master System.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, there was the magic of 1984. Interestingly enough, the crash only happened in the States. Japan was doing swell. A nice little rivalry had formed between Nintendo and Sega. So when Nintendo decided to come to the U.S., Sega decided to follow. A mere three months after the NES was released there was the Mark III, or Master System. The system was actually a better computer than the NES. However, there were a few problems.
The NES cost about forty dollars less, and Nintendo made their third-party developers sign no-compete clauses. Sega found themselves extremely hard-pressed to get any games. Thus, a slippery slide ensued and Nintendo ended up with something like ninety percent of the market.
Sega wouldn't see popularity, really, until the release of Sonic The Hedgehog and a brilliant ad campaign. However, we'll talk about all that during the Genesis article. In the meantime, the Master System did have some kick-ass games and the people who bought the system got treated to games that the NES simply wouldn't release.
So, what were the best? Well, lets find out.
9. Coming in at last place of the best games we have Zillion (Sega, 1987). Zillion was a platform game with elevator puzzles. It wasn't the most creative game of its time. The gameplay itself wasn't creative, and the graphics were sub-par compared to the rest of the games on this list. However, it was still a super-fun game to play. Beauty in simplicity, people. Run around and shoot people and hop into the occasional elevator puzzle. Fun!
8. Ys (Falcom, 1987) The SMS answer to Zelda. The game actually featured better graphics and, in my opinion, a better story. I liked Zelda a lot better, though the later Genesis Ys games kicked any and all ass. I think that Zelda got top billing simply for being released first, something that the SMS had problems with in droves. However, for those of us who just totally hated the second Zelda game, this game could have been thought of as the perfect sequel. And really -- is there anything wrong with being the perfect sequel to one of my favorite games ever? No.
7. Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Sega/Westone 1987) Eeesh. I'm gonna skip the gameplay for a second and talk about titles. Sega couldn't think of a good title if their lives depended on it. You're duking it out with this monster game company, and you come up with a really fun game and the best name you can come up with is Wonder Boy in Monster Land? For shame, Sega. The game itself was super-cool, though. Sort of reminiscent of Adventure Island, this was the second title in the Wonder Boy series and introduced the idea of using money to buy upgrades for your character. I have no idea why, but that totally made the game for me. The graphics were also pretty spectacular for the time. Nice and bright and crisp.
6. Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega, 1987) This was actually the game that came bundled with the SMS that my friend Tommy bought. For whatever reason, I can't for the life of me remember what came with my SMS. But when Tommy got his, this was in the slot. We didn't even open his many other video games and just played this one, assuming it to be the Mario of its time. Lucky us, we weren't disappointed. The game played as if you were Mario, but you also had a pretty badass sword and upgrade capabilities. It also featured one of the better soundtracks that games of the time were warbling, thus giving it a comfortable number six position on the big list.
5. Altered Beast (Sega, 1988) Hey, you know what might be fun? Being an officer in the king's army who was slaughtered, only to be resurrected by the king, who's also a sorcerer, and given the power to transform into beasts! Side-scrolling platform action game with an end goal of rescuing a princess. The graphics kicked ass and, while gameplay got a little repetitive, there was something awesome about turning into a wolfman.
4. Gauntlet (U.S. Gold, 1990) One of the very few games you'll see for both the SMS and the NES. U.S. Gold, it seemed, was perfectly happy with just the arcade game. When Nintendo approached them with the non-compete contract, they were perfectly content saying "fuck you" to NoA and made the SMS version. Nintendo was desperate to get a popular 4-player game and decided to forego a ton of the normal shit to get Gauntlet. Gauntlet on the SMS was still a thousand times better than the NES version, in my opinion. The graphics owned and the AI was good, too. Hard, long, but fun fun fun!
3. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (Parker Bros., ?) Whew, where to begin? I suppose we could begin by asking why in the world is an educational game on this list, let alone the top three? The answer is because the game was fun and you know it. Originally released for the Apple IIE, this is a game that spawned a huge franchise and even a TV show featuring Rockapella (an acapella group that ROCKED). Get hints, travel the world, and find the red hat-wearing thief bitch. Rock.
2. Prince of Persia (Broderbund Software, 1989) This was a port of the popular PC game and the only time that it graced a console, I believe. It was kind of an action puzzler with a sixty-minute time limit. The gameplay inspired a whole ton of other games (Flashback and Oddworld, to name a couple), and even, if I remember, sort of introduced the action-puzzle genre altogether. Find a sword and kill the Arabs who swiped your girlfriend. Party's in the desert.
1. Well, it's been a fun little trip into the Master System, but we're at last approaching the end. What's the game? Well, it's Phantasy Star (Sega, 1988), of course. My favorite game ever for the SMS and everyone else's favorite, as well. In fact, you could sort of just put this one up top and rank the other games in any order and most people would agree with you, just so long as Phantasy Star remained king. An RPG that really did put everything else to shame. Starring one of the very few lead females you...well, OK, you went out to save the world. Probably because of something that happened just about a thousand years ago. Way, way ahead of its time, however. If you're buying an SMS or downloading one, make extra-sure you can get this. The system seems silly without it.