The Sega Master System (SMS for short) is an 8-bit cartridge-based gaming console that was manufactured by Sega. Its original Japanese incarnation was the SG-1000 Mark III. 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. The system ultimately failed to topple its Nintendo competitor, but has enjoyed over a decade of life in secondary markets, especially Brazil.
The SG-1000 Mark III came after the SG-1000 Mark I and SG-1000 Mark II. It was released in Japan on October 20, 1985. Typical of the era, game consoles had a mascot character, Sega Master Systems's being Alex Kidd.
The system was redesigned and sold in the United States under the name Sega Master System in June 1986, the 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.
Though the Master System was a more technically advanced piece of hardware than the NES, it did not attain the same level of popularity among consumers in the United States. Its lack of success in the U.S. has been attributed to various causes, among them the difference in game titles available for each platform and the slightly later release date of the Master System. The licensing agreement that Nintendo had with its third-party game developers had a profound impact. The agreement stated, in effect, that developers would exclusively produce games for the NES. The Master System sold 125,000 consoles in the first four months. In the same period, the NES would net 2,000,000.
Nintendo had 90% of the North American market at the time. Hayao Nakayama, then CEO of Sega, decided not to use too much effort to market the console in the NES-dominated market. In 1988, the rights to the Master System in North America were sold to Tonka, but its popularity continued to decline. The move was considered a very bad one, since Tonka had never marketed a video game system and had no idea what to do with it.
In 1990, Sega was having success with its Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis and as a result took back the rights from Tonka for the SMS. They designed the Sega Master System II, a newer console which was smaller and sleeker but which, to keep production costs low, lacked the reset button and card slot of the original. In an effort to counter Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers the new system would include a built-in Alex Kidd in Miracle World, or later Sonic the Hedgehog, playable without any cartridges. Sega did everything in its power to market the system, but nothing came out of it.
By 1992, the Master System's sales were virtually nonexistent in North America and sales in this market ceased. Sales were poor in Japan as well, due to the dominance of the main competitor from Nintendo, the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom).
In Europe, 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 since Winter 1987. The Europeans had garnered lots of third party support for the SMS and as a result, it was able to outsell the NES in Europe. Nintendo was forced to get licensing for some popular SMS titles in that market. The Master System was supported until 1996 in Europe. It was discontinued so that Sega could concentrate on the new Sega Saturn console. Sales of the SMS in Australia were not as strong as the NES enjoyed there, however the SMS was able to gain greater market share than it had in North America. However in New Zealand it was largely successful - due to NES having a weak influence - and was supported until 1997.
Brazil was one of the SMS' most successful markets. It was marketed in that country by Tec Toy, Sega's Brazilian distributor. A Sega Master System III (and even a semi-portable SMS VI) had been released in that market and several games had been translated into Portuguese. The characters in the said games had 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 100% national titles, like Sítio do Pica Pau Amarelo (based on Monteiro Lobato workmanship) and Castelo Ra-Tim-Bum (from TV Cultura series). Brazil was also where the first several Sonic the Hedgehog Game Gear titles started out. Tails, one of the characters, made his worldwide debut in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Master System. That title would later be ported to the Game Gear in other markets.
The most notable Master System step in Brazil was the compact 100% wireless system developed by Tec Toy. The console transmit the A/V signal in radio frequency, dispensing cable connections. It was produced from 1994 to 1997 and is still a target for console collectors.
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 wildly popular fighting game Street Fighter II for the Master System. Despite the limitations of the console, the game turned out to be fairly well received. The console production was familiar to the Brazilians, which explains the success in that market.
The Sega Master System is still being produced in Brazil. The latest version is the "Master System III Collection". It uses the same design as the North American Master System II (Master System III in Brazil), but is white and comes in three versions: one with 74 games built-in, other with 105 games built-in and another with 112 games built-in on an internal ROM. However, in Brazil it is hard to find the 3D Glasses, the Light Phaser and even cartridges, leaving most Brazilians with only built-in games.
Overall, the SMS was mildly successful worldwide, but failed to capture the Japanese and North American markets. Sega learned from its mistakes and made the succeeding Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis wildly popular in Europe, Brazil, and North America.
Sega Master System game controller was considered extremely durable. However, there were only 2 buttons, one of which additionally performed the function of the traditional "Start" button; The pause button was on the game console itself. The original controllers, like Sega's previous systems, had the cord emerging from the side; at some later point they changed to the now-typical top emerging cord. When the game Street Fighter II was released (in Brazil only), a new six-button model similar to the Sega Mega Drive controller was also released. The current Brazilian Master System consoles come with two of those six-button controllers.
* CPU: 8-bit Zilog Z80A
o 3.54 MHz for PAL/SECAM, 3.57 MHz for NTSC
* Graphics: VDP (Video Display Processor) derived from Texas Instruments TMS9918
o Up to 32 simultaneous colors available (16 for sprites, 16 for background) from a palette of 64 (can also show 64 simultaneous colors using programming tricks)
o Screen resolutions 256×192 and 256×224. PAL/SECAM also supports 256×240
o 8×8 pixel characters, max 488 (due to VRAM space limitation)
o 8×8 or 8×16 pixel sprites, max 64
o Horizontal, diagonal, vertical, and partial screen scrolling
* Sound (PSG): Texas Instruments SN76489
o 4 channel mono sound
o 3 sound generators, 4 octaves each, 1 white noise generator
* Sound (FM): Yamaha YM2413
o 9 channel mono FM sound
o built into Japanese Master System (Sega Mark III)
o supported by certain games only
* ROM: 64 kbit (8 kB) to 2048 kbit (256 kB), depending on built-in game
* Main RAM: 64 kbit (8 kB)
* Video RAM: 128 kbit (16 kB)
* Game Card slot (not available in the Master System II)
* Game Cartridge slot
o Japanese and South Korean consoles use 44-pin cartridges, same shape as Mark I and Mark II
o All other consoles use 50-pin cartridges with a different shape
o The difference in cartridge style is a form of regional lockout
o Cartridge Pinout
* Expansion slot