Adding an extra button to the controller seemed pretty advanced for the time, but let’s face it. They were doubling the number of available buttons on the controller, which opened up a world of possibilities. Jumping and punching or kicking at the same time was an amazing feat for a home system.
On top of that, I was stepping back into the console side of things, which meant no crazy load times or sound effects as with the ZX Spectrum cassette tapes. Additionally, what we had at this point was what I consider to be a huge leap forward on the screen. This included much clearer and higher quality sound and music.
It goes without saying that the graphics improved along with the colours and screen resolution. But improved appearance and sound mean nothing if you haven’t got a reliable frame rate to match. With the Sega Master System, I was in luck. The majority of the games seemed to run very smoothly. As expected, I was hooked.
Anyway, here’s where things get a little hazy. I’ve owned both a Nintendo Entertainment System and a Sega Master System, but my memory is failing me spectacularly in that I’m not sure which one I owned first! So since chronology is out the window at this point, we’ll begin with Sega’s effort at home gaming.
Sega Master System
The Sega Master System followed the same trend as Atari with their 2600 model. They each introduced a scaled-down version of the console to save space and the games would be in cartridge form. The Master System II featured one of two built-in games. These were Alex Kidd in Miracle World or Sonic the Hedgehog. Mine featured the big-eared, big-fisted guy instead of the genetically modified speedster.
With the former, we’ll start to cover the games I played on the Sega Master System. A Platformer featuring some block punching from the hero, this was a fun little game with happy-sounding music to accompany you while playing.
The story behind the game is that Alex Kidd travels through Miracle World searching for his brother Prince Egle, who has been captured by a big bad guy called Janken the Great. This same bad guy has also taken over the peaceful land of Radaxian.
I didn’t really care about the story at that time. I was having too much fun jumping and punching stuff. This was quite a tough game with no health bar. It’s three lives and one hit from an enemy to lose. On top of that, there’s no save system either.
However, you can collect cash from certain blocks that’ll allow you to buy some useful power-ups throughout the game, even a motorbike, which can certainly reduce level times.
Another creative aspect of this game was fighting the end-of-level bosses, not through combat but games of “Rock Paper Scissors” or “Janken pon” in Japanese. Victory in two out of three rounds would result in the boss being vanquished and Alex continuing on his merry way.
Alex Kidd was supposed to be Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Super Mario, but bafflingly, despite the variation in levels, power-ups and the overall fun you could have while playing, he was never able to reach the heights of the portly plumber’s popularity. Sega’s true contender for Mario’s crown would arrive in a blaze of spiky blue fury, but that’s a story for another time.
The next title that really stood out to me on the Master System was Golvellius: Valley of Doom. This game was an action role-playing game very much in the style of the NES Legend of Zelda, although I didn’t actually know that at the time as I didn’t own a Nintendo console at that point.
You control the character Kelesis as he explores the Valley of Doom, tracking down crystals, trying to rescue a kidnapped princess and eventually looking to stop the titular baddie, Golvellius. Well, that’s an original plot that’s never been done before or since (It really has, a LOT). But distracting me from the rather standard plot was a very well-put-together game.
You had the colourful top down view for your standard questing, but it changed things up with side-scrolling dungeons that would throw (sometimes literally) many different types of monsters that you’d need to vanquish to continue your journey. It was a large game for its time, offering many hours of monster-hunting, world-saving goodness.
Speaking of saving, because of the size of Golvellius, there’s a password system so that you can return to the game at any point. At the same time, it was a bit of a pain to have to write down those passwords. As a result, I don’t think I ever actually completed this game, but I’ve promised myself I will … one day … hopefully. That’s the problem with choices. Sometimes you can have too many.
On to my third title in my Master System flashback. The game is Speedball 2. Before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way. This game contains violence. Indeed, it rewards violence, but guess what? I’ve played violent games and watched violent films since I was a small child, and I’ve never committed a crime in my life. So for those who are trying to find a link between violent games and violent acts, you won’t find anything here, but I digress.
Speedball 2 is a top down futuristic sport, which involves two opposing teams of nine players each looking to throw a solid steel ball into their opponent’s goal. It’s simple enough to pick up and play, and only uses one button on the controller, but it was just fun to jump into. That single button would allow you to throw, catch, punch and slide kick around the arena.
You could collect various power-ups, including freezing your opponents for a period of time, immediately teleporting the ball to your centre-forward or even super boost your team’s stats. The part of the arena I always aimed for was the multiplier ramp. If you could use it twice and keep hold of the ball, you’d get double points for every action, whether scoring a goal or injuring an opponent.
In the Season mode, you would have access to funds to boost various skills on your team. It was a very detailed section as you could purchase a boost for an individual skill on a single player, or you could boost the defence in a particular skill. If you had enough funds, you could even dabble in a transfer market to buy one or two star players.
To acquire the funds in the first place, you would get a win bonus for victory in your matches, plus you could also pick up coins during the match to bolster your bank balance.
So much content to play with back then was an amazing thing. This game has such a cult following that attempts have been made to bring this title up to date. Unfortunately, I’ve found the remakes and reboots to be sorely lacking.
We’ve now arrived at the end of our Sega Master System adventure. It was a fine platform for its time and brought us some entertaining games along with one or two hidden gems. In the next edition, I’ll be attempting to describe what all the fuss was about as the Nintendo Entertainment System was unleashed on the public.
In the meantime, let us know in the comments and on social media about your experiences with the Sega Master System.
Article written by Richard Camfield
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