The Sega Master System, known as the Mark III in its native Japan, was Sega's 8-bit console to rival Nintendo's NES. The company's international operations at the time were rather shambolic (what's changed?), with the machine making little impact in the US (distributed by Tonka of all people), although the reverse situation was true in the UK towards the end of the machine's life (more due to Nintendo's indifference to the European markets than Sega's marketing ability).

A Z80-powered machine, the SMS was significantly more advanced than the NES, boasting a higher resolution, larger palette and better sound. Third-party support was almost non-existent until around 1992, with Sega doggedly preventing other publishers from developing for its machine without getting a cut of the profits (this changed toward the end as a knock-on effect of the success of the Megadrive and Game Gear, especially in Europe).

In the early years (1985-89) the machine relied largely on arcade ports (Golden Axe, Shinobi, After Burner, Out Run, Hang On, Double Dragon, etc.) although prominent original games began to emerge (such as Phantasy Star, Fantasy Zone, and Alex Kidd). The system was frequently accompanied by two popular and reasonably well-supported peripherals : the Light Phaser and the Sega 3D Glasses. The original model Master System had Hang On and (for the gun bundle) Safari Hunt built in (as well as the famous hidden Snail Maze). It could accept games on cartridge or cheap-to-produce 64k cards. The Master System II sported a smaller, sleeker design and dropped the obsolete card slot and introduced new built-in games (usually Alex Kidd In Miracle World).

Perhaps the turning point in the Master System's history was the game Castle of Illusion (starring Mickey Mouse) in 1990. A platform game of awesome quality, it was the first of a number of very polished titles for the machine. Soon, publishers such as Domark, Tekmagik, and US Gold were churning out ports of any game they could acquire the license for (including extremely ambitious ports of 16-bit originated games) .

However, the machine's days were clearly numbered with more and more gamers turning to 16-bit systems after 1990, and the Game Gear proving to be a flash in the pan (the Game Gear and SMS were technically almost identical, so publishers saw them as an easy way to get two titles out for the development cost of one). The machine struggled on in some secondary territories (such as Brazil) for a few more years, but was a spent force by the mid-Nineties.

It has been emulated with a 100% success rate under DOS, for those wishing to wallow in nostalgia.

Re: Clone's WU : My Master System had Hang On, Safari Hunt, and the Snail Maze built in. All you need for a good night in. Provided you are clinically insane.

Want to see what it looks like (and make a stylish paper model)? Try