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Encyclopedia > Master System
Sega Master System

The Sega Master System (SMS for short) (Japanese: マスターシステム), was an 8-bit cartridge-based gaming console manufactured by Sega.

For information on the earlier Japanese version of the console, see SG-1000 Mark III.



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. The mascot of the system was Alex Kidd.

The system was redesigned and was sold in the United States under the name Sega Master System in June 1985, one year after the Nintendo Entertainment System was released. The console sold for $200. The Master System was then released in other places, including a second release in Japan in 1987 under its new name.

Though the Master System was more technically advanced in some ways 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 may have had an impact as well; the agreement stated, in effect, that developers would produce games for the NES only. 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. Hayou 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 console and had no idea on earth what to do about it.

In 1990, Sega was having success with its Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis, and they 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. 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 production ceased. The SMS didn't do too well in Japan either, since the Nintendo Family Computer, which the Japanese Master System competed with, dominated the Japanese market.

In Europe, the Sega Master System was marketed by Sega in many different countries, including a few which Nintendo wasn't even selling consoles to. The Europeans garnered lots of third party support for the SMS, and it outdid the NES in that market. Nintendo was forced to get licensing for some popular SMS titles in that market. The Master System was supported until 1996 in that market. It was finally discontinued so Sega could concentrate on the Sega Saturn.

The SMS didn't do as well as the NES in Australia, but the defeat wasn't as crushing as it was in North America.

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 for the Brazilians. The characters in the said games had been modified so that they appealed to Brazilian 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 was where the first several Sonic the Hedgehog Game Gear titles started out in. 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.

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 pretty good. The console production was familiar to the Brazilians, which explains the success in that market. During the Master System's final days in Brazil, games had been marketed for small children.

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 two versions: one with 74 games built-in and another with 105 games built-in on an internal ROM. But in Brazil it's hard to find the 3D Goggles, the Light Phaser Pistol and even the cartridge, leaving Brazilians only with the built-in games.

Overall, the SMS was mildly successful worldwide, but failed to capture the Japanese and North American markets. Sega would learn from its mistakes and made the Sega Mega Drive wildly popular in Europe and Latin America, and the North American equivalent, the Sega Genesis, popular in that market. The failure of the SMS meant the success of the Mega Drive and Genesis.


Hang-On Alex Kidd in Miracle World After Burner Fantasy Zone II
Sega (1985) Sega (1986) Sega (1987) Sega (1987)
Wonder Boy in Monster Land Populous Sonic the Hedgehog Marble Madness
Sega (1988) TecMagik (1991) Sega (1991) Tengen (1992)

More screenshots can be found in the Screenshot Gallery.


Game cartridges for Japanese Sega Mark III (left), US/European Sega Master System (right).
  • 3546893Hz for PAL/SECAM, 3579545Hz for NTSC
  • Up to 32 simultaneous colors available from a palette of 64 (can also show 64 simultaneous colors using programming tricks)
  • Screen resolutions 256x192 and 256x224. PAL/SECAM also supports 256x240
  • 8x8 pixel characters, max 488 (due to VRAM space limitation)
  • 8x8 or 8x16 pixel sprites, max 64
  • Horizontal, diagonal, vertical, and partial screen scrolling
  • Sound (PSG): Texas Instruments SN76489
  • 4 channel mono sound
  • 3 sound generators, 4 octaves each, 1 white noise generator
  • 9 channel mono FM sound
  • built into Japanese Master System
  • available as plug-in module for Mark III
  • supported by certain games only
  • ROM: 64 Kbits (8KB) to 2048 Kbits (256KB), depending on built-in game
  • Main RAM: 64 Kbits (8KB)
  • Video RAM: 128 Kbits (16KB)
  • Game Card slot (Mark III and Master System 1 only)
  • Game Cartridge slot
  • Japanese consoles use 44-pin cartridges, same shape as Mark I and Mark II
  • Non-Japanese consoles use 50-pin cartridges with a different shape
  • The difference in cartridge style is a form of regional lockout
  • Expansion slot

Notable games

  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World - Integrated into one version of the console
  • Hang-On - Integrated into one version of the console
  • Kenseiden (剣聖伝)
  • Out Run
  • Phantasy Star
  • Safari Hunt - Integrated into one version of the console
  • Shinobi
  • Snail Maze - A simple maze game that was included on the system BIOS. It was accessed by pressing and holding Up and buttons 1 and 2 after turning on the system without a game loaded.
  • Sonic Chaos
  • Sonic the Hedgehog - Integrated into one version of the console
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  • Teddy Boy
  • Wonder Boy
  • Wonder Boy in Monster Land
  • Wonder Boy in Monster World
  • Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap


Much of the data for this article was taken from the SMS Console Database (http://www.consoledatabase.com/consoleinfo/segamastersystem/) site.

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Sega Master System - Game-Machines.com (468 words)
The Sega Master System was designed to be better than the NES—and according to the hardware specifications, it was.
In Europe, especially in countries that Nintendo had not entered, the Master System was supported until 1996 when it was put aside so that Sega could focus on the Saturn.
Sega Master System II In 1990, the Sega Genesis had been released and established, Sega aquired the marketing rights for the Master System back from Tonka.
Sega Master System - SHIT (2084 words)
The system was redesigned and was sold in the United States under the name Sega Master System in June 1986, one year after the Nintendo Entertainment System was released.
The Master System was then released in other places, including a second release in Japan in 1987 under its new name.
Sega Master System II In what seems to be a tradition with game systems, Sega of America released the Sega Master System II in 1990 in order to increase its current user base via inexpensive (though downscaled) hardware.
  More results at FactBites »



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