Home > Video Games > This week in gaming history (25 Years Later): Nintendo Entertainment System vs. Sega Master System.

This week in gaming history (25 Years Later): Nintendo Entertainment System vs. Sega Master System.

October 13, 2010

Nintendo Entertainment System on Paul Gale Network
Nintendo Entertainment System

On October 18th, 1985 Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America (2 years and 4 months after its Japanese counterpart, “Famicom” came out in Japan) and was Nintendo’s first video game console.

Sega Master System on Paul Gale Network
Sega Master System

On October 20th, 1985 Sega released the Sega Master System in Japan (with a North American release coming the following June) and was Sega’s successor to the SG-1000.

The NES was the first video game system for most gamers around today that lived during the system’s amazing 10 year run in the United States. That’s right, despite this old guy coming out in ’85, it lasted well throughout the Super Nintendo’s lifetime up until one year before the Nintendo 64 debuted in 1996. If you think that’s impressive, know that it didn’t get discontinued completely in Japan until 2003! What kind of machine was this that could still be supported in some way almost 20 years later? Why some say…”the best ever”.

Then you’ve got the Sega Master System, which off the bat, might surprise a lot of you to know that it is not Sega’s first video game console. That title actually goes to the SG-1000. Fun fact here: both Sega’s SG-1000 and Nintendo’s Famicom launched in Japan on July 15th, 1983…just 8 days after I was born. Anyways, the SMS had two years worth of a technological improvement on the NES despite coming out less than a year later in US (the Japanese release dates show you why) and you could tell in its games which had twice the colors on screen as any Nintendo game. This wouldn’t mean too much in the end however…

As history has shown us time and time again in the video game industry, the best graphics, sound, anti-aliasing capabilities, and techno-babble don’t always lead to the best or most successful system. Part of what made the NES so powerful of a force was its frachsies. This thing was the birthplace of or the launching platform for where the following got popular: Super Mario Bros., SMB 2&3, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior (Quest), Mega Man, Castlevania, Kid Icarus, Ghosts n’ Goblins, Donkey Kong, Contra, Battletoads, Punch-Out!!, Double Dragon, Kirby, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, Metal Gear, Tecmo Bowl, Duck Hunt, Bionic Commando, Duck Tales, Bomberman, and so much more.

Now in past “VS.” articles I’ve written, “Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo” and “Sony PlayStation vs. Nintendo 64”, I usually don’t write out that many games to describe what a system’s legacy was based off of, but I felt the need to in this case, because I look at that list today and almost every single one is a franchise that’s still relevant. To me, that’s very impressive and for gamers old enough now to have been gaming in NES’ prime, it’s hard to not have a certain respect for it.

To be fair though, Sega Master System did have its own classics like Alex Kidd, AK’s sequels, a port of Genesis’ Sonic the Hedgehog, Astro Warrior, Safari Hunt, Phantasy Star, Golden Axe Warrior, Zillion, Wonder Boy, Psycho Fox, and some arcade titles like Outrun, After Burner, and Space Harrier. You also have to give Sega credit for coming up with 3D glasses for the Sega Master System, something that is all the rage in 2010 with 3DS this and 3DTV that. These glasses lens’ would rapidly strobe back and forth to match the flickering effect on screen in the select several games that made use of them, to simulate a 3D environment. Forward thinking is something always admirable in my opinion.

Even with that list of games and some of the 3rd party titles that made their way from NES to SMS with a graphical boost, the fact that they were with Nintendo first kept them closer tied to Big N than Sega. Also, aside from a few of those unique, Sega Master System-original titles, how many are still around today? Furthermore, how many went on to spawn multi-million selling sequels and become epic franchises? Not too many. It’s just hard to compare when Super Mario Bros. 3 sells more copies (18 million) than you have systems in people’s homes.

Hopefully you’ve read my other system “war” articles and if you have, you know something about what “supporting your system”, taking sides, being a fanboy, etc. meant during the 4th and 5th generation of gaming. During this 3rd generation however, there wasn’t too much of a war going on and that’s because the NES sold approximately 62 million units world wide, while the SMS sold around 13 million. Do not feel like this generation of gaming wasn’t an important battle though, because it was in more ways than one.

For starters, due truthfully in large to the NES…the video game market in 1985 completely turned around the Video Game Crash of 1983 in North America. Before Nintendo brought their system out to western shores, the video game industry was as good as dead here. If anything, this battle was of “new gamers” vs. “everyone else”. It was important that quality entertainment was coming out of these two machines, because it showed that playing Nintendo or Sega was actually cool. Cheesy now, but hip-then commercials of The Legend of Zelda were important because it showed that a new era was here and that video games were back. It almost makes you want to forget about gaming before 1985 in US and just start from this point, but in the long run it’s important to remember the past so you never repeat the same mistakes again.

The second important thing about this battle, that despite lopsided in favor of NES, was Sega’s effort in giving it all they had, because that made Nintendo better. It was then Nintendo’s dominance that drove Sega to try harder. It was finally the evolution of both of these companies throughout this generation that made 3rd party developers go, “wow, we have two machines that have different strengths and weeknesses…let’s play to the advantages of both” and that’s why we got all of the good games we did. Likewise, thanks to these old timers, their successors, the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis and every system war duo or trio since has had such bitter, all out rivalries with incredibly steep competition…ALWAYS trying to 1up the other.

I think that we could honestly due without the harmful “flaming” of someone for liking a system, but at least part of it…perhaps the mature part of defending your system intelligently is quite entertaining. These discussions oftentimes provide a good read and I wouldn’t want that part any other way.

This was also my first generation as a gamer, as I first started playing between ’85 and ’87 and became absolutely hooked for life officially in 1989. These memories go way back and take me to a much simpler time in life and so I cherish this era and respect it greatly. Here’s to a very Happy 25th Birthday to both the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System. I hope that kids out there whom never owned either platform get a chance to play some of the classics on Wii’s Virtual Console or go really hardcore and buy these antiques off Amazon or somewhere.

To Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System, may your legacies last forever!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

VR-4nic November 21, 2010 at 12:28 am

Even though I’m a little disappointed with Nintendo and the Wii I do respect what it has done for gaming in bring games to a much wider group of people. To think back to the NES is for me to go back to some of the best times in my childhood and I cant imagin my life without this console. It has made me a gamer for life and even though I may not be that into the Wii more so the PS3 this Gen, I always get Nintendo’s console each Generation for those classic games of my childhood. Here’s to you Nintendo Thank For All The Wonderful Times through my 20+ years of gaming!

Osiris November 21, 2010 at 5:25 am

Nintendo ROCKS

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