Sega Mega Drive
29th October 1988 (Japan), 14th August 1989 (USA), 30th November 1990 (Rest of World)
What's it like today?
On October 29th 1988 Sega introduced their fifth home console to the Japanese market as the successor to the extremely popular Sega Master System. Named the "Mega Drive" (to represent superiority and speed). On 14th August 1989 it was released in the US, with the marketing name "Sega Genesis" (as there were trademark issues with the use of the term "Mega Drive" over there).
Sega branded its new console heavily on its 16-bit architecture, as it was, at the time, a significant and well known evolution from the aging 8-bit computer (and console) market. This didn't seem to hit the mark in year one, with Sega selling just 400,000 units in Japan.
Sega were keen to retain backward compatibility with the Master System - a shrewd move in order to provide a smooth upgrade path for existing Sega Master System users who could continue playing their old games on the new console, while benefiting from the new technology. This was achieved by including a Zilog Z80 CPU in the Mega Drive alongside the main Motorola 68000 CPU. Because the older Master System carts were a different size, owners of the Mega Drive needed to buy an adapter called the Power Base Converter which sat between the Mega Drive cartridge slot and the Master System cartridge in order to use Master System cartridges.
In the market the Mega Drive was in direct competition with the NEC Turbo-Grafx-16, released a year earlier in Japan as the "PC Engine", the Nintendo NES, to which it had superior graphics and sound capabilities, and eventually with [two years later] the Nintendo SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System). By staggering the release of the Mega Drive, initially to the strong Japanese market and following later with the US and European markets meant that many games were already available for sale for the western consumer at launch. Despite this, however, sales were below par as Sega struggled to battle against Nintendo who had a well established brand name and market share. Due to a price drop and aggressive marketing campaigns, by mid-to-late 1990 buyers who had been patiently waiting for Nintendo's SNES were finally drawn to the buy the Sega instead.
The Mega Drive is still reknowned for being Sega's most successful home games console. Famous for introducing the world to games characters including Sonic the Hedgehog (in 1991), a number of games have been re-released in various forms for newer consoles. In 2009, IGN named the Mega Drive as the 5th greatest video game console out of 25 competitors.
In early 1991, Sega announced the Mega-CD (Sega-CD in USA). This was an add-on that was designed to expand the capacity of games, by providing a faster CPU, more memory, an additional PCM sound chip, and some enhanced graphics capabilities. Whilst the Mega Drive ran games from 1MB or 2MB cartridges, the Mega-CD extended this massively using new CD-ROM technology to a theoretical maximum of 640MB of data. With this new capacity, games developers saw the opportunity to introduce Full-Motion Video (FMV) into their games. Other developers re-released older Mega Drive games but with more levels or added FMV sequences and music.
Launched at the Tokyo Toy Show in 1991, it was later released on December 1st of that same year for Y49,800 (quite a high price at the time). The U.S. market announced their Sega-CD in March 1992 at the CES in Chicago, with a shipping date of November 1992. It actually shipped one month early with a price tag of $299. In Europe, the Mega-CD debuted in March 1993 for £270.
The Mega-CD kept Sega ahead of the technology curve compared to Nintendo who was losing a lot of market share, and throughout 1991-1993 Sega Mega Drive sales really took off. Adoption of the CD add-on however, was rather low with only 6 million Mega-CD units eventually sold. This was subsequently blamed on several factors - the high puchase price was one, but also in 1993 the issue of violence in computer games arose (especially Night Trap), causing a lot of media attention. Fearing a consumer backlash, many stores refused to stock these games. To combat this, Sega introduced the first classifications on video games through the formation of the Videogame Ratings Council (VRC).
On 23rd April 1993, the Mega Drive II (product ID HAA-2502) was released.
This was essentially a cost-reduced / cosmetic overhaul, with physically smaller dimensions (42.5 cms x 27 cms x 8.5 cms) and weighing just 1.8 kg, it was still the same old Mega Drive under the hood. The major difference on the new model was the removal of the headphone jack in favour of stereo output through a redesigned 9-pin A/V port. Furthermore the audio mixing circuitry was modified resulting in a noticeably different quality audio output.
Sega also remodelled the Mega-CD to suit the revised shape of the console it sat under, although both CD and console revisions are pin-compatible, and so are interchangeable with each other.
Multi Mega / CDX
The Multi Mega was a combined Mega Drive, Mega-CD and personal CD player all in one unit. Released in 1994 it retailed in the UK for approx. £350. In the U.S. it was branded the Sega Genesis CDX. In Brazil it was called Multi Mega CDX.
The personal CD player part of it could be run on batteries, whilst use of it in Mega Drive/Mega-CD form required an AC adapter (the same one used in the Mega Drive II). The Multi Mega was packaged with a single 6-button controller and AV or RF cable depending on the market. In North America it was bundled with the Sega Classics Arcade Collection which contained 5 titles, Sonic CD and Ecco the Dolphin. In Brazil it was bundled with Night Trap. It was not released in Japan.
Production of the Multi Mega ceased when shipping of the Sega 32X began. The Multi Mega is not designed to be used with the 32X but is fully compatible. It is also compatible with the Power Base Converter to give the ability to play Sega Master System cartridges.
At the 1994 CES (Consumer Electronics Show), Sega presented the 32X - designed to be a graphically upgraded version of the Mega Drive, it came with two faster 32-bit CPUs, allowing for enhanced graphics capabilities. In the end it was sold as an add-on peripheral to the existing Mega Drive, Unfortunately though, it was late to the market, as Sega had already announced their own successor console, the Saturn, to be released the following year. This dented sales of Mega Drive and the 32X add-on, with just 665,000 units sold by the end of 1994. The price tag went from $159 quickly down to $99 after a few months, to just $19.95 towards the end of the inventory to clear stock.
Officially Licensed and Unlicensed Clones
In 2008, Blaze (www.segaretro.net - **UPDATE May 2012: old site has been replaced with this new one: www.blazeeurope.com **) released a handheld version of the Mega Drive, which contained 20 classic Mega Drive games, including Sonic and Knuckles, Golden Axe, Revenge of Shinobi, and Altered Beast. It had a list price of £29.99. Click here for a review of the Blaze.
They followed up shortly afterwards with a dual-controller model of the same, to take advantage of the numerous 2-player games released for the original Mega Drive.
Also available from certain online dealers from China is the Pocket MD (also sometimes referred to as the MD-360). This appears to resemble the Sony PSP, but sells for $28.85, and plays Megadrive/Genesis cartridges.
In 2010, AtGames released the world's smallest Megadrive - the Arcade Nano Mini MegaDrive! Measuring just 70x43x20mm it's essentially a keychain, and was available in three different colours: Sonic (light blue), Columns (orange), and Virtua Fighter II (white). They all come with a different games collection built-in. The Sonic one (blue) contains Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Spinball, Sonic 3D Blast, Alex Kidd, Air Hockey, Naval Power, Cannon, Fight or Lose and Checker, The Columns one comes with Columns III, Flicky, Arrow Flash, Dr Robotnik's, Cross the Road, Plumbing Contest, Maze 2010, Jewel Magic, and Fish Tank Live. Finally the Virtua Figher II unit comes with Virtua Fighter 2, Shinobi III, Golden Axe, Golden Axe III, Alien Storm, Snake, Spider, Bottle Taps Race, Bomber and Hexagonos. They only support single player, and sadly they also provide access to the various game levels off their game menus (some may like this feature, however). For just £8.89 (RRP is £14.99) you get the device, battery, and USB-to-A/V cable. Genesis versions are also available (same games though). Click here for a review. Later editions of this were launched including Marshmallow (pink with cyan buttons), Altered Beast (black), Sonic Blast (green), and Casino Games (yellow).
In 2017, AtGames launched a new range of officially licensed Atari and SEGA consoles, including the SEGA Genesis Classic Game Console and the Ultimate Portable Game Player. Both of these are value-priced editions, with the former featuring 81 built-in games. The latter came with a different set of games, totalling 85. Both sold for $59.99.
At the same time, AtGames also released the Sega Genesis Flashback, an all-new design reminiscent of the original console, and featuring 85 built-in games as well as an integrated cartridge slot allowing you to play your own games. Built-in games included the Sonic™ series, Mortal Kombat ™series, Phantasy Star™ series, and Shining Force™ series. Two wireless controllers, styled after the Sega Genesis originals, are included, as well as two legacy controller ports for optional wired gamepads. Other new features for the Sega Genesis Flashback include 720p HDMI output, scan line filtering, and a save/pause/rewind feature for every game. It sold for $79.99. GameSpot ran a less-than-favorable review of this unit in July 2017.
Original Mega Drive/Genesis Launch Titles
Space Harrier II - Japan, 29th October 1988
Super Thunder Blade - Japan, 29th October 1988
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle - USA, 14th August 1989
Altered Beast- USA, 14th August 1989
Ghouls 'n' Ghosts- USA, 14th August 1989
Golden Axe- USA, 14th August 1989
Last Battle- USA, 14th August 1989
Space Harrier II- USA, 14th August 1989
Super Thunder Blade- USA, 14th August 1989
Thunder Force II- USA, 14th August 1989
Tommy Lasorda Baseball- USA, 14th August 1989