Sega Mega Drive
29th October 1988 (Japan), 14th August 1989 (USA), 30th November 1990 (Rest of World)
What's it like today?
In 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). In 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).
Furthermore, 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 masively using new CD-ROM technology to a theoretical maximum of 640MB of data. Only 6 million Mega-CD units were eventually sold.
Mega Drive II
On 23rd April 1993, the Mega Drive II (product ID HAA-2502) was released. This was essentially a 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.
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.
The Multi Mega was a combined Mega Drive and Mega CD in one unit. It was released in 1994, retailing in the UK for approx. £350.
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.
ATGames have also released the world's smallest Megadrive - the Arcade Nano Mini MegaDrive! Measuring just 70x43x20mm it's essentially a keychain, and available in three different colours: Sonic, Columns, and Virtua Fighter II. 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,
Fight or Lose and
Checker, The Columns one comes with
Cross the Road,
Jewel Magic, and
Fish Tank Live. Finally the Virtua Figher II unit comes with Virtua Fighter 2,
Golden Axe III,
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.
Original 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