Though Sega no longer creates consoles today, they certainly had their time in the spotlight with the Sega Genesis. Known as the Mega Drive in Japan and Europe, this 16-bit console competed fiercely with Nintendo’s SNES and was often marketed as the “cooler” console to have in comparison to Nintendo’s “childish” system.
Released in 1988 in Japan, 1989 in North America, and 1990 in Europe, the Genesis beat the SNES to market by two years in every market. It’s biggest rival before the launch of the SNES was the PC Engine (otherwise known as the TurboGrafx-16), but Sega’s ability to court developers gave them a huge game library that dominated the PC Engine’s — the result was Sega gaining huge market share and becoming Nintendo’s main competitor.
The Genesis itself was the successor to Sega’s older Master System, which had enjoyed moderate success in Europe, but not much in Japan or North America. Sega was desperately trying to break into the Japanese and North American markets, and the Genesis finally enabled them to do that — almost. The Genesis never gained huge popularity in Japan, but in North America it gained immense notoriety after the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, the perfect mascot for Sega that could compete with Nintendo’s Mario.
In comparison to the SNES, the two are like night and day — literally. While the SNES was made of light grey plastic with some purple accents, the Genesis was pitch black. Its controller didn’t feature L or R triggers like the SNES, and it only had three buttons compared to the SNES’s four. This made certain games trickier to program for the Genesis due to a lack of input options, and Sega would release a new controller in 1993 that featured six buttons to make up for this.
To extend the life of this 16-bit console well into the 32-bit era, Sega released a couple of advanced peripherals for the device. The first was the Sega CD, which launched in 1991 in Japan, 1992 in North America, and 1993 in North America, riding on the hype surrounding the newest media storage format: CDs. Many games were developed that took advantage of this new format, like Sonic the Hedgehog CD, and the Genesis became an even more capable system.
Then there is the 32X, another add-on to the Sega console which had a much shorter lifespan. Released around the same time as Sega’s next-gen Saturn console, the 32X had the problem of competing with Sega’s own Saturn. The 32X, which featured a new 32-bit processor that made the Genesis significantly more powerful, was released in North America in November of 1994, just months before the Saturn would launch in May of 1995. In Japan, the 32X actually launched in January of 1995, after the Saturn had already been on Japanese shelves since November of 1994. Since games for the 32X were incompatible with the new Saturn console, consumers and developers shied away from the 32X and instead focused on the upcoming Saturn. Sega soon realized their mistake in trying to offer the 32X and Saturn at the same time, and they canceled the 32X in 1996 to focus on the Saturn.
Despite the odd array of peripherals, though, the Genesis was a formidable opponent to the SNES and offered a fantastic array of games including Sonic the Hedgehog, Disney’s Aladdin, Streets of Rage, and Joe Montana Football. In fact, as the Genesis was geared to a more mature audience than the SNES, it often had more violent games which gave it an advantage among many gamers. Mortal Kombat, which was released on both the Genesis and the SNES, wasn’t censored on the Genesis like it was on the SNES, and the Genesis version of the game was reviewed much more highly and sold much better.
And it’s these games that people continue to emulate today. After Sega bowed out of the market due to intense competition from Sony and Nintendo, they began producing software for a wide range of platforms. Many of Sega’s games, including Sonic, live on today on other game consoles and in emulators.
The Sega Genesis is a widely emulated and beloved console thanks to its large selection of games, relatively advanced graphics for its time, and six button controller layout. If you ever owned a Genesis, you know how fun it can be — and now that fabulous console can be emulated on nearly any PC, tablet, or smartphone. The possibilities are endless.