I feel I should apologize to all of you. I meant to take part in the Sega Genesis Week, but had to fly out to my homeland in Newfoundland, Canada for a family emergency. I was in a place with a total population of 1500 (not a typo) and my Fido had no connection. The local video store was a place still selling off their N64 and VHS collection, and so you can imagine internet access was difficult to come by.
So, I missed it. But Polly was nice enough to give me a second shot, hence why (Too Cool for) Sega Genesis Week is here. I wanna thank Polly, and the rest of you for reading this, and I fully encourage any and all comments to my email address.
Now that said, On with the show...
Hi, welcome to (Too Cool For) Sega Genesis Week. There is no need to adjust your web browser, for the entire week, I will control all that you read, see, and hear upon this page. I control the web content. I control the information flow. I can dazzle you with a thousand different links, or bring a single webpage into crystal clarity. You are about to enter...
THE GENESIS LIMITS!
Okay, for those of you who got that joke, hey congrats. You've passed the nerd test. For those scratching their heads or thinking I just made all that up... you really need to watch more old school television you teeny bopping, just-been-weaned punk.
Anyway, for this introduction, I'm going to hit you with a revelation that you may or may not be ready for. You see, by all rights, we shouldn't even be having this week long event. The entire Genesis system and library of games, its industry renovating successes and childhood memories that we all have... it was a fluke. You heard me right, THE SUCCESS OF THE SEGA GENESIS WAS A FLUKE! SEGA GOT LUCKY, AND NOT IN THE SEXUAL CONTEXT OF THAT PHRASE EITHER!
Now, don't think me a Sega hater, it's quite the opposite. I was a Sega fanboy for the longest time (right up until I played five minutes of Final Fantasy III/VI at a friends house that is). I owned the master system, I owned the Genesis... could never find it in me to give the Game Gear a shot though. That system just had no games whatsoever that got me interested. Hey, I even gave the Sega CD a shot. But none of this changes the fact that Sega's ONE and only hour of glory as far as gaming systems go, was an outright fluke. The stars, the industry, and the audience were all in a type of alignment that would never ever again be repeated, and Sega worked the moment for all it was worth, and did a damn good job of it.
Still not convinced huh? Well lets just take a look at Segas track record as far as systems go. What you are about to read is a total factual (as far as I see things) account of Sega's console history, save for the Genesis. We all know how THAT one turned out, and why, so I'm going to cover everything but. What follows will shock you, enrage you, and make you weep. Sega coulda, woulda, and shoulda been a contendah even to this day. So what happened, why was the Genesis the only true moment of console domination that Sega ever knew? read on and discover oh true believer.
The Master System
US Release Date: June/86
Reason for failure
: in 1988 there were like 60 games available compared to the NES's legions. Oh, and the thing wouldn't stop breaking. And the control pads sucked. And the pause button was on the console, and...
Christmas time in 1988. All my friends were getting NES's and enjoying Mario and Zelda, My parents got to the store late and they were all sold out, which meant I ended up with the Master System. It's rather appropriate that the abbreviation of the Master System is a homonym for a neurological disorder, because man I felt like I was crippled for a while with this thing. Everyone of my friends was playing Nintendo, and enjoying the hell out of it. I had MS and was searching for popular well known games, and for friends to trade games with and talk about which MS games were our favorites. The list of people I know to enter into those kinds of exchanges with were few and ever far between.
But you know what, I decided that instead of wallowing in pity that I could only play Kid Icarus and Ninja Gaiden at my friends houses, I would show them. I would enjoy the MS so much that I would make them envious. I would hunt down the coolest, most awesome games and show them that Sega had moxy and spirit.
You know, none of them came around. Ever. And those in my social circle that had Master Systems eventually jumped ship and sold off their systems to fund their quest for an NES. Well, it turned out all right for me I suppose, since they gave me their games as they abandoned Sega for the opportunity to get their grill busted up by Mike Tyson on the NES. I kept the faith and never got rid of my MS. I was playing Afterburner, Wonder Boy, Time Soldiers, Phantasy Star, Spellcaster, and Golden Axe. I was having some great times that were so totally unique. I mean, so what if the NES was getting the WWF games, leaving sega to come up with no-name wrestling titles with made up idiots in spandex for it's audience to play with?
That was twenty years ago. I stuck by the MS for three years. but I gotta be real with ya, Sega just didn't even try with this thing. Oh sure, they released some incredible games. But the system itself was a mess. Nintendo had four buttons on it's controllers to the MS's two. The pause button was on the system, which meant you could not pause in the heat of action, and by the time you got to the button, it was game over. Sega had some sweet light zapper games, but those were a niche genre and were no threat at all to Nintendos dominance at the time. All over the media, celebrities were mentioning nintendo games, and some even playing them, but the MS never got a single mention. Not EVER.
The MS tanked in just about every part of the world, especially in the US and Canada where The NES whupped it so badly that by the end of the decade, the MS was seen checking itself into a support group for battered housewives. This is a far cry from the situation in Europe and Brazil where the MS enjoyed so much success that it lasted until the dawn of the 32-bit era. But you know what, I don't live in those parts of the world and even then it was such a small percentage of the overall gaming audience that I just can't bring myself to call that a success.
I often think of the MS as that awkward little girl from your childhood, the one that is shy, insecure, but has plenty of good qualities that you can see if you just give her a chance and actually talk to her, and play with her at her house. Sadly though, we all know that these shy, insecure types never really do get recognized, and that was what the MS equaled out to. Because sega never took on any third party developers until late in the systems life, because they failed to really plan out the design of the MS, and thus it ended up being a cumbersome system to play, because they built it with such shoddy parts that tales of the master systems breaking down, and controllers ceasing to function, were very common and widespread. The poor little MS just couldn't stand up against the NES juggernaut in any regard, and just ended up forgotten.
The Sega CD
US Release Date: Oct/1992
Reason for failure
: Crappy live action, full motion video overload.
It's 1992. The SNES has been out for a year, and is already rapidly gaining on the Genesis. It has six buttons, four times as many colors, a superior sound chip, Mode 7, Square, and Shigeru Miyamoto. Sega was desperate, it's position in Japan was already eroded so significantly it was now far behind Nintendo. The European market was being far kinder to them, but that did not mean squat since the really big money was to be made in the US, Japan, and Canada. So, Sega tried jumping ahead somewhat. The TurboDuo was a failed competitor that had sense enough to incorporate a CD-ROM element to it's system. Sega decided it would develop an Add-On, A system that when merged with the Genesis would play CD-Rom games that had far greater graphical and sound capabilities. It was actually a halfway decent idea, save for one thing...
Sega did what they usually do, they botched an idea that had great potential.
For most of their early games, they brought out gawd awful, full motion video inspired crap that had pixilated graphics and the kind of actors and special effects that Ed Wood himself would have shunned while making Plan 9 From Outer Space. They eventually got on the ball, and got some developers to put out games that had some decent game play and even ported over a few PC titles. They even reworked Genesis hits like Ecco the Dolphin and Jurassic park to be either completely different or even deeper and cooler in thier CD-Rom format. Oh yeah, and Working Designs got their feet wet with games like Lunar and Vay. But those damn Full Motion Video games just would not stop being made. What could have been a must-have peripheral ended up being a modest success and butt joke of the 16-Bit era.
Granted, it wasn't anywhere near as awful as Johnny Turbo (don't know who he is? I'll get around to him someday) would have you believe, but it was still a huge misstep for Sega. looking back, they should have seen the writing on the wall and accepted that the FMV games were not working, that the future of graphical presentation lay in the rapidly developing and infinitely flexible arena of CGI animated FMV rather than the limited and consistently awful live action FMV that Sega bankrolled for years. If they had come to grips with that reality sooner, rather then needing Square and Capcom with their FMV on the Playstation to utterly crush them, well then they may have had enough street cred left to actually go toe to toe with the Sony Playstation during the 32-bit wars. Sadly, the Sega CD is summed up by paraphrasing a song from one of it's more notorious FMV titles.
"Your system is like a night trap!
You can't escape the night trap!"
The Game Gear
US Release Date: Nov/1991
Reason for failure
: People looking at it and saying "isn't that one of the other portable systems besides the Game Boy"?
In 1989, the Game Boy was released to an unsuspecting world, unleashing the doors for the first time ever on the possibilities of portable gaming consoles. It was a system that was the result of an LCD game (those were pretty damn popular at the time) mating with a cinder block while getting some back door action from an NES control pad. It was a good idea, but in execution the system should not have enjoyed any of the success that it did. I mean, it had only four fucking colors! Who the hell wants to play games in black and white, and sit next to an exploding star just to see what is going on? But Nintendo is Nintendo, folks. They had a good four years worth of NES games to port over onto the poor color blind system. Also at the time developers seemed to have the rather brilliant idea of releasing Game Boy titles from big name franchises like Mario, Mega Man, Metroid, and Kid Icarus that were actually original games exclusive to the Game Boy. Sure, the system was a technical nightmare, but damn it had game. The Game Boy was a huge success against all odds, and it soon inspired others to follow it's example. Atari thought it would try to mount a comeback with the Lynx, the first portable system to feature full color graphics, but that system was doomed to fail for the same reason the Master System did. Little to no third party support. Soon after the Game Gear entered the Arena of console combat to try to make it a three way brawl, but ended up falling at the hands of the little cinder block that could.
Part of the reason the Game Gear ended up being such a failure was that it never really managed to establish it's own identity. The Game Boy had the effin awesome Metroid 2, Mega Man was getting a second lease on life with the Game Boy titles, and Final Fantasy Legend was the pinnacle of handheld role playing for a very long time. Sadly, the Game Gear just never distinguished itself. Ever. It came two years late to the party, and people often referred to it as "that 'other' portable system with color". It was essentially a portable Master System, which isn't really all that awesome a legacy when you think about it. And when one of your more unique titles is called "Surf Ninjas" (I shit you not, it existed. And was based on an actual movie!) you know your system is doomed for mediocrity.
Sure, the Game Gear had some fun ports, but that was it. The Game Boy didn't just feature ports, it had games that were improvements on older classics. To this day, I prefer the first and third Nina Turtles games on the Game boy to the NES ones, and still say that Link's Awakening is just barely a better game then a Link to the Past. Sadly, the Game Gear itself has nothing really to distinguish itself in this manner. It was a portable way to play some Sonic, Jurassic Park and X-men. Nothing more. Sega was so fascinated with colors while planning out this systems timeline that you have to swear they were probably high on one of the most intensely concocted drugs ever. I mean, I can just picture them while reviewing the failings of this system.
: The Colors! The Colors! I see Colors!
: Uh Sir? Perhaps it's time to mention that sales figures for the Game Gear are dropping so hard that the people living at the earths core are complaining about how it's raining GG stats down there?
: But I see colors! Colors... Rrrrrrr.... Goooooowwwwwooood!
: Sir maybe this is a good time to mention that I'm tendering my resignation. Sony called and offered me a job with their offices helping to work on some new project of theirs. I hope this won't lead to any hard feelings.
Sure, that was childish and immature, but entirely true and appropriately descriptive of Sega of America's marketing posture at the time.
Oh, but it still had funny commercials. You gotta give it props for that.
US Release Date: Nov/ 1994
Reason for failure
: Just the kinda system that is born to fail.
Okay, so it's 1994 and the letter X is cool. 32-bit gaming is on the horizon, and 16-bit gaming is in it's twilight. Sega and the SNES are neck and neck, and Sega is still desperate for a definitive edge in this battle. So it conceived yet ANOTHER ADD ON! Look, I respected the Sega CD once it really started to forget about that whole FMV debacle. The Master System Converter was a nice thought. But THIS was nothing but a travesty. A blight. An abomination and outright assault on proper gaming conduct. It was a mild steroid for the Genesis, that upped graphic potential and nothing else. It allowed a near arcade perfect version of Mortal Kombat II to be made, and this game was a year old by the time the 32-X hit. That was it! Whatever madman designed this mockery of a system, I hope he never worked in video games ever again, and is rotting in whatever hellhole that Johnny Turbo ended up in.
Dammit, I'd rather face a Night Trap gaming marathon, interrupted by brief glimpses of Sewer Shark, then reflect one syllable further on this atrocity.
US Release Date: Nov/95
Reason for failure
: Sega's marketing and development team at the time were a bunch of crack snorting idiots.
It was the year of history. It was the year of legends. It was the year dreams died. It was the year Sony's dreams began. It was the year of technological advancement. And the year when we lost everything. The year is 1995. The system; is the Sega Saturn.
Failure. Utter, unnecessary, irredeemable, epic, failure. The final nail in the coffin and the straw that broke the camels back. Writing this piece has been depressing to me, and this is the zenith of that descent. Dante had his inferno, and Sega had the Saturn. Frankly, I'd rather wax poetic with metaphistacles anyday than be reminded of the Saturn.
Sega had faced failure after failure in the past few years. The Game Gear tanked, the Sega CD was a mild success at best, and a FMV laded catastrophe at worst. As for the 32-X; it was an atrocity of biblical proportions (any and all resemblance to the story of the 32-X and the story of the tower of Babel are completely, effin, sustainable and provable in a court of my own imagination). 16-bit gaming had begun it's unavoidable decline, and the Sony Playstation and N64 loom on the horizon.
But wait, Sega was actually taking notes during those days. One of the things they noted was that what had put them ahead of the system wars for a while, was the fact that the Genesis came out so many years ahead of the SNES. So following that rather simple logic, Sega began the blighted pondering of... "So maybe, if we set up the proper lightning rod, lightning can strike twice". Lo, so it unfolded that in what was one of the most bungled and mishandled stunts ever seen in all my years of video gaming, perhaps topped only by the travesty that was Daikatana, they released the Sega Saturn a full year ahead of schedule.
Idiots. Morons. Bunglers. FOOLS!
Ahem. Let me be a bit more descriptive. They released a system that was largely unfinished, untested, unrefined unto a consuming public with no fanfare whatsoever. People didn't know it was out until weeks later. Kids would walk into a Toys R Us and see this thing called a Saturn next to the SNES and wonder what it was. no one knew Sega was going to do that. Not even the people developing games for it at the time. There was absolutely jack shit available when it launched. There was like two games, one of em Virtua Fighter, the other was Sega Rally.
This had the adverse effect of all gaming developers for that particular period being encouraged to work double-time on their projects, for a system that itself, was a complex beast to work for since it was launched prematurely. When fresh games did hit, they were buggy, and played like utter slop. The Playstation 2 took a lot of early flak for having a sub-par overall launch lineup, the Saturns first gen games were ten times more atrocious.
It was at this point that people just gave up on Sega. Developers got fed up with the Saturn since it was apparently complex, costly, and a real bastard to develop a decent game for that system, and flocked to the Playstation. Gamers were had become jaded by the vacant attention whore, has-been that Sega had turned into and gave up hoping for better days. All but the most loyal of Sega fans stuck around. When FFVII touched down in 1997, all I could picture was the Playstation ripping the guts out of the Saturn in a twisted Mortal Kombat fatality parody, preceded only by the definitive cry of "Finish HIM"! Oh yes, it was just that bad.
Later games would try to bring redemption to the saturn. Panzer Dragoon, Dragon Force, and Shining Force III all portrayed the utter brilliance we all expected from the one time mighty video gaming giant. But it was too little, too late for the system, and for Sega itself.
US Release Date: Oct/95
It's 1995. We are sorry to report that the Genesis is DEAD!
DEAD! DEAD! DEAD!
Sega has left the field of battle, and embraced the 32-bit era. Yet, as a parting salvo to the still successful SNES, they decided to make their parting shot the Nomad. A portable Genesis system that used so much power that even the most powerful batteries had the half-life of your average mayfly.
Wasted Potential. That was the nomad. Once again, what could have been something grand was destroyed through lousy design. Sega hoped the gimmick of a portable, color, 16-bit system would sell above the battery issue. Sadly, no such luck. What should have been a tribute to a great system ends up yet another footnote in a litany of failure. Nuff said.
US Release Date Sept/99
Reason For Failure
: Too little. Too late. Too tragic.
You know... sometimes a system can do everything right. Get the support, the games, the design, the marketing, EVERYTHING. They can do it all just right, and yet still fail terribly.
Looking back at the start of this list, if the Master System was an awkward girl that you grew up with, then the Genesis would have been her blossoming into a lovely teen that you harbored fantasies for, but never acted on. The Saturn would be the post-high school era where she gets involved with drugs and shady agents promising her stardom and leaving her with nothing. And the Dreamcast... the Dreamcast would be that fateful era when she has cleaned herself up and you are both reunited, free to finally act upon years of restrained romantic pinings that erupt into a tumultuous and wonderfully illicit affair that is sadly, too wonderful to last.
It was 1999 when I was reunited with the world of Sega consoles. I was working in the game industry at the time, for the competitor of the local EB. I remember that september well. My boss was often ranting about why EB downstairs was kicking our asses in terms of Dreamcast Sales. For a month, all we heard was a string of profanity and habitual accosting from him as he accused us as being the reason our store was hurting in terms of sales compared to the store just down stairs in the mall. After work, when he was gone and left us to clean up, we would shut the gates at closing time and dick around playing Dreamcast games. That Dreamcast was the only reason I stayed there at that store. For hours after closing time it would be just me and my starlet, spending much quality time together. Oh sure, I would go home to my playstation... very late and filled with excuses. We had lived together for months, but she was not being too good to me at the time. She was in her FFVIII phase, and that was a time I was thinking about separating from her. I never told her about my nights of torrid passion with the Dreamcast, but I think she knew. I'd come home smelling of Sonic, or humming the theme song from Skies of Arcadia, or reflexively jotting down notes for Soul Caliber strategies and she would look at me in the most peculiar way. It wasn't until Tenchu 2 and Spiderman hit that things between us settled down, and I stopped stepping out on her as much.
I still kept tabs on the Dreamcast though, I couldn't forget about her. She was too special and gave me something no other system had. I began to fear for her when Soul Reaver 2 was announced and that it was revealed a dreamcast version would not be made. Support for my lovely starlet began to fade... and I knew what was in store for her. I loved her, but it was not meant to be for her, or for us. Long term success would elude her. As for me, being the tawdry man I am, made weak with deep rooted gaming needs, crawled back in bed with my PlayStation 2 and never thought about the Dreamcast again.
Let it be said, the a more deftly executed system launch and follow-through have never been executed better than the Dreamcast. It was a system that by all rights, should have succeeded. It had the variety of content, the system was a snap to develop for, and Sega even kiss and made up with some of the developers that got fed up with their stunts back during the fiasco that was the Sega Saturn.
But as anyone who has ever watched Babylon 5 knows, "the past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us". Sega's future during the 16-bit era frightened the company so much, they began a series of ill-concieved publicity stunts and released sub-par systems and add-ons after another. Upon the Dreamcast's release, gamers were confused. Should they give Sega another chance? Sure, they had Soul Caliber and Sonic Adventure, but this was still Sega afterall. And the past, well the past didn't so much tempt Sega as it caught up to them. Too many gamers swore off of Sega systems after the Saturn. Sega's once massive fortune had been eroded after years of bad marketing decisions, and Sony just had too much of a stranglehold on the market to be fully thwarted in the short term. All of these factors combined into a giant, pseudo-Voltron esque juggernaut of fate that ensured that the Dreamcast was only a mild success. Sega couldn't keep dishing out the financial support, and gamers support while technically strong, was just not strong enough. Sega called off it's losses, and closed the book on its tenure as a video game developer.
Release Date Oct/08
So, and the lesson from this sad, sordid history lesson is, the Genesis was a fluke. A system born under a good sign from a cursed and misguided hardware developer. Sega has no one else but them selves to blame for where they are today. As a software developer they have few peers (in a historical context). And it is their software, their games that we are here to salute. There will be guest appearances all week from games from the Master System, and join me here on Friday when we wrap things up on and discuss what I believe is the Genesis's finest series ever. So I hope you enjoy (Too Cool For) Sega Genesis Week.. We shouldn't be here, it was luck and fate that made the Genesis successful. And a system like her there has not been seen since, and we should stand up and honor her voyages, for she was truly stellar.