Ah, the Sega Master System. Have you played one before? If so, what are some of your favorite games, and why? Do you have any other interesting stories or experiences to share? To me, it seems that most people my age have plenty of NES memories, but few when it comes to Sega's first US console, if any!
For me, I most certainly grew up a NES kid. My parents had an Atari VCS when I was born that initially provided my exposure to videogames at an early age, but around my fifth birthday I also received a Nintendo Entertainment system. The second I had the system, I was thrust into the midst of the Nintendo-mania that had been sweeping the nation at the time. When I think about it today, I really can't complain about that, as I loved my NES and still do--It is easily one of my favorite systems I've ever had the chance to play. However, I was also fortunate to be able to experience the NES's competition at the time as well. Some of these included platforms such as the Sega Master System and the Atari 7800, to name a couple.
Looking at the the Master System in particular, my earliest memories of it stem from a set of neighbors my age that lived down the street. Despite having a NES myself, their sleek, black system had this allure that was tough to explain. Maybe that's just the feeling I get (and still get today) when I try something I haven't spent much time with and I do not own, but regardless, I had a blast with their Master System. Often times on a Friday or a Saturday I would stay at their house overnight and we would play it until early in the morning. After Burner, OutRun, Alex Kidd, Double Dragon--even the snail game built into the system--I have many, many fond memories of the system and games just from playing it at their house alone.
Eventually--and unfortunately, to a degree--my SMS-bearing neighbors also purchased a NES. They would shortly thereafter sell their Master System, and it would be many years before I'd have the opportunity to even touch one again! Through the SNES however, to the Game Gear, to the Game Boy, to the Genesis, and even into the 32-bit generation with my Sega Saturn, those old memories of the Master System still stuck out like something that just happened days-before. They were always well-cherished, well-remembered memories!
Later down the line in the late '90s I began collecting. Naturally I started with platforms I fondly remembered from being a small child. The Atari 2600 came first (and was the most easily accessible), and the second would be Sega's Master System. The games and accessories were dirt-cheap back then and I would eventually rack up quite a large collection of titles. I was able to relive some of my memories from that young age, and of course I discovered several classics I initially missed out on, many of which I didn't know exist. With that, here are some of what I feel to be stand-out games on the platform, from my personal experience and memories--my perspective:
Alex Kidd in Miracle World/Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars
These were two games I played the most at my neighbor's house. They are both very different from one another, yet we as kids didn't even think twice about this. Similar cases occurred on the NES, including the jump from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario 2, Castlevania to Castlevania II, and The Legend of Zelda to The Adventure of Link--we just enjoyed them for what they were--great games!
Alex Kidd in Miracle World--an early platformer for the system--was very much a stand-out title! It had so much to it: fast or slow-paced gameplay depending on how you prefer to progress; various vehicles to find along the way including a motorcycle and a personal heli powered by a bike; well-designed stages with plenty of items to find; even Janken--aka rock-paper-scissor--matches to play against bosses! It was a great game and set the bar very high for future Master System titles to come and I feel it is a required title to anyone who collects for this system.
Despite playing Alex Kidd's first outing a lot, I actually have the fondest memories of The Lost Stars. It changed the gameplay style quite a bit in favor of a more simplistic, Wonder Boy-like approach. For instance, you now have a timer meter at the top of the screen, various jump heights, and a much heavier focus on platforming and object avoidance (great for speed running!). While different, I never once thought this was a bad thing. That may even be why I enjoyed it so much! Some other things I felt were great are the very large, colorful visuals, the distinct, dream-like stages, and the strange, strange enemies and bosses. It even has some interesting level features that were a lot of fun, including spring boards that propel you high into the air, rope swings that, um, swing you ala-Pitfall, conveyor belts that speed you up or slow you down, hanging rails and bars you can, um, hang on, and elevators you can travel up, often unexpectedly! Another reason I may have enjoyed it so much is I was the only one of my friends that could finish it. This was the case with a lot of games back then, now that I think of it. But anyways, I feel this is a great follow-up to the original, despite being vastly different in its own right. A Master System must-have in my opinion!
Relying on the Light Phazer peripheral, this is another one I played a LOT of at my neighbor's house while very, very young. One of the unique things about it that always stood out to me is when you kill an enemy, their angel flies up the screen. If you are quick enough, you can shoot the angel down for more points! Combine this aspect with a wealth of background objects to destroy, there is hardly ever a moment where there isn't some kind of target to be shot at! The game also incorporates various different types of shooting segments, from your basic Gangster-filled downtown stroll, to car chase scenes, to target practice sessions that gauge what skill level the game will have you play at. I especially remember the wall shooting sections where you had to break through several layers to find a key, the bricks bursting into little pieces as you blasted away with the Light Phaser!
Playing this game more recently, I have to say, this has to be one of THE greatest lightgun shooters up until Sega's own Virtua Cop in the mid '90s. The action is fast and frenetic, something very unlike most other non-arcade light gun shooters of the day, and it holds up very, very well. It also is a great demonstration of the impressive response and accuracy of the Sega Light Phaser, as can be witnessed by the manageable chaotic action on-screen and levels littered with lots of tiny background objects that can be nailed with ease.
There was a campground that my family would drag me to on a regular basis, and the small arcade gameroom they had often housed this cabinet. I fell in love with it fairly quickly, as everything was done so well--the music, the sounds, the smooth visual style, the awesome control with the rotary joysticks. As a kid in pre-internet times though, it was tough to find out what was available on home consoles without seeing it in a store or hearing about it from a friend. Naturally, I would not know there was a home release waiting on the Master System until much later down the line.
By the time I did get to try the sole home, "Reprogrammed by Sega" version of it, I was of course a little disappointed. Thanks to my fond memories of the arcade game however, I still enjoyed it despite the necessary cutbacks. To this day, I think it is still a solid port, and outside of the arcade game, it's essentially a Master System exclusive. The time travel mechanic gives it a deeper feel than other games in the genre, and it definitely holds up as one of the better Ikari Warriors-style console games of the day, in my opinion.
Wonder Boy/Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap
The original Wonder Boy has always been a standout title to me and much like Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars, I have fond memories of it. It had a very unique gameplay style for the time. You could jump, but by holding down the attack button, you could also jump twice as high. Attacking was unique as well, as your character threw hammers at an arc, unlike most other games of the time. Your shots didn't go all the way across the screen, and in order to propel them farther, you had to master jumping and shooting at the same time.
There were also spring boards to propel you high in certain instances, skateboards you could ride, and hidden keys you could find along the way to take you to bonus rounds. Combine all of the above with death around every corner and a time meter that's constantly ticking down, an element that forces you to press on, it can be a very intense game--but in a good, addicting, arcade-like way. Naturally, I would later go on to discover the Adventure Island series on the NES and would become hooked to that as well, but that is another story altogether!
While collecting Master System games, I eventually discovered both SMS follow-ups--Wonderboy in Monster Land and Wonderboy III: The Dragon's Trap. Wonder Boy in Monster Land was interesting for what it was, but when I originally played it, it was so vastly different it felt like a downgrade from the original. I know that's being hypocritical at this point, but this was a case where I did not enjoy the formula change nearly as much as the original. It was slow and plodding compared to the fast-paced gameplay of the original. Certainly a good game in its own right, but I prefer the fast action of the original.
Moving on... Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap really stood out to me. While Monster Land was a halfway-house between linear arcade-platforming and adventure-role playing gameplay, Wonder Boy III was a complete non-linear adventure set in a side-scrolling perspective. I enjoy this combination found in other games, much like Zelda II, Castlevania II, and Ys III: Wanderers From Ys, and it works very well in this game. Everything has been beefed up from the prior game as well and what you see here is some of the best you will experience on the Master System--Huge, colorful character sprites, excellent backgrounds that fit each area perfectly, and a wonderful backing soundtrack to accompany you on your adventure. The multiple character forms with different abilities for each help keep things from getting repetitive, hidden doors and paths lead you to different areas and secret items, and a generally intriguing premise really complements the find-items-and-defeat-bosses-to-unlock-other-areas™ gameplay style the game has. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap is definitely a must-have if you remotely enjoy similar games!
Fantasy Zone/Fantasy Zone II
Fantasy Zone is another quirky-yet-strangely-addicting Master System title that meshed a variety of shooter genres and aspects together. It takes the free-flowing feel of William's Defender, meshes it the cutesy aspect from Konami's Twin Bee, and tosses in item shops with a wide variety of weapons and items to purchase, huge bosses, and a great, catchy soundtrack, to great success. It's a game that's tough to explain, but it's simply a lot of fun to play. Also, much like Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, and Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars, I didn't discover until much later that it was originally an arcade game before coming to the Master System.
Now while I was able to experience Fantasy Zone on the Master System while I was younger, I didn't get to play or even know there was a sequel, Fantasy Zone II, until I began collecting for the system. When I finally did, I was naturally hooked thanks to the nice improvements in just about every way possible. A semi non-linear aspect has been added to the game, giving each stage more depth, and even secret shop areas can be found now for mega-powerful super weapons and permanent life bar increases. If you enjoyed the original Fantasy Zone at all, its sequel is a must-have on the system.
So... if you are still reading...
What are some of your own memories? Have you had experience with the system in the far past? If not, how about more recently? Or maybe you have had a strange curiosity about the system, but haven't gotten around to giving it its due chance? Do you have any personal favorites if you have spent time with it, and if so, why? How about some interesting stories to share? Post a comment below if you have any thoughts you would like to share--I would love to hear your experiences!