History Of The Sega Genesis
Sega did pretty well with the Sega Master System in Europe and somewhat ok in Japan. In America, the Master System flat out failed. I think that many American gamers seen it as nothing more than a company who just wants to take advantage of the revival of video gaming, paved down by Nintendo. Overall, the NES posessed 90% of the world market and Master System just had 10% despite an all around superiority in technical specs (which proves that specs don't make the system) and somehow Sega decided to release a 16 bit machine.
The Genesis (or Mega Drive as it is called anywhere outside of North America) came out in 1989. The specs were comparable with NEC's Turbo Grafx. Launching with some of Sega's arcade hit titles like Space Harrier, Afterburner, Alex Kidd, and Altered Beast, Sega did moderately well in America but the NES still won with a dominating force all around the world. Japan did not care much for the Megadrive but Europe did. In fact, most of the 1989 Genesis/Megadrive sales came from Europe, not America or Japan. This system was seen as just an alternative. Due to the no third party support outside of NES, Sega had to make games to survive.
However Sega was smart and requested third parties to not release the games but give Sega the rights just to make their games on the Genesis. Sega would program the game onto the Genesis and they would not develop or publish it. Capcom was the main supporter and in 1990, Sega released Strider Hiryu and Ghouls n' Ghosts for Genesis. With the announcement of Super Nintendo, many people said Genesis/Mega Drive would be crippled. Sega needed something new than just reprogrammed games from the NES as well as their own arcade games. They needed a mascot to lead the way.
A mascot was a good idea. For the Sega Master System, it was hard to determine what Sega's unofficial mascot is: Alex Kidd or Wonderboy. Nope, Sega was going to make a mascot that was hopefully to counter Nintendo's Super Mario World as well as Super Mario Brothers 3. Looking at Yuji Naka, which programmed the great Phantasy Star for Master System in 1988, he had an idea for a mascot. The name is Sonic the Hedgehog.
Unlike Mario, Sonic was all about speed. The hedgehog, an unlikely animal for a character of such speed, was blue and sported shoes. Sonic the Hedgehog was also all about the non linear aspects of the level design. Unlike Mario which went directly left to right, Sonic the Hedgehog has multiple paths to explore and could allow you to find new things as you play (if you explore well enough) The game however borrowed several play mechanics from Mario. Instead of coins, there were rings. Get 100 rings and you get a bonus life. If you replace "rings" with "coins", thats just like Mario. You also get to fight the same boss over and over again.
Would Sonic the Hedgehog be big enough for Sega to pull through the SNES machine? To hype Sonic the Hedgehog up, Yuji Naka and Sega coined the phrase Blast Processing. Even though it was a bunch of BS to hype the game up, anticipation for this game increased. The graphics were more advanced than the small amount of games out and were coming out for the Genesis. November 1990 was the month when Sonic the Hedgehog was released. Sega spent millions in advertising to make this game known.
Sonic the Hedgehog did a lot better than what Sega thought it would do. In fact, by the end of 1990, over 1.5 million copies of the game were sold and sold 1:1 with Genesis systems that seemed to have flown off of the shelves. Sega in early 1991 packaged Sonic the Hedgehog in with every Genesis. Thousands into millions of these combo packs were sold. So Sega's Sonic was a success. Naturally, Yuji Naka announced Sonic the Hedgehog 2. About 15-20 programmers who worked on Sonic the Hedgehog sectioned them off as the Sonic Team, a division created mainly for Sonic the Hedgehog games.
Sega's software sales skyrocketed. Sega decided to re-release some of their 1989 and 1990 efforts with success. Third parties "suddenly" became interested in this machine. Its $199 price point plus $35-55 per game was an attractive price. SNES was coming out at $249 and games up to $70. No surprise to see interest in Genesis. In Japan though, regardless of a lower price point, they still refused to buy Megadrive machines. Sonic the Hedgehog barely made an imprint in the gaming world. In Europe, people ate Sonic up like free candy. Well, at least Sega was a success in two territories.
Sonic vs. Mario was the debate. Would the blue hedgehog fend off the Italian plumber that was responsible for the success of the NES? The answer was yes. When Super Mario World was released, Sega put in a large media blitz on Sonic the Hedgehog. This was done by more advertising of the Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis package, releasing information on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (which was probably the most anticipated game in the gaming world at the time), and releasing their handheld machine, the Game Gear, with Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sega did well even though SNES greatly outsold the Genesis for the holiday season. However Sega held their own. A grand total of 3.2 million Sonic the Hedgehog copies were sold either separately or in the Genesis bundle. With the third party games that came out, Genesis was going to be in lower priority according to third parties than Genesis. In 1992, Sega would have a spectacular year that probably was the year that Sega would win the 16 bit generation and leave SNES behind, biting the dust...at least in America and Europe.
The first battle of 1992 was Capcom and Street Fighter II. The hit arcade game was planned to be on Super Nintendo exclusively as a way to counterattack Sega. Did it work? Nope. Capcom decided to make a Genesis and Turbo Grafx port. Nintendo was furious and threatened to no longer send them any more development kits as well as not approving any of their games, so they could not get released. Sega said this was unfair and it was like tug of war and Capcom was the rope. Despite the nice money offers both provided, Capcom set the rules.
Sega and Nintendo would get identical versions. NEC would get Street Fighter II Championship Edition later but this was a big victory for Sega. It proved that third parties could not simply be bullied by Nintendo anymore. With this incentive in mind, Sega realized that third parties did care about the machine. There were two games made by Sega in 1992 that would be huge: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (of course!) and Streets of Rage 2.
Streets of Rage 2 was a sequel to a beat 'em up that sported crappy graphics (for its time) yet the gameplay matched that of Capcom's Final Fight. If this didn't stimulate gamers with Sonic 2 and Streets of Rage 2, nothing will. Sure enough, in Fall 1992, these two games were let out and the sales were of wildfire. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 outsold Streets of Rage 2 but these two games received a million sales instantly. Sonic 2 was HUGE. Smashing Super Mario Kart in the ground and even beating out the wonderful Street Fighter II Plus that game out for it, Sonic was not a fad but a way of gaming.
Sega proudly announced that they managed to get 10 million Genesis consoles sold in 1992 along with at least 3 million copies of Sonic 2 sold along with almost 2 million for Streets of Rage 2. Street Fighter II Plus sold over a million but Genesis was here to stay and it was walking all over Super Nintendo. Yet in Japan, Super Famicom dominated. It was a given that Megadrive would not have a chance of success and the opposite is applied in Europe, where Nintendo was a very distant 2nd place. Could Sega even have the chance to win?
Well, 1992 was also the year that Sega released the Sega CD. With the revolution of CD based systems featuring cheaper storage mediums that can hold up to 32 times the amount of the biggest Genesis cartridge, the Sega CD was thought to be a wise choice seeing as how Nintendo and Sony were supposedly busy making the SNES CD. However the system was faced with several problems, that of being the high price of the add-on, which was $199. At the same time, there was Sonic CD, which even today, several people considers it to be the best Sonic game made.
Sega advertised the Sega CD pretty well. However despite a small flow of games coming out by the Genesis supporters, it was hard to convince the gaming public that the Sega CD was the add-on to own. By the end of 1993, practically every developer gave up on the Sega CD. Even though 2-3 million units were sold in America and around 5 million worldwide, the Sega CD was considered a failure. This was just a slight problem Sega had with the Genesis and Sega quickly recovered. Sonic CD was the top selling game and the only Sega game to gather a million sales
Sega did not want to end Sonic there. Sega announced that Sonic 3 and a secret Sonic project was also in the works that did special things with some of their games they released. A hidden message but Sega was in the works of another Sonic game as well but a side story. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine took Compile's great puzzle game Puyo Puyo and transformed the game into a Sonic side story game. The game sold moderately. The Sega made Sonic side story game was none other than Sonic Spinball.
Sega had strict royalty policies. The licensing fees were not as high as what Nintendo charged but all Sega really asked for was the Sega logo at the beginning of every game. This was like a boot code of sorts. A few rebellious developers like Psygnosis and Konami refused to pay Sega any royalties and therefore refused to put the Sega logo at the beginning of each game. Sega changed the booting code that worked only when the Sega logo was on. Hence the release of the Genesis in 1993. There was no price increase and games that Konami and Psygnosis made didn't work. No games anymore worked unless they had the Sega logo at the beginning. The downside was that there were no headphone jacks in the Genesis 2.
One thing that the Genesis 2 could only support was the Sega channel. One of the things Sega used their popular household name leverage to use was the Sega channel. The Sega channel was a service where you'd watch certain TV shows (all of it about Sega of course) and also allowed you to download games onto a Genesis cartridge. Some games like Awesome Possum were exclusive games on the Sega channel. The Sega channel was a success that lasted for a couple years and slowly died. It fizzled out by the end of 1994.
When most people thought about Sega, they thought Sonic the Hedgehog. In 1993, Sega decided to go all out and release Sonic the Hedgehog retail items including shoes, t-shirts, and toys. Sega cut a deal with ABC to release 13 initial episodes of a Sonic the Hedgehog TV show. This mascot was a pain to Nintendo and finding a solution was not just another Mario game, they had some tricks up their sleeves. In 1993, Sega made a big break and this time this was with the stance on media violence.
The controversy Midway's Mortal Kombat brought was gigantic. When bringing this to consoles, Nintendo would not allow blood in their games (despite the occasional blood seen in Street Fighter II) and instead was replaced by white sweat. Sega, which seen this, decided that gamers would rather see the whole blood and gore than an edited version. So they told Midway to bring it with blood and gore intact. Like Sega thought, sales of Mortal Kombat wasted the SNES version and also resulted in millions more systems sold. Sega had it great. Their machine had a giant success and Nintendo was scrounging for games to counter Sega.
Nintendo found their answer to Sega and that was buying a small British developer named Rareware. They had a special chip that could create advanced graphics using the SNES hardware. Two games were announced only for SNES: Donkey Kong Country, a platformer game featuring a character made by Nintendo in 1981, and Killer Instinct, a Mortal Kombat clone. Sega couldn't compete with great graphics like that. They just hoped that Sonic 3 and their secret Sonic project would pull through. Sales for Genesis hardware and software was beginning to decline in 1994.
Why? Many considered the Genesis "outdated" compared to SNES, which was beginning to show really powerful games despite a slower CPU. Sonic 3 would bring back gamers for sure but it seemed like more attention was given to these two great Rareware projects. The secret project was revealed at E3 1994. The secret Sonic project was Sonic and Knuckles, headed by an American team with guidance from Yuji Naka. This game was shown off separately, with Sonic 3 to make Sonic 3 and Knuckles, and with Sonic 2 to make Sonic 2 and Knuckles. The hype was big thanks in part to the Knuckles character (which was unknown pretty much) and the mystical logo which was Sonic and Knuckles in black and white.
Sega at E3 also revealed yet another add-on for the Genesis. The name was the Sega 32X. The 32X appeared to just be made so Sega Model 1 and basic polygon games could be played on the machine. It also could play every Genesis game, some with enhanced colors for those with the hardware in mind. When showing the first polygon fighter game ever, Virtua Fighter, on 32X, many wondered about the price. By now, the Genesis went for $129 and people knew in their minds that the 32X was going to cost more than the system itself. Anticipation of this was low and third party support was low as well.
For 1994 was the year of Sonic 3 and Knuckles but the 32X was going to be for the people who loved Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing in the arcades. Sure enough in Fall 1994, Sonic 3 as well as Sonic and Knuckles was released. Sonic 3's sales were much higher of Sonic and Knuckles but Sega didn't seem to show much of the 32X. Some people thought it was delayed into 1995 so the price could be cheaper. Since Sega even went as far as saying that the 32X was a hold off for the Sega Saturn, the true Genesis successor, many thought that 32X was canned in favor of the Saturn, which was due to come out in 1995.
However surprisingly, the 32X came out in December 21, 1994 for $169. Many critics pointed out that this add-on had no chance and the fact that it pretty much came at the slowest week in holiday sales reflected back as poor decision making for Sega. Sega still tried to make a showing of Sega CD and released several pamphlets at stores carrying the Genesis and Sega products called the "Sega Buffet" which featured pictures of Genesis, Sega CD, and Sega 32X games and products.
Sega 32X brought little interest. Sega was ridiculed for releasing such stupid add-ons. With the Saturn coming up, many thought that Sega may not even be suited to handle the Saturn and the Genesis market, which was still alive and well as Sonic 3 alone in 1994 received over 3 million sales. In Japan in late 1994, the Saturn came out with a $478 price tag. Ouch. Pundits estimated that the machine would retail for $399. Sega also began to decline the amount of 32X games they were announcing and making. So it was true; 32X was just a holdoff.
That murdered what little 32X life there was left. Many just suggested that Sega should delay the Saturn until fall 1995 so they can continue to supply games to over 15 million people who owned a Genesis in America. Japan took a shining to the Saturn and the amount of Genesis games by Sega greatly declined. So much that Sega of America pretty much had to depend on their own, small programming staff as well as their subsidiaries. Games announced for the Genesis in general were slowing down. Sonic 3 as well as Sonic and Knuckles sold extremely well but so did the SNES and it had the potential to beat the Genesis out in 1995 because Sonic Team didn't have a Sonic game planned for 1995 yet Rareware announced Donkey Kong Country 2. Sega had to think quick.
Enter Blue Sky Software. Blue Sky had produced a couple Genesis games but one game in the works, Vectorman, was a game Sega thought looked great compared to the Genesis games in graphics. Plus it seemed like the games that were coming didn't look good enough compared to the games Nintendo was boasting for 1995 releases. Sega gave Blue Sky millions of dollars to work with to perfect Vectorman and have it out by the holiday season of 1995.
Surprising retailers, Sega released the Sega Saturn in May 9, 1995 for $399. Releasing just a couple of games including a shoddy port of Virtua Fighter (which it was considered that Virtua Fighter for the 32X looked better) Sega blundered the launch and only a few thousand units were sold. By now, Sega was surrounded by flames by the gaming press and the media in general. Sega was arrogant, just like Nintendo was with the Super Nintendo, and what Sony is with the PlayStation 2. The only problem is that Sega released the system at a bad time of the year (as summer is the slowest gaming season of the year), released a handful games, and retailer ideologies that angered many retailers into just dropping the Saturn altogether.
Vectorman came out in fall 1995 and with a great marketing campaign, Sega had a winner. The sales were not as high as Donkey Kong Country 2 but it proved that Sega still had it and they weren't going to drop Genesis for the Saturn. It was perceived as good for Genesis gamers but bad for Saturn gamers as very few games came out. The lack of interest by third parties resulted in most Japanese great games staying in Japan (Dead or Alive, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, etc)
Sega also created blunder #4. Sega of America developed a Game Gear successor. Since the Game Gear (which is pretty much a success) died down, Sega apparently thought the next logical step was building the hardware similar to the Genesis. So similar that it was just a portable Genesis. Here came the Nomad. The Game Gear's main problem was the extremely short battery life, which had 6 AA batteries with just less than 8 hours of battery life. Did Sega learn their lesson on this one? Nope. In fact, it was 6 AA batteries for less than 3 hours of battery life. At a $149 price point, this had no chance of success seeing as how the Game Boy was under $100 and had hundreds of games out for it, usually at cheaper prices.
Sega is left weakened. Sega CD was a small rock on the road of gaming success that Sega just kicked out of the way. Sega 32X was a boulder in the road but Sega could get by but with limited comfort and ease. The Saturn was a gigantic rock with two small ways to slither by and the Nomad pretty much covered one of the ways. Sega's other way is the Genesis, which was dying down. SNES was enjoying its prime and most people considered 1994 to be Sega's prime. All Sega would be doing is wrapping up the Genesis in 1996.
First off, Vectorman, which exceeded a million sales proved that there was just a little bit of life left. So Blue Sky announced Vectorman 2, which would have enhanced graphics to tackle Donkey Kong Country 3 for SNES, which was in the works despite the Nintendo 64. Yuji Naka and the Sonic Team were working on NiGHTS for Saturn. Sega of America was handling Sonic X-Treme for the Saturn. What was Sega of Europe doing? Well, Travelers Tales, which played a minor role in games for the Genesis, was approved to make a Sonic game for the Genesis as in Europe, the Megadrive was going strong.
The final result was Sonic 3D Blast. A game focused more on exploration and gathering than running through loops. It wasn't really 3D, it was isometric 3D. Gaming magazines nailed it for being too slow, too boring, and above all an overall crappy experience. Sonic 3D Blast may have been the only Genesis Sonic game to not sell a million copies. SNES captured nearly four times the market than the Genesis in 1996 at the time. Would Vectorman 2 bring the Genesis to a graceful death or a disgraceful death?
Vectorman 2 came out around the same time as Vectorman 1 did the year before and was a lot better in every aspect. With an even more aggressive marketing campaign, Vectorman 2 did very well. It exceeded a million copies but this would be the last Genesis game to sell a million copies. A small handful of third parties would continue supporting the 20+ million userbase with games into 1997. Sega quietly released Virtua Fighter 2 for the Genesis. Sega pretty much stopped development on the Genesis thereafter.
However were third parties stopping development? Not really. Even though there were just small amounts of games coming out, games like Madden NFL '98 came out. Sega halted any more manufacturing of the Genesis in March 1997. The Saturn was practically dead and Sega stopped making Nomad units a long time ago. It was then that determined that Sega overall had a 63% marketshare in America and over 75% in Europe. Genesis won despite the add-ons that did more harm to Sega than good and the Nomad that nobody wanted.
Popularity of 16 bit consoles was low but many people complained about Sega not making any more Genesis units. Therefore, Sega gave the green light to Majesco, which was going to transform the Genesis and re-release it. Since Sega released the Genesis 2 in 1993, the name of the redesigned Genesis would be none other than the Genesis 3. Making it smaller, sleeker, and at a $29 price point, the Genesis 3 was made for Genesis collectors and for those gamers who missed out on the Genesis from 1989-1996. Majesco did not think too far ahead by doing the redesign because there also was no support for Sega CD.
Sega allowed special cartridges, mainly used by EA, to be made, just as long as the developers paid Sega their royalties. Genesis 3 was very inflexible and pretty much accepted only the standard size cartridges. Leaving several games (up to 100 games) useless on the Genesis 3. The Genesis 3 was continued to be made into 1998. Sega still manufactured Genesis games although very slowly 1998.
Since Sega won the Genesis era, like many people calling any video game system a Nintendo for those who grew up with it, those who grew up with the Genesis called it a Sega. Even when watching Austin Powers, the word "Sega" implied a Genesis unit. With Sonic 3 being the top seller with 5.4 million units of software sold, many people today are locked in a discussion between whether SNES won the 16 bit era or Sega won. Nintendo fans obviously say SNES and Sega fans obviously say Genesis. Upon closer inspection, the SNES outsold Genesis in 1995 and 1996 but that does not mean that they did from 1991-1994. Plus Sega had a two year head start on Nintendo. Most people consider it a tie despite the marketshare values that were given in 1998. Hardly a console had such a close race between two consoles.
In 1999, Hasbro released Frogger for Genesis. This game is the final game released anywhere that was licensed and approved by Sega. Of course, the sales were low despite a $9.99 standard price for the game. Only a couple of games were released in 1998. Ever since Frogger came out, no more Genesis games have been legally made. Now, you can get the Genesis on your Dreamcast. In April 2000, Sega along with a few developers allowed you to download Megadrive and PC Engine games in Japan. By paying a small fee, the game was downloaded to the Dreamcast's RAM. Sega has announced the Sega Smash Pack, to be bundled with new Dreamcast units that contains Genesis classics (the first one has 10 Genesis classics, Virtua Cop 2, and Sega Swirl) and there will be future chapters. So in a sense, Genesis is not dead yet. With the success of the machine, Sega will probably re-release the Genesis games in some way or form for many years to come. -Shin Egg Robo X