Remembering the Mega Drive

It seems hard to believe, but the SEGA Mega Drive – aka “Genesis” in North America – will celebrate its 30th birthday next year. It’s true that it wasn’t released in the USA until some six months after it had gone on sale in Japan (and it didn’t arrive in Europe until 1990), but it is still a major landmark for the 16-bit console, and here we remember it.

What I recall most about the Mega Drive now is the quality of graphics and sound – and no waiting. Let me explain…

The 16-bit machine was a major step up from what I played video games on back in the mid-to-late 1980s, namely a ZX Spectrum 128k and, before that, an Acorn Electron; both were home computers that preceded my purchase of the Mega Drive in 1991/1992.

Also, while you had to spend time waiting for a game to load on the Spectrum and the Electron, with the Mega Drive you just plugged the game cartridges in and off you went. Ahem – and minus all that “loading” noise too!

There were so many great games on the Mega Drive as well, although nothing beats the memory of the first time I plugged in Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario was definitely cooler and also a lot faster, and it was certainly one of the reasons Sega did so much better at this time than Nintendo. The competition between the two gaming giants of that era was intense, and that rivalry is often credited in helping to pave the way for the gaming industry we have today.

It was a great time to be a Sega fan, and the sales of the console reflected that. The company sold approximately 30 to 40 million units worldwide, of which 20 million were sold in North America, although Nintendo’s 16-bit rival, the Super NES (or SNES), did win out in Japan.

While the SNES looked rather clunky and drab, the Mega Drive was sleek, rounded, and — for the 1990s —looked almost futuristic. Just like Sonic versus Mario, it was cooler and better, in my view.

And the games lineup? Well, as mentioned, the Mega Drive had some fantastic games, and I remember fondly scouring the pages of Mega Tech every month, as well as Sega Power, to find out about the latest batch of games and see which ones I should shell out the money for.

Streets of Rage has quite rightly been rated as one of the best games for the Mega Drive; it certainly has to be in most people’s top ten. The side-scrolling beat-em game was a delight to play, especially in two-player mode where you could team up, as either Adam Hunter, Axel Stone or Blaze Fielding, and take on Mr X. It was so successful it spawned two sequels, and there are reports that a movie adaptation could be on the way more than 25 years since the original game was first released!

Then there was Desert Strike (or Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf, to give it its full name) where you piloted a helicopter and had to complete various missions. Like Streets of Rage, its success ensured it would return with four additional “Strikes”, although only Jungle Strike was for the Mega Drive.

Of course, there were lots of other games, too: Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II, along with Road Rash, Virtua Racing, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Dune (an early Command and Conquer style game), plus, of course FIFA International, Mortal Kombat, Lemmings and James Pond, to mention just some.  I spent many a happy hour playing those…

And today, as Sega fans and readers of Sega Nerds will know, you can still play a lot of these games because Sega recently released a number of them for mobile phones through its mobile game service, Sega Forever. And, of course, there are also re-released consoles available and compilations released for newer consoles. These developments breathe new life into what are now old games (a phenomenon that is similar in some ways to the growth of other older games online, including for example, classic card games like Texas Hold’em or its variations) and, in turn, bring them to a whole new audience to enjoy.

The legacy lives on.

Happy 30th Sega Mega Drive.

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