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  • Choplifter (Sega Master System)

    Choplifter for the Sega Master System (1986)


    Choplifter is another one of those games with an interesting pedigree. It was originally developed by Broderbund for the Apple II and ported to a number of systems including the Commodore 64, VIC-20, Atari 8-bit computers, and Atari 5200 among others shortly thereafter. Then in 1985 Sega released a remake as an arcade game. This arcade remake was then ported to the NES and Sega Master System in 1986. Graphically enhanced versions were also released for the Atari 7800 and XEGS in 1988 though it isn’t clear to me what the source of those particular ports was.

    I am most familiar with the Commodore 64 version. The Sega Master System version certainly has fancier graphics but it had nearly four years of further development and an arcade port to work with. There is very little variation in gameplay in any of them. Basically, you pilot a helicopter, pick up (rescue) hostages and return them to base while avoiding and destroying enemy tanks and planes. Oh, and be careful not to accidentally shoot or crush the hostages you are trying to rescue. It is a pretty simplistic game but appealing nonetheless. It’s nice to pick up and play for 15 or 30 minutes at a time.

  • Zaxxon 3D (Sega Master System)

    Cover for Zaxxon 3D on the SEGA Master System.


    Although it was forward scrolling as opposed to isometric like its arcade counterpart, Zaxxon 3-D did have the unique attribute of being in 3-D.

    Zaxxon 3-D made use of the “SegaScope” 3-D glasses for the Sega Master System with your view being from behind your ship. While not required to play (the game could be played in 2-D mode), it did add playability to the game. It was much more difficult to gage distances without being in 3-D mode. The 3-D version added much more sense of depth.

    Only six 3-D games were released for the SMS with Zaxxon being one of the earlier titles. The SMS was the first home consoles to provide 3-D gaming and while pretty crude by today’s standards it still worked rather well. Most of the few games released that made use of the SegaScope 3-D glasses made effective use of the 3-D effect. Unfortunately, the glasses are pretty hard to come by and will only work with the original model SMS (not the SMS II).

  • Sega Master System

    Sega Master System


    Many people probably remember the Sega Genesis and its competition with the Super Nintendo, however fewer people probably remember that Sega also had a system that competed with the original Nintendo called the Sega Master System. Although the Sega Master System was technically superior, there are a number of reasons it was never really able to compete.

    The Sega Master System used the Zilog Z80A running at 4 MHZ vs the NES which used a Ricoh NMOS 6502 CPU. This is probably a draw. While the Z80 runs at a faster clock rate, the 6502 gets more done per cycle. However, the SMS had more RAM as the NES (8 kB vs. 2 kB though NES carts often had RAM expansions), more video RAM (16 kB vs. 2 kB), and could display more colors (32 out of a palette of 64 vs. 25 out of 54 for the NES).

    Despite these technical advantages, sales numbers for the SMS were much lower than those for the NES throughout most of the world. In the U.S., it finished third behind the Atari 7800. At the end of the day, this was because of the lack of a reasonable quantity of high quality games and poor advertising.

    There were a number of very good games for the SMS. For example, the Phantasy Star series started life there and there were several great Sega arcade conversions. However, quality releases were few and far between. Not only did Sega struggle with getting third party developers because of Nintendo’s restrictive licensing agreements but Sega apparently had a strict three month deadline for developing most of their own SMS games which often limited quality and/or depth.

    Nintendo had a head start being released nearly three years earlier in Japan than the SMS and nearly a year earlier in North America. This head-start allowed them to obtain the restrictive licensing agreements they were infamous for and also allowed them to establish a market lead that would never be threatened. Sega’s advertising (or lack thereof) didn’t help much either. For a long time, their marketing department was run by two people. It doesn’t matter how great your system is if you don’t put the effort into convincing people. Nintendo did a much better job of this.

    Despite all this, the Sega Master System was a great system with some great games, especially in Europe where it was a bit more popular (and Brazil where it is still popular today). The Sega Game Gear hardware was almost identical to the SMS so it lived on a little while longer in that form as well. There was even a simple adapter that you could get that would allow you to play SMS games on your Game Gear (though you could not do the reverse).