Review by BigCj34

"So good they named the opening book of the Bible after it. No, wait a minute..."

Let's get this out of the way, despite my pun in the opening title, I will be referring to the Genesis as the Mega Drive, being a European gamer an' all. After a lukewarm success with the Master System, while sales in North America were dismal, success mainly came from Europe and Brazil and sold a cool 10 million units.

The Mega Drive was first released in Japan in 1988 and in North America in 1989 (the reason being it was called the Genesis as due to Sega unable to being able to secure legal rights for the Mega Drive) and eventually hit Europe in 1990. The Mega Drive was the second 16-bit console of its time, competing against the Turbografx 16 and eventually winning over it, it held the upper hand of sales in the early 1990's, partly due to the constant delays of the SNES and the release of the blockbuster Sonic the Hedgehog release, plus following a successful sequel in 1992. The Mega Drive also had the backing of Sega's System 16 arcade engine, making ports of arcade games a breeze to give a wider variety of games.

The Mega Drive thrived up until 1993, gaining a peak 65% market share, aggressive advertising and a library of great games particularly Golden Axe, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and many others.. The Mega Drive was aimed at the older market and hence much violence was used in the Mega Drive games, particularly Mortal Kombat where plenty of blood was imminent while the release of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991 sent the Mega Drive sales through the roof as its killerapp, and a year later a sequel was released. A redesigned Mega Drive II followed in 1993 which was smaller and had some features cut to reduce production costs. Sega announced the Sega Channel cable TV subscription based service, where games could be downloaded through the use of an adapter and saw a good level of success with a few million subscribers, but the Mega Drive's demise ironically came through the release of the hardware add-ons, the Mega CD (Sega CD to the Americans) and the 32X.

The Mega CD was a CD based (duh!) add-on, where the low cost and high capacity of the media gave opportunity for larger games, CD audio, and FMV's, although colours were pretty much the same as before. However, this failed to convince gamers, with grainy FMV's and long load times in some games, but ultimately a lack of original titles and a high price failed to make it worthwhile enough to attract gamers.

The 32X was an expansion put in the cartridge slot and offered enhanced 3D graphics, as a cheaper upgrade to the Mega Drive for the next generation instead of splashing out for a new system, but failed due to poor marketing, disputes between Sega of Japan and Sega of America and pressure into getting it released, and as a consequence many games were substandard, glitchy and failed to make full use of the system, while the true next-gen Saturn, PlayStation and N64 were around the corner. The console was doomed to obsolescence in 1996 as the Saturn had been introduced and offered no-backward compatibility, frustrating gamers who'd spent money on the upgrade. Personally I think had the Mega CD and 32X been one system altogether, this could've certainly been an advantage over Nintendo, although costs could've been too steep. The Mega Drive gave it's advantage to Nintendo by 1994 plummeting to a 35% market share, and production officially ended in 1997.

The first Mega Drive I had (wasn't specifically mine, I was only 3) was way back in 1993 as a Christmas present, in the form of an Amstrad Mega PC, essentially a computer that worked as a Mega Drive as well, and started off with 3 games, which today I have about 30 in the collection. The Mega Drive makes one of the best retro consoles worth collecting, particularly from it's fighting games and Sonic, and a large number of sports games, although you'd do better playing a modern one, bar some of the classics. The games themselves are relatively cheap, as is the console so you can collect retro games from the long gone days (or expand your existing collection) without breaking the wallet.

At first glance, the Mega Drive does look a bit like a tacky piece of kit that could be an integral part of any loft. The black glossy finish on it does look a bit 1982, more featherweight than a paperweight and games tend to crash if you plug in or remove the controller, or even move the console. However, that oh-so-retro console was the home to some of the best games out there, from Alex Kidd, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe to the home classics of Sonic, the quirky Comix Zone, the bloody Mortal Kombat, there's games for everyone.

The initial Mega Drive was about the size of an old Playstation, roughly 26x18cm, while the Mega Drive 2 measured about 22x20cm. The original Mega Drive included a headphone port for stereo sound, but was removed with the Mega Drive 2 and provided stereo sound through the TV cable. The original Mega Drive had it's vent on the side, along with a power switch, but instead is a power button on the Mega Drive 2 with the vent at the back.

The Mega Drive is powered by a Motoral 68000 CPU, running at 8mhz, with a 5 mhz Z80 secondary CPU for Master System games, has a palette of 64 colours from a palette of 512 colours and can produce a maximum 320x240 screen resolution. While 64 colours looks quite limited, the colours produced appeared to be rather bright and many games made full use of a limited palette of colours, and certainly didn't look that bad. A lot of games made full use of the capabilities, and looked quite impressive, for example Sonic 3D was an isometric 3D rendition of Sonic, while reviews were mixed for the gameplay the graphics looked bright and colourful, with impressive sprites giving the full 3D effect. The EA sports FIFA series also looked quite impressive, with realistic pitch effects, animations and even a crowd that moved somewhat, while Virtua Racing included an SVP chip in the cartridge to give basic 3D graphics, although polygons were texture-less, reduced in number and had a tendency to slow down.

The sound chip is an 8-mhz Yamaha synthesiser, with stereo sound and 6 midi channels, with a secondary Texas Instruments sound chip for wave sound and for the Master System sound output. The sound on the Mega Drive was certainly nothing dazzling, but sounds light-years better than the sound output from the SMS, that quite frankly sounded like a radio blowing bubbles. The MIDI doesn't sound much like any real musical instrument, but that didn't mean it was enough to produce some pretty decent soundtracks on quite a lot of games. Wave output is of course quite limited, at best you'd get some voice samples but that usually was it.

The controllers used the same interface as an old computer serial mouse, as a 9-pin connector, but is darn right annoying to change the controller without crashing the system. The controllers are relatively simple, with 3 buttons, a D-pad and a start button and relatively friendly on the hands. A 6-button pad was released, but it's hard to accommodate games so they fit 3-button AND 6-button needs, the only criticism I find with Mega Drive controllers is their tendency to become stiff, such as the D-pad and one of the buttons on a couple of my pads. The Mega Drive has two controller ports, but 4-player can work by getting a controller hub, while certain games such as Micro Machines had two ports built into the cartridge, which is rather cool but can easily crash the game if you're not careful.

The main reason to have a Mega Drive was the games available for it. While the Mega Drive was technically inferior than the SNES (unlike the 8-bit era when the SMS upped the NES specs), however a good number of cross-platform games ended up being better on the Mega Drive, partly due to their more liberal allowances in games content, such as violence. While the third party support failed with the Master System partly due to Nintendo's exclusive agreements, it was a lot better this time with the Mega Drive although it still lagged behind Nintendo.

Unfortunately, the SNES had the upper hand in the RPG department, and despite RPG's such as Phantasy Star and Shining Force, Soleil (Crusader of centy in NA) was a favourite of mine, the SNES had Final Fantasy, Super Mario RPG, Secret of Mana from the backing of Squaresoft, Enix, etc. proved that the SNES was the console for RPG's. Action games such as Golden Axe and Streets of Rage were big hits, plenty of sports games such as NFL and NBA and the all-famous Sensible Soccer for the soccer fans. The Mega Drive had an endless supply of platformers, be it the various Disney ones out there, Cool Spot, Bubsy, Sonic or the racers such as Outrun, Virtua racing (despite the high price, it'll cost you a fiver nowadays), Micro Machines, Super Monaco GP and plenty of other games, proves that the Mega Drive was certainly no slacker for many game departments.

The Mega Drive was certainly a console to get back then, and is certainly a great console to collect now. There was no owning a SNES and an MD, you either owned one or the other. You can't own a fat plumber and a blue hedgehog, it's being greedy. The Mega Drive is cheaper to buy, and while the add-ons were poor, the console itself prevails and is the place to start for the ultimate retro collection. It just looks more retro than the SNES.

Graphics Limited colour palette, inferior than the SNES but many games certainly used it to it's full. 8/10
Sound Not realistic, but sounds solid and made way to some decent soundtracks. 8/10
Games library Quiet on the RPG front, but masses of sports, action, platforming and racers. Many games weren't censored either. 9/10
Multiplayer 4 player through the addition of an adapter, nothing less than the SNES 8/10
Add-ons Sega Channel was a hit but obviously discontinued now, while the Mega CD and 32X were absolute blunders, and only worth finding if you want to play the few decent games out for them. 3/10
Controllers Simple 3 button pads, while limited gameplay in some aspects, did the job fine for many. 8/10
Build Quality Feels cheap, the RF adapter is dodgy on mine now (although that doesn't count) and does crash when moving, inserting controller etc, but at least the console hasn't broke down on me yet. 5/10

Overall the Mega Drive was a great console back then (despite ‘innovations') and is certainly no piece of junk to throw out. It's probably the best retro console to collect, as many of the games are still viable today and can turn out to be good fun against your mates. Even if you don't want to have another console hooked up to your TV, you can get an emulator or the various game anthologies and remakes that exist but nothing beats the real McCoy, and the games pretty cheap to buy, decent games cost around GBP5 and absolutely no more than a tenner. Do a Nintendon't, and get it!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/26/06

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