Review by Prion

"The Rise And Fall of the SEGA Genesis: 1989 to 1998"

The Sega Genesis, released in North America in September 1989, was the first true 16-bit console. It was the most sophisticated console at the time, far more advanced than the 8-bit NES, which back then was almost ubiquitous. And although the difference wasn't as obvious, it was also superior to the NEC TurboGrpfx 16, which to be accurate was not a ''real'' 16-bit system (it was actually two 8-bit chips). For the first time ever, the Genesis made it possible to play games at home that were similar to those found at the arcades. Although it was called the ''Sega Genesis'' in North America, it was known as the ''Megadrive'' everywhere else in the world. Overall, the Genesis was the early 90's most successful console, and produced some of the best games at the time, but ultimately it kept losing ground to the Super Nintendo until it was finally surpassed by the mid 90's. However, the Genesis does have, and probably will always have, the title of being the console that had the most accessories and customizations ever made.

Hardware (8/10):
The first generation models of Genesis' looked quite slick, with a smooth glossy black surface and the words ''16 Bit'' and ''High Definition Graphics'' proudly displayed on top of the machine. It featured a stereo headphone jack in the front, with a volume slider that allowed a gamer to easily adjust the volume to a level that they desired. Although people weren't aware of it's use at the time, it also featured an expansion port on the bottom-right side of the console that would eventually be used to connect with the Sega CD. The Genesis joystick, unlike the NES joystick, was quite comfortable to hold in your hands. It was smooth, black, croissant-shaped, and featured 3 action buttons (A, B, C) plus a start button. Later on, due to the popularity of 2D fighting games such as Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, Sega released a 6-button version of their joystick (with the buttons A B C at the bottom, and X Y Z at the top). The new joystick was quite good but not all games took advantage of the extra buttons.

Sega also released a light gun called ''The Menacer''. It was considered more accurate than the SNES ''bazooka'' light gun. It also had the advantage that you could take off pieces and ''build'' the gun into different shapes, such as a rifle, handgun, etc. Unfortunately it was abandoned almost as soon as it was released, since there were very few games that were ever released for it.

Sega also released a service called the Sega Channel. With a modem, people could download Sega games onto their consoles through the television cable. The Sega Channel was an excellent idea, and those who had it loved it a lot, but it was offered late in the declining stages of Genesis' life cycle, and the service was discontinued in 1998.

Other devices created for the Genesis included the X-Band Modem (to play games with your friends over phone lines), the Activator (senses your body movements and converts them into the game), Batter Up (a baseball bat with sensors for sports games), Tee Vee Golf (a golf club with sensors for golf games), and the Master Deck (to play old Sega Master System Games). But none of these devices had much success.

In order to cut costs, Sega re-designed their console in 1993 and released a new version that was cheaper for them to produce. Unfortunately, the new version no longer had the headphone jack, used a push power button instead of a sliding switch to turn it on, was slightly smaller in size, and generally speaking looked ''cheaper'' than the original model. But performance wise, it was no different than the original Sega Genesis. A few years later, Sega re-designed once again their Genesis and released a new version called the ''Genesis 3'' that came with the 6-button joystick. However unlike the 2nd generation Genesis, the Genesis 3 was incompatible with the Sega CD and 32X (explained below) since it did not have an expansion port.

The 16-bit console generation saw some of the fiercest competition of consoles of all times. In the early 90's, Sega was on top, but Nintendo was climbing quite fast since the SNES had more colors and featured mode 7 capabilities. Making the mistake of betting that Full Motion Video would be the next ''thing'' for video games, Sega released the Sega CD in November 1992. Its hardware consisted of a Motorola 68000 CPU running at 12.5 MHz in parallel with the Genesis' 7.67 MHz CPU. Besides making FMV possible, it had graphical capabilities that were equal to the much-desired SNES Mode 7. It also added an extra 8 sound channels to the ones already available on the Genesis. But unfortunately it did not improve on the Genesis' limited colors, which is what many gamers wanted since their version of a game always looked inferior to the SNES version due to the lack of colors (64 on the Genesis VS 256 on the SNES). In the end, two versions of the Sega CD were released: the first version sat below the Genesis and had a mechanized tray for loading the CDs. The second version however looked cheaper and sat next to the Genesis and used a pop-up lid for holding the CDs. Overall, the Sega CD enjoyed moderate success, but it disappointed many gamers who had expected much more out of it. The FMV that came with the games were grainy, lacked color, and could only run on 25% of the screen. Sega eventually released a new machine called the Sega CDX, which was a Sega CD/Genesis hybrid, but it was not very successful.

By the mid 90's, it was obvious that the Genesis could not keep up with Nintendo. In a desperate move to regain it's market share, Sega released the 32X in November 1994. It was a hardware add-on to the Genesis, featuring two Hitachi 32-Bit RISC running at 23 MHz, and was capable of 32,768 simultaneous colours and displaying 50,000 textured polygons per second. It could even be used in conjunction with the Sega CD! Hardware wise, the 32X was technically impressive at the time, but by then the Sega Saturn was on the horizon, and people did not want to spend their money on upgrading their waning Genesis when the 32-Bit generation consoles (Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation, Nintendo N64) were in sight. Therefore the 32X failed miserably. In the hopes of reviving it, Sega even announced a Genesis/32X hybrid called the Sega Neptune, but it was expensive, far inferior to the Sega Saturn, and thus never passed the prototype stage.

Graphics (8/10):
The Genesis featured a Motorola M68000 16-bit CPU running at 7.67 MHz, which was capable of producing graphics with up to 64 colors on-screen (out of a palette of 512). Graphically, the Genesis was inferior to the SNES, although it could scroll graphics much faster than the SNES (a feature that Sega marketing falsely claimed was due to their CPU having ''Blast Processing,'' when the truth was simply the fact that the Genesis CPU was 7.67 MHz while the SNES CPU was 3.6 MHz). The Genesis could also run games at a higher resolution than the SNES (320x224 VS 256x224 on the SNES). However, two important ''killer'' features that the SNES had that the Genesis did not were Mode 7 (which allowed scaling, rotation, and zooming of graphics), and 4 times more colors on-screen. There were not many gamers who could honestly say that they did not want Mode 7 on their Genesis after seeing F-Zero or Pilotwings on the SNES. As a matter of fact, many people bought the Sega CD simply for the Mode 7 features, although unfortunately they were never ended up being heavily used in Sega CD games.

Audio (8/10):
The sound chip on the Genesis was a Z80 running at 3.58 MHz. It featured a Yamaha YM2612 6-channel stereo FM with an additional 4-channel PSG sound chip, for a total of 10 sound layers. This was more than the 8 layers available on the SNES, and although the sound quality on the Genesis was slightly inferior to the SNES, designers still managed to produce some very good music on the console. Some of the best music ever produced in the 16-Bit generation was created by Yuzo Koshiro with the Streets of Rage series. Streets of Rage 3 was the first game that I ever saw that had a copyright warning on the title screen just for the music, and in Japan it was possible to buy an audio CD of remixed tracks from the game. Another impressive game for audio was Joe Montana II: Sports Talk Football that featured a surprisingly lengthy voice commentary.

Games (9/10):
Genesis games had a more ''mature'' feel than the SNES. The Sonic games had attitude while the Mario games looked more ''cute''. Sega, unlike Nintendo, was also not shy of violence, which was evident with games such as Techno Cop, or The Immortal. The Genesis was also the console of choice for those who loved sports games. However, one mistake that Sega did make was to have so many SNES games ported over to the Genesis. Because the Genesis version always looked inferior due to having reduced colors, it gave consumers everywhere the impression that the Genesis was the inferior machine. The truth is that the Genesis WAS inferior, however you did not know this when you compared Sonic to Mario World, or Streets of Rage to Final Fight. When you played Sega exclusive games, you were always content with what you had. But when you played a game on your Genesis that was ported from the SNES, you couldn't help but know that you had the worse looking version.

Overall (8/10):
The Genesis was Sega's most successful console. It started out very strong, but once the SNES came out, Sega tried to compete at the same level against it which it could not do. Sega tried to re-gain the technological lead by releasing the Sega CD, then the 32X, but both failed to help re-capture the market share that they were loosing. Towards the end, there were so many different versions and variations of Sega devices that were released (3 different versions of the Genesis, 3 and 6-button joysticks, 2 versions of the Sega CD, a Sega CD/Genesis hybrid, the 32X, a Sega Genesis/32X hybrid, Sega CD games that required a 32X, etc.) that people finally became fed up with Sega and instead bought the simple and dependable SNES. However, the Genesis era did produce some of the best games of the 16-bit generation that are still loved and played by gamers worldwide today.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 06/04/03, Updated 06/04/03

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