Sega 8-bit (SG1000 to Master System) |OT| - Taking it to Mark III

Despite what many remember, it wasn’t just ‘NES vs Master System’ in the 80s.

Sega had multiple attempts at the 8-bit wars.


Released only in Japan and New Zealand, Sega’s first console is essentially a Colecovision and MSX hardware wise, having the exact same specs. Unfortunately for Sega, it launched the exact same day as a much more advanced console you may have heard of, the Nintendo Family Computer.

There are three models:

‘Germany’ edition - the first Japanese model

Red/Blue - The most common edition

The extremely rare New Zealand Sega 1000 console distributed by Grandstand. Probably the rarest of all Sega consoles.

An older style console design, it has Atari-shape carts and Atari-like packaging

SG1000 II

It was also re-launched one year later 1984 as the SG1000 II in Japan with more Famicom style styling and Famicom style controllers.

This was also where Sega cards were introduced, PC Engine style game cards which were cheaper than carts. SG1000 hardware needed a pin converter to play them, called the Card Catcher.


The Home PC version of the SG1000 with the keyboard built in, as Sega’s MSX equivalent. Released in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Europe in various colours. Many PC accessories like printers came along with it.

Sega Mark III

Not truly a generational leap, the 1985 (only two years later!) Mark III is an SG1000 with some extra chips and an extra video mode, specifically designed to match or exceed the Famicom technically, which it does in many ways but still falls short in others, largely due to the SG1000 heritage. It also now supported cards natively, and had full SG1000 compatibility.

Games came in shiny gold boxes with typically very nice artwork.

In my opinion, it’s the best looking Sega hardware ever.


Released separately, you could upgrade the Mark III with an FM module

This added FM audio to games, making them sound a lot more advanced, more like a typical arcade game of the era. Games had to support it specifically, but a large number of games did, including games never released in Japan. See here for more info and a list of supported games:

The Sega System/Master System/Power Base
Finally released in the west in 1986/1987, the Mark III was redesigned into a larger monolith-like black block, without the FM sound.

It changed the cart shape to be more like Famicom carts, and they came in a signature ‘white with grid’ box design, likely designed to contrast the Nintendo black box ‘pixel art’ design. Western box art is legendary for some… questionable quality artwork.

Despite it later being branded as the Master System, the western release originally made no reference to the Master System name as the name of the platform.
The branding was a bit of a mess, marketing and games simply called it ‘The Sega’ and the basic set was released as ‘The Sega Base System’

A pack with gun included was sold as ‘The Master System’ - seemingly making ‘Master System’ an equivalent of the NES ‘Action Set’.

But yet the console said ‘Master System/Power Base’ on the front, seemingly making both ‘Master System’ and ‘Power Base’ the equivalents of the name of the core console element - equivalent of the NES ‘Control Deck’.

By the time of the PAL releases it has settled down to being known as the Master System and a few years later games started having Master System branding to make a distinction from Mega Drive/Genesis games.

Japanese Master System

It looks like the western Sega, with the FM unit built in, but this time is clearly branded 'Master System’ (which makes sense here as it’s a ‘final’ system with all formats supported and FM audio built in.

Master System II and Brazilian releases

The (now clearly branded) Master System lived on after the launch of the Mega Drive as a cheaper, feature-incomplete (no card support, no 3D support, no FM possible, RF-only output, cheaper plastic and smaller, very rounded 90s-looking redesign) budget system for kids in Australia, NZ, Europe and Brazil.

Game Gear

Not really covered in this thread as it has its own thread, but the Game Gear is just base Mark III hardware with an increased colour pallette and reduced screen resolution.

Mega Drive

Interestingly, just like the Mark III being an upgraded SG1000, the Mega Drive is basically a revision of the Mark III with some extra chips. It contains the entire Mark III/MS chipset, with some additional chips from the Sega System 16 arcade board. As such it has hardware compatibility, which can be triggered by a simple cart converter which disables the additional chips.


Wonderful thread D.Lo! Sega is a mystery to me pre-master system so this is really neat!

All of these images are from your personal collection, I gather?

Mostly haha. Just easier to use my own photos sometimes.

Awesome thread. I like the SG-1000 well enough but the Master System still remains one of the most underrated systems ever, especially in North America.

Prior to the arrival of the 16-bit consoles and Sega shifting a lot of good teams to Gen/MD, I felt the SMS competed well with the NES in terms of software (unlike the 7800).

One hardware note I found interesting: when I bought a Korean OACS Mark III, I tried putting a card game in. There’s no card hardware inside, though, just empty space. I figured the insides would be just like the Japanese system.

The SMS 2 did come out in North America, too, but it was only around for a year or so. And it was only the Alex Kidd model.

Ah yeah Sega Retro has it listed:
I was mostly just saying that it didn’t ‘live on’ in NA. In Australia at least the MS2 is by far the most common console, the console’s only real success was as a cheap budget system in PAL territories (and Tectoy’s renditions in Brazil) alongside the Mega Drive and NES/SNES.

Something I didn’t mention above was the quality reduction at each stage from Mark III on. They’re made in Japan up until the Mark III and some early Sega/MS models, but then started being farmed out to whatever factory was cheapest at the time (Taiwan etc). Manufacturing and plastic quality greatly reduced, controllers in particular really collapsed in quality. I covered it a bit in this article here.

Great OT, D.Lo!

I was a Sega kid growing up. Most of my friends had the NES but my older brother had a good friend with a Master System, so that’s what we ended up getting.

I really love this console… It has some really great exclusive titles, and some of the better arcade ports of the generation (like choplifter).

Here’s a few of the games I loved as a kid, in no particular order:


Fantasy Zone II

Alex Kidd in Miracle World

My Hero


Penguin Land

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Something else of note:

Here’s a list of all SMS exclusive titles:

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Master System is an entire library of games I have yet to explore. I still plan on grabbing a power base converter someday and going to town on these games.

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What are my favourites, hmmm.

For Mark III/MS

Makai Retsuden (Kung Fu Kid)
R-Type (with FM, PSG is gross in it)
Montezuma’s Revenge (best version)
Ghouls and Ghosts (great little 8-bit version)
Fantasy Zone 2
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Megumi Rescue
Golden Axe Warrior
Master of Darkness
Cloud Master

For SG1000

Ninja Princess
Golgo 13
Girl’s Garden
Star Jacker

Any Game Gear (portable SMS) love?

Didn’t cover it here as GG has its own thread already, I added a link in the OP now.

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The offshoot SC3000 is interesting in itself. While it had a cartridge port, it could also be used in the typical fashion of 8bit computers of the time: by booting the BASIC cartridge, an OS was loaded that allowed you to write your own programs in Basic (or even Assembly if you knew how). You could write you own games for your favourite console! You could also save them on a cassette via a cassette deck (not included), and programs were sold on cassette directly. Australia / New Zealand had a healthy base of bedroom coders releasing their games professionally, while France had like only a couple of releases by Loriciels.

There was even an extremely rare “control station”, which added RAM, a printer port, a serial port, and a disc drive using the same 3" discs as the Amstrad CPC line of computers. No software was ever released for it and it’s only useful if you are a bedroom coder yourself.

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Fantastic OT D.Lo, great stuff!

I was a MSII kid, parents couldn’t afford a NES so I got that. Kinda turned out cool though as the neighbour kid had a NES and I got to play the best in both worlds.

I saw a Sega branded printer for sale recently in Australia. Very expensive, the collectors are snapping up the few that exist.

There’s the SG1000 Keyboard which can turn any of the Japanese consoles into the equivalent too.

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I’d like to do the same. I’ve looked at the modern one (can’t recall who makes it) with FM sound.

Yup that’s the best part! My best friend had an NES, so we both got tons of exposure to both systems.

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That’s a great list, i have yet to play quite a few though.

I owned and really liked Montezuma’s Revenge… another title that had it’s best version on the SMS. I somehow lost my cart over the years, so all I’m left with is a box and manual. :frowning:

You’re right about R-Type. I really need to FM mod my system… the sound is pretty bad in that game, despite it being one of my favs.

It’s funny how things were before the internet. When you’re young you either don’t know the difference, or don’t care. Nowadays however, I often actively seek out the best version of a game to play. Double Dragon is a good example of that… the NES version is a lot more refined than the SMS version, and I find it more enjoyable to play.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World though…


Do we have anyone here on this board that’s very familiar with the EU and/or South America releases for the SMS? I’d love to collect some of the top games from those libraries that us NA folks missed out on.

Any recommendations?