Like most gamers, I first encountered the Sega name in various amusement arcades where they had been developing games since the early 80's before hitting the big time with their series of 'Super-Scaler' games. After a good run of success in this demanding environment, it didn't take them long before they decided they wanted a slice of the home-gaming pie as well.
Sega also released a computer version of the console called the SC-3000 but none of them were very successful. A big reason for this was the rather unfortunate coincidence that the first version of the console was released on the very same day as Nintendo's brand-spanking-new, not to mention far more advanced (and cheaper), Famicom console which would of course go on to dominate both the Japanese and American gaming markets for many years to come. As a result of its less-than-staggering success, Sega's machine didn't receive a huge number of releases either and, as would also prove to be the case with the Master System, most of those that did appear were released by Sega themselves.
By my count, there are around 75 games in the SG-1000's back catalogue (some on cartridge, some on smart card, some on both) but it's hard to be sure - many games saw two or more releases and there were also a number of non-game-related releases such as BASIC programming packages. Of the games that did see release, some were conversions of well-known arcade machines while others are names I know little or nothing about, so in an attempt to get a well-rounded view of Sega debut console, I've chosen what I think will be a good mixture. Here's how I got on:
Chack'n Pop (1985)
arcade version of this early Taito game and I quite enjoyed it too, so it seems like as good a place to start as any! It's a good choice of game to convert too. Obviously even the basic graphics of the original couldn't be perfectly replicated here but aside from some different colours and a slightly squashed playfield, everything looks more or less as it should including, most importantly, the carefully-designed stages, and there's also a good rendition of the coin-op's music. The only real difference I noticed is that Chack'n now moves quite a bit slower. It's a shame that both the arcade game and the SG-1000 weren't more popular though as this is a very respectable conversion of an enjoyable platformer which fans would've enjoyed a lot. It'll still take some getting used to for non-fans but I like it...
Zippy Race (1983)
Space Slalom (1983)
Elevator Action (1985)
Was it plain bad luck that Sega were soundly beaten in the battle of the 8-bits, or was it down to their own stupidity? It's hard for me to say without doing much more research but based on my assessment of this console, I'd have to take the easy way out and say it was probably a bit of both! As I understand it, the SG-1000 was test-marketed in 1981 but wasn't officially launched for two more years. Why the delay? If it was launched in 1981, I'm confident it would've met with more success than it did upon its eventual launch which, as mentioned, was on the very same day as the superior Nintendo Famicom of all consoles! Sega's machine is home to few exclusive titles, Nintendo's had many, and that's on top of its superior technical abilities.
The SG-1000's closest well-known equivalent is probably the ColecoVision, or maybe the MSX. All three machines are at a fairly similar level, technically. They shared the same CPU for starters, and Sega and Coleco's machine also used the same Texas Instruments sound chip which would go on to see further use in the Master System, Game Gear, and even the MegaDrive, albeit heavily modified. A good few games also ended up appearing on two or all three of these machines as well which further demonstrates the similarities between them. This wasn't always the case though. Take Gulkave, for example. I'm not sure whether the SG or MSX version was first but the two versions look quite different with the SG's version quite a bit bolder and more colourful than its MSX counterpart whose first stage looks more like a Virtual Boy game!
Oh well, fail it did though, nothing will change that now. I suppose there was more competition in the early years and the ColecoVision didn't do much better! The most important question we can ask nearly thirty years later is, is the SG-1000 worth playing now? For Sega fans such as myself, the answer is obviously yes, but I think any retro enthusiast should at least give it a try. It's a pretty capable little machine which has some great conversions of many popular arcade games of the time as well as a few all-original titles as well. Hopefully I'll be taking a look at many of these over the coming months with the results being swiftly documented on this very blog. In the meantime, if you were curious, or if this post has made you curious, it's an easy console to emulate, so what are you waiting for?!