by Dark Watcher
To compete with the Nintendo Famicom in Japan, Sega released the successor to the
Mark I/II and called it Sega Mark III in 1985.
The Mark III could produce great 8 bit graphics with specs superior to the Famicom. The console had two game formats which were cartridges and a Sega "Game Card" format. The cards held only 256K of data (cartridges held over 4 times that amount), but the advantage to both Sega and the consumer was the fact that the cards were cheaper to manufacture and sold for less then the carts did. Sega also introduced 3D glasses that could be used in some of their games. The Mark III was also backwards compatible with SG-1000 / Mark I & II software.
When Nintendo released the Famicom (NES) to America in 1986, Sega had no intentions of letting their rival get all the market share. They redesigned the Mark III and changed the name to the Sega Master System (SMS). They approached Tonka Toy Distribution to market the SMS, with the console being released three months after the NES in 1986.
Although the SMS was an impressive machine, it did not reach the level of success that the NES gained in America. The two reasons for this were poor marketing by Tonka Toys and software restrictions implemented by Nintendo to third party developers. Third party developers were contractually prohibited from making games for any rival company. This meant that once a company had made a game for the obviously popular NES, they weren’t allowed to make any games at all for the SMS. As a result, the only outside developers for the SMS were Activision and Parker Brothers (though Sega did receive permission to "reprogram" numerous games developed by other companies). Sega did the rest of the games themselves.
Some of Sega's best games started this way. The Popular RPG series "Phantasy Star" made its first appearance on the Sega Master
System. The SMS may not have been as successful as the NES in America, but overseas was another story. The SMS was extremely popular
in the UK and Brazil where games were released into the the late 1990s. The SMS succeeded overseas because it was much cheaper than the
The SMS was re-released as the Sega Master System II in 1990 with a reduction in features to save money. The card port was cut, as was the power light and Sega logo and music upon starting the machine. Tectoy, the licensed distributor in Brazil, is still selling this popular machine to this very day.
FACT: The Sega Master System featured a built in secret game. Turn the system on without a cartridge inserted, when the instructions pop up hold the D-pad up and push buttons 1 and 2. In the game your goal is to guide a small snail through a series of different maze levels. Not much play value, but it's a nice extra to have. The Sega Master System II was another story - it included a built-in freebie called Alex Kidd in Miracle World.