Unfortunately for Sega, they still couldn't stand toe to toe with Nintendo, even after multiple hardware revisions. At least, not in Japan. So Sega then decided to try their luck in the Western markets. The Mark III was rebranded as the "Sega Master System" and given futuristic-looking facelift. Once again, Sega managed to sync their release to Nintendo's, launching the Master System right around the same time that the Nintendo Entertainment System came out. Never let it be said that Sega was one to shy away from a fight.
Although the Master System was technically more powerful than Nintendo's console, with the exception of Brazil and a few European markets, it never really managed to come close to the impressive sales numbers of the NES. One major reason for this was a lack of software, primarily thanks to Nintendo's shrewd licensing requirements, that forbade third-party developers from releasing their NES titles on competing platforms. To Sega's credit, they did still manage to snag a few high-profile third-party titles, here and there, even despite this rather gargantuan obstacle. Additionally, being a (then) up-and-coming development house themselves meant that their console would at least have a stellar selection of first-party titles to choose from. So, even though Sega's hardware couldn't compete on quantity, that doesn't mean it didn't still have plenty of quality. Read on for a list of 12 of the best games that the Sega Master System had to offer.
The other title on the multicart was a shooting game called "Safari Hunt" which, while not quite as charming as Nintendo's popular Duck Hunt game, did offer a bit more variety in terms of targets and stages. Like Nintendo's Duck Hunt console bundles, Sega also included their light gun peripheral, the Sega Light Phaser, along with the Master System console as well. While Safari Hunt would never receive any sequels, Hang-On did, with the equally popular Super Hang-On. Arriving first in the arcade, and then later on the Master System's successor console, the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.
Despite the game's unfortunate lack of any official ties to the Dragon Ball franchise, Alex Kidd in Miracle World still turned out to be one of the most colorful, polished and entertaining platformers of the generation. The game was brimming with variety, giving players the ability to run, swim, fly, ride a motorcycle and a speedboat, and was chock full of various power-ups to boot. While it may not have been able to fully rival Nintendo's groundbreaking Super Mario Bros game, it came awfully close; and it ably stood out as the Master System's closest alternative. For anyone who owned Sega's console in the mid '80s, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was not only welcome, but an arguably mandatory addition to their collection.
While touring Europe, gathering ideas to base the stages on, Suzuki was inspired to select the Ferrari Testarossa as the player's car in the game. To make it as authentic as possible, the development team used an actual Testarossa as a reference for how the car in the game should look and sound. Finally, Suzuki came up with the idea to have wider than normal roads in the game, as well as selectable music tracks for added enjoyment and variety. As with Hang-On, Out Run became another worldwide arcade smash for Sega, and a Master System port was produced in short order. This home version also garnered critical acclaim and was quite impressive for the time, despite not being able to fully capture all the finer details of the arcade original. A more faithful conversion would follow a few years later for Sega's 16-bit Genesis/Mega Drive console. No version would come to a Nintendo console, however, for over two decades.
In return, Sega released two video games adaptations of the series for their home console. The first of these, was the decidedly superior entry. This 1987 action-platformer, simply titled "Zillion", bore something of a resemblance to Nintendo's earlier NES hit, Metroid. As main character JJ, the player was tasked with exploring and destroying the evil underground Nohza/Norsa base on Planet X and occasionally returning to your ship on the surface. Zillion was something of a cult hit for the Master System and, though it didn't garner the same kind of acclaim and popularity as Metroid, was easily the best comparable experience to be found on Sega's console. But, whereas Metroid was only inspired by Ridley Scott's Alien movie, it was never able to boast having a movie or animated series of it's very own. Especially not one as outstanding as Zillion(s).
Thanks to its cutting edge graphics and uniquely thrilling gameplay, as well as the popularity of the aforementioned film, After Burner was an overwhelming success in the arcades. Unsurprisingly, a Master System port was released shortly thereafter, and went on to become a best-seller for Sega. Even though Nintendo's Entertainment System had actually received an exclusive video game adaptation of the Top Gun movie (compliments of Japanese developer, Konami), that game's notorious difficulty and somewhat mundane (by comparison) gameplay meant that, where fighter jet games were concerned, Sega's Master System was the real top gun.
But the games weren't completely identical. Instead of a secret agent, like in Rolling Thunder, Shinobi featured a ninja as the playable character and allowed the player to use a screen-clearing ninjutsu technique, once per stage. Shinobi also featured a pretty unique bonus stage where the player was required to throw shurikens at incoming enemy ninjas from a first-person perspective. Of the two games, Shinobi was the more popular, and while Rolling Thunder may have inspired Shinobi, Sega's game in turn inspired a great number (if not all) of the ninja-themed releases that quickly followed. These included (but were not limited to) Irem's excellent arcade/TurboGrafx-16 title, Ninja Spirit, and Tecmo's equally influential Ninja Gaiden for the NES. The Master System would be the only home console to receive an official port of Sega's arcade hit, however.
In order to set the game apart from other RPGs of the day, the newly formed development team took inspiration from the astronomically popular Star Wars movies and decided to have the game offer a combination of medieval fantasy and science fiction, hence the name, Phantasy Star. In addition to lots of color and 3-dimensional dungeons (which Nintendo's console wasn't able to produce), the team also opted to feature a female protagonist in the game, something that was fairly uncommon at the the time. The game was a critical hit, receiving heaps of praise upon release, particularly for its (at the time) exceptional graphics. As a unique, technically impressive and groundbreaking early console RPG, Phantasy Star is widely regarded as one of the more important titles of its day, as well as one of the best games to ever grace the Sega Master System.
The game was so good in fact, that many to this day still consider it to be one of the best, most important shoot-em-up games ever made. Despite Nintendo publishing the arcade version in North America, it was not them, but Sega, who managed to secure the first home console port, just a year later. While NEC's TurboGrafx-16 system would also get a port about a year after that, for a dozen or so months, the Sega Master System was the only home console on which anybody would be able to experience the brilliance of R-Type for themselves.
The Genesis would ultimately fare much better in the console wars than the Master System had. It would also boast a massive library of hit games, both from numerous third-party developers, and from Sega's own internal studios. While these studios would continue to come up with many amazing new game franchises during the Genesis era, there would also be plenty of excellent sequels as well. Fantastic follow-ups to the one-of-a-kind originals that either first hit the home market, or were first established on the Sega Master System.