It promised to “do what Nintendon’t.” It was the Sega Genesis video game console, packing 16 bits of power for gamers to enjoy.
The Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive as it was known in Europe) launched in the United States on August 14th, 1989. Previously, Sega had launched the Master System, but it was only a meager success compared to the gaming giant at the time, the Nintendo Entertainment System.
This new system offered 16 bits of power (whereas Nintendo’s current system only had 8) and an early advertising campaign touted that fact. Early on, it saw some success with its more advanced technology and mostly-faithful ports of some popular arcade games.
However, to compete with Nintendo’s massively-popular Mario mascot, Sega developed Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic, previously codenamed as Mr. Needlemouse, went through several different designs before becoming a speedy, blue hedgehog. His first game, simply called Sonic the Hedgehog, launched in 1991 and became a hit with its colorful levels and speedy gameplay powered by “blast processing.”
Upon the launch of the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a full-blown console war took place between Sega and Nintendo. The Sega Genesis not only had games like Sonic but other acclaimed Sega originals like Streets of Rage, Ristar, Shining Force and others. It also had a sizable amount of third-party support with companies like Capcom and Electronic Arts developing numerous titles for the system.
The Sega Genesis also became known as a sports gamer’s console. Electronic Art’s Madden, NHL and FIFA franchise were all major hits, and Sega’s own first-party games from Sportstalk Football to World Series Baseball also had many fans.
The Sega Genesis did have two add-ons, the CD and 32-X, which attempted to further extend the life of the console. However, few games were developed for these add-ons, which in later years were considered to be flops.
The Genesis itself, however, was a success. It had a pair of re-designs to make the console smaller, including the Genesis 3, which was about as wide as a Nintendo 64 controller. After nearly 900 games published, the Sega Genesis was discontinued in 1997.
However, many classic Genesis games—especially those made and published by Sega themselves—are available in collections and for download on PC and numerous current video gaming consoles.