The Sega Master System (SMS) was originally released as the Sega Mark III in Japan. It was released after Nintendo's NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and was never able to catch up to its level of success. The hardware was superior to that of the NES but the number of quality games on Nintendo's console far out numbered those on the Master System.
There were some quality titles on the system and it was also the first system to have a role-playing game (RPG) in North America. This game was of course Phantasy Star which was released in 1988. The SMS also enjoyed versions of Sonic The Hedgehog, Ghouls and Ghosts, and even Mortal Kombat.
There were some interesting peripherals for the system like the 3D glasses. They hooked up through the card slot on the system and with compatible software created a 3D effect. It worked quite well. One problem was you could see the shutter of the glasses while playing which detracted from the enjoyment of the game. There was also a light gun for the system called the Light Phazer.
The SMS could play two types of games; cartridges and Sega Cards. The cartridges were used most of the time. The cards were for smaller games (32 KB max).
Early in the Master System's life Sega sold the U.S. rights to Tonka. Sega thought that the toy company would be able to market the system better then they could but they were very wrong. In 1989 Sega took control of the U.S. rights again but by then it was too late.
In 1990, after the release of the Genesis/Mega Drive, Sega released a re-designed console, the Master System II, in the U.S. and Europe to try and cut production costs and attract new users.
TRIVIA : Did you know that there is a hidden game called "The Snail Maze Game" in the Master System? To play this game, turn on your power base without a cartridge. While the Sega Master System logo is appearing on the screen, press and hold the directional button in the up position while simultaneously holding down buttons 1 and 2. Once the logo fully appears, the first maze will scroll onto the screen from the right. Have fun.
Adapted from Miles Mason's Master System text
Taneli Lukka from Filand adds :
The AV-connector of the original Master System was deleted from Master System II together with the card slot to save in manufacturing costs. This only leaves the RF-connector for TV-output (for US & UK systems) which is a bad handicap for today's players as the picture quality is very poor with the RF-lead. Because of this many collector's consoles have been modified by adding RGB-output. All Master System models also share one bad feature. This is the pause button which is mounted on the console itself instead of the controller so it's very hard to get to it quickly. The pause button and reset button are also identical so you can quite easily press reset instead of pause if you are not careful. Pray that you are not in the final level of Shinobi when that happens...
June 1986 (U.S.A.) 1987 (Europe, Japan)
END OF PRODUCTION
1989 (Japan) 1990 (Europe, U.S.A.)
BUILT IN SOFTWARE / GAMES
Hang On or Missile Defense 3D or Hang On and Astro Warrior or Hang On and Safari Hunt