Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Visualshock! Speedshock! Soundshock! The Mega Drive is 20 today.

On this day in 1988 the Mega Drive was released in Japan. It was actually about 2 and a half years from this point before Sonic The Hedgehog debuted on the system. Just take that into perspective for a moment: 2 and a half years was very much the Dreamcast's entire life span (if you don't count all those shmups released here and there afterwards, but I'll be going into the Dreamcast more next month for the Dreamcast's 10th Birthday) and yet in this time the Mega Drive had barely even started and would only get stronger and stronger from there on. It was Sega's most successful console in Europe and America, and longest living on the market worldwide. It was also the only console that managed to shake up Nintendo's stranglehold on the gaming market at the time and force them to push themselves to make their own 16-bit console. If it wasn't for the Mega Drive, Nintendo would of most likely of sat on the NES for much longer and wouldn't have felt pressured to make even better games which to the most heated and most exciting console "war" in it's history to date.

The Mega Drive still lives in many forms. The games are available on the Wii's Virtual console, on many Sega collection discs released, and in dozens of TV plug in and handheld devices, like this recently released tiny console that has 20 games built in and even a cartridge slot for the original. Mega Drive systems and games are also still sold in Brazil, where it even got some brand new games like a suprisenly well done port of Duke Nukem 3D.
Still, there is nothing quite like playing these games on the original hardware and you don't as much classy than the original model. The Mega Drive looked and feeled like a truly powerful and slick piece of hardware at the time, especially compared to the plastic lump that was the NES. It was also dark and not very toy-like at all, which was quite unusual for a console. There were many different kinds of Mega Drive models released in later years (The Wondermega, MegaJet, Mega Drive II and 3, the list goes on) but this will always be the most iconic.

Saying that, this is what I currently own and is my favorite model of the lot: The Multi Mega. At about half the size, with both the Mega Drive cart slot and a Mega CD disc drive, it is a wonderfully small but robust system. Combine this with a good scart cable for my LCD telly and a extra Master System converter makes it the ultimate retro system for me. The CD drive actually conked out on it a little while ago but I made sure to get it fixed, mainly because I'll never find one of these cheap again, I reckon. Did I mention it came from a car boot sale for £6.50? I probably did, because it's probably the best gaming related purchase I have ever made.

One of my other favorite things about the Mega Drive has to be it's controller. It's possibly one of the most comfortable to hold ever made, has a fantastic d-pad and great feeling buttons. Every thing about it just comes together beautifully. The six button controller they released later was a bit small for my tastes, but many claim it to be their favorite controller of all time.

Some things I can never say i liked was how Sega of America handled the Mega Drive. Simply put, the "Genesis" is a pretty dumb name, and the advertising, while very effective, was pretty obnoxious, often making up utter codswallop like "blast processing". I guess in that case I can see Nintendo fans who grew up in the US of A found Sega to be quite annoying and quite difficult to take seriously. Sega Europe were far more clever with their advertising (if a little batshit at times, see my Pirate TV articles), which is probably why is was even bigger over here still, although it also helps that Nintendo of Europe always were and always will be incompetent.

But in the end for me it was the games that really made the Mega Drive for me. The variety and quantity on offer was just something else. The excellent video above by youtube user Alianger does a very nice job at summing up what the Mega Drive was all about. If you don't have time to dust off your Mega Drive today to give it a play, at least watch this 10 minute epic.