While I was building up a video game collection, there was someone I’d forgotten. Someone who had been there all these years waiting for it’s chance to shine again….
I first got my Master System in 1992. I had an Atari ST in my room, but at this point Atari were killing off the ST in favour of the Atari Jaguar (in hindsight, maybe they should have stuck with the ST?) I could tell that it was the end of the road for my first computer and that it was time to move on. My cousin had asked for a Master System for Christmas and I was asked if I wanted one too. Always wanting to keep up, I said yes. I knew the Master System was inferior to the 16-Bit Mega Drive and that it was probably a step down from the ST but I decided to go with it. It was a console (something I’d always liked), it was affordable and other people had one, all important selling points at the time.
I tested the Master System out before Christmas, but was still looking forward to receiving it on Christmas Day. I think it was due to the games, both the sheer amount of them and their presentation. With the Atari ST, I was used to dull looking discs with random games copied on to them. With the Master System, it was the first time I had games that felt like actual possessions. Maybe that is what lit the spark in me to start collecting later in life. I know those thick, white boxes are clunky and some of the artwork is shocking, but I love them. I love the thick plastic of the box, the commercial insert inside advertising new games and the instructions…plain white paper with blue font. They could almost be from a kettle or some other household appliance, they were that dull, but I was totally into them and read them from cover to cover.
That Christmas I played games that would shape my gaming future. I played Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a game I wasn’t keen on due to it’s difficulty but a game I respected. I was impressed when my mum nearly completed it, but alas that last Rock-Scissor-Paper battle was too much. My main memory of Alex Kidd of that age is that theme tune – I was awful at putting cartridges in so the Master System would just play Miracle World, much to my frustration! I also played Sonic The Hedgehog, a game I loved at the time and have very fond memories of to this day. I was worried in the build up to Christmas that the Master System’s version of Sonic might not be up to par, but my fears were unfounded. Sonic was a great game for a young gamer – fast, fun and not too challenging to put you off the game but not too easy to make you feel patronized.
Another game I got that definitely influenced me was Alien Storm…for the wrong reasons. It was a pretty poor game, nowhere near the quality of the Mega Drive port I had been lusting after. Still, I stuck with it and made the most of it. I was obsessed with completing it and really tried to beat the damn thing. I never could beat the Master System version of Alien Storm though, so I suppose that’s one thing it has over the Mega Drive version!
The game that really grabbed me though was Super Kick Off. I was getting into football at this point and Super Kick Off had me hooked. For a start, it had a kit designer which blew my mine. Not in the same league as European Club Soccer, but for an 8-Bit console it was impressive. Secondly, it had loads of different teams…if you changed the in-game language. Cue a 8 year old Gary trying to navigate the menus of Super Kick Off in Italian, just so I could relive Football Italia on Channel 4. The game itself was great and even though I didn’t really understand the subtleties of Super Kick Off’s passing system, I had hours of fun just lobbing the goalie or heading it over him. I haven’t played Super Kick Off in years, but I reckon it would hold up well as it was ahead of it’s time when it came to ball control.
I had so many adventures with the Master System in my initial two years with it. From walking through Dynamite Dux in a day to being blown away with Master System’s version of Mortal Kombat (a fine port all things considered) to actually enjoying a puzzle game with Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, I did it all. Then I got a Mega Drive for Christmas in 1994 and that was it. Bye bye Master System.
Except it wasn’t. The Master System decided to stick around despite my rejection. I have no idea what it did for a few years. It must have been given to my sisters or stored in a cupboard. My next recollection of the Master System was in 1997 when I was disposing of it’s successor. I had decided to make the jump to 32-bit gaming and had traded my Mega Drive in for a PS1. However, I needed some games and only had a few quid to put towards some PS1 software. My mum suggested I traded in ‘my’ Master System games which was a surprise to me. Mainly because I hadn’t thought about the Master System in a long time (bar a few sneaky goes of Sonic) but also because I wasn’t aware that anyone else had any games for the Master System. It turned out they did – we had acquired great games like Bubble Bobble and Psycho Fox over the past few years, so gradually that I hadn’t really noticed. Still, I traded in the likes of Altered Beast (the Master System version of this is awful!) and Kung Fu Kid for Tekken 2 and Onside Soccer (short review – garbage!), moving into a 32-bit era of uncertainty and suspect game choices.
If you would have told me at the time that the Master System would have outlasted it’s successor and it’s successor’s successor, I would have laughed. However, it did. Once the Mega Drive came into play, the Master System came out again. I can’t remember where it came out of or what games it had left, but it was back. In 2002, the Master System returned, nearly ten years to the day that I first got it. It had a dent in it now, probably from being clumsily packed away so often, but it was back and still able to wind me up by playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World, even though I’d now learned to put cartridges in properly.
Surely, the Master System was only out of the cupboard as a novelty? No – as you’ll see in the next two parts of this series, the Master System would become the cornerstone of an obsession that would eventually get out of control. Indeed, the Master System would stay in my collection until the bitter end in 2010. This is after travelling with me to Manchester in 2006, in a box with twelve of my favourite Master System games which included California Games, Master of Darkness, Sonic and Ninja Gaiden. I’ve just realised that the Master System has been with me in every house I’ve lived in apart from the one I’m in at the moment.
Even though my Master System is long gone, I still think about it a lot. I love how durable it was – maybe it wasn’t the most advanced console, but it’s outlasted many N64’s, Xbox 360’s and PS2’s over the years. I like to think it’s still out there, accidentally playing Miracle World instead of the cartridge inserted into the cartridge slot.
If you know a Master System II with a slight dent on the front near the cartridge slot, tell it I said hi….
Like this post? This series is part of a ongoing look back at my video game collecting days. So far I’ve covered the below consoles on my journey….
Part 1 – Mega Drive
Part 2 – N64
Part 3 – Gamecube
Part 4 – Game Boy Advance
Part 5 – Xbox