Okay, so adding an extra button to the controller seemed pretty advanced for the time, but let’s face it. They were doubling the number of available buttons on the controller and that opened up a world of possibilities. Jumping and punching or kicking at the same time was an amazing feat for a home system. On top of that, I was stepping back into the console side of things, which meant no crazy load times or sound effects as with the Spectrum cassette tapes. Additionally, what we had at this point was what I consider to be a huge leap forward on the screen. This included much clearer and higher quality sound and music. It goes without saying that the graphics improved along with the colours and screen resolution. But improved appearance and sound mean nothing if you haven’t got a reliable frame rate to match. With the Master System, I was in luck. The majority of the games seemed to run very smoothly and as expected, I was hooked. Anyway, here is where things get a little hazy. I’ve owned both an NES and a Sega Master System, but my memory is failing me spectacularly in that I’m not sure which one I owned first. So since chronology is out the window at this point, we’ll begin with Sega’s effort at home gaming. The Sega Master System followed the same trend as Atari with their 2600 model. They each introduced a scaled down version of the console to save space and the games would be in cartridge form. The Master System II featured one of two built in games. These were Alex Kidd in Miracle World or Sonic the Hedgehog. Mine featured the big eared, big fisted munchkin instead of the genetically modified speedster.
It’s with Alex Kidd we’ll start to cover the games I played on the Master System. A Platformer featuring some block punching from the aforementioned big fist, this was a fun little game with happy sounding music to accompany you while playing. The story behind the game is that Alex Kidd travels through Miracle World in search of his Brother Prince Egle, who has been captured by a big bad guy called Janken the Great, who has also taken over the peaceful land of Radaxian. But I wasn’t really bothered about that. I was having too much fun jumping and punching stuff. This was quite a tough game with no health bar. It’s three lives and one hit from an enemy to lose one. On top of that, there’s no save system either. On the other hand you can collect cash from certain blocks which will give you the opportunity to buy some useful power-ups throughout the game, even a motorbike, which can certainly reduce some level times. Another creative aspect of this game was that the end of level bosses would be fought not through combat, but through games of Rock-Paper-Scissors, or Jan-ken-pon in Japanese. Victory in two out of three rounds would result in the boss being vanquished and Alex continuing on his merry way. Alex Kidd was supposed to be Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, but bafflingly, despite the variation in levels, power-ups, and the overall fun you could have while playing, Alex Kidd was never able to reach the heights of the portly plumber’s popularity. Sega’s true contender for Mario’s crown would arrive in a blaze of spiky blue fury, but that’s a story for another time.
The next title that really stood out for me on the Master System was Golvellius: Valley of Doom. This game was an Action Role Playing Game very much
in the style of the NES Legend of Zelda, although I didn’t actually know that at the time as I hadn’t owned a Nintendo console at that point. You control the character Kelesis as he explores the valley of doom, tracking down crystals, trying to rescue a kidnapped Princess, and eventually looking to stop the titular baddie, Golvellius. Well that’s an original plot that’s never been done before or since (It really has, a LOT). But distracting me from the rather standard plot, was a very well put together game. You had the colourful top down view for your standard questing, but it changed things up with side scrolling dungeons that would throw (sometimes literally) many different types of monster that you would need to vanquish in order to continue on your journey. It was a large game for its time, offering many hours of monster hunting, world saving goodness. Speaking of saving, because of the size of Golvellius, there is a password system, so that you can return to the game at any point. At the same time though, it was a bit of a pain to have to write down those passwords. As a result, I don’t think I ever actually completed this game, but I’ve promised myself I will…one day…hopefully. That’s the problem with choice. Sometimes you can have too much.
Still, on to my third title in my Master System flashback. The game is Speedball 2. So before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way. This game contains violence. Indeed, it rewards violence, but guess what? I’ve played violent games and watched violent films since I was a small child, and I’ve never committed a crime in my life. So for those who are trying to find a link between violent games and violent acts in real life, you won’t find anything here. But I digress. Speedball 2 is a top down futuristic sport which involves two opposing teams of nine players each looking to throw a solid steel ball into their opponent’s goal. It’s simple enough to pick up and play, and only uses one button on the controller, but it was just fun to jump into. That single button would allow you to throw, catch, punch, and slide kick around the arena. You could collect various power ups including freezing your opponents for a period of time, immediately teleporting the ball to your centre forward, or even super boost your teams stats. The part of the arena I always aimed for was the multiplier ramp. If you could use it twice and keep hold of the ball, you’d get double point for every action whether it be scoring a goal or injuring an opponent. In the Season mode, you would have access to funds to boost various skills on your team. It was a very detailed section as you could purchase a boost for an individual skill on a single player, or you could boost the defence in a particular skill. If you had enough funds, you could even dabble in a transfer market to buy one or two star players. To acquire the funds in the first place, you would get a win bonus for victory in your matches, plus you could also pick up coins during the match to bolster your bank balance. So much content to play with back then was an amazing thing. This game has such a cult following that attempts have been made to bring this title up to date, but the attempts I’ve purchased and tried so far have been sadly lacking. It might be that while the game in its original form is still fun to play even now, to try and re-make or re-boot it is not a very good idea.
So that brings us to the end of our Sega Master System adventure. At this point in time, funds permitting, I’ve already bought the console again and a couple of games to go with it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to track down all of the games I originally owned at the time as well. Fingers crossed. In the next episode, I’ll be attempting to describe what all the fuss was about as Nintendo unleashed its Entertainment System on an unsuspecting public. Just remember, realism in games is all well and good, but surely the most important part of gaming is ‘fun’. Bye for now.