Sega Genesis (Mega Drive)

Full NameSega Genesis (US), Sega Mega Drive (EU, AUS, JP)
Year of release1988 (JP)
1989 (US)
1990 (EU)
SpecificationsMotorola 68000 @ 7.6 MHz,
Zilog Z80 @ 3.58 MHz,72kb RAM, 64kb VRAM 320x224 resolution
Retail PriceUS$189
Units sold35 million
Add-onsSega CD (1992), Sega 32X (1994)

The Genesis, also known as the Mega Drive outside of North-America, is a 16-bit home video game console of the fourth generation developed and produced by Japanese company Sega. The Sega Genesis was one of the most-favored consoles in American households at the time. Being a major competitor of the SNES, many claim that the Genesis “has created the industry’s best console war to date”.

The Genesis: A loser in Japan, a moneymaker in the US

The predecessor of the Genesis, the Sega Master System proved to be a huge success on the European and Brazilian market. Despite the popularity on these markets, Sega was not able to grab a considerable share of the video game market in North-America and Japan. With NEC releasing the PC Engine in 1987, Sega was under large pressure to release a new console with the most recent 16-bit hardware. Finally in October 1988 Sega released the Saturn Mega Drive in Japan. In August 1989 the North American launch of the console followed. Similar to its predecessor, the Genesis performed poorly in Japan, remaining behind the SNES and NEC’s PC Engine. Sales in the US performed formidable. By 1992 the Genesis had reached a 55% market share in North America. An aggressive and sophisticated marketing campaign helped Sega boost sales. Slogans such as “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” established in the memory of most teenagers at the time helping the Genesis become a cooler and more popular console than those of Sega’s competitors. According to Sega the Genesis sold over 40 million units worldwide.

A scene from the heavily criticized Genesis game Mortal Kombat

Mature games causing full-fledged scandal

Upon its release the Sega Genesis was available in stores at a price of $189. At launch the console was sold along with the game Altered Beast. The game however was later replaced with Sonic the Hedgehog.

The library of games for the Genesis consists of around 900 games. As a large portion of games was arcade based, other genres included action and sports. Sega also released a series of more mature games such as Mortal Kombat or Night Trap. As a result Sega was harshly criticized publicly and the issue was even brought up to the UK parliament. On this occasion Sega instituted America’s first video game ratings system, the Videogame Rating Council. Mortal Kombat was re-released in an uncensored version and a MA-13 rating.

To prolong the lifespan of the Genesis Sega released two peripherals to boost the capabilities of the standard Genesis: the Sega CD and the Sega 32X. Released in the US in 1992 the Sega CD let gamers play CD-based games on the Genesis allowing greater storage capacities and better graphics.

"Genesis does what Nintendon't": The catchy advertising slogan which also appeared in the TV ads

Download and delete

The Sega Genesis was one of the first consoles to feature online multiplayer. In 1990 Sega launched its network service Meganet. The service however was only available in Japan. In 1994 Sega launched Sega Channel, a game distribution system using cable television services. Games could be downloaded but were deleted when the console was powered off.

As Sega demanded ridiculously high licensing fees, third party developers such as EA manufactured their own cartridges to bypass copyright infringement. The cartridges can be identified by the little yellow insert on the left hand side.

References on the Sega Genesis can be found in great numbers in pop culture. In Notorious B.I.G.’s song Juicy from 1994 one can listen to the following lyrics:

“Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this 50 inch screen, money green leather sofa Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur”

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