After three years of struggling to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega decided to change direction. Engineers incorporated elements from Sega's 16-bit arcade technology into a home console, and in August 1989, the Sega Genesis was released onto American store shelves.
The Genesis (called the Megadrive in Japan) originally retailed for $199, and featured the same 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor that had powered the original Apple Macintosh computer. With such a powerful engine, it was capable of producing high quality reproductions of popular Sega arcade titles. The pack-in game was a home version of Sega's coin-operated hit, Altered Beast. Only a single game controller was released with the Genesis platform, with additional controllers retailing for $20.
The 16-bit NEC TurboGrafx-16 console had beaten the Genesis to America by four months. Though they initially trailed the competition, Sega knew from past experience with Nintendo that the system that had the best variety of quality game titles would ultimately be the most successful. Sega vigorously sought out third party software support, and within one year, 30 outside developers were designing games for the Genesis compared to the TurboGrafx with four. The Genesis quickly became the dominant 16-bit system.
The first peripheral that Sega released was the Power Base Converter -- a module that allowed the Genesis to play Sega Master System cartridges. Its availability was important to owners of the SMS because they were reluctant to invest in a new system that would make their entire software library obsolete. Compatibility has proven to be an important feature for any next generation system.
Sega programmed the Genesis to lock out foreign software. Game cartridges produced for Japanese consoles could not be played on American systems. Software titles were rarely released at the same time worldwide. In order to prevent the importing of unreleased titles into a certain country, Sega designed the Genesis so that American titles would only play on American systems and vice-versa with Japanese and European titles.
On September 9, 1991, after numerous delays, Nintendo finally released their Super NES system in America. After two years as the clear leader of the 16-bit market, Sega faced major competition. Nintendo was investing $25 million in advertising to launch their new console. Sega countered with a $10 million advertising campaign trumpeting that "Genesis Does what Nintendon't!"
In the onslaught of promotion, Sega unveiled an important peripheral to the Genesis, the Sega CD. This helped consumers maintain confidence in the lifespan of the Genesis and helped Sega maintain a firm foothold in the market.
Also in 1991, Sega dealt Nintendo its most powerful blow; surprisingly it wasn't in the form of hardware. Sega unveiled a game named: Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic, the title character, had to utilize his speedy power sneakers to thwart mad scientist, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, who turned animals into evil robots. Sonic the Hedgehog became the best selling game cartridge of 1991. Back in 1990, Sega had sold 1.6 million Genesis consoles worldwide, but in 1991, the year of Sonic, Sega sold 7.5 million Genesis systems. They had finally toppled Nintendo as the top selling videogame company. Sega went on to sell 16 million software titles in 1992, and soon made Sonic The Hedgehog the pack-in game for the Genesis.
In 1992, Sega released a light gun peripheral called the Menacer. It retailed for $59.99 and true to its name was large and mean looking. An infrared receiver was placed on top of the television and plugged into the Genesis, allowing the Menacer to be wireless.
In 1993, Sega released a controller accessory called the Activator. It retailed for $79.99 and was a black octagonal ring that sat on the floor. A player stood inside it and controlled on-screen action by breaking one of the eight infrared beams it was directing upward. The Activator sent signals to the Genesis console which were interpreted as if corresponding controller buttons had been pressed. Players criticized the Activator as being an unwieldy and inaccurate game controller.
Ultimately, it wasn't the SNES which ended the life of the Genesis system. The arrival of highly popular the next generation consoles like the 32-bit Sony Playstation in 1995 and the 64-bit Nintendo 64 in 1996 diverted consumer interest away from the Genesis. With over 600 titles under its belt, the final Genesis system was produced in 1997.
The best games for the Sega Genesis system include Sonic the Hedgehog, Aladdin, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Madden NFL '98, Earthworm Jim 2 and Comix Zone. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide