The Sega Master System was the first console I had ever owned and, if I can recall, have ever played. It was also the first system to put the fear of God in me. I learned the hard way that video game consoles were tempermental beasts that did not like to be rubbed the wrong way. This is why I absolutely hated the placement of the pause button, and moreso games that had inventory within that pause menu. Now, either I was a clumsy four year old (or some such) or the system was testy, but either way I would swear on my life that touching the system while any game was in play would open the flood gates of hell. In retrospect, all that happened was the graphics would garble up and roll across the screen while the music would hold a note with accompanying static. But I'd still cry and scream, running out the room looking for some kind of protection through anyone older and with more common sense. This continued on well into my Genesis days...
When compared to the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Master System has a lot of technical specs no one really cared about. Any kid could play both of them and tell the Master System was technically superior. You can draw that conclusion from screen shots alone. However, just because the games appeared better on the aesthetic level didn't mean they handled better, or were even as memorable as NES titles. And when I say memorable, I mean memorable to you, because I didn't have an NES growing up.
When I think of a Sega Master System, games like Safari Hunt, Maze Hunter 3D and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, to name a few, all pop up in my head. Possibly because they all scared me senseless. But when it comes to the NES, the only game I can recall without spending an hour thinking about it is Kirby's Adventure. And while I'm aware there are many great hits on the system that ultimately made it better received in the top priority countries, it doesn't matter to me because at the end of the day I'm playing some arbitrary SHMUP on an obscure console anyway.
There's a lot of stuff that just kind of wows me about this system, no matter how useless it actually was. A lot of things I honestly can't say Nintendo has done in the "extra touches" category, which when I look at it retrospectively, really makes me wonder just how much people even notice or appreciate the idea of extra touches. Okay, so the Light Phaser was hardly original (though much more inspired sounding than NES Zapper), and the card slot idea was just a waste of everybody's money, but the 3D glasses were inventive. That instantly made us better than the kids with NESes, and we all knew it. Damage to our sense of perception was worth being the coolest kid on the block, and the optometrists loved us.
I thought the fact that the Snail Maze, a game built into the original system's BIOS was a brilliant idea. As long as you had the first model SMS like we did, you didn't even need a game cartridge. At the time I'm sure I (or my older brother) stumbled upon it and probably had no idea how we did it or if we could ever do it again, but it was like we discovered a new planet. The only thing you discovered when you powered on an NES without a game was that you were broke.
And come on, who doesn't like the Snail Maze diddy?
I don't think I'm being very biased, here, but I'm inclined to believe people with SMSes had better childhoods. And Nintendo was aware of this. That's why, at least as far as I've read, they also kept a lot of 3rd parties from working for SEGA with contractual lock out. I suppose today that's neither here nor there, but it's certainly interesting to think that the big N isn't (or wasn't) above playing dirty just to be on top. Plus, the NES was already out some two years prior. Obviously, the SMS fell behind because outside of a few cool ideas and some fine games, the NES won people over with boring games like Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt somehow. Nintendo, you ol' dirty so and so...