Seeegaaaa! If you lived in the 90s, this name was synonymous with words like “Cool!” and “Sega does what Nintendon’t!” It entered the home video game console market the same year (1983) Nintendo’s Famicom would with The SG-1000, which I’ve never even heard of before writing this, it sold over 180,000 units blowing away Sega’s projections. But it would be curb-stomped by the Famicom which came out strong with a game Nintendo had already had massive success with two years prior in Donkey Kong, which was THE home version of the game to beat as it was very close to the much-beloved arcade version. Sega didn’t have that established mascot character to lean on; they were the new kid on the block. The SG-1000’s games looked better than most things on offer from Nintendo, but the inadequate response of the joystick and other problems doomed it. Not a good start at all, and it could have quickly condemned them Sega picked themselves off the mat and a few years later released the Master System in 1985. An 8-bit console itself, but like the SG-1000, the games on offer were more detailed than the NES; Sega planned to like Nintendo with the NES market the MS as a toy they teamed up with toymaker Tonka for this reason. However, ineffectual marketing on Tonka’s part would hamper the MS’ sales. It wasn’t a complete flop as it sold over 2 million units in North America. Still, in a market dominated by Nintendo and Atari, these numbers aren’t so good for perspective the Famicom ended up selling over 61M units, which no other Nintendo console had come close to beating until The Nintendo Switch which as of writing is sitting at 55.77M units sold.
All is not gloom for the Master System, it outsold the NES in the PAL market (Europe, Australia, etc.), and from talking to people from there, it was a much-beloved console. I sure as heck didn’t know it existed till later in life when its versions of Sonic 1, Sonic 2, and Sonic Chaos, among others, were packed into the GameCube game Sonic Gems Collection.
Sega helped arcades catch something of a 2nd renaissance around the world, but mainly in the US and Japan, games like Super Hang-On and Outrun created new genres and were massively popular with graphics that blew people away back then. Eventually, with the 80s coming to a close and the 90s looming both Nintendo and Sega would have to keep up with the times Sega actually beat Nintendo to the 16-bit era with the Mega Drive (or the Genesis to us murricans), but Nintendo just dropped Super Mario Bros 3 which I believe to this day is still the best selling Mario game of all time. The Mega Drive would find something of a foothold thanks to positive coverage by THE Japanese Gaming Magazine, Famitsu and other sources, Sega needed a strategy to really set itself apart from Nintendo and with the 90s being the era of being “too cool for school,” they made a mascot who could for a time anyway stand up to Mario. What started as “Project Needlemouse” became Sonic The Hedgehog released in 1991, and one of the best Christmas presents I ever got for sure, Sonic was cool he was faster than Mario too fast actually as sometimes you could run right into the void and die. But back then nah we didn’t care this was Sonic he was sarcastic, witty, fast, he rescued cute animals from the evil Dr. Ivo Robotnik, we ate up all the Sonic stuff the merchandise the cartoon show where he was voiced by Jaleel White (Steve Urkel!) it was awesome but kinda cringy and verrry corny when ya look back on it. But that’s just how the 90s were it was EXTREME, and in yo face, Bart Simpson, Ren, and Stimpy, Beavis and Butt-Head on the TV were warping our poor little minds. Sega ran with this they often had the uncensored versions of certain games on the Genesis, the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat had the blood the SNES version did not, and we wanted THAT version, where Nintendo of America was censoring the blood and (statue) nudity in Super Castlevania IV Sega was like “nah make it as bloody as you can without that M rating yo!” when it came time for the Genesis to get its own Castlevania game in Castlevania: Bloodlines. The Genesis had Splatterhouse 2 and 3 (not the original), which were some of the goriest games I ever played at the time other than maybe Doom, but Splatterhouse took it to another level with some of the imagery.
However, Sega’s main man was still that little blue Hedgehog; Sonic would see almost an endless run (heh) of successful games, the most noteworthy being Sonic 3; however, it wasn’t to last. The rise of 3D gaming in the late 90s/2000s was unkind to the blue blur, Mario landed on his feet with Super Mario 64, but Sonic would stumble out of the gate with Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast. A decent enough game but with a lot of problems like weird physics and a frustrating camera, which was fixed in Sonic Adventure 2 and was received quite well. The Dreamcast was released a few years after the Playstation, and it was in every way the more powerful console and almost arcade-perfect ports of games like Marvel vs Capcom 2, ports of games like Dino Crisis and Resident Evil 2 would look much better with cleaner textures on the Dreamcast and its library of unique and quirky games like Samba De Amigo, Crazy Taxi, and Jet Set Radio gave it a cult following, but it would quickly die due to a variety of problems.
Sega experienced a change in leadership that believed they should move out of the home console market, this combined with the astronomical hype for the PlayStation 2 which was being ridiculously hyped at the time as being capable of launching missiles and were basically supercomputers and a bunch of other nonsense doomed the Dreamcast. The Playstation 2 had some great games, but it was in no way that powerful even the original Xbox games looked better Marketing people am I, right folks!? Well, it worked. The PS2 sold several cruise ships worth over its lifespan.
Today, Sega is still around and doing pretty well for itself, they show a lot of love to their fanbase, and the best example of this is bringing in the developers of a well known Sonic 1 based fan game called Sonic Megamix to make Sonic Mania a very good return to the glory days of the Hedgehog, Sega itself still doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with Sonic as the next game they released Sonic Forces made by their own people, not the fans they brought in for Mania was…. garbage. Despite that, Sega has other franchises such as Yakuza that have gained quite a bit of popularity worldwide and positive sales, and in 2013 they would acquire a bankrupt Index Corporation which owns the game developer Atlus. Sega brought Atlus’ IPs under their umbrella, which has provided them another source of decent sales with games like Persona 5. Sega may not be what they once were, but it is undeniable the impact they had on the industry, from the SG-1000 to the Dreamcast they always tried to push the envelope but for whatever reason just lagged behind the competition funny considering their mascot is Sonic the Hedgehog eh?
With Retro revivals being the hot thing with the return of franchises long gone dormant such as ToeJam and Earl, Streets of Rage (which apparently Sega doesn’t own anymore… cuz the new ones weren’t released under their name…) and Wonder Boy what long sleeping Sega franchise would you like to see come back? My vote would go to Shinobi; Joe Musashi must return!