2001 marked the end of an era as Sega stopped production of the Dreamcast.
If you were growing up in the early 90’s, you’d have found it difficult to believe that Sega weren’t going to be around forever. Their name seemed synonymous with gaming. And aside from a few other companies trying to get their foot in the door of the gaming industry (such as say Phillip’s with the CD-I, and Atari trying to jump in with the Jaguar) it wasn’t really to be, and most of the early 90’s was a two horse race between Nintendo and Sega. It’s hard to believe that a series of very bad decisions left the company no choice but to pull out of the Console Hardware business, and instead focus on producing games – including for their old rivals, Nintendo and Sony.
Nintendo held a firm and tight stranglehold on the market, that wasn’t going to be easy to shake. The NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) led the way in the 8 bit wars by a huge margin. Nintendo held around 90 percent of the market in both the United States of America and Japan, and although the Sega Master System did have some fantastic titles on it (Sonic, Alex the Kidd, Operation Wolf, various Mickey Mouse titles to name a few – although some came out much later in the systems life) it just couldn’t compete with the NES. Nintendo had built a huge fanbase, and with titles like Mario it proved far too tricky for the Master System to be able to win the 8 bit war.
It was a few years later, in Japan of 1988 that things changed and Nintendo knew they truly had a competitor in the console market. The Mega Drive (or Genesis as it was known in some regions) was shown off to the world.
Despite being released first in Japan, it would be the USA and Europe that really embraced the console. A year later, in 1989 Sega made a couple of fantastic decisions. The first was Sonic the Hedgehog. The character was marketed perfectly – cool with a edgy attitude. The speed of the Sonic games too made a difference, Mario seemed slow and sticky in comparison to the blue blur. Combined with a great marketing campaign, Sega were flung into a great position in America, and also Europe. By the time 1992 rolled around, 60 percent of the North American market was Sega’s.
The hype around Sonic was huge, and Sonic even spawned a regular comic book “Sonic the Comic” which I admit I grabbed each and everyone issue. Not only did it have the adventures of Sonic, but also various other big titles from Sega’s franchise, including Shinobi, Eternal Champions, Streets of Rage and others besides. It also featured reviews and more – it was the perfect hype machine. Both Mario and Sonic had their cartoons by now – although Sonic’s were a little more “edgy” than Mario’s. Both were showing in the UK, and I’ve got to admit that I was an avid watcher of both of them (a side note, some of these are still available on Netflix…)
Sega’s “What Nintendon’t” became one of the most infamous marketing campaigns in the industry. Nintendo didn’t help itself with the decision to remove blood and gore from certain games (such as Mortal Kombat, which was insanely popular at the Arcades at the time). The Genesis / Mega Drive version of the title however kept in all the red stuff that it could, which meant to the casual viewer the Mega Drive version was the better of the two. Four million copies of the original Sonic were solid, and the sequel sold another 2 million on top. 6 million units, even by today’s standards, is pretty damn impressive.
Time was marching on and there were a few things which were becoming clearer as the months passed by. The Genesis hardware wasn’t quite as impressive as the Super NES (SNES). The second was that the Nintendo games were, on average – bigger hits. Aladdin sold around 4 million units on the Genesis. There were several games however which sold very very well on the SNES. Super Mario Kart sold a staggering 8 million units, Street Fighter 2 (which was even more popular than Mortal Kombat) hit 6 million. Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past 4.7 million, The SNES also had a fantastic range of RPGS, and Final Fantasy VI sold 2.6 million.
1994 was here, and Sega realized that the early start and success it enjoyed was being eaten away at – and quickly too. For those that played the games (such as myself) were didn’t care – we were all too busy playing Eternal Champions, Sonic and Knuckles, Streets of Rage, Shinobi and dozens of other titles. But Sega did care. Super Mario World was now packaged with every single SNES being sold – and since Mario was so popular anyway, it allowed the SNES to virtually fly off the shelves. That isn’t to say that there weren’t fantastic games being released all the time by Sega – they’d released games such as Comix Zone – a brilliantly animated title that saw a comic book artist being pulled into his own creation to fight the villain and save the day. But, a lot of the hits just didn’t sell as well as the SNES. Sega weren’t ready to enter the 32 bit war, they were still developing the Saturn, but they also didn’t want to lose any more ground to Nintendo.
Sega decided that it had to do something and fast. This was the first set of mistakes that cost Sega dearly as they released 2 ill fated addons for the Genesis. The Sega CD (Mega CD) and the 32X.