The Sega Master System (1986 - 2000), is an 8-bit cartridge-based video game console that was manufactured by Sega.
Its original Japanese incarnation was the SG-1000 Mark III. In the European market, this console launched Sega onto a competitive level comparable to Nintendo, due to its wider availability, but failed to put a dent in the North American and Japanese markets.
The Master System was released as a direct competitor to the NES/Famicom. Despite its shaky performance in the major territories, it has enjoyed over a decade of life in smaller markets, especially Brazil.
The later Sega Game Gear is effectively a hand-held Master System, with a few enhancements.
The SG-1000 Mark III was released in Japan on October 20, 1985 to compete with the Famicom, following on from the SG-1000 Mark I and SG-1000 Mark II. The Mark III was built similarly to the Mark II, with the addition of improved video hardware and an increased amount of RAM.
The system is backwards compatible with earlier SG-1000 titles. As well as the standard cartridge slot, it has a built-in slot for "Sega Cards", which are physically identical to the cards for the Sega SG-1000 "Card Catcher" add-on.
The system was redesigned and sold in the United States under the name Sega Master System in June 1986, less than a year after the Nintendo Entertainment System was released. The console sold for $200. The Master System was subsequently released in other locales and markets, including a second release in Japan in 1987 under the new Master System name. The Japanese Master System included a built-in 3-D glasses adapter, rapid fire, and a Yamaha YM2413 FM sound chip, all of which were separate accessories for the Mark III.
Though the Master System was a more technically advanced piece of hardware than the NES, it did not attain the same level of popularity among consumers in the United States. Its lack of success in the U.S. has been attributed to various causes, among them the difference in game titles available for each platform and the slightly later release date of the Master System. The licensing agreement that Nintendo had with its third-party game developers had a profound impact. The agreement stated, in effect, that developers would exclusively produce games for the NES. The Master System sold 125,000 consoles in the first four months. In the same period, the NES sold 2,000,000.
In 1990, Sega was having success with its Sega Genesis and as a result took back the rights from Tonka for the SMS. It designed the Sega Master System II, a low-cost Master System that lacked the reset button and card slot of the original. In an effort to counter Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers, the new system included Alex Kidd in Miracle World playable without any cartridges. Sega marketed the Master System II heavily; nevertheless, the unit sold poorly in North America. By 1992, the Master System's sales were virtually nonexistent in North America and eventually ceased.
The last commercial licensed release in North America was Sonic the Hedgehog, released by Sega on October 25, 1991