Happy 30th Birthday To One Of The Greatest Consoles Of All Time, And The 16-Bit Era In The U.S.

The Sega Genesis is 30 years old today.

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It’s a grand old birthday for what is arguably the grandest old console. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Sega Genesis in the U.S., which brought countless classic games and even more wonderful gaming memories.

The Genesis was also the console that ushered in the 16-bit era to North America. The TurboGrafx-16–which is relaunching in March 2020 as a mini console to capitalize on fellow tiny releases from Nintendo, Sony and Sega–is generally considered to be the first console of the 16-bit era, but only had an 8-bit CPU.

However, creator NEC also dragged its heels with its U.S. console release. The TurboGrafx-16 ended up launching two weeks after the Genesis, and barely made a dent on Sega’s sales.

Sega was more than aware that Nintendo had the edge after the 8-bit era. The NES resoundingly trounced the Master System globally: the NES sold over 60 million units, compared to around 12 million Master Systems.

As a result, Sega embarked upon an aggressive advertising campaign, aiming to use what would be a near-exact two-year head-start on the U.S. release of the SNES to distance itself from its rival. And so the “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” campaign was born: something that undoubtedly got under the skin of Sega’s domestic rivals.

On August 14, 1989, the Genesis hit shelves and brought with it a somewhat underwhelming initial line-up:

  • Altered Beast, a thoroughly average platformer which, to its credit, had a surprisingly good ending (obvious spoiler alert);
  • Last Battle, a side-scrolling martial arts-themed beat ‘em up with utterly shocking difficulty;
  • Space Harrier II, a follow-up to the arcade and Master System classic that showcased incredible sound, but a poor gameplay experience;
  • Super Thunder Blade, a helicopter sim that adopted the same procedural shooter style of Space Harrier II;
  • Thunder Force II, which combined R-Type-style horizontal shooting with free-directional, top-down action; and
  • Tommy Lasorda Baseball, the first of many Genesis titles that harnessed the power of celebrities to appeal to its audience. In this outing, it got the titular blessing of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager, fresh from their World Series victory in 1988. Neat.

Where’s Sonic the Hedgehog, you may ask? Contrary to the beliefs of many gamers, the inimitable blue speedster wasn’t even conceived until 1990, when Sega decided it needed a real mascot to go up against the all-powerful Mario. Sonic’s first game wasn’t released until June 23, 1991, nearly two years after the Genesis’ U.S. debut.

Sonic the Hedgehog didn't debut on the Genesis until two years after the console's release.

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Until then, though, Sega still threw some quality, well-loved titles onto the console, including The Revenge of Shinobi, Golden Axe, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Columns, Super Monaco GP, Alien Storm (a personal favorite of mine), Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Castle of Illusion. Soon after Sonic joined the fray, so too did Axel, Blaze and Adam of Streets of Rage.

The rest, they say, is history. Well, kinda. The SNES was released in August 1991 and despite its delay to market, it still managed to sell two-thirds more units in its lifetime: 49 million to the Genesis’ 30 million. The GameCube and Wii U were the only Nintendo consoles that didn’t outsell Sega’s 16-bit effort; in just two years, the Switch has already sold six million more units.

Still, the Mega Drive, as we know it here, will live on forever as one of the coolest consoles of all time. What’s more, memories can be relived very soon, thanks to Sega’s release of the Genesis Mini on September 19.

That is, of course, if you haven’t already re-bought its games dozens of times across every console since the 32X. One more time doesn’t hurt, though.

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The Sega Genesis is 30 years old today.

Getty

It’s a grand old birthday for what is arguably the grandest old console. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Sega Genesis in the U.S., which brought countless classic games and even more wonderful gaming memories.

The Genesis was also the console that ushered in the 16-bit era to North America. The TurboGrafx-16–which is relaunching in March 2020 as a mini console to capitalize on fellow tiny releases from Nintendo, Sony and Sega–is generally considered to be the first console of the 16-bit era, but only had an 8-bit CPU.

However, creator NEC also dragged its heels with its U.S. console release. The TurboGrafx-16 ended up launching two weeks after the Genesis, and barely made a dent on Sega’s sales.

Sega was more than aware that Nintendo had the edge after the 8-bit era. The NES resoundingly trounced the Master System globally: the NES sold over 60 million units, compared to around 12 million Master Systems.

As a result, Sega embarked upon an aggressive advertising campaign, aiming to use what would be a near-exact two-year head-start on the U.S. release of the SNES to distance itself from its rival. And so the “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” campaign was born: something that undoubtedly got under the skin of Sega’s domestic rivals.

On August 14, 1989, the Genesis hit shelves and brought with it a somewhat underwhelming initial line-up:

  • Altered Beast, a thoroughly average platformer which, to its credit, had a surprisingly good ending (obvious spoiler alert);
  • Last Battle, a side-scrolling martial arts-themed beat ‘em up with utterly shocking difficulty;
  • Space Harrier II, a follow-up to the arcade and Master System classic that showcased incredible sound, but a poor gameplay experience;
  • Super Thunder Blade, a helicopter sim that adopted the same procedural shooter style of Space Harrier II;
  • Thunder Force II, which combined R-Type-style horizontal shooting with free-directional, top-down action; and
  • Tommy Lasorda Baseball, the first of many Genesis titles that harnessed the power of celebrities to appeal to its audience. In this outing, it got the titular blessing of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager, fresh from their World Series victory in 1988. Neat.

Where’s Sonic the Hedgehog, you may ask? Contrary to the beliefs of many gamers, the inimitable blue speedster wasn’t even conceived until 1990, when Sega decided it needed a real mascot to go up against the all-powerful Mario. Sonic’s first game wasn’t released until June 23, 1991, nearly two years after the Genesis’ U.S. debut.

Sonic the Hedgehog didn't debut on the Genesis until two years after the console's release.

BLOOMBERG NEWS

Until then, though, Sega still threw some quality, well-loved titles onto the console, including The Revenge of Shinobi, Golden Axe, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Columns, Super Monaco GP, Alien Storm (a personal favorite of mine), Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and Castle of Illusion. Soon after Sonic joined the fray, so too did Axel, Blaze and Adam of Streets of Rage.

The rest, they say, is history. Well, kinda. The SNES was released in August 1991 and despite its delay to market, it still managed to sell two-thirds more units in its lifetime: 49 million to the Genesis’ 30 million. The GameCube and Wii U were the only Nintendo consoles that didn’t outsell Sega’s 16-bit effort; in just two years, the Switch has already sold six million more units.

Still, the Mega Drive, as we know it here, will live on forever as one of the coolest consoles of all time. What’s more, memories can be relived very soon, thanks to Sega’s release of the Genesis Mini on September 19.

That is, of course, if you haven’t already re-bought its games dozens of times across every console since the 32X. One more time doesn’t hurt, though.

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I’m a British writer and avid videogame fan. I run GameTripper, which gives writers the opportunity to share deeply personal stories about individual games and VGM.