Sega Genesis: It Does What Nintendon't
"Sega Does What Nintendon't"
The Sega Genesis (e.g. Mega Drive in some regions) was a home video game console produced & licensed by Sega. It was originally developed to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), but its primary competition actually came in the form of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The Genesis was substantially more powerful than the NES, but was marginally less powerful than the SNES. Sega has a history of releasing consoles at particularly odd times where it's difficult to really pin-point where they are in relation to other consoles. Of course, Nintendo had two additional years of development time prior to releasing the SNES, whereas the Genesis had already been on the market longer than that.
The Genesis was ahead of its time at launch, but quickly began to age in the wake of the SNES & TurboGrafx-16. In order prolong the life of the successful console, Sega had to innovate in order to keep their customer's interest. One of the most glaring problems was the lack of an easily identifiable mascot. Alex Kidd was originally Sega's mascot & was even packed-in with certain Master System bundles. However, it wasn't enough to compete with Nintendo's Mario franchise, not to mention an ever expanding slew of original IP's like Zelda, Super Metroid, etc. In 1991, the problem was remedied with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, a high-speed platforming game with bright colors and edgy music. The character quickly gained massive popularity, and I would go so far as to say that Sonic is probably the #1 most recognized character in video games.
With the success of the first game, Sega quickly pumped out a sequel: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in 1992. Building on the formula of the first title, Sonic gained new abilities (e.g. Spin Dash & Super transformation) while becoming familiar with a new ally in Miles "Tails" Prower. The game was eventually a pack-in title with the Model 2 Genesis systems. By the time Sonic 3 & Sonic & Knuckles launched (1994), Sonic had reached the apex of his popularity.
Honorable mentions would go to Revenge of Shinobi, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Super Hang-On, Sonic Spinball & Vectorman & Altered Beast for essentially creating a mirror to Nintendo's popular IP's.
The Mature Gamer Demographic
While Nintendo & Mario were widely associated with being kid-friendly 'toys', Sega's target audience wasn't just 9-year-old's. The appealed to just about any age, often incorporating mature themes (like red blood or suggestive themes) that Nintendo simply wouldn't allow on their console. In fact, Sega is probably most responsible for creating the ESRB ratings system that is in place today.
What the Heck is a Fifth-Generation Platform?
With pressure coming from both Nintendo & new-comer Sony, Sega was faced with the challenge of either keeping the Genesis relevant or creating a new platform. Ironically, they ended up trying to do both, which in hindsight was probably a bad idea. First, they released the Sega CD/Mega CD to compete with the likes of the TurboGrafx-16's CD capabilities & later the Atari Jaguar. The add-on was more successful than the subsequent device that was released (discussed below), but that isn't really saying much. By mid 1994 Sega was feeling the pressure of what we now recognize as the fifth-generation of game consoles. Even though Japan was already working on the next true console, Sega of America wanted to keep the Genesis alive & instead opted for another add-on to essentially upgrade the Genesis into the next generation.
Sega CD & Sega 32X
As mentioned previously, Sega initially launched the Sega CD in an effort to bridge the performance gap between it and the SNES. Using the CD-ROM format, games were now able to utilize CD-quality audio & certain effects (like rotation & scaling) that were not possible with the Genesis hardware alone. The CD-ROM also offered much higher storage capacity than cartridges, albeit sometimes suffering from longer load times. With the shift of the industry moving towards 32-bits rather than the standard 16-bits, Sega of America wanted to offer an upgrade for the Genesis in order to bring it into the new console generation. They released the 32X add-on, which fitted into the cartridge bay of the Genesis. One notable feature of the 32X is that it will slightly improve existing Genesis games, giving them a more vibrant color palette.
Where the 32X went wrong was perhaps first in its very existence or time of release. It basically coincided with the release of the Saturn in Japan.
This is the only console produced by Sega to have true success across several regions. When I say 'true success' I'm speaking in terms of sales & profit. I'm not saying that it was the most popular Sega console in every region, but it was the most successful across the board.
Versions, Designs & Re-Releases
The Sega Genesis is perhaps most famous for its wide assortment of variations in design & presence in other electronics. The Model I was the launch model first released back in '89. I don't particularly like this model & it just seems sort of ugly/unnecessarily large. The model II (2) was the model I owned as a kid. It was sleek, slim & compact (and fully compatible with both add-on devices). The Model III (3) was a variation I've never owned. It's a much smaller, more compact design that simply let's you play Genesis games without any of the add-on peripherals.
In addition to the 3 revisions of the main console, there also existed a plethora of hybrid combinations in various electronic equipment, such as in the JVC Wondermega.