The Video Game Critic's Console Reviews
Sega Genesis (1989-1997)

Manufacturer: Sega
Format: Cartridge
Controller ports: 2
Save Capability: None
Number of Games: Over 500
Video Output: RF, Composite
Original Price: $189.99
system

As the console that ultimately dethroned the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) in the early 90's, the Genesis ushered in a new era of 16-bit gaming. Although released in 1989, the system didn't gain serious traction until Sega released the landmark Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991. Although Sonic borrowed many platform-jumping elements from Super Mario Bros., it featured more stylish graphics and lightning-fast gameplay. Sonic also provided Sega with the recognizable mascot they desperately needed. The Genesis dominated the video game market unchallenged until the long-delayed Super Nintendo entered the fold in 1991. What ensued between Sega and Nintendo was probably the most heated console rivalry ever. At one point, Sega ran a controversial advertising campaign denigrating the SNES and boasting about the Genesis' "blast processing" capabilities. It was mainly marketing hype, but the Genesis did contain a faster processor than the SNES, allowing certain games (particularly sports titles) to run faster and smoother. The Super Nintendo eventually edged out the Genesis in the mid-90's, thanks to its superior graphics and sound, but by that time the next generation of systems was emerging.

Console design: C-. The original Genesis console's distinctive black design looked dated almost from its inception. The large "16 BIT" label looks cheesy, and an unnecessary headphone jack and volume control slider clutter the left side of the unit (did anyone ever use that thing?) There's also a sliding power-switch, a red power light, and a gray reset button. There are two easily accessible controller ports on the front, and a hidden expansion port on the right side lets you to connect the Sega CD peripheral. Sega later redesigned the Genesis with a more understated, smaller, symmetrical design. The final iteration of the console was tiny - not much bigger than a controller!

Console durability: A-. Genesis consoles age well and rarely break. A friend once reported a broken controller port, but that's a rare exception.

controller Controllers: B. Large and rounded, the original Genesis controllers are some of the most comfortable you'll ever handle. The directional pad is wide and firm, and the three concave buttons are large and comfortable. A rectangular Start button is located in the center of the controller. Unfortunately, Sega failed to foresee the advent of one-on-one fighting games that required more than four buttons, such as Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. This gave the Super Nintendo a huge advantage with their six-button controllers. Sega tried to address this issue by releasing a six-button controller for the Genesis, but the first version was poorly designed. Not only was it actually smaller than the original three-button model, but its six small buttons were tiny and bunched together. A hidden shoulder button allowed you to switch between the three and six-button mode, but it was never clear how this was supposed to work. Sega later released a larger, better designed six-button controller, but by then most third-party developers had given up on it. Sega also introduced an innovative "body motion" controller called the Activator. Taking the form of a large plastic ring you stand in the center of, the Activator recognized body movements such as punches and kicks. Using this controller proved both awkward and tiring however, and it never caught on.

game Media: A. Ideal in size, Genesis cartridges are black, compact, and have a distinctive rounded-edge design. The front label extends over the top, where the name of the game is conveniently printed.

Packaging: A/F. Like the Sega Master System, Genesis games were sold in protective black plastic cases which snap firmly shut and look great on a shelf. When opened, the right side holds the cartridge firmly, and the instruction book slides into the left side. This quality packaging is the primary reason why it's so easy to find Genesis games complete and in good condition. Unfortunately, Sega took a few ill-advised measures to cut costs in 1994, including replacing the sturdy plastic cases with flimsy cardboard boxes. In addition, the instruction manuals went from glossy color covers to dull black-and-white. Genesis fans were not happy with these changes, which made the later games (which were still very expensive at the time) look very cheap.

Games: A. If you're wondering why the Genesis is held in such high esteem, all you need to do is look at its extensive library of games. The early titles were marginal (including the original pack-in game "Altered Beast") but the quality increased over time. The system excelled in platformers, shooters, and most of all, sports titles. Compared to their Super Nintendo counterparts, Genesis sports titles didn't look as sharp or sound as clear, but they played far better. Especially in Madden, NHL Hockey, and NBA Live, the animation was more fluid and the controls more responsive. The Genesis's blazing processor also allowed it to run intense shooters and frenetic platformers like Sonic the Hedgehog with none of the dreaded "slow-down". The system was a bit weak in terms of RPGs and one-on-one fighters, two genres which thrived on the SNES. The Genesis did manage to edge out the SNES in sales of the first Mortal Kombat game however, thanks to a blood-enabling code (the SNES version was limited to "flying sweat"). Another interesting move by Sega was introducing "lock-on" technology with their Sonic and Knuckles cartridge. Not only was the cartridge a complete game in of itself, but it allowed Sonic 2 and 3 cartridges to plug into the top of it, exposing new features and hidden areas in those games. Although a novel concept, the technology has never been used since. Sega also released a version of the 3D driving game Virtua Racer in 1994. Equipped with a special chip in an oversized cartridge, this game was impressive but its $100 pricetag proved prohibitive to most gamers.

Graphics: B. As the first true 16-bit system on the market, the Genesis' graphics eclipsed the competition in 1989. In addition to huge sprites and fast animation, the system was capable of gorgeous animated backgrounds and dazzling special effects. Unfortunately, the fuzzy Genesis video signal resulted in visuals less well defined as those found on the SNES. In addition, the Genesis did not have built-in support for rotation and scaling capabilitiy, although some developers managed to implement this in the software.

Audio: D+. The Genesis is fairly mediocre in terms of audio. Its limited range prevents it from generating deep bass, and most Genesis music has a distinctive, whiney sound. Still, games like Thunder Force 3, Madden '92, and Road Rash made the best of the system's audio limitations with their high-energy, catchy tunes. Digitized sound effects and voice clips on the Genesis tend to sound muffled and scratchy.

Collectability: A. Due to its sizeable library and excellent packaging, the Genesis is an ideal system for collectors. Individual cartridges are inexpensive, and it's not difficult to find complete games in great condition. The variety of games will satisfy any taste, although shooter and sports fans will especially be drawn to the system. The Genesis systems themselves are also very commonplace and inexpensive.

Innovations: First true 16-bit system, Activator body controller, 32X attachment, "lock-on technology" (Sonic and Knuckles only).

Pros and Cons:
+ Huge, terrific library.
+ Fast action, smooth animation with minimal slowdown.
+ Superb packaging
+ Highly collectable
- Three-button controller limiting for fighting games
- Meager sound capabilities

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