Sega Master System Reviews S

Safari Hunt
Grade: C+

screenshotEvery console released in the mid-80's was required by law to come with its own light gun. Safari Hunt was the obligatory pack-in shooter for the Sega Master System. I hear it was built-in to certain models along with Hang On (Sega, 1985). I own the Safari Hunt/Hang On combo cartridge.

Much like Duck Hunt (NES, 1985), Safari Hunt is a lighthearted shooter with bright graphics and sing-song music. Its three stages offer scenic forest and lake views. Unlike Duck Hunt, there tend to be multiple targets on the screen at a time, including leaping fish, flapping geese, dashing panthers, and dangling spiders. Since the game is non-violent the shooting animations are decidedly cute. Shooting a goose turns it into a roast and hitting a bunny causes him to scurry off in crutches and bandages.

The top left of the screen displays your score and the top right displays the qualifying mark needed to advance. The game is a challenge because gun is not super precise and it can be especially tough to hit targets along the edge of the screen. The good news is your score is cumulative, so if you ace the first screen it'll be easier to get through the second.

Each stage has a set number of bullets lined across the bottom of the screen, and you'll want to keep an eye on those. Advanced stages have tougher enemies like a bear that can absorb several shots. The problem is, you don't score until you finish him off, and it's easy to run out of bullets in the process.

Safari Hunt is enjoyable for a while but its difficulty progression is bogus. Instead of supplying increasingly fast, more elusive targets, the game instead narrows your margin of error! So shooting the same geese later in the game becomes a lot more difficult. It makes you feel as if your gun is on the fritz, and that's no way to lose a game. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 48000
1 player 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (1988)
Posted: 2021/1/30

screenshotOf all of the ninja games to grace the consoles in the 1980's (too many to count) Shinobi did the best job of combining action and stealth. Its title screen depicts a closeup of our masked hero, and I must say I was a little taken aback by those bright blue eyes. Personally I think Asian ninjas have a lot more street cred, but whatever. Instead of traditional ninja garb our hero is decked out in camouflage, sporting the Metal Gear (NES, 1989) look.

Shinobi's gameplay reminds me of Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (Genesis, 1991) as you methodically extract tied-up hostages while thwarting their captors. Throwing stars serve as your primary weapon but Shinobi will brandish a sword during close range encounters. I can't emphasize enough out how satisfying it is to nail an oncoming enemy in the face with a star. In the face!!

The degree of detail in the character sprites is exceptional, surpassing anything you're likely to see on the NES. The backgrounds could be more detailed but there's just something about those starry night skies in the dock stage. Upbeat Japanese music keeps things lively and adds an aura of authenticity. One particular location features a wall plastered with Andy Warhol-style Marilyn Monroe images, which I hear were sadly removed from later versions of the game.

Most stages contain multiple levels of platforms, allowing you to "get the drop" on foes. Unfortunately, not being able to "look" up or down means you'll be surprised just as often as they are! The deliberate pacing is occasionally punctuated by exhilarating sequences that force you to perform a series of quick jumps and ducks. Did you ever notice if an enemy throws a boomerang, it won't bother to return if you kill him first?

The first-person star-throwing bonus stage looks amazing but damn - they are so hard! Slowdown occasionally rears its ugly head, especially during the helicopter encounter. Still, when Shinobi is good, it's very good. This game will kick your ass again and again but you'll never grow tired of it. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 143650
1 player 

Shooting Gallery
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (1987)
Posted: 2022/9/15

screenshotMy initial assessment of Shooting Gallery was a little off the mark. It looks like your basic light gun shooter but offers a diverse set of stages. As if to tone down the violence, the idea is that you're shooting at images on a projected screen. Errant shots blowing holes in the screen, exposing bricks in the background. It's a neat little effect.

The first two screens have you shooting wooden ducks, and it's enjoyable thanks to shattering effects and forgiving collection detection. Bullets are unlimited so you don't need to be perfect. The next set of stages feature balloons floating up the screen. If your shot is a bit off, the balloon will recoil in the opposite direction. There's also the occasional blimp which frankly is hard to miss.

The stages are short and sweet with intermediate screens displaying your results and current score. Should you fail to shoot a certain number of targets it's game over. The thing is, you're not told what the quota is going in, so there's an element of suspense as the results are tabulated.

Stage five ramps up the difficulty considerably, presenting you with a series of intertwined pipes with gaps. Balls travel through the pipes, and you must shoot them during the brief moments when they're in the clear. You'll need to be a real dead-eyed dick to ace this one.

Shooting Gallery is a light-hearted arcade shooter that's more creative than most. Still, those tricky pipe screens drove me a little nuts. It's as though the difficulty hits a wall, suddenly jumping from fair to super hard. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 8800
1 player 

Sonic Chaos
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (1993)
Posted: 2021/2/17

screenshotAfter playing the glitchy mess that was Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega, 1992), Sonic Chaos feels like a breath of fresh air. You finally have the choice of playing as Tails instead of Sonic, and his ability to fly short distances might affect how you approach some stages. Chaos boasts some of the best graphics the Master System has to offer. This looks like an arcade game for goodness sake.

Beginning with the sparkling Turquoise Hill zone, its lush worlds feature multiple pathways that give you plenty of options to explore. Sonic can finally perform his spin-dash move, allowing him to go from zero to 60 in an instant. New gadgets include bumpers you can hop around on like pogo sticks, and rockets that fly you clear across the screen. There are even the corkscrews to run through! The zones are imaginative too. Gigalopolis has an ominous futuristic vibe and Sleepy Egg zone offers plenty of destruction for the money.

I guess the main flaw with Sonic Chaos is slowdown. There's no way around it really. Sonic labors to make it around a single loop, and landing on a narrow platform is frustrating when the frame rate is erratic. That said, the game's forgiving nature and sheer playability make up for its speed issues. I love how Sonic is sitting there on my screen right now, impatient waiting as I type in this review. It's not perfect but Sonic Chaos is the best-looking and most playable Sonic game you'll find on an 8-bit system. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 136K
1 player 

Sonic the Hedgehog
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (1991)
Posted: 2021/1/30

screenshotThis is a tough one to rate. Most people know Sonic the Hedgehog from his spectacular Genesis debut, which boasted big graphics, an amazing soundtrack, and an unbridled sense of speed. It pushed 16-bit technology to the limit, so the idea of porting the game to an 8-bit system seems like a fool's errand. Taken for what it is however, there's something to be said for this Master System version. There may be no fancy loops but the layered graphics are attractive and there are even some pseudo-3D palm trees.

I love the little map screen that introduces each new stage. The characters are nicely detailed, although smaller enemies can be hard to see coming. They aren't terribly aggressive, pausing for several seconds before unloading their shots. The bosses on the other hand can be extremely challenging. So why would a Genesis owner want to bother with this scaled-down edition? Well, you get a whole new set of stages, even if they are clearly inspired by the Genesis game. Most are very linear in nature but there are occasional alternate paths and hidden areas.

The game plays very well except for frequent slowdown which tends to undermine Sonic's blinding speed. It's especially detrimental if it kicks in as you're trying to maneuver through the air. The auto-scrolling stages are the worst, forcing you to go excruciatingly slow against your will. I could also do without the "bonus" stages in which you're just bouncing around collecting rings for sixty seconds (but feels much longer). All things considered Sega did a respectable job with this one. The graphics are exceptional and the theme song is right on. It may be a more pedestrian version of Sonic the Hedgehog, but at the very least this Master System serves up a unique new adventure. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 72,100
1 player 

Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (1992)
Posted: 2021/2/17

screenshotSonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Sega Master system begins in an underground zone offering all the usual tropes: lava, falling spikes, and minecarts. What a turn-off. I'm accustomed to Sonic games kicking off in some bright, tropical paradise; not some trap-laden subterranean hole. I'm willing to bet the Green Hill Zone was supposed to be first until some marketing genius decided to shake things up. The two trademark features of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis, 1992) are nowhere to be found. Where's Sonic's spin-dash move? Tails is not even a playable character, so don't expect any coop action.

If you're noticing less slow-down it's probably due to less detail and animation in the scenery. There's really not much to see. Be sure Sonic has at least one ring on him at all times because leaps of faith are the rule, not the exception. The first boss encounter is bizarre. Why am I dodging bouncing balls? What is that tentacle creature? What the [expletive] is going on?!

Stage two is the infamous Sky High Zone, featuring a hang glider so non-intuitive to use it might as well be a death trap. The instructions are flat-out wrong and frankly I still don't know how to fly this God-forsaken contraption. One time I somehow got it working, but every other time I would just flail away before drifting into the spikes below.

I also experienced a crazy glitch in this zone where I fell off the screen, turned invisible, burrowed up through a mountain, and became permanently stuck in the clouds above. Not exaggerating. The Aqua Lake Zone is no picnic either. Once I drowned while attempting to enter an underwater passageway more than wide enough for a hedgehog to pass through. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Master System is an unmitigated disaster. It seems to have all the outtake stages of the first game but none of the quality control. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 35,800
1 player 

Space Harrier
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (1987)
Posted: 2011/5/17

screenshotIn this pseudo-3D shooter you fly over a checkerboard planet while dodging obstacles and blasting aliens. Trees and one-eyed mammoths scale in from the distance while saucers, robots, and stone faces swoop in from the sky. Space Harrier looked great in the arcade, but this scaled-down version is unacceptable. The rough animation and rampant "shape stamping" transform the screen into a pixelated mess. Toss in some fire-breathing dragons and you will have no freakin' clue what the [expletive] is going on!

The depth perception is non-existent so there's no way to determine if something is close enough to harm you. Your best strategy is to keep moving and try to stay away from those huge unsightly splotches on the screen. The control is fair and there are some decent voice effects, but the game itself is a lost cause. Heck, even the Genesis couldn't do this game justice! I'm a little surprised that Sega even released Space Harrier for the Master System, because it's a little embarrassing. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 2,471,110
1 player 

Space Harrier 3D
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (1988)
Posted: 2011/5/17

screenshotI hated the "normal" Space Harrier on the Master System, but quickly changed my tune with this 3D edition. Yes, I am a hypocritical bastard. The original Space Harrier struggled mightily to convey depth via scaling sprites, and the result was rudimentary at best and ugly at worst. The fact that this version has real depth makes it so much easier to judge incoming hazards. As in the original game your guy runs and flies toward the horizon, but the setting is a little more advanced and the visuals more refined.

The ground moves beneath your feet to convey speed and I always get excited when I see that futuristic city looming in the distance - even if I know I'm never gonna get there! The game even uses futuristic colors like "mauve" and "fuchsia" so take that! Metallic pillars and mutant plants appear on the horizon, and while they still sport that "stamped sprite" look, it's not nearly as offensive as it was in the original game. Jet fighters and tie fighters enter the fray from the sky, unleashing huge, spherical missiles. It's hard to see what's going on at times, especially when those square "explosions" obstruct approaching enemies.

Each stage is set on a different planet which apparently gave the developers license to use all sorts of random shapes and loud color schemes. The musical score dishes out some nice melodies that call to mind the 16-bit Sonic titles. If only the stages didn't tend to drag on for so long and wear out their welcome. Despite that, Space Harrier 3D conveys real excitement on the strength of those 3D glasses. You have to love futuristic technology - especially when it was invented in the 1950s! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 1,941,370
1 player 

Spider-Man Vs. the Kingpin
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (1990)
Posted: 2007/7/11

screenshotThis is a poor man's version of the Genesis Spider-Man game, and I don't like it at all. The graphics aren't too bad, and judging from the crisp, colorful title screen alone you might even assume this was a Genesis game. Sadly, Spider-Man is ruined by poor design and hazy objectives, causing confusion, frustration, and eventually rage. The action starts in front of the Daily Bugle building, in a scene oddly reminiscent of Spider-Man for the Atari 2600. As you attempt to swing and climb your way to a high open window, your efforts are thwarted by thugs in the windows but mostly by the poor controls.

Spider-Man can kick, punch, sling web, swing, climb, and even activate icons. How did Sega map so many functions to just two buttons? Not very well! Even when you know exactly what you're supposed to do, the clumsy controls make everything an onerous chore. The second stage takes place in a warehouse, where you slug it out with thugs in blue helmets and orange jumpsuits. You need to kill each and every last one of them before Dr. Octopus will appear, and it took me quite a while to figure that out! Kicking thugs causes them to bounce around like basketballs - pretty cheesy!!

The third stage places Spidey in some nasty sewers with falling red drops, rising green bubbles, and pesky rats scurrying around. This stage also features nasty pit traps that are next to impossible to escape from. Even the layered background music sounds like a jumbled mess. I wanted to like Spider-Man, but this game is just a monumental waste of time. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 8700
1 player 

Streets of Rage
Grade: B+

screenshotIf you're a big Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991) fan like myself you may be interested to see how other versions of the game turned out. All things considered this 8-bit version is fairly stunning. The opening city skyline and ominous music is not far removed from the Genesis. You get all three fighters (Axel, Adam, and Blaze) with all their trademark moves like Adam's roundhouse, Axel's backhand, and Blaze's flip kick.

Memorable thugs include sliding turtle dudes, leaping kung fu masters, and dominatrix babes who pretend they're hurt until you turn your back. The weird juggler dudes throw circular blades instead of fire. All the bosses are present including the boomerang-tossing sailor, the werewolf guy with claws, and the fire-breathing fat man.

The first stage features gitzy storefronts with great lighting and reflections. The characters are smaller in this version, and Blaze's dress is so short you can see flashes of her underwear! I like how it's easier to toss enemies over your shoulder, causing them to bounce into oncoming foes. The collision detection is extremely loose, and you can usually keep enemies (and even bosses) at bay by rapidly punching from a safe distance.

The weapons don't have much range and enemies easily elude them; it's like trying to hit a fly with a baseball bat. This version lacks those satisfying shrieks when you dispatch enemies, which makes defeating bosses feel anticlimactic. The police backup attack is so awkward that I never even use it. You have to press the pause button on the console and then a button on the controller. Not only is this awkward but it's really easy to accidentally press reset!

The audio/visual prowess of this game is remarkable. The stages exude atmosphere and the 16-bit tunes are surprisingly well reproduced. Only when I tried to play this with my wife did I discover its major downfall - it's one player only! This Streets of Rage is kind of a sad case. It's a remarkable technical achievement almost completely overshadowed by its superior Genesis counterpart. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 224,300
1 player 

Submarine Attack (Europe)
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (1990)
Posted: 2018/8/28

screenshotI've had a thing for submarine shooters ever since In The Hunt (Saturn, 1995). In this somewhat obscure side-scrolling import you'll blast your way through coral reefs, shadowy caverns, and lost undersea civilizations. Your stylized sub and colorful scenery have a vague Yellow Submarine (The Beatles) influence. One button fires torpedoes while the other tosses mines, and you can hold both to maintain constant fire. The action begins slowly as you navigate sparse seas with the occasional mine, ship, or helicopter above. How large air bubbles could damage your submarine I have no idea.

The game gains traction in stage two where power-ups are dispensed early and often. The caverns are beautifully rendered but I can never tell when it's okay to touch the walls. When your ship is flashing that is not a good thing, as I learned the hard way. Should you manage to snag two or three "A" (attack) icons, you can obliterate everything that tries to enter the screen. It might make the game easy for a stretch, but enjoy it while you can because once you reach stage four (the Lost City) you'll need all the firepower you can get.

Giant floating stone heads can absorb a lot of hits before they bum-rush your sub. A few other factors mitigate the difficulty, like the way your shots cancel out incoming projectiles. After dying you pick up right where you left off - even during a boss battle! The game offers alternate routes which enhance the replay value. I just wish your score was displayed on the screen instead of between rounds. Submarine Attack feels a little uneven at times, but it packs a degree of firepower rarely seen on an 8-bit system. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 23,670
1 player 

Super Tennis
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (1988)
Posted: 2001/10/1

screenshotIn the years between Activision's Tennis (Atari 2600, 1981) and Virtua Tennis (Dreamcast, 2000), there weren't many good tennis games. Super Tennis is fair, but the lack of control really limits the fun. Also, you can ONLY play against the computer. That's right, even though the game supports two players, you can't play against each other. The good-looking tennis court graphics feature a judge and crowd. The cartoonish players are detailed and colorful.

Serving is tough. You'll make a lot of double faults before getting the timing down. During volleys, the ball moves slowly, while the players move fast. If you miss the ball, you can actually run back for another try! One time I swung four times before hitting it!

Another thing that happens quite a bit is that the ball will hit your body, causing you to lose the point. You don't have much control over your shots - you can't aim at all! The lob shot is too slow and high to be effective. The only effective move is to smash the ball when it hangs in the air. Otherwise Super Tennis feels like a contest to see who will mess up first. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, GameSpot, Digital Press, Moby Games