Thirty years ago, SEGA launched the SEGA Mega Drive in Japan, starting a 16-bit revolution. Less than a year later in August 1989, that system would come to American shores as the SEGA Genesis. A year after that, in September of 1990, the Mega Drive would finally reach Brazil and PAL regions, building on the success of its predecessor the SEGA Master System.
It would wage the most iconic console war in the history of the industry against Nintendo’s newer, shinier Super Nintendo. Though this is a war SEGA would eventually lose, they would successfully break Nintendo’s stranglehold on the American video game industry, bringing their console market share down from over 90% in 1989 to below 45% in the 16-bit console market by 1992.
The Mega Drive was pretty impactful on the video game industry, but its legacy goes beyond the nostalgic memories of fans and its library of 16-bit classics. The console is intertwined into the very DNA of the character this whole website is about: Sonic the Hedgehog. From his trademark speed to his infamous attitude, much of what makes Sonic Sonic is rooted in the hardware and marketing of his first console.
Sonic is fast because the Mega Drive had a fast processor. The Super Nintendo, having released two years after the Mega Drive, put the tech in SEGA’s aging console to shame, beating it in nearly every area, including color, sound, and it was even capable of producing a faux 3D graphical effect called “mode 7”. The Mega Drive’s faster processor was one of the only areas where it had an advantage of Nintendo’s 16-bit powerhouse, and Sonic was designed to take full advantage of it. Marketed to the public as “blast processing,” Sonic’s speedy game play helped convince gamers that SEGA’s console could still do something Nintendidn’t.
Sonic’s personality is rooted in the Mega Drive’s marketing. Even before Sonic was around, the Mega Drive was marketed as a console for older games who had outgrown Nintendo and its ever-cheerful, kid-friendly, princess-saving plumber. Where Mario was innocent, Sonic was a “dude with a tude.” From his smug smile at the start screen to his obnoxious foot tapping idle animation, Sonic was design to be the epitome of coolness, and he was one of the only video game characters of the day to mostly get it right without coming off as trying too hard. While Sonic’s personality has shifted over the years, these traits have consistently remained a part of his character to at least some degree.
Even if your first Sonic game was on the GameCube, the Nokia N-Gage, the iPhone or the PlayStation 4, you still owe the Mega Drive for the experience.
And yes, as an American, I had a lot of trouble not calling it the Genesis. Way cooler name in my opinion.