The following article on the Sega Master System, written by yours truly, recently appeared in AntiqueWeek. I've reprinted it here for your perusal:
Even the most casual of gamers has heard of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the popular console that resurrected the video game industry in the U.S. from the ashes of The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 and introduced the country to such iconic Nintendo properties as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
Far fewer people are familiar with the Sega Master System, the closest thing Nintendo had to a competitor at the time. Originally released in Japan in 1985 as the Sega Mark III, the Sega Master System hit U.S. shores in June of 1986, which was less than a year after the NES made its debut.
Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo, despite the short lead time, had already signed exclusive deals with most of the major third-party game publishers, meaning the Master System missed out on many popular series, including Castlevania, Contra, and Mega Man. Titles such as those, along with Nintendo’s popular first-party games, helped propel Nintendo to an 83% share of the entire video game market by 1988.
Derek Slaton, author of the newly released The Sega Master System Encyclopedia, believes the Master System hardware is better than the NES console, but for one admittedly large component: the size of the game library.
“For a variety of reasons the NES had a ton of third party releases, which is why there are over 700 games for the NES,” he said. “The SMS, on the other hand, barely had any, which is why there are barely over a hundred games on the system (well, in the USA that is).”
Slaton, who says that “video games were pretty much my entire childhood,” has fond memories of hanging out with his best friend, “staying up to 3:00 a.m. drawing maps on graph paper so we could figure out how to get through the later dungeons in Phantasy Star,” a great role-playing game that is a cornerstone of the Master System library.
Slaton also enjoys Wonder Boy III: The Dragons Trap, another terrific RPG. “The graphics and the music are amazing and still hold up very well today,” he said. “The gameplay is a nearly perfect mix of action, platforming, and Metroid-style exploration. The boss battles are epic, there are tons of secrets to uncover, and, most importantly, it's just a heck of a lot of fun to play.”
In the video game collectibles market, role-playing games tend to be among the more sought-after titles, but a near mint-in-box copy of Wonder Boy III: The Dragons Trap will only set you back around $35 or so. A copy of Phantasy Star in similar condition is worth $60.
According to Slaton, the most valuable U.S. release for the Master System is James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing, but only because it was released in small quantities, not because of the quality of the game. “There are only a handful of the games floating around, and even loose copies go for $150,” he said. “Which in my opinion is about $149.50 too much.”
In an article entitled “The Rarest and Most Valuable Sega Master System Games” published on www.racketboy.com, the top spot goes to the U.S. version of Sonic the Hedgehog (not to be confused with the common Sega Genesis cart), which is worth $500 complete in the box. However, the article warns that buyers should beware that the valuable U.S. release is hard to discern from the European game: “The only way to tell the European versions from their North American counterparts is that U.S. releases have a sticker barcode on the back (of the box).”
The rest of the list is as follows:
*James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing: $150 – $400.
*Golden Axe Warrior: $65 – $200.
*Out Run (Blue Label) 1990 Re-Release: $50 – $100.
* Power Strike II: $60 – $85.
*Phantasy Star: $23 – $60.
* Out Run 3D: $40 – $80.
*Spiderman: $45 – $70.
* Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker: $30 – $50.
*Alex Kidd in Shinobi World: $30 – $50.