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Quotation1 Welcome to the Next Level Quotation2
— Slogan for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.

The Sega Mega Drive (メガドライブ Mega Doraibu?) is a 16-bit video game console released by Sega in Japan in 1988, North America in 1989, and PAL countries in 1990. It was sold under the name Sega Genesis in North America as Sega was unable to secure legal rights to the "Mega Drive" name in that region.[2] The Mega Drive was Sega's third move in attempt to dominate the home console market and was the successor to the Sega Master System.

The Mega Drive is part of the fourth generation era of video game consoles and the first of its generation to achieve notable market share in Europe and North America. It was a direct competitor of NEC's PC Engine (which was released one year earlier and had a better success in Japan) and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (which was released two years later). The Sega Mega Drive began production in Japan in 1988 and ended with the last official game were being released in 2002 in Brazil.[3]

With a lifespan of fourteen years and 41.9 million units sold, it became Sega's most successful console. The console has a legacy with certain games available and regarded as the starter of Sonic the Hedgehog series as well.

Sonic games

Sonic Generations Classic Era

Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles were included in Sonic Generations for the Classic era.

Characters Introduced

Box artwork gallery

United States


Europe and United Kingdom





Although the Sega Master System was a success in Europe, and later also Brazil, it failed to ignite much attention in the North American or Japanese markets, which, by the mid-to-late 1980s, were both dominated by Nintendo's large market shares.[4][5][6] Meanwhile in the arcades, the Sega System 16 had become a success. Hayao Nakayama, Sega's CEO at the time, decided to make its new home system utilize a similar 16-bit architecture.[7] The final design was eventually also used in the Mega-Tech, Mega-Play and System-C arcade machines. Any game made for the Mega Drive hardware could easily be ported to these systems.[8]

The first name Sega considered for its console was the MK-1601, but it ultimately decided to call it the "Sega Mega Drive". The name was said to represent superiority and speed, with the new and powerful Motorola 68000 processor in mind.[9] Sega used the name Mega Drive for the Japanese, European, Asian, Australian and Brazilian versions of the console. The North American version went by the name "Genesis" due to a trademark dispute.[2]


The Mega Drive was released in Japan on 29 October 1988,[10] almost exactly a year after the release of NEC PC Engine and the same year as the release of TurboGrafx 16 in North America.

In 1987, Sega announced a North American release date for the system (under the name of Sega Genesis) of January 9, 1989.[11] Sega initially attempted to partner with Atari Corporation for distribution of the console in the US, but the two could not agree to terms and Sega decided to do it themselves.[12] Sega was not able to meet the initial release date and United States sales began on 14 August 1989 in New York City and Los Angeles. The Genesis was released in the rest of North America later that year.[13]

The European release was on 30 November 1990. Following on from the European success of the Sega Master System, the Mega Drive became a very popular console in Europe. Unlike in other regions where the Nintendo Entertainment System had been the dominant platform, the Sega Master System was the most popular console in Europe at the time. In the United Kingdom, the most well known of Sega's advertising slogans was "To be this good takes AGES, to be this good takes SEGA". Some of these adverts employed adult humor and innuendo with sentences like "The more you play with it, the harder it gets" displayed with an illustration of the waggling of a joystick.[14] A prominent figure in the European marketing was the "Sega Pirate", a talking one-eyed skull that starred in many TV adverts with a generally edgy and humorous attitude. Since the Mega Drive was already two years old at the release in Europe, the many games available at launch were naturally more in numbers compared to the launches in other regions. The ports of arcade titles like Altered Beast, Golden Axe and Ghouls 'n Ghosts, available in stores at launch, provided a strong image of the console's power to deliver an arcade-like experience.[15] The arrival of Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991 was just as successful as in North America, with the new Sega mascot becoming popular throughout the continent.[15]

In Brazil, the Mega Drive was released by Tec Toy in 1990, only a year after the Brazilian release of the Sega Master System. Tec Toy also ran the Internet service Sega Meganet service in Brazil as well as producing games exclusively for the Brazilian market.[16] On 5 December 2007, Tec Toy released a portable version of Mega Drive with 20 built-in games.[17][18]

Console wars

The Sega Mega Drive initially competed against the aging 8-bit NES, over which it had superior graphics and sound. Despite this, the Mega Drive was all but ignored in Japan as soon as it was launched. Some positive coverage came out of magazines Famitsu and Beep!, but Sega shipped only 400,000 units in the first year.[2] In order to sell more units, Sega tried some risky moves, including creating an online banking system and answering machine called the Sega Anser[19] and several peripherals and games.[2] The Mega Drive remained a distant third in Japan behind Nintendo's Super Famicom and NEC's PC-Engine throughout the 16-bit era.[20]

New Sega of America CEO Michael Katz instituted a two-part approach to build sales in that region. The first part involved a marketing campaign to challenge Nintendo head-on and emphasize the more arcade-like experience available on the Genesis, summarized by the slogan "Genesis does what Nintendon't".[21][22] The second part, since Nintendo owned the console rights to most arcade games of the time, involved creating a library of instantly-recognizable titles by contracting with celebrities and athletes to produce games using their names and likenesses; Pat Riley Basketball, Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf, James 'Buster' Douglas Knockout Boxing, Joe Montana Football, Tommy Lasorda Baseball, Mario Lemieux Hockey, and Michael Jackson's Moonwalker all stemmed from this initiative.[23][24] Nonetheless, it had a hard time overcoming Nintendo's ubiquitous presence in the consumer's home.[25]

Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama, fearing a second market failure soon after the Master System, hired Tom Kalinske to replace Katz in mid-1990. Although Kalinske initially knew little about the video game market, he learned quickly and surrounded himself with industry-savvy advisors. A believer in the razor and blades business model, he developed a four-point plan: cut the price of the console; create a US-based team to develop games targeted at the American market; continue and expand the aggressive advertising campaigns; and replace the bundled game, Altered Beast, with their new title, Sonic the Hedgehog. The Japanese board of directors were even more unimpressed than when he started. All hints of friendliness were replaced with confusion, shock and rage. Shinobu Toyoda, who was accompanying Kalinske attempted to translate a barrage of complaints and criticisms. Nakayama pounded his fist on the table, silencing the room, and approved Kalinske's plan. This left the board of directors furious, but Kalinske knew there would be a success. Magazines praised Sonic as one of the greatest games yet made, and Sega's console finally took off as customers who had been waiting for the Super NES decided to purchase a Genesis instead.[25] Nintendo's console would debut against an established competitor, while NEC's TurboGrafx-16 was left out and NEC soon pulled out of the market.[26]

Sega began 1992 with a number of advantages: a 55% to 45% market share over the Super NES, a lower price, and a tenfold advantage in number of games.[27] Sega's advertising continued to position the Genesis as the "cooler" console,[27] and coined the term "Blast Processing" to suggest that the Genesis was capable of handling games with faster motion than the SNES.[28] A Sony focus group found that teenage boys would not admit to owning a Super NES rather than a Genesis.[29] Neither console could maintain a definitive lead in market share for several years.

In Europe, the Mega Drive maintained support through 1998. It outsold all other consoles, including the Sega Saturn, in later years.[10] Brazil also saw success with the Mega Drive, where it held 75% of the market share.[10]


In early 1991, Sega announced the Mega-CD for release in Japan in late 1991 and in North America (as the Sega CD) in 1992. While the Mega Drive add-on did contain a faster CPU and some enhanced graphics capabilities, the main focus of the device was to expand the size of games: cartridges of the day typically contained 8 to 16 megabits of data, while a CD-ROM disk would hold 640 megabytes (5120 megabits). Sega of Japan, partnering with Sony, refused to consult with Sega's American division until the project was completed—Sega of America had to assemble parts from various "dummy" units to obtain a working prototype.[30] While it became known for several games, especially Sonic the Hedgehog CD, the expansion only sold 6 million units worldwide.[31]

At June 1994's Consumer Electronics Show, Sega presented the 32X as the "poor man's entry into 'next generation' games." [32] Although some blame Sega of America for developing this failure,[31] the 32X was originally conceived as an entirely new console by Sega of Japan.[33] Sega of America R&D head Joe Miller convinced Sega of Japan to strengthen the console and convert it into an add-on to the existing Genesis, but they would not make it a competitor to the forthcoming Sega Saturn. Although this add-on contained two 32-bit CPU chips and a 3D graphics processor, it failed to attract either developers or consumers as the superior Saturn had already been announced for release the next year. Originally released at US$159, Sega dropped the price to $99 in only a few months and ultimately cleared the remaining inventory at $19.95;[33] only 200,000 units were sold.[31]

32-bit era and beyond

By the end of 1995, Sega was supporting five different video game consoles and two add-ons: Saturn, Genesis, Game Gear, Pico, Sega CD, 32X and Master System in Brazil and the surroundings. As the Saturn was leading Sony's PlayStation in Japan while the Mega Drive was never successful there, Sega of Japan CEO Hayao Nakayama chose to discontinue the Mega Drive. While this made perfect sense for the Japanese market, it was disastrous in North America: the market for Genesis games was much larger than for the Saturn, but Sega was left without the inventory or software to meet demand. In comparison, Nintendo concentrated on the 16-bit market and reported the most lucrative holiday season in the industry.[34] It also undercut the Sega of America executives; CEO Tom Kalinske, who oversaw the rise of the Genesis in 1991, grew uninterested in the business and resigned in mid 1996.[35]

In 1997, Sega licensed the Mega Drive to Majesco so that its could re-release the console.[36] Majesco began re-selling millions of formerly unsold cartridges at a budget price together with the second model of the Genesis, until it later released a third version of it. The last commercially licensed release in North America was Frogger, released in 1998.[37]

Sega 32X

The Sega 32X

The Mega Drive was supported until 1997 in Europe, when Sega announced it was dropping support for it.[10] It was discontinued along with its predecessor, the long-lived Sega Master System, to allow Sega to concentrate on its newer console, the Saturn. The Mega Drive's add-ons, the Mega CD and 32X, were also both discontinued at this point, having been the same general failures they were in the other regions.[31]

In Brazil, the Mega Drive never ceased production, though Tec Toy's current models emulate the original hardware. The latest version, called "Mega Drive Guitar Idol", comes with two six-button joypads and a guitar controller with five fret buttons. The Guitar Idol game contains a mix of Brazilian and international songs. The console has 87 built-in games, including some new ones from Electronic Arts, originally cellphone games: FIFA 2008Need for Speed Pro StreetThe Sims 2 and Sim City. In 2008 Chinese company ATGames produced a new Mega Drive compatible console. It features a top-loading cartridge slot and includes two controllers similar to the six-button controller for the original Mega Drive. The console has 15 games built-in, and is region-free, allowing cartridge games to run regardless of their region of origin. ATGames also produces a handheld version of the console. Both machines have been released in Europe by distributing company Blaze Europe. Mitashi, a consumer appliance manufacturer in India, released a version of the Mega Drive called Game-In Xtreme, with a few built in games. Even though the name 'Mega Drive' has never been mentioned, it plays 16-bit Mega Drive cartridges. In North America during 2009, ATGames released two new officially licensed Genesis consoles: the Firecore and the Gencore. In addition to that, two new officially licensed Genesis portables also made their debut; the Retrogen, and the Genmobile. The Firecore can play newly developed "Truecolor" games. All the consoles ship with twenty official Genesis games built in (with the exception of the Retrogen which, instead, is shipped with twenty homebrew games).


In 2004, there came a trend toward plug-and-play TV games and Radica Games released licensed, self-contained versions of the Sega Mega Drive in both North America (as the Play TV Legends Sega Genesis)[38] and Europe (as the Sega Mega Drive 6-in-1 Plug 'n' Play), which contain six popular games in a small control box, with a permanently connected control pad. It does not have a cartridge slot, and thus is a dedicated console.[39]

The GameTap subscription gaming service includes a Mega Drive emulator, and has several dozen licensed Mega Drive games in its catalog.[40] The Console Classix subscription gaming service also includes an emulator, and has several hundred Mega Drive games in its catalog.[41]

During his keynote speech at the 2006 Game Developers Conference, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata announced that Sega will make a number of Genesis/Mega Drive titles available to download on the Wii's Virtual Console.[42] These games are now available along with other systems' titles under the Wii's Virtual Console.[42] The 16-bit Sega selections available on the Virtual Console at launch were Altered Beast and Sonic the Hedgehog. There are also selected Mega Drive titles on the Xbox 360 such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2

Master System compatibility

Genesis power base

Sega Power Base Converter

One of the key design features of the console is its backwards compatibility with Sega's previous console, the Sega Master System. The 16-bit design is based upon the 8-bit design, albeit enhanced and extended in many areas. In order to achieve backwards compatibility, the Master System's central processor and sound chip (the Zilog Z80[9] and SN76489 respectively) are included in the Mega Drive, and the Mega Drive's Video Display Processor (VDP) is capable of the Master System's VDP's mode 4 (though it cannot run in modes 0, 1, 2, or 3).

As the cartridge slot is of a different shape, Sega released the Power Base Converter, a separate device that sits between a Master System cartridge and the Mega Drive's cartridge slot. The Power Base Converter does not contain any Master System components, instead functioning as a pass-through device. The converter contains a top slot for cartridge-based games along with a front slot for card-based games, as well as the 3-D glasses adapter. When a Master System game is inserted, the system puts the Z80 in control, leaving the Mega Drive's main 68000 processor idle.[9]

In Japan the device is known as the "Mega Adapter". The PAL variant is called the "Master System Converter" in mainland Europe.[43]

The Power Base Converter is not fully compatible with the redesigned Mega Drive 2, though certain modifications could nullify that issue. A second version, the "Master System Converter II", was released to address this problem. This second version adapter was produced in a far smaller quantity and only released in Europe.[9]

The only game which does not work with this device is F-16 Fighting Falcon.[44]


Genesis controller

The original three-button controller, marked with the Genesis logo.

The standard Mega Drive controller features three main buttons and a "start" button usually used for pausing mid-game. The controller itself has a distinctive rounded shape.[45] Sega later released a six-button version which is slightly smaller and features three more face buttons, similar to the design of buttons on arcade fighting games.[45]

The Sega Mega-CD became available in 1991, 1992 and 1993 in Japan, North America, and Europe respectively.[46][47] It plugs into the side of the Mega Drive and sits underneath the console (later models of the Mega CD sit alongside the console) and provides access to CD games as well as allowing the user to play music CDs.[9]

The Sega 32X allows the user to play technically superior 32-bit games on the Mega Drive. It was released in 1994 in Japan (after the release of the Sega Saturn in that region) and North America and 1995 in Europe. The 32X plugs into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot and the game cartridges are then plugged into the 32X.[9]

Sega Genesis Banana

The later revised six-button controller, the extra three buttons are often used on fighting games.

A number of other peripherals for the Mega Drive were released that add extra functionality. The Menacer Light Gun was developed in response to the Super Scope for the SNES and is only compatible with the Menacer 6-game cartridge and a few other games.[48] The Sega Mouse and Sega Mega Mouse were also released for the Mega Drive,[49] the latter being available in North America while the other served the Japanese and European markets. A foam-covered bat called the BatterUP and the TeeVGolf golf club were both released for the Mega Drive and SNES and provide support for similar games.[49][50] One of the most unsuccessful peripherals released was the Sega Activator, an octagonal device that lays flat on the floor and reads a gamer's physical movements as he/she would trigger infrared laser beams that translate the movement to react on screen.[51] As well the official Mega Drive peripherals, the console is also compatible with Sega Master System accessories through use of the Power Base Converter.[10][52]

Both Electronic Arts (EA) and Sega released multitaps for the system to allow more than the standard two players to play at once.[53] Initially, EA's version, the 4-Play, and Sega's adapter, the Team Player, only supported each publisher's own titles. Later games were created to work on both adapters. Codemasters also developed the J-Cart system, providing two extra ports with no extra hardware, although the technology came late in the console's life and only featured on a few games.[54]

Technical specifications


The Sega Mega Drive's CPU is a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000[55] which is a 16 bit microprocessor sitting on a 16-bit-wide data bus. The maximum addressable memory is 16 megabytes (the M68000 is located to the top right of the picture). The 68000 runs at 7.61 MHz in PAL consoles, 7.67 MHz in NTSC consoles.[45] The Mega Drive also includes a Zilog Z80 as the sound CPU.[9]


The Mega Drive has a dedicated VDP (Video Display Processor) for background graphic and sprite control. This is an improved version of the Sega Master System VDP, which in turn is derived from the Texas Instruments TMS9918. Images can be output at 256 pixels (32 tiles) or 320 pixels (40 tiles) across and 224 scan lines (28 tiles) or 240 scan lines (30 tiles) down. The 240-line resolutions are only used on 50 Hz (i.e. PAL) displays, as the extra lines end up in the over-scan of a 60 Hz (NTSC) signal. Instead, NTSC games use the 224-line resolution to free up more vertical blanking time to send more updates to the VDP. Colors are chosen from a total of 512 possible colors; some games used a small amount of flicker to simulate more colors. Graphics consist of up to 80 sprites on screen and 2 background planes. Palettes are stored in color RAM (CRAM) and consist of 16 colors each for a total of 64 colors.[53][56]


There are two primary sound chips which are both controlled by the Z80; the Yamaha YM2612 Frequency Modulation (FM) chip and the Texas Instruments N76489 Programmable Sound Generator (PSG) chip.[10] The FM sound synthesis IC resembles the Yamaha 2151 (used in Sega's coin-op machines) and the chips used in Yamaha's synthesizers. There are 8 kilobytes of dedicated sound RAM available to the Z80.[56] The Yamaha uses six FM channels, four operators each and runs at 7.67 MHz (7.61 MHz in PAL machines). The use of the digitized audio allows for stereo sound and is output only through the headphone jack on model 1 systems and through AV out on model 2 systems along with mono signal.[9]


There are 2 KB (KiB) of Boot ROM, which is also known as the "Trademark Security System" (TMSS). When the console is started, it checks the game for certain code given to licensed developers. Unlicensed games without the code are thus locked out, but if a game is properly licensed, the ROM will display "Produced by or under license from Sega Enterprises Ltd."[57]

There are also 64 KB of Main RAM. The Main RAM is part of the M68000 address space (short-word addressing was frequently used). 64 KB of Video RAM are also present,[10] which cannot be accessed directly by CPU and must be read and written via the VDP (Video Display Processor). The Secondary RAM, which consists of 8 KB, is part of Z80 address space and is used as Main RAM in Master System compatibility mode. There are also 8 KB of audio RAM.[10]

Inputs and outputs

Two DE-9M (9-pin male D-connectors) on the front of the console are the controller input ports.[53] The EXT input port is a DE-9F (9-pin female D-connector) that was used with the Meganet modem peripheral, released only in Japan.[53] It exists on all first-model Japanese Mega Drive units, and on early American Genesis and PAL (European, Australasian and Asian) Mega Drive units. The power input is a positive tip barrel connector that requires 9-10 volts DC, or about 0.85-1.2 A, depending on the model. There is also an Expansion input port which is an Edge connector on the bottom right hand side of the console. It is used almost exclusively for connection for the Sega Mega-CD, though it was also used for the Sega Genesis 6 Cart Demo Unit (DS-16) in stores. This port is not present on the Genesis 3 model.[9]

An A/V output, which consists of a DIN connector with composite video, RGB video, and audio outputs, is present on the system.[9] The Mega Drive and the first model Genesis have an 8-pin DIN socket (same as Sega Master System) which supports mono audio only, but the Mega Drive 2, Multimega, and other models have a 9-pin mini-DIN connector with both mono and stereo audio.[9] Stereo audio for the Mega Drive and the first model Genesis were supplied by the headphone jack, which is not present on later models.[9] The RF output is an RCA jack that connects to TV antenna input. It exists on original model European and Asian Mega Drive and North American Genesis only; other models must use an external RF modulator which plugs into the A/V output.[9]

Sega Nomad

The Sega Nomad (also called Sega Genesis Nomad or just Nomad) was a handheld game system sold for the North American consumer market which played Mega Drive/Genesis game cartridges. The system was similar to the Japanese Sega Mega Jet, but featured a built-in color screen; the Mega Jet needed a separate monitor.

The Nomad was never officially released in PAL territories such as Europe and Australia, though the unit retained its PAL/NTSC switch on the internal board. It was released in Japan after a delay as the Mega Jet was already being sold in Japanese retail stores. The Nomad is one of the few Sega systems that can play most games regardless of region without an adapter. Its codename during development was Project Venus, as per Sega's policy at the time of codenaming their systems after planets.

Game library

The Nomad does not have its own game library, but instead plays Genesis games. At the time of its launch, the Nomad had over 500 games available for play. However, no pack-in title was included. The Nomad can boot unlicensed, homebrew, and bootleg games made for the Genesis.

Some earlier third-party titles have compatibility issues when played on the Nomad, but can be successfully played through the use of a Game Genie. Likewise, due to its lack of compatibility with any of the Genesis' add-ons, it is unable to play any games for the Sega Master System, Sega CD, or Sega 32X. The Nomad employs two different regional lockout methods, physical and software, but methods have been found to bypass these restrictions

Sega Mega Jet

The Sega Mega Jet was another handheld version of the Sega Mega Drive. It was rented for use aboard Japan Airlines flights. The device lacked its own screen but could play Mega Drive cartridges when connected to a small armrest monitor used on JAL flights. The unit featured a directional pad on the left side and six buttons on the right, similar to the layout of a game controller. There was a second joypad port on the bottom of the Mega Jet for multiplayer games.

A consumer version of Mega Jet was released by Sega of Japan on March 10, 1994 at the cost US $123. It was essentially the same as the unit that was used on JAL flights, meaning that it still lacked a screen and couldn't be powered without an AC adapter. Other than the addition of a mono DIN plug cord and the necessary AC adapter, no other additions or improvements were made.

Four games for the flight were available, including Super Monaco GP, and Sonic the Hedgehog. However, since the unit accepted standard Mega Drive cartridges, passengers could bring in and use their own. The Mega Jet was marketed in Japan as a portable Mega Drive, and was available in limited quantities in department stores.

The Mega Jet eventually became the basis for the Sega Nomad released exclusively in the United States in 1995, a portable Mega Drive with a backlit screen.


  • Japanese Sega Mega Drive cartridges have a different shape and will not fit in either Genesis or PAL region Mega Drive slot. Japanese Mega Drive systems have a piece of plastic that slides in a place of the cartridge when the power switch is turned on, inserting a Genesis cart will make it impossible to turn on a Japanese MD. Minor modifications to the plastic locks in the systems will bypass the regional locks.
    • However, the console main board was designed with language and frequency jumper sets which originally activated features in the same ROM for the different regions, this feature was later used to enable software-based regional locks that display warning messages that prevent the game from being played. Switches placed instead of the jumpers will bypass the locks.
    • In region-locked games, if there is a multiple language feature, it can be changed with the switches after the game has booted-up.
  • There are over 900 games released for the Mega Drive across seven major regions: Japan, USA, Europe, Australia, Korea, Brazil and Asia Pacific.
  • The console is mentioned in a couple of songs in the lyrics of "The Game" and "Busta Rhymes".
  • In Lego Dimensions after Sonic follows Eggman through a portal he battles Robo Sonic, Mecha Sonic, and Metal Sonic after he is finished fighting Metal Sonic explodes and hits the portal device causing 3 portals to open, the first model of Sega Mega Drive flies out one of those portals.


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