Mastering the Systems...
Miracleman loves his Sega... It's important that anyone reading this understands that as a huge fan of Nintendo his appreciation for the house of Sonic is close to his heart.
A large part of this devotion to arcade masters turned home console legends comes from a very unique part of Sega's history, that of their huge success in a region of the world so many retro folk seem to forget when banging on about sales figures and market dominance etc. Miracleman wants to run your attention to South America!
Looking for a place to call home...
After being mercilessly beaten by the Famicom in Japan, the Master System travelled in 1986 to the United States of America, looking for a better future, one that had been denied to it in its land of birth. The USA was ruled almost entirely by the NES, a system that was seen there as the one and only saviour of the videogames industry after the failings of Atari. Sega with all its former boldness, recreated the Master System, gave it a different look in red and black (much more attractive than the pale gray of the NES, I must add) and tried to dispute Nintendo’s kingdom. How did Sega do it? It used its best weapons: ports of the arcade games that collected hundreds of dollars hourly: Golden Axe, After Burner just to name a couple. This didn’t even scratch Nintendo, who had a legion of players already hooked to franchises like Zelda, Castlevania, Mario and Megaman.
Back in the first quarter of 1986, 125.000 Master Systems were sold in the US at 200 dollars each, while during the same period Nintendo had sold 2 million NES consoles. The difference was overwhelming. In order to revert things, Sega made a decision which is as absurd as it is incomprehensible: they gave the whole logistic and distribution part of the business to a hardware company named Tonka Toys, a toy company who had zero experience in videogames and who, undoubtedly, made a disastrous job. This late strategy sealed the Master System’s fate in the US, but not in the continent.
Sega, the restless explorer, packed his bags and moved to Australia and Europe where was well received. Now she also had independent studios that were not threatened by Nintendo to make games for them exclusively, no, lots of software designers backed Sega up and released games for its systems, and I’m not talking about just one hit or no hit wonder studio, no, Acclaim, Flying Edge, Sony, Virgin, U.S.Gold and the mythical Codemasters were among those names who help expand the Master System library of games.
The European success gave Sega a breath of fresh air and with this morale boost decided to target America again, although this time they were going south, to a land very few have cared about, one could say a virgin market for the videogame industry. Sega travelled to Brazil.
To be this good took NUTS! Brazil nuts...
The Brazilian adventure started in 1989 when Sega decided to trust another toy company by the name of Tec Toy with its products. Tec Toy had been recently founded and was being very successful throughout the country with a board game called “Pense Bem” (something like Think Good). The videogame market was growing at an unreal pace in South America, and contrary to what had happened with Tonka Toys, Tec Toy did a superb job since day one. They invested heavily in publicity in all media and released a good number of games to support the console and lure people into a culture that was emerging.
Tec Toy’s campaign proved to be a big hit and by the early 90s Sega’s Master System was ruling 80% of the country which is a lot if you consider the extension of that land and the amount of people living in it.
The console itself was just the kick off for what was to come, a whole series of peripherals to accompany the main hardware and generate more sales. Tec Toy also produced the 3D glasses, the Light Phaser gun and all kinds of merchandising related to the Master System brand, from stickers and T shirts, to stuffed animals and even the arranging for airing an anime called Zillion which advertised the Light Phaser.
Various versions of the Master System were only released in Brazilian soil. The Master System II was very similar to the first but only with different games in the bundle. The Master System III had a different design which was very similar to the European Master System II. There were also “portable” versions of the Master System which were known as “Master System Super Compact” which were basically Master Systems without the cartridge ports which included a good quantity of games in their internal memory. There is even a pink (and very rare) version, the Master System Girl, designed for women.
The last Master System console released by Tec Toy was named Master System Collection which included some 120 unrepeated games, but I don’t know if Transbot is among them. It is important to highlight that this release occurred only a couple of years ago, 2012 according to my records.
A couple of years before the 16 bit war between Sega and Nintendo there was another battle. For some, it was (using WWII terms) a blitzkrieg, quick and deadly, where Nintendo with its NES/Famicom just obliterated Sega’s Master System. Though this might be right in a good number of countries if you consider the selling figures, there were some territories that the Master System managed to conquer. Forever. That was the case of Brazil, where the reign of the Master System can be seen even in this time, 26 years after the system was originally released there.
The disastrous marketing and distribution campaign of the Master System in the USA is well known to most retro enthusiast, but let’s just re visit it to get some background, shall we?
Alive and well... living life in the sun!
Picking up the ball and running with it...
Tec Toy not only produced hardware, but also obtained Sega’s license to produce home versions of their games, something that no other company had ever done in South America before. Most of the titles released by Tec Toy received some stick by the critics, but considering that the company was an authentic pioneer of the industry, I think that is absolutely unfair. Most of Tec Toy’s games were conversions of well-established titles such as Wonderboy, who became “Turma Da Monica”, and many others such as Geraldinho, Chapolin, Sapo Chulé vs os Invasores do Brejo, Sitio do Pica Pau Amarelo, etc.
Sega also licensed Tec Toy to translate some games to Portuguese, which boosted the sales of muitos jogos (a lot of games). Brazilian kids were now able to enjoy for the first time an RPG title in their own language without having a whole library of dictionaries next to them. Some absolute exclusives were also solely released in Brazil for the Master System: Mortal Kombat 1 to 3 (with the obvious limitations of the console), Sonic Blast, Ren and Stimpy, Virtua Fighter and even a licensed version of Street Fighter II which came bundled with a 6 button pad similar to the Genesis’ control. Amazing isn’t it?
The profits obtained in more than a decade of huge success didn’t stop the company to become almost bankrupted by the late 90s with a debt of almost 50 million reales (some 16 million dollars by today standards) part due to Sega’s own crisis, and also due to the fluctuant South American economy. To stay in business Tec Toy started to sell DVD players and Karaokes, among other hardware and achieve a partnership with the Asian software company Level Up! with whom they are currently working to release games for cell phones and tablets, including many Master System classics.
That beautiful black and red console that was rejected in many places found its home in the houses of millions of Brazilian kids that 20 years after its release still remember the hours they spent playing with it. An unprecedented achievement by Tec Toy in the region which deserves to be included in the gaming history books of South America.
I guess the closest you can really get to stuff like this are the 'clone' consoles produced during the height of the NES days, especially stuff from places like Poland where they never actually got official hardware and had to make do with something called the 'Pegasus' which although completely pirated did actually play Japanese famicom games.
Sometimes amazing things happen in parts of the world that are just utterly unique to that region or country and it's the Tec Toy & Sega story that has given retrogaming fans and collectors something else to really get their teeth into. If North America had actually embraced the Master System then this may never have happened like this, for me that is a weird and chilling thought. Brazil gained from others stupidity.
A whole generation of kids grew up with this as their defining moment in videogames and all because plan 'A' for Sega didn't work. You have to hand it to them though, when they felt like it Sega really did deliver some incredible ideas, games and products.