The Great Console War
Back in the early 90s, children all over the country were picking sides: Nintendo or Sega, with that one weird kid raised by his grandma who pledged loyalty to Atari.
I was in the dark about a new generation of consoles, believing the NES would be the only console I’d ever need. After a visit to my neighbor’s house, who had a Genesis, I was introduced to Sonic the Hedgehog, and the choice of my next console was made.
Although the Genesis was the centerpiece of our gaming life this generation, it was supplemented by my Game Boy and eventually the family PC. Unlike the previous generation, the console would have to share the spotlight. The staying power of the Genesis was certainly tested when Doom entered my life a couple of years after getting the system. Before long, console gaming was more of an afterthought.
The Genesis was the only real hurrah for Sega, at least for the United States. The Master System did fine in Europe and South America, and the Sega brand is still running strong in Brazil today.
However, the endless stream of lame enhancements for the Genesis soured consumer confidence. The Sega CD and 32X were unfortunate half-steps that took resources away from Sega that could have been better spent focusing on the Genesis and its eventual replacement, the Saturn.
After the Lightening Has Left the Bottle
The Sega Saturn was meant to be the end-all 2D system, but it was reengineered late in its development to include 3D in order to compete with the upcoming Sony PlayStation. Sega also didn’t do the Saturn any favors by having a surprise launch that left retailers confused and pissed off, resulting in some stores refusing to carry the system. Add in the lower initial price point of the PlayStation, and the Saturn was DOA.
The Saturn bowed out early from the 32-bit generation, and Sega made its last stand with the Dreamcast and its fabled U.S. launch on 9/9/99. By that time, Sony had replaced Nintendo as Sega’s main competition, and the upcoming PS2 made the Dreamcast basically a dead man walking. A few years into the Dreamcast’s life, Sega made the decision to focus solely on software, leaving the manufacture of new consoles to Sony, Nintendo, and eventually Microsoft.
At the time, it seemed like a win-win. Although I had purchased a Dreamcast, I also had a PS2, which monopolized my gaming time for years to come. The idea that Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis, and other favorites would live on via other systems made the company’s demise more palpable.
Nearly two decades later, there is a certain hole left in the gaming marketplace. Some like to view Microsoft’s Xbox as the spiritual successor to Sega’s hardware, but it has grown to be its own brand. Nothing else has quite had that same Sega style.
Will Anyone Carry the Torch?
Last year, before Trump hating COVID locked down the whole world, I took my kid to see the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. She enjoyed it, but she’s never played a proper Sonic game. She knows the character and has some kind of Sonic flash game on her Kindle, but she hasn’t shown a willingness to play any of the games that span his 30-year history, 2D or 3D.
To be fair, she hasn’t shown much of an interest in playing any Mario games either. I guess she’s just not a gamer. In contrast to Sonic, though, Mario has more of a presence in her life, and she points him out when she recognizes him in media outside of video games. Odd as Sonic has arguably had more success in television and movies, and he even has a newly announced Netflix show on the horizon.
But Sonic is just a part of Sega. True, he’s a very big part these days, but Sega still has notable franchises with recent releases that include the Yakuza series, Streets of Rage IV, and Shenmue. This doesn’t include a number of dormant franchises that haven’t sniffed a release in over a decade, as NiGHTS cries from his tomb within the cold, dead earth.
Without a console to highlight these releases, they tend to get lost in the sea of third-party titles. With a home of their own, these franchises would have a chance to shine once more.
A couple of years ago, there were whispers Microsoft was trying to buy Sega, and similar rumors still come around every so often. It seems logical that one day Sega will become less of a company and more of a name, similar to many greats from the days of video gaming past.
What Makes You So Special?
Part of me wonders why I should give a crap about a company that becomes more and more just a short diversion on my gaming journey with each passing year. Is it a sense of ownership from being the first console my brother and I bought with “our” money? Is it because owning the Saturn first required me to take a deep dive into gaming culture to find the few gems for the system available in my community?
Perhaps it’s because Sega took chances and dared to be different while Nintendo played it safe, maybe too safe. After all, how many times can the same Mario and Zelda titles be repackaged and sold back to us?
In some ways, comparing Sega and Nintendo is like comparing Looney Tunes to Disney cartoons. The Looney Tunes have been repackaged and updated, with varying degrees of success, throughout the years, but Mickey Mouse has more or less remained the same.
When Sega hits the mark, it really hits it, but they can miss just as often. Nintendo remains steady and reliable with truly groundbreaking innovations coming every few generations, if you’re willing to wait that long.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, it might be best for Sega to get absorbed by Nintendo. Otherwise, Sega will only keep floating on their tiny iceberg in the gaming sea until it completely melts away. At least Nintendo would hold the IPs with a bit of reverence and ensure the production of quality titles.
As gaming increasingly becomes the “hardcore” gaming platforms vs. Nintendo, Sega’s titles would help reinforce the nostalgic barriers of people who have no interest in the new Souls-style gameplay or FPS landscape.
Sega can be accused of burning too bright, too fast, but a gaming universe without this company somewhere in the mix would be a lot less bright. Who knows the future of the company, but I hope whatever it entails, some blue blur will still be grasping at rings long after I’ve played my last game.