Top 10 Sega Consoles - Famous, Expensive and Weird

Tags: #sega ,   #videogames ,   #segagenesis ,   #segasaturn

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-09-21 10:14:16

While the days when they dominated the market are long gone, Sega game consoles remain extremely popular. As the retro scene is booming, many learn to appreciate them more than in their heyday. Thus, it's no wonder that Sega started releasing mini versions of their popular systems, beginning with Genesis/Mega Drive. However, here we'll focus only on the original hardware Sega created in the 80s and 90s. To make things even more exciting, we'll judge them by their current value to gamers. As retro gaming has become an expensive hobby, buying the right hardware and software is more crucial than ever.

10. SG-1000

SG-1000 wasn't a great first effort by Sega, but there are some decent games
Release year: 1983.
Units sold: 1.4 million
Number of games: 74 (and 29 programs)
Best feature: Affordable, English-friendly
Worst feature: Awful hardware specs
Top games: Flicky, Doki Dok Penguin Land, Zaxxon
System info

Many don't even know about the first Sega console, released on the same day as Nintendo's Famicom! However, this system only got a major release in Japan, which makes it so obscure. Although initially imagined as a computer, the system was consolized in a hurry. However, the hardware is disappointing and can't compete with Famicom. Instead, with awful scrolling and a limited color display, it resembles ZX Spectrum. Like Famicom, it also has a hardwired controller, but at least the second pad is detachable. Additionally, software support was limited, as Sega insisted on creating and publishing all games.

As a result, there are only about 70 titles, and a few of them are worth playing. While Flicky and Doki Doki Penguin Land showcase the hardware, they still look primitive. Furthermore, better versions are available on other platforms. Still, their simplicity makes them friendly to English speakers. SG-1000 wasn't attractive in 1983, and that has stayed the same. Therefore, it can only appeal to collectors who want every piece of console gaming hardware. Yet, it did well enough to encourage Sega to create other, much more impressive systems.

9. Laser Active Mega LD

The wildest Sega system ever is more desirable than ever
Release year: 1993.
Units sold: Several thousand
Number of games: 24
Best feature: Perfect LaserDisc arcade ports
Worst feature: Awfully expensive, lacking games
Top games: Road Avenger, Actions J.B. Harold Blue Chicago Blues, Time Gal
System info

The early nineties were wild when it came to gaming systems! Thus, Atari, Sega, Nintendo, 3DO, Sony, SNK, and others all competed for the growing market. Yet, nothing was so extravagant as LaserActive! Despite a price of over $2000 in today's money, it only supported LaserDisc games by default. However, for $1000+, you could invest in expansions, letting you play more games. That's when Sega joined with their Mega LD hardware, which proved the most popular among them.

While you can play Genesis/Sega CD games on Laser Active, the most exciting aspect are LaserDisc games. Thanks to excellent video hardware, they look and run exactly as on arcades and much better than on Sega CD and other contemporary platforms. Furthermore, plenty of titles are system exclusives. However, the library includes only 24 titles, primarily based on quick-time events. Only a few, like I Will: The Story of London, explored other genres. As you can imagine, LaserActive and Mega LD remain incredibly expensive and hard to find. Thus they are a Holy Grail, a fascinating piece of technology we won't ever see again. If you find one at a garage sale, grab it, even if it needs repair!

8. Sega 32X/Mega Drive 32X

There are still some great games for Sega 32X - you just need to choose wisely
Release year: 1994
Units sold: 800,000
Number of games: 40
Best feature: Considerable improvement over Genesis hardware
Worst feature: Lack of quality games
Top games: Virtua Racing Deluxe, Virtua Fighter, Mortal Kombat 2
System info

Sega made lots of mistakes, and Sega 32X was one of them. In theory, this should have been a bridge between Genesis and Saturn, available for $149. However, it required Genesis to operate. The hardware was still pretty impressive, as 32X could display many more colors and even render polygons. Thus, even modern games like Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, and even Doom were possible. Other titles, like Mortal Kombat 2 or NBA Jam Tournament Edition, represented significant upgrades, much closer to the arcade.

Unfortunately, the majority of games were simple 16-bit ports with hard-to-notice upgrades. Even worse, many developers had no idea how to use hardware, resulting in ambitiously looking but choppy experiences. Finally, there were only 40 releases, as even Sega prioritized Saturn, Genesis, and their arcade hardware. Thus, in less than two years, 32X was dead and forgotten. Today, 32X still offers the best version of some games, but most of them weren't great even back then.

7. Game Gear

Some Game Gear games remain highly playable
Release year: 1990
Units sold: Over 10 million
Number of games: 366
Best feature: Powerful hardware, backlit screen
Worst feature: Bulky, short battery life
Top games: Gunstar Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Shinobi II: The Silent Fury
System info

When released in 1989, Game Boy was a sensation. While other companies tried to beat it, soon it held almost 100% of the handheld market. This was fascinating, as the hardware was so obsolete, lacking display color or backlighting. Thus, Sega once again tried to copy their recipe, but with a twist. Game Gear was essentially a portable Sega Master System but with a color screen and backlighting. The tradeoff was that it was quite bulky and quickly sucked up batteries. Still, it was impressive and a giant technological leap.

While many games were direct SMS ports, the first Sega handheld console sometimes improved over them. Finally, there were plenty of original titles. Expectedly, the system still lacked games, as software companies would instead create them for Nintendo's handheld. Still, the system survived for seven years and sold better than many could expect. Furthermore, Game Gear is more relevant today than Game Boy, whether you use original hardware or emulation. 

6. Genesis Nomad

Nomad is more appreciated today than it was when released
Release year: 1996
Units sold: One million
Number of games: Over 800
Best feature: Both portable and home console
Worst feature: Bulky, short battery life
Top games: Sonic 2, Aladdin, Streets of Rage 2
System info

In 1995, Nintendo was still a dominant force on the handheld market with its ancient Game Boy. Thus, Sega wanted to overpower it by offering Genesis Nomad, a portable Genesis console! The whole concept looked insane, especially as you could insert regular Genesis carts in it! Even better, the system had six buttons, and you could easily connect it to a TV set. Furthermore, you could attach another controller for two-player games. Effectively, this made it almost the same as a regular Genesis, and the initial $180 price tag looked OK. Yet, of course, it came with many problems.

Firstly, the battery life was very short - six alkaline AA batteries would drain in two hours! While you could get a rechargeable battery pack, it was an additional $79. However, they had less power and even created problems due to their low voltage. As expected, the device is also extremely bulky, and as it doesn't have original games, no Genesis owner would want it. Finally, the device wasn't compatible with Sega CD or 32X, or even some Genesis games. Surprisingly, the system was on the market for four years, and it still sold a million units! 

5. Sega Master System

Sega Master System is still relatively affordable, but North American library is very limited
Release year: 1986
Units sold: Over 13 million
Number of games: 312
Best feature: More powerful than NES
Worst feature: Lack of games
Top games: Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, Alexx Kid in Shinobi World, Phantasy Star
System info

In 1986, Sega released Sega Master System, based on its Japan-only console, Mark III. Basically, Sega copied what Nintendo did with NES/Famicom but offered visibly more powerful hardware. Thus, the Master System set new standards with bigger sprites and more colors. Even better, the system usually came with an integrated game, like Alex Kidd in Miracle World. Yet, at the time, Nintendo acted like a bully. Therefore, they had exclusive deals with gaming companies, so Master System got leftovers.

Despite this, there are still plenty of excellent games for the platform, especially in Europe, where it was most successful. Many of these titles are system exclusives and highly playable. Yet, you can skip most arcade ports like Altered Beast or After Burner, as they are incredibly choppy. However, Golden Axe and Outrun are surprisingly decent. The worst thing about this Sega console is the controller, as it only has two buttons. Therefore, the pause menu is on the system! Furthermore, the D-pad could be better - it feels mushy and breaks easily. 

4. Sega CD/Mega-CD

Sega CD was too expensive to become mainstream
Release year: 1991
Units sold: Over 2 million
Number of games: 205
Best feature: Improved hardware over Genesis, larger games
Worst feature: Lack of software requires Genesis to work
Top games: Lunar series, Batman Returns, Sonic CD
System info

Many believe that Sega CD/Mega CD was the beginning of Sega's downfall. Yet, at the start of the nineties, everybody jumped on the CD hype train. After NEC upgraded its Turbografx/PC Engine and Nintendo planned the same, Sega quickly introduced its solution. For the steep $300, you got a system with its own games and more powerful hardware. While the color palette remained the same as on Genesis, faster CPU enabled hardware scaling. Yet, the main focus was mainly on video playback, which is heavily used in many of its games.

While we have some fond memories of FMV games, they never looked great on Sega CD, with much better versions available elsewhere. However, out of over 200 games, you can still find plenty of excellent RPGs, platform adventures, action titles, and even racers. Yet, similarly to 32X, only a few software developers tried to push the Sega CD console. Thus, many games are choppy or almost the same as on regular 16-bit hardware. Still, there's plenty to like here, so exploring Sega CD is a must for anyone who loves 16-bit gaming.

3. Dreamcast

You definitely should have one in your collection!
Release year: 1998.
Units sold: Over 9 million
Number of games: 626
Best feature: Perfect arcade ports, online gaming
Worst feature: Gamepad, lack of RPGs
Top games: Skies of Arcadia, Virtua Tennis 2, Soulcalibur
System info

After making a series of mistakes, many believed that Sega was on the right track with Dreamcast. This was the first 7th-generation console, beating Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft to the market. When it was released, Dreamcast was the most powerful gaming platform, way ahead of N64 and the original PlayStation and almost on par with Sega's NAOMI arcade hardware. Titles like Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, and Virtua Tennis looked magical and instantly drew crowds. Many games also supported online play, even against PC gamers! However, the gamepad is controversial, as it lacks buttons and has only a single analog stick. Unfortunately, that proved to be a problem, especially with first-person shooters.

If you love colorful buttery-smooth arcade games, Dreamcast is the perfect platform. Thus, it's incredible for quick-fix gaming, offering highly addictive and easy-to-learn titles. Unfortunately, it also lacks RPGs, with only a few quality offerings. Yet, the biggest problem was the lack of hardware support. By this point, almost every major software company had strong ties with Sony. Thus, once PlayStation 2 was released, it was all over for Sega. Thus, Dreamcast was dead after less than four years. With many excellent fighting games, perfect arcade conversion, and a few exclusives, Dreamcast remains the last Sega console and a fascinating piece of hardware that deserved better.

2. Sega Saturn

Saturn deserved a much better fate, but Sega made too many mistakes
Release year: 1994
Units sold: Over 9 million
Number of games: 1045
Best feature: Gorgeous 2D games, gamepad
Worst feature: Most games not available in English
Top games: Princess Crown, Sega Rally, Panzer Dragoon
System info

Most will agree that Saturn is the most intriguing Sega console ever. While the troublesome system failed commercially, now it's remarkably popular in the retro gaming community. Meant to rival the original PlayStation, Saturn had even more powerful hardware. This was especially the case with sprite-based games, where Saturn dominated. However, developing for the platform was challenging. Thus, many games are horribly optimized, creating a false narrative that PlayStation was much better. 

Despite this, the Sega Saturn console gave us tons of excellent games, which in many cases are still system exclusive. However, the most fascinating part is Japanese-only games, as 80% of titles were published only there! Thanks to excellent fan translations, many of these gems are now playable. This means that Saturn library is constantly expanding in the English-speaking market. Furthermore, the community managed to improve many games, including Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Finally, Saturn emulation is excellent, making the platform even more popular. It seems that everyone loves this console but Sega, which rarely ports these titles to modern platforms. However, we are still waiting for a decent video game book about the system.

1. Genesis/Mega Drive

The best Sega console in almost every way
Release year: 1988
Units sold: Over 30 million 
Number of games: 878
Best feature: Excellent choice of games, the gamepad
Worst feature: Sound hardware, lacks RPGs
Top games: Sonic 2, Streets of Rage 2, Aladdin
System info

Despite producing so many consoles, Sega was mostly struggling through its hardware manufacturing phase. Thus, Genesis/Mega Drive is the only exception to this rule! Released in 1988 in Japan, Genesis was a powerhouse that took over Europe and North America two years before SNES. Also, this is the only Sega console with major support from game publishers - almost everyone made games for it. The only thing it lacks are JRPGs, as Square, Enix, and others went with Nintendo. 

Still, the games library is excellent and, in some genres, much better than Super Nintendo's. Thus, sales were strong, and it would be even better if Sega fully focused on it. Instead, they gave us too many expansions and variations and released the Sega Saturn prematurely. Despite this, Genesis has many classic, exclusive titles that remain highly playable today. Thus, you'll always discover some fine gems.

Sega stayed in the console market for almost 20 years, with its fortune changing a lot. However, all these platforms are fascinating, even those that failed. Best of all, they gave us hundreds of excellent games, providing us with an endless amount of fun. While the new Sega console is not likely, their legacy continues to live and feels stronger than ever.

Have you owned any of these Sega consoles? Which ones are your favorite?

Cover photo: YouTube screenshot/ Wicked Gamer & Collector



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