In 1986 Nintendo was at the top of their game with the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Sega released a 16-bit system that would be a strong contender for the battle of the home consoles. Back in those days you were wither team Nintendo or team Sega.   Personally, I was on the Sega side and love the Sega Master System.  The games and the graphics were ahead of its time and game Nintendo games a run for their money.  The controller for the Master System was basic yet effective in what it needed to do to make the game entertaining and easy to play.

The look of the controller was very similar to the NES counter part with the control pad and two button layouts.   Rather than the plus looking controller pad NES worked with, Sega made an almost circular controller pad to make not only up and down easy, but diagonal as well.   Instead of A and B buttons, this has 1 and 2.   The one missing element on the controller is the select and start button.   They used the 1 and 2 buttons as the owner of that function.  Later in the Master System lifespan there were other types of controllers, but this was the standard controller that came with the system.  The cord was the typical length, but in my opinion could have been longer.   I still am surprised when the older systems made the cords they were not that long.   Later in the 1990’s some of them had long cords but not many. Another cool feature, and I don’t know if it was planned,  but the place where you plug in the controller was universal for the next gen console and you can use the Sega Genesis controller on the Master System.

There were some additions to the control family for the Sega Master System.   There was an item called the Control Pad.  It was a much larger controller with the buttons being on the left side and the huge knob looking control stick on the right side.    In my opinion this was not a good addition to the system.  It really wasn’t used much.    There was also an attachment you can get the original controller and screw in a mini joystick on it to get the arcade feel for your games.  Personally, I prefer the standard controller out of the box.

There were definitely memorable games for the Master System.   Some titles today are hard to find and worthy of any collector.   One of my favorite titles and most poplar game in my opinion back then, was Alex Kidd in Miracle World.   This unique game had the player controlling Alex Kidd in multiple ways.  You could scroll to the left and right as well as up or down to find hidden screens and powerups.

Alex’s punching ability is used to destroy enemies and to break rocks in order to access new paths and to collect items such as money which can then be used to purchase other items including vehicles such as motorbikes and helicopters.  To move left and right you would use the control pad and if you pressed down you would squat. Button 1 was the jump button and button two acted as the punching or throwing moves.  If you pressed the buttons simultaneously, you would be able to destroy blocks above you to find hidden paths. There were even swimming levels where you would need to punch and swim your way to the end.

Another favorite game of mine was Fantasy Zone.  This game brings back many memories of trying to get farther in the game which was a challenge.  The main character, Opa-Opa, is sometimes referred to as Sega’s first mascot character.  The controls were pretty simple as you would fly your ship around and shoot the enemies in a fantasy world.  This side scrolling game allowed you to move left or right and scroll the screen in either direction.  This was almost similar to Defender in the arcade.   Along with shooting you could drop bombs on the enemies below.  After each enemy is killed, coins come out and you can collect these to purchase items four your ship in the Shop.  The graphics are pretty cool looking for an 8-bit system.   The smoothness of controlling your ship with the controller is very good.  Dodging the enemies is as easy as moving the control pad in any direction.   

The last game that made my top list of master system games is After Burner.   I was a huge fan of the arcade game where you actually felt like you were in a dogfight with the aircrafts.    The Master System did a great job of replicating the arcade.   The graphics were top notch for the times.   The sound was as accurate as the arcade and the controls were just as good.   To move your aircraft you would move left, right or up and down.   If you moved the controller left then right quickly, you would do a cat roll, which was important to dodging the other places bullets.  Button 1 on the controller would shoot your guided missiles and Button 2 would fire your canon.   The game had 15 levels and to complete all of them to beat the game was very challenging.  Still today it is one of the hardest Sega Master Games to beat.

All in all, the Sega Master System controller was not state of the art,  but simple enough to compete with its competitors and make the controlling of your character or ship smooth and easy to learn.   There were other controllers for the system but in my opinion, nothing beats the original.

Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (396 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.