Sega games on Nintendo consoles – a history.

Nintendo and Sega first crossed paths as rivals in the arcade business, and this spilled over into the console business when they both released their first home console on the same day.

Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo well and truly won round 1, and not having a great income stream from their consoles, Sega allowed their games to be released on competing systems like Nintendo’s Famicom and NEC’s PC Engine. The games were published by third parties, but nontheless there were several official Famicom/NES releases where the Sega logo could be seen on a title screen.

SegaNintendo_9092

By the late 80’s everything had changed however. Sega’s third console the Mega Drive was doing  very well, and was eventually a solid competitor to the Famicom/NES and later Super Famicom/SNES. As a result, the concept of Sega on Nintendo (or vice versa) faded from memory as a possibility.

Outside of dodgy Famicom pirates of course…

But by the late 90s, Sega was in a bad position again. All their Mega Drive add-ons had failed to gain decent marketshare, as had their Game Boy competitor the Game Gear. And their latest main console, the Saturn, had been a borderline disaster. While it managed to establish a decent niche in Japan (even outselling the Nintendo 64), their previously strong marketshare in the west had crashed. Their entire legacy rested on the hopes of the new Dreamcast console.

As a result, their publishing rules started to relax again, and they allowed other non-competing platforms to see their crown jewel property Sonic. In 1997 a terrible version of Sonic Jam was released on the Game.com, a terrible console by Tiger Electronics. More notably, Sonic the Hedgehog Pocket Adventure was released on SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color in late 1999.

SegaNintendo_9089

On March 31st, 2001, the battle was no more. Sega discontinued the Dreamcast, and started developing games for the remaining platform holders, including Nintendo. The first release was a port of Chu Chu Rocket to Game Boy Advance. The end of the very same year the previously unthinkable had already happened – An official Sonic game on Nintendo.

Two Sonic games were released on December 20 2001. Sonic Advance on Game Boy Advance

SegaNintendo_8972

And Sonic Adventure 2 on GameCube. In a strange twist of fate, Sonic actually beat Mario to a new Nintendo console, as it would be another six months until Super Mario Sunshine.

SegaNintendo_8973

It went on from there, and the next Sonic game, while multiplatform, was designed primarily for the Nintendo GameCube. SegaNintendo_8975

But for long term fans of both companies, it really really hit home when in 2003 Sega developed a Nintendo game.

This splash screen blew my mind the first time I saw it.

The game? F-Zero GX. And it was one of the greatest games of the generation, and still a killer looking and playing title today.SegaNintendo_8974

Technically that was about it for Sega. In 2003 they were taken over my Pachinko company Sammy and have continued as an upper-mid-tier third party developer. And over a decade later, despite varied game quality, Sonic is a strong seller on Nintendo.

Who would have thought?

 

Advertisements

Neo Geo Pocket and Pocket Color (ネオジオポケットカラ)

By the mid 90s, pretty much everyone had given up attempting to compete with Nintendo in handheld video games. Nintendo had seen off every competitor quite easily in the early years, and in the mid to late 90s the release of the first Pokemon games started a new handheld boom period for them.

So in 1998, with the original Pokemon explosion just rolling out worldwide, a struggling SNK thought they’d give it a go, and released a handheld partner to their Neo Geo home consoles – the Neo Geo Pocket. The platform ran through three models in its short life between 1998 and 2001, and while now a footnote on gaming history, it managed to be a worthwhile Game Boy alternative and is now quite a nice little platform to collect.

NGPC_8302
The three Neo Geo Pocket models

In terms of capability, the system is somewhat comparable to the Game Boy Color, but what sets it apart from your average handheld is its focus on the fighting game genre, which until then was always quite weak on handhelds.

To facilitate the easier control of fighting games, SNK developed a mini joystick to use as the directional controller instead of a dpad. Feeling somewhere between a genuine joystick and the rather excellent floating dpad of the Sega Saturn controller, the ‘clicky stick’ takes up more profile than a dpad would, but it’s simply a fantastic little controller, much better than dpads for fighting games, and makes playing the handheld a unique experience.

NGPC_8360

The original model used a black and white LCD like the original Game Boy, but was quite shortlived, as unfortunately for SNK Nintendo had just released the Game Boy Color to great fanfare. It was followed quite rapidly with the backward compatible Neo Geo Pocket Color, which used a similar non-backlit reflective colour LCD display to Nintendo’s machine. SNK attempted to respect early adopters, and most games continued to be compatible with the original black and white model, which probably held certain games back somewhat. While the original was only released in Japan and Asia, the colour model was also released in Europe and the US.

NGPC_8310

The initial colour model is slightly larger in every dimension than the original. But there is also a final Japan-only revision, the Neo Geo Pocket Color ‘slim’ model.

NGPC_9398
Each model came in a variety of colours.

The slim is comparable to the original black and white machine’s size, and has a slightly sharper, higher contrast screen. It’s definitely the best model.

NGPC_9413

The system has an odd two battery design. In a similar fashion to Sega’s Saturn and Dreamcast it uses a button battery to save console settings, and like those systems it has a bios with some basic built in software like a calendar.

NGPC_9406 NGPC_9404

Of course also like those systems, it has a nag screen about a dead battery, and asks you to set the date when the sub battery has died.

At least it doesn't beep like a VMU...
At least it doesn’t beep like a VMU…

Black and white games can be ‘colourised’ on colour models in a similar manner to original Game Boy games on a GBC, except that the choice is made and saved on the bios screen, instead of selecting via a button combination at boot.

A rather nice official pouch was also available for the slim model.
A rather nice official pouch was also available for the slim model.

The games came in extremely cool little cases fashioned after the Neo Geo AES ‘Shockboxes’.

NGPC_8301 NGPC_8300

At least they did in Japan and Europe. The USA got basic cardboard boxes, and unfortunately late in the life of the system the Japanese games moved to cardboard as well.

NGPC_9368 NGPC_9369

Frustratingly the cardboard boxes are thinner and slightly taller then the mini shockboxes, so the two types of game packaging don’t like up nicely next to each other on a shelf.

NGPC_9370

While the system is mostly famous for the handheld versions of many SNK classics such as Samurai Spirits, King of Fighters and Metal Slug, it actually received some support from third parties as well, such as Puzzle Bobble Mini from Taito and a pretty nice version of Pac Man from Namco.

NGPC_8299

Quite famously, Sega released a Sonic game on the platform, Sonic Pocket Adventure. A semi-remix of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, it’s probably still the greatest original handheld Sonic game. Sega and SNK entered into something of a partnership, as there was a Neo Geo Pocket Color to Dreamcast cable released that allow transfer of data between certain games, such as the Dreamcast ports of King of Fighters 98 and 99 and the Capcom vs SNK games.

SegaNintendo_9089

NGPC_8341 NGPC_8345

The system is unique for the many excellent fighting games. While all the fighting games look pretty similar, in a super-deformed style, they evolved and got significantly better as time passed. Earlier games like King of Fighters R1 and R2 and Fatal Fury First Contract are decent, but the latter ones are much smoother. Match of the Millenium: SNK vs Capcom is simply the best handheld fighting game ever released, and the super-kawaii Gals Fighters, with its female only cast, is full of crazy-cute animations reminiscent of Capcom’s Pocket Fighter.

NGPC_8354

It’s a pretty nice system to collect. There are decent to great games of most genres (action, RPG, puzzle), and many people love the quite addictive SNK vs Capcom card game. But it’s really about the fighters, as they’re what sets the system apart.

Sega SG1000 II (エスジー・セン II)

The SG1000 most likely did okay for itself all things considered, but in the wake of Nintendo’s superior (and much higher selling) Famicom offering, Sega pivoted to make their home console platform more Famicom-like.

While the eventual result was the upgraded Mark III console, the first fruits of this pivot were realised with the SG1000 II.

Sg10002_1

Essentially a repackaging of the original Sg1000, it is also a design link between the two generations of Sega consoles.

Sg10002_2

Like the Mark III (and Mega Drive) it features English text on the top of the console, explaining its purpose and function. This one is particularly cute and amusing.

Sg10002_6

Instead of the terrible SG1000 joystick, it now has Famicom-style controllers which attach at the back, and Famicom like controller docks on the side of the console (more on this in the controller rivalry article).

Sg10002_3   Sg10002_4

Sg10002_5

There were two revisions of the SG1000 II. One was a simple re-configuration of the original console, and the second featured major internal revisions – it consolidated several of the original chips (among them the ‘off-the-shelf’ Texas Instruments SN76489 sound chip and TMS9918 video chip) into one new custom Sega part. This later model is much closer to the circuit of the Mark III, and because of these changes can be modded to output an RGB signal.

Both console revisions look the same on the outside. Very late release SG1000 II consoles came with an updated controller, though it doesn’t seem this change lines up with the internal board revision changes.

Sg10002_10

The Sg1000 II is a somewhat redundant console from a collecting perspective. It lacks the ‘first Sega console’ cachet, but isn’t as useful as the upgraded, more compatible, more user-friendly Mark III.

And in terms of looks, the redesign is more modern but a bit plain. It lacks the nice simple ‘retro evolved’ vibe of the original, but doesn’t quite nail the ’80s futurism’ look that Sega perfected with the seriously stylish Mark III.

But I really like that Sega was developing their own unified design aesthetic, and so it does look pretty cool with this matching joystick.

Sg10002_9

More pics:

Sg10002_11   Sg10002_17

Sg10002_12   Sg10002_13

Sg10002_14   Sg10002_15

Sg10002_16   Sg10002_8

Sg10002_18

Ninja Princess/The Ninja (忍者プリンセス) – SG1000/Mark III

Ninjas were everywhere in the 80s, and Japanese game developers were happy to fulfil the international demand for martial arts action. Nintendo’s console had Kung Fu, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Turtles, The Legend of Kage, Shadow of the Ninja and many others. Sega had their Shinobi and Dragon Wang series, as well as their shortlived Ninja series.

Much like the Dragon Wang/Makai Retsuden series, Sega’s Ninja series is a somewhat convoluted progression of the same basic game template over a couple of generations of hardware.

NinjaPrincess_6884

Ninja Princess/Sega Ninja – Arcade

NinjaPrincessArcade0003   NinjaPrincessArcade0001

Ninja Princess (released in the west as Sega Ninja) began as a Sega System 1 arcade game in 1985. It’s an overhead run-and-gun game, one of a batch released around that time, such as Capcom’s Commando and SNK’s Ikari Warriors. Swapping out a warzone and slow moving bullets for Sengoku-era Japan and throwing knives, Ninja Princess is one of the first ever examples of an action game with a female protagonist, a whole year before the highly celebrated Metroid.

The game stars titular princess Kurumi, whose castle has been overrun by bad guys. She escapes a kidnap attempt in a cute animated intro, and sets out to take back the castle with her ninja skills.

NinjaPrincessArcade0022   NinjaPrincessArcade0113

It’s a truly great example of the genre, with tight gameplay, great graphics and sounds, and some nice gimmicks. You have two fire buttons – one fires knives (or via a power-up, ninja stars) in the direction you are facing, and the other always fires directly up, no matter which way you are oriented. This innovation completely fixes the clunky feeling the genre can have, as you can actually fire at enemies while retreating. The third button activates a temporary ninja-vanish to evade enemy attacks.

On top of this, Ninja Princess mixes up the gameplay with gimmick/event stages, including a stage where you avoid falling boulders, another with stampeding horses, one set on logs floating on a river, and two stages where you climb castle walls.

The graphics are fantastic, especially for 1985, colourful, detailed and stylish, and Kurumi herself is a particularly cute and nicely designed sprite.

NinjaPrincessArcade0029   NinjaPrincessArcade0012

NinjaPrincessArcade0101   NinjaPrincessArcade0054

The original arcade version is available on the Saturn, included in the compilation package Sega Ages Memorial Selection Volume 2.

NinjaPrincess_6885

It has a slightly squashed aspect ratio to fit in the Saturn’s resolution (but with no detail loss), and the graphics have been slightly retouched, mostly for the better. But it is a great way to play the game. One of the menu options allows you to play with infinite lives, which is a godsend, as being an 80s arcade game, it’s brutally difficult in the later stages.

Ninja Princess (忍者プリンセス) – SG1000

NinjaPrincess_6888

Sega’s first contemporary home port was for the SG1000 in 1986. As you’d expect, the graphics have taken a fairly big hit, and with only two buttons the ‘ninja vanish’ function has been mapped to hitting both action buttons at once, but it’s otherwise as faithful a port as could really be possible on the hardware.

NinjaPrincessSG1000.000   NinjaPrincessSG1000.003

The event stages are gone, but otherwise pretty much the entire game is intact, including the climbing stages. It’s actually quite fun to see some of the set-pieces from the arcade re-created in a more primitive form, and while the enemy ninjas are mostly single colour sprites in this version, their single colour often matches the primary colour of that enemy type in the arcade – you can see the designers of the port really tried to make it resemble the original.

The dinky SG1000 graphics have their own charm, and assuming you’re using a decent controller it plays really well for an SG1000 game. In an attempt to prolong the life of the title for home gamers, it introduces a ‘secret scroll’ system, and you have to collect all the secret scrolls to access the last level. They’re basically randomly located in the levels, so this is probably the most frustrating part.

NinjaPrincessSG1000.008   NinjaPrincessSG10000.022

While it had no chance of living up to the arcade original, it’s still very fun, and is one of the best games for the SG1000.

Ninja Princess 1 Mega Han (忍者プリンセス1メガ版) – Mark III

When Ninja Princess finally made it to hardware that could do it full justice – in the form of Sega’s newer Mark III console – it was ostensibly in the form of a sequel. Ninja Princess 1 Mega Han.

NinjaPrincess_6892

In what was assumedly an attempt to make the game more ‘serious’ (and perhaps appeal to console gaming’s primarily young male audience), the graphical style has been changed completely, removing any hint of the original game’s cutesyness. And instead of starring Kurumi the Ninja Princess, it stars a goofy looking dude named Kazamaru, who now must save the princess.

NinjaPrincess_6893
I wonder if Archie and Veronica will like my outfit?

Despite the long-winded title on the box, the title screen shows simply ‘The Ninja’.

NInjaJ.001   NInjaJ.004

NInjaJ.010   NInjaW.008

It’s set up as a sequel story-wise, but is actually another, more faithful, port of the arcade game. All the arcade event stages are back (in re-drawn form), including the falling boulders, stampeding horses, and river. Controls are identical and the scroll system is back from Ninja Princess SG1000, so you have to collect all five scrolls, then perform a particular task at a particular place to access the secret basement level and rescue the princess. There is also a new speed power up scroll.

NInjaW.017   NInjaW.004

It plays about as well as the arcade, but the new graphics are kind of badly drawn (especially the main sprites, including Kazamaru who looks as awkward in-game as he does on the cover), and the limited cartridge space meant there is much less detail and animation than the arcade game. Apart from the odd nicely drawn section, it’s not a particularly good looking Mark III game. There are more musical tracks, but they’re pretty bland, especially when your knives are powered up to ninja stars and you hear the same tune over and over.

The Ninja – Master System

NinjaPrincess_6897
Another Master System cover art ‘masterpiece’

Ninja Princess 1 Mega Han was released in the west under its title screen name The Ninja. While many Mark III/Master System games contain a universal ROM with both English and Japanese versions of the game onboard, The Ninja was actually ‘upgraded’ for its release outside of Japan. The western release gets a scrolling text intro, a new title screen, and an extra image on the splash screen when you collect all the scrolls.

NInjaW.000   NInjaW.019

Unfortunately the entire second level is missing, no doubt sacrificed to make space for the above. Which is a shame because it’s actually one of the better looking levels. Two of the secret scrolls have also changed location, one in particular makes a heck of a lot more sense in its Mark III location.

NInjaJ.007
No village level for you, US/PAL Kazamaru!

And here the Ninja series ended. One fantastic arcade game, a very good SG1000 game, and a decent-but-nothing-special Mark III game. They’re worth a play through, but probably the best experience of the series is to be had on the Saturn port of the arcade game.

NinjaPrincess_6887

NinjaPrincessArcade0002   NinjaPrincessArcade0013

NinjaPrincessArcade0093   NinjaPrincessArcade0120

NinjaPrincess_6891

NinjaPrincessSG1000.001   NinjaPrincessSG1000.014

NinjaPrincessSG1000.008   NinjaPrincessSG1000.020

NinjaPrincess_6896

NinjaPrincessArcade0002   NInjaW.010

NInjaJ.017   NInjaJ.012

NInjaJ.018   NInjaW.024

NInjaJ.022   NInjaW.028

1983 Face Off: Donkey Kong (Famicom) vs Congo Bongo (SG1000)

It is July 15, 1983.

Two new consoles have been released by two prominent Japanese arcade developers – the Family Computer from Nintendo, and the SG1000 from Sega.

DKvsCB_6191

The big game in the arcades is still Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, featuring future superstar-to-be Mario. But the bigger name in arcades right now is Sega, whose Turbo and Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom are doing incredible things graphically. And Sega now have themselves an answer to Donkey KongCongo Bongo. Essentially a conceptual clone of Donkey Kong (and in the later stages Konami’s Frogger)Congo Bongo differentiates itself with an innovative and incredibly impressive isometric 3D perspective.

Donkey_Kong_arcade    CongoBongoArcade

In turn, both companies’ new consoles have launched with home ports of these killer titles.

DKvsCB_6244

Of course, this isn’t the first time Donkey Kong has been made available at home. Aside from a variety of home console ports (including the solid Colecovision version), there is the fantastic Donkey Kong Game & Watch from Nintendo’s smash hit line of handhelds. The Family Computer itself has taken many design and packaging cues from the little handhelds, and this, along with Nintendo’s earlier Color TV Game series has given them valuable experience in the retail space.

DKvsCB_6250

DKvsCB_6256   DKvsCB_6199

So how do the two ports hold up compared to their arcade originals? Sega is taking the lead in the arcades, but are they up to the task of meeting Nintendo’s challenge in the home space?

Donkey Kong

DKvsCB_6224

First up is the original. Firing up DK on the Famicom, the first thing that’s apparent is that the game has transitioned quite well from the arcade’s 3:4 aspect ratio to the regular television 4:3 aspect ratio.

Donkey Kong.000

It’s a little squished, but overall it works and is a very faithful port. Gameplay is replicated near perfectly, if anything it plays more smoothly, though it may have to do with the Famicom controller being more suitable for platformers than arcade joysticks.

Donkey Kong.004
The ‘secret’ safe spot to avoid the spring

The major omission is the third ‘cement factory’ stage, so DK on Fami has only three stages before looping.

Donkey Kong.005

There’s even the ending screen where Mario is reunited with Pauline (briefly).

Donkey Kong.007

The arcade intro and interludes are missing, and there are a few sound effect and animation omisions, but it looks and sounds great overall. It’s a clear step above the already excellent Colecovision version, and Donkey Kong on Famicom is likely the most advanced game available on any home platform to date.

Congo Bongo

Congo Bongo has a very interesting history, directly linked with Donkey Kong. It was developed for Sega by a software engineering company called Ikegami Tsushinki – the same team that did the programming work for Donkey Kong. While Donkey Kong was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo assumedly didn’t yet have the software development pipeline to make a top arcade game in 1981, and hired external software engineers. Sega grabbed the same team for their answer to Nintendo’s smash hit.

DKvsCB_6240

As soon as you hit start on Congo Bongo‘s title screen, the disappointment begins. Where is the isometric 3D? As a 2D game Congo Bongo is very much a poor man’s Donkey Kong.

Congo Bongo.004

What’s even more disappointing is that the Colecovision, a console with basically identical hardware to the SG1000, managed to have a port which maintained the isometric perspective.

congo_bongo
The Colecovision version is very impressive

And unbelievably, a port to the ancient Atari VCS somehow did too!

congo_bongo_atari
This should not work but it somehow does…

But the poor SG1000 got a 2D version. There are only two stages, the Donkey Kong style stage plays from a side view, and the Frogger style stage from the top.

Congo Bongo.003

Despite all this, it still plays okay, if a little awkwardly, and in the grand scheme of things it’s not too far below the Famicom version of Donkey Kong. It’s not helped by the terrible SG1000 joystick, but even if you get around that by playing on an SG1000 II pad, controls are a bit loose.

DKvsCB_6213
I’ll take the one on the left please.

The SG1000 hardware could have done much better, and Sega proved it in 1985 when their isometric 3D shooter Zaxxon (which was also programmed by Ikegami Tsushinki and used the same arcade hardware) was ported to SG1000 with the 3D effect intact.

Zaxxon.000

It’s little wonder the Family Computer took off. Donkey Kong was a premium product. Congo Bongo for SG1000 is decent enough fun and about as good as most games before that point, but is just an interesting artefact now.

DKvsCB_6246

DKvsCB_6206

DKvsCB_6209

DKvsCB_6247

DKvsCB_6248

DKvsCB_6196

Adding a Sega controller adapter to an original SG-1000 (home made JC-100)

So you want to play some SG-1000 games old-school style…

SG1000adapter_5510

…but the original SJ-200 joystick controller is a complete nightmare to use…

SG1000adapter_5505

Sure, there’s a plug on the right for player 2 which can use any DB9 connector Sega pad, but player 1 is stuck with the SJ-200 tethered to the console.

SG1000adapter_5513

Sega acknowledged their first controller sucked, and released a small modification/adapter called the JC-100, which allowed original console owners to to use the new pads released alongside the SG-1000 II.

It would be impossible to get hold of a JC-100 now, but you can easily make one yourself. All you need are the following:

  • Mega Drive/Master System extension cable
  • Header plug with crimp connectors with correct spacing and at least seven pins – I’m using a pretty standard eight pin
  • Crimp tool
  • Phillips head screwdriver

SG1000adapter_5519

First up open up the console (only four screws) and you can see the controller is removable, plugged in via a PC-like seven pin adapter.

SG1000adapter_5514

SG1000adapter_5515

SG1000adapter_5516

The way DB9 controllers work is to ground a line corresponding to a button when pressed, so there’s a whole line for each button/direction, plus ground. The pins are handily numbered, and align to the following:

  1. Button 1
  2. Button 2
  3. Right
  4. Left
  5. Down
  6. Up
  7. Ground

To make the adapter, start by slicing the extension cable at whatever length you like, then stripping the cover and the end of each wire. The internal insulation cotton can also be removed.SG1000adapter_5520SG1000adapter_5521

You’ll need to do some tests to see which wire is which, as in my case they wire colours did not line up to the colours of the original controller wires. In mine the colours lined up to:

  • Blue – Ground
  • Red – Up
  • Black – Down
  • Grey – Left
  • Pink – Right
  • Green – Button 1
  • Yellow – Button 2
  • White and Brown – Unused

Crimp the relevant wires to the pins using the crimp tool. You can get away with using pliers, but a crimp tool will make a much cleaner and stronger… well… crimp.

SG1000adapter_5523

The pins can then be plugged into the header plug in the correct order. Since I’m using an eight pin connector, it will stick out the back a bit, but there’s room and I’m not using position eight.

SG1000adapter_5525

Slice off the unused two wires and we’re done.

SG1000adapter_5527

Plug it into the console and close it up.

SG1000adapter_5528

SG1000adapter_5531

Now you can use pretty much any pre-Saturn Sega pad on your console. You can go period-accurate and use an SJ-150:

SG1000adapter_5533

All the way up to what was possibly the last DB9 Sega controller released – the wireless six button Mega Drive pad:

SG1000adapter_5536

Or if you’re insane, the standalone DB9 connector SJ-200, completely defeating the purpose of the exercise!

SG1000adapter_5534

The best part about this ‘mod’ is it is completely reversible. However it would be relatively easy to install a DB9 socket on the side if you wanted something more permanent. Similarly, the rest of the extension cable could be soldered onto the original tethered controller, making it a standalone unit.

Nintendo and Sega’s 8-bit Controller Rivalry

Nintendo and Sega had a famous rivalry in the 80s and 90s. In this post I’ll focus on a single element – the first party controllers of their 8-bit consoles.

———-

1981

The story begins before either company has released a cartridge based console. In 1982 Nintendo completely reinvents cheap directional input with the calculator style ‘plastic button above rubber membrane’ design of the directional controller pad (d-pad) in the Donkey Kong Game & Watch.

It’s equal to expensive microswitch arcade joysticks in speed, reliability and precision. It has great tactile feedback thanks to the ‘give’ of the rubber.

80sNintendo_2053
1983 Donkey Kong II

It is a vastly superior solution to the standard Atari-style joysticks of the time, whose sticks and buttons use primitive leaf connectors (bending metal) to register button/direction presses.

———-

1983

Nintendo releases the first edition of the Famicom. The controllers feature the Game & Watch d-pad, and like Donkey Kong, soft rubber action action (A/B) buttons. Also like Game & Watches, it features soft rubber function buttons (Start and Select).

Nintendo continue the ‘metal plate on top of coloured plastic‘ styling of the Game & Watch series.

SegaNintendoPads_1

The rubber buttons are usable, and suitable for simpler games, but are not as responsive as the d-pad is, and on hard presses can get stuck on the corners. For this reason (combined with a rare graphics glitch issue) Nintendo recalls these models in early 1984 and replaces them for customers. As such they’re relatively rare in the wild.

SegaNintendoPads_5

Of note, the Famicom features controller docks on the side of the console, so cords come out the side of the controllers to facilitate this.

SegaNintendoPads_2

Still 1983, Sega releases the SG1000 console. The console itself is a generation behind the Famicom, and the SG1000 controller (SJ-200) is a primitive old-paradigm joystick that uses the unreliable old leaf connectors. It also only has two buttons to the Famicom’s four (the console itself features a ‘Hold’ (pause) button on the main unit).

SegaNintendoPads_3

It’s an absolutely terrible controller. The mini joystick is equally as bad as an Atari VCS joystick, but cannot be as easily wrenched around to ‘force’ it to work like an Atari one, due to the small size and the way you hold it.

———-

1984

Nintendo updates the Famicom controller to have hard plastic over rubber membrane A/B buttons for better responsiveness. They leave the less commonly used function buttons as soft rubber.

A brilliant controller that basically sets a permanent industry standard.

SegaNintendoPads_4

Later in the year, Sega releases the redesigned SG1000 II console, with the Famicom inspired SJ-150 controller.

SegaNintendoPads_6

The SJ-150 has a round variation of the Famicom d-pad, and a copy of the original Famicom soft rubber A/B buttons.

SegaNintendoPads_7

The new console ditches the unique look of the original SG1000, and takes more than a few design cues from the Famicom, including controller docks on the side of the console. Controllers are detachable from the console unlike the Famicom, but they plug in at the back, using an Atari-style DB-9 connector – a legacy of the original SG1000, which had a DB-9 plug for an optional second controller.

SegaNintendoPads_8

Interestingly, the SJ-150 tries to keep one foot in the old ‘joystick’ world, and comes with a little plastic stick which can be screwed into the middle of the d-pad, presumably for players who want some kind of joystick feel.

SegaNintendoPads_9

———-

1985

Sega releases the SJ-151 controller with later SG1000 II consoles, and it is moved up to the latest Famicom design, with hard plastic with rubber membrane A/B buttons.

SegaNintendoPads_10

This is the first all-round good Sega controller. It keeps the weird mini-joystick option.

SegaNintendoPads_16

Later in 1985, Sega releases their upgrade to the SG1000 – the Mark III, with the SJ-152 controller, which is basically just a redesign of the SJ-151. It has more Famicom-like styling, with a reflective metallic sticker on the top mimicking the metal faceplate of the Famicom controller. Possibly due to the SG1000 legacy of the Mark III hardware, Sega is stuck with only two buttons for each controller.

SegaNintendoPads_11

The console continues to feature controller docks like the Famicom, though the controllers now plug into the front of the console.

SegaNintendoPads_12

SegaNintendoPads_13

It also retains the mini-joystick option. Someone must have liked it.

SegaNintendoPads_14

Later in 1985, Nintendo brings the Famicom west as the NES, with an externally redesigned (more squared off) controller that keeps all internals of the hard button Famicom pad as-is – it even uses the same board.

SegaNintendoPads_15

Due to the NES having no controller docks, Nintendo improves on the Famicom pad design slightly by having the cord come out the top instead of the side of the controller. It is however slightly less comfortable to hold due to the harder edges; the Famicom controller was nicely rounded.

———-

1986

Sega brings the Mark III west as the Master System, with an externally redesigned (more squared off) controller that keeps all the internals of the Mark III pad as-is – it even uses the same board.

SegaNintendoPads_17

It has some weird raised sections making hitting the buttons and d-pad less comfortable, though the d-pad is still the half decent one from the SJ-152. It is also less comfortable to hold due to the harder edges. Unfortunately, despite the Master System having no controller docks to necessitate it, the cord still comes out the side. It still has the mini-joystick option.

———-

1989ish?

After the release of Sega’s next system the Mega Drive, Sega begins positioning the Master System as a budget system in some of their more successful territories (mostly Europe and Australia/New Zealand). They revise the Master System pad to have the cord come out the top like the NES, and finally drop the mini joystick attachment.

SegaNintendoPads_18

SegaNintendoPads_19

At some point along the way Sega farm out all Master System production to China, and the non-Japanese controllers (and consoles) were much lower quality, and broke incredibly easily. Especially the d-pad, which had a cost-cutting redesign, making it less responsive as well as more prone to breaking.

SegaNintendoPads_20
No first party controller breaks as easily as the ‘top cord’ Master System pad.

———-

1993

After the release of the Super Famicom/Super NES, Nintendo repositions their older Famicom console as a budget machine – in Japan as the ‘AV Famicom’ and as a Top loading NES model in the USA/Europe.

The new Famicom/NES comes with a new Game Boy/Super Famicom inspired controller, affectionately known as the ‘dogbone’.

SegaNintendoPads_21

It’s a great controller, a very high quality build, and easily the most comfortable controller of the generation. Some players prefer the ‘flat’ AB button orientation over the Game Boy/SNES-style angled orientation. I prefer the angle.

———-

And that’s where that battle ended. Poor Sega were 1-3 years behind at every single step.

Here’s the whole lot in one shot.

SegaNintendoPads_5168

My favourite Nintendo controller is either the beautiful round button Famicom pad (or my hybrid Famicom/NES controller), or the dogbone.

My favourite Sega controller is probably the SJ-151. It has the better buttons, and the round d-pad works just a little better – the square one has a bit too much face surface. The SJ-152 is also quite decent, and it looks less plain.