On July 15, 1983, the Famicom was released in Japan. The console, later rebranded in the West as the Nintendo Entertainment System, would go on to change video games forever. Did you know, though, that the Famicom wasn’t the only gaming system released on that day? It was joined on shelves by the SG-1000, the very first home console manufactured by Sega.
You couldn’t write something that poetic. Two gaming giants, who would spend the next two decades locked in a bitter struggle for video game dominance (until one of them heroically fell in battle), releasing their first proper home consoles (Nintendo’s previous machines hadn’t allowed for the swapping of game cartridges) on the same day? It’s perfect.
Well, it was perfect for Nintendo. For Sega, the SG-1000 wasn’t quite the success story.
Poor sales in its native Japan meant that the console would only survive for around three years. But in those three years, the SG-1000 led quite the charmed life. It was redesigned only a year after release (the SG-1000 II), with a new casing and everything. It strangely saw an almost immediate release in Australasia, the beginnings of a relationship which would see Australia and New Zealand become perhaps Sega’s most loyal market throughout the 80s and early 90s.
The SG-1000 was even re-released in Japan as a personal computer, the SC-3000, its more practical slant and built-in keyboard making it ultimately more popular than the console it was originally based on.
If you’re American and until now have no idea what I’ve been talking about, that’s understandable; the SG-1000 was never officially released in the United States (though a local console called the Telegames Personal Arcade could play its games thanks to some shady design). It never made it to the United Kingdom, either, or Germany, which are only three of the four biggest console markets in the world.
It was, for what it’s worth, a big hit in Taiwan.
While all this makes it sound like the SG-1000 was a bit of a misfire, it was still important in the development of Sega’s home console business. The system’s card slots were later used by the first edition of the more popular Sega Master System (as we saw last week), and indeed, a planned third iteration of the SG-1000 (the Sega Mark III, below) was transformed mid-development to become the Master System itself.
You won’t find too many memorable series making their debuts on the SG-1000. There was no primitive, early edition of Alex Kidd, or Shinobi, or any other early Sega hero. Most games were arcade hits or clones of arcade hits, like Zaxxon and Space Invaders, though there was also a version of Sega’s own Monaco GP available.
I loved the SG-1000 as a kid, on those rare instances I was allowed anywhere near one. Not for the games (I had a C64 at the time, and preferred it), but for that colour scheme. Look at it! It was like a GI Joe playset. American Star Command! Payload action figure included!
If you’re looking to get one, an official SG-1000 is fairly rare, though games are pretty easy to get hold of for $US10-15 each.