Friday 8 October 2021

The Sega Master System Visual Compendium Review

While we have a pretty decent knowledge of all things retro there are always blind spots. Despite the fact we’ve gathered a modest Master System collection together it would be fair to say that we are far from experts when it comes to the console. This latest Bitmap Book seemed a perfect opportunity to remedy that. So with thoughts of Alex Kidd in our head it’s time to take a look back at the much underrated ‘other’ 8-bit console.

As is standard with the visual compendiums you get the usual high quality cover and slip case. This time the colour is black which means your book won’t visually match other compendiums you have but makes sense in the grander scheme of things. As usual, the cover features a host of characters from iconic games which hits the nostalgia button right from the start. The compendium also comes with a set of old style Red/Blue 3D glasses to view some of the pages with. It’s a nice touch that ties in with the Master Systems hit and miss attempts at playing with early 3D in some of its games. Sadly, we didn’t get much from the 3D effect when looking at the pages – but then this could be down to colour-blindness so your experience may differ.

The book follows the now proven route in terms of content. You get the usual excellent intro full of information to both make you an instant expert and also pique your interest into what’s to come and an excellent selection of interviews from developers and industry veterans of the time such as Mutsuhiro Fuji and Steve Hanawa. The games are mainly presented with a single, well chosen, screen shot spread over two pages with decent amount of text to give further information about the game. 

Where this book does differ from other visual compendiums we have seen is in that some games have extra sections attached to them which fold out. This normally takes the form of level maps showing a large area of the selected game. These also come with extra written content as well as an added bonus. It’s a really nice touch that makes the compendium stand out and offers up a great physical Easter egg of sorts.

Away from the individual games there is also a host of excellent pictures of Master System peripherals sprinkled throughout and some features which focus on certain parts of the catalogue such arcade games and a section dedicated to different parts of the hardware – the photographs of which are absolutely sublime. There is also a section dedicated to the box art from different regions which showcases some of the best designs of the time so get ready to look at a lot of white square covered boxes.

Perhaps most interesting though is the section dedicated to the Master System release in Brazil. This covers a lot of the regions exclusive game and gives a good insight into the history surrounding the whole operation. Just try and resist looking for those games on Ebay or you may have a small cardiac event.

Overall, The Master System Visual Compendium is up to the same high standards of Bitmap Books other releases. We felt that this book in particular gave us a real urge to go and find a lot of these games and add them to our collection. As we weren’t experts on the console in the first place we found it a great way to get a detailed overview of the interesting and diverse back catalogue and also the systems place in the market in term of historical context. We may not have known much about the life of the Master System before this but after reading through we certainly love it more than ever.

*picture taken from the Bitmap Books website.

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