When you think of Sega consoles, you think of something from the past…
Deceased family members, friends, pets and other created things; we carry our memories and their remembrance with us long after those people, those animals, and those things have passed.
The form this takes can vary in sentiment from purely an emotional moment and outward towards something like me wanting to reassemble the bones of my first horse. I was thinking I might even make a few adjustments to him. Dignity is never assured, not even in death.
Just ask Sega, or in the meantime hear me out about carrying their hardware death around these past 25 years.
Just to be clear, Sega isn’t dead in the sense of them being in the stock market sub-soil, they have just largely been retired, like a well kept 1980’s Alpha Romeo. Left in a ventilated garage for the benefit of the occasional sunny day. They are now, in a sense, vintage and bordering on the historical display end of things. It wasn’t always like this.
By the mid-1990’s I doubt entirely that any other gaming company was producing quite as much stuff as Sega. Arcade tech, home hardware and game after game to run on them; Sega might not have been an industry unto themselves, but they were certainly more than a cottage enterprise. They constantly had software and hardware coming down the line, enough to rinse the pocket money of the average player without them barely scratching the third-party support.
By the time the Dreamcast came around it was practically a mission statement, with Sega themselves a self-contained brand at war with the competition, via general innovation and specific cribbing.
Gone to seed
But then at the end of 2001, the brand had gone to seed and there was much fighting over the rights to those seeds. Like the first reading of a will and testament, there were squabbles around who should receive the franchise rights to major titles like Virtua Fighter and Sonic. Sega spread things fairly evenly with Nintendo, Sony and fresh contenders Microsoft all getting something that the others didn’t.
For a Sega fan like me though, that meant there was no longer a single house that their wares resided in. The Xbox didn’t really become the Dreamcast 2 as I had hoped, despite some moves in that direction. Sony’s PlayStation 2 made graphics look all low resolution and muddied, even Crazy Taxi, and that left Nintendo’s Game Quad, which I just wasn’t interested in. No Super Monkey Ball for me.
I did have a Gameboy Advance, and there was some portable Sega action available for it, but all I can recall about that little device was that conversion of Tekken.
Where things belong
The media industry around gaming, having been released from their duplicitous years of Sega hardware coverage, was now applauding the fast and loose third-party Sega. But I wasn’t.
A great Sega game is a great Sega game regardless of the machine it runs on, but their heritage had, to me, appeared to have taken a hefty kick to the balls. Where they had been in the fight, they seemed now to be doubled over and winded.
They were probably beginning to make a little bit of money now, but Sega games were made to be played on Sega consoles. Even if that sometimes meant playing them on the Mega CD. That was all over now. A few years along and I would play Virtua Fighter 5 on the Xbox 360 and it was great, but it wasn’t proper homebrew Sega without the machine.
WipEout belonged on the PlayStation. Super Mario Karts belonged on the Super NES. King of Fighters 95 belonged on the Neo Geo, and to me everything Sega belonged on whatever machine they were demanding upon the public at the time.
Even if sometimes that was the Mega CD.
What’s left is what’s left
Accepting the fact that there is no pleasing me around the lack of Sega consoles, there was an example of them as publishers that somehow circumvented my feelings and held the banner of Sega high. It was no Sega Nomad 2, but Vanquish and Bayonetta were Sega despite not being directly from the company. They were in the spirit of a cutting edge of fandom. Bayonetta in particular seemed like the biggest thing to come out under a Sega badge since Shenmue.
But they were crumbs and by the time the console market was going into the 2010’s it had left Sega behind. For real; like not even receiving Christmas card levels of being left behind. The market was a lesser place without them, and I began to wonder if there was much of anything left in gaming to look forward to. Halo had been a big series in my house, but the fourth entry was a disappointment which left me feeling more crabby about games than before I had played it. Grand Theft Auto V stole my attention and has remained doing so for ten years now.
Otherwise it has been a dank cupboard of emotion, a sense that although the industry is still animate, it has lost much of its soul. Some clear blue sky is much needed amongst the low clouds, so what of the retro Sega consoles that have emerged these past few years?
Is it necromancy, or is there fresh life in those old bones?
The mega driven Sega consoles
I do not own any of the currently available Sega retro hardware. This may make me some sort of turncoat, or perhaps someone still grieving, but I am happy that they are out there (again currently, as of writing (this is Sega)).
Also a tip of the hat for getting some Mega CD antics onto the latest Mega Drive, although they really should have followed through with proper context and called this past-tense machine the Mega Driven. I really would have to buy one then and put my Xbox 360 Mega Drive collection to rest.
But it shall probably be when they get around to releasing a Saturn mini machine that my pockets will get rinsed. It’ll have to come with NiGHTS, which means it will also have to come with analogue controllers, which it probably won’t, and which will send me into a spiral of emotion and wistfulness.
It is tricky with the past and trust, especially when it is left to someone else to curate as I, like you, have specificities when it comes to these things. Sometimes it is no safer to look to the past than it is to the future. But let us take stock of the moment.
My dad once said…
The availability of old Sega games, and ones not made by Sega but which people still like, is manifestly here for both the on and off-the-books fan. Moreover the enthusiasm for retro in general appears to be knocking on that sweet spot which my dad always referred to as pique amateur enthusiast. Well done everyone. But what for me and my hardware spinsterhood?
The choir of Sega hardware may have passed, but the sound of celebratory singing for Sega has never been sweeter. Perhaps it is that they are ageing beyond their ambitions. I hope I never go deaf to the sound of it.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.