On the 29 October 1988, Sega Enterprises unveiled a machine that would change the games industry forever – one that introduced us to blue hedgehogs, golden axes and castles of illusion. Its name was the Sega Mega Drive. This year marks the almighty console’s 25th anniversary since it’s Japanese release – the country where the legend began.
In a modern world where the latest mobile phone is outdated almost instantaneously, where HD TVs are rendered redundant within weeks, where fashions and trends are extinguished in the blink of an eye, the 25th anniversary of the Mega Drive marks a poignant moment in gaming history – one in which this humble console has passed the ultimate test – the test of time.
For any hardware developer, whether it be Sega, Nintendo, Atari or Commodore, the 25-year milestone is one of of huge significance. A quarter of a century is a long, long time in the world of electronics and technology. But what is it that makes the Mega Drive stand out amongst all those that came before and since?
Prior to the Mega Drive, we had console-greats such as the NES, the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum and the Amiga. However, what made the Mega Drive so outstanding, what made it so extraordinary was down to one key factor – it was the first console that made gaming ‘cool’.
A mega musical celebration
In celebrating the mighty Mega Drive’s anniversary, Mega Bites has decided not to write an account of the Mega Drive’s history, nor compile an obligatory chart of its greatest releases. Instead, I have decided to take things in an altogether more musical direction – ‘The Mega Drive at 25: A 16-Bit Cassette’. A 90 minute reel-to-reel celebration of the Mega Drive’s 25 greatest tunes, in no particular order (because they’re all so incredibly outstanding!). Although, if I had to choose a favourite, based on pure nostalgia alone, it would have to be Lemmings’ ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’. It takes me right back.
The origins of this project can be traced back to a few weeks ago, in a Twitter conversation with fellow retro enthusiast @Retrob8, who discussed his intention to commit his favourite 8/16-bit gaming tunes to cassette tape. An excellent idea I thought – and a music format incredibly befitting of this era of gaming.
My enthusiasm for the cassette project was further enhanced in a chat at the launch party of Read-Only Memory’s publication ‘Sensible Software 1986–1999’ (a truly excellent book and one that you simply HAVE to buy).
It was at this party that I was talking with Read-Only Memory’s Director and Editor Darren Wall (@romalerts) and fellow blogger Julian Hill (@JulianHillUK) of Boxed Pixels and SingStar world record fame. We reflected on gaming music and its incredible capacity for nostalgia – even more so than in playing the games themselves. More than this, we realised just how great some of these tunes were, not just in their simplicity, but also in their dynamics. Despite the limitations of the hardware, the composers of cartridge based gaming were musical masters, with a persistent attention to detail, in a world of incredible hardware limitations.
It is only recently, through stereo sound and high definition re-releases that I have come to truly appreciate what these musicians achieved with their electronic masterpieces – something that my RF cabled portable mono Mitsubishi television could never hope to do justice, back in the day.
It’s on this note (no pun intended) that I leave you, with an analog homage to 25 of the Mega Drive’s greatest musical moments – a fitting tribute to a console that not only looked and played superbly, but also sounded absolutely fantastic. Happy birthday old friend.
Click to hear ‘The Mega Drive at 25 – A 16-Bit Cassette Celebration’ on YouTube.