Has it really been twenty years since the Sega Genesis launched its way into the hearts and minds of a generation of gaming fans? From Altered Beast to Sonic the Hedgehog to Streets Of Rage to Vectorman all the way to Beggar Prince, the Genesis (née Mega Drive in places outside of North America) kept Nintendo and its aging Nintendo Entertainment System and, later, new gee-whiz Super NES on its toes with the first great console war of the modern era. Ars Technica takes a beloved look back at the Genesis, its greatest moments, and its long-lasting legacy.
After the incredible success that was Super Mario Bros. worldwide, Nintendo solidified its corporate identity behind Mario, a pudgy plumber in blue overalls. The image of Mario in the minds of America's youth was strong; in some surveys, more children could identify Mario than Mickey Mouse.
Sega soon realized that it needed a mascot as well. Its answer came in the form of a blue anthropomorphic hedgehog capable of running at incredible speeds. Sonic the Hedgehog burst onto the scene in his self-titled 1991 debut, selling millions of copies and stunning the industry. Sonic was cool, fast, and edgy compared to Nintendo's plodding plumber, and he soon wedged his way into the minds of American youth on equal terms with Mario. Sonic the Hedgehog became the Genesis's first "killer app"—that one game that drove Genesis system sales to new heights and fueled Sega's domination of the market. Without Sonic, it's possible that the Genesis would have floundered and ultimately withered under the massive inertial might of Nintendo.
As you probably know by now, I grew up as a Nintendo gamer, and aside from a forbidden fruit fascination with Sonic the Hedgehog (whenever I tagged along with my parents on trips to places like Sears I'd always make a beeline to the Funtronics section to play the Sonic demo unit), I remained loyal and true to the world of Nintendo. I didn't miss out on the Genesis era though. For most of high school I had a friend who owned a Genesis, so between the two of us we had access to the best video games that the 16-bit era had to offer (despite his mother's hardass rules on when and how we could play the darn thing). It wasn't until the end of 2002 that I finally owned actual Sega products — Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and Sonic Mega Collection for the Nintendo GameCube — and I've been playing catch-up with Sonic Gems Collection, two versions of the Sega Genesis Collection (one for the Sony PlayStation 2 and one for the PlayStation Portable), and a small handful of Virtual Console games ever since.