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SEGA Master System: A Visual Compendium – Review

Bitmap Books’ Visual Compendium series are some of the most beautifully presented books about video games out there, and with their 6th entry in the series the team are focussing their sights on SEGA’s 8 bit powerhouse, the Master System. SEGA Master System: A Visual Compendium is a hefty, 432 page slab of nostalgia that highlights a strong portion of the Master System software library. Every game gets a 2 page spread to showcase its pixel art and it always comes accompanied with a few paragraphs that explain the mechanics and its impact on gaming in brief. Some of the more important games featured are also given the gatefold treatment which gives these titles a little more space in the book. These key titles include Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Zillion and Land of Illusion.

The writing is robust throughout and all the interesting details about the various games and their region specific changes are detailed, but the guest contributions often feel a little dry. There’s no real character or flare to the writing which is a bit of a shame. It’s made even more apparent when people who actually worked with the software are given an opportunity to tell their stories. A real highlight comes from Stefano Arnhold (the chairman of Tectoy) who recounts Ayrton Senna’s enthusiasm for Super Monaco GP 2 and insistence on actually racing on the Barcelona circuit before he gave the development team any comment on the circuit to use in-game.

These sorts of stories are always the shining highlights and some longer interviews and features also feature Mark Cerny discussing the development of the SEGAScope 3-D Glasses, an interview with former CEO of Virgin Mastertronic, Nick Alexander which discusses SEGA’s marketing tactics when they brought the system to Europe, and an extended feature on the Master System’s unstoppable popularity in Brazil. These features produce some of the most fascinating stories about working with SEGA in the late 80s and they sadly overshadow the rather functional work of the guest contributors and their various software features.

These are minor quibbles though, and the overall package is a beautifully presented one, especially if you have any nostalgia for the system itself. The book even comes with a pair of anaglyph 3D glasses which are made to be used in conjunction with the selection of SEGAScope 3-D titles that are featured in the book. Unfortunately they don’t really work on static images printed in a book, so it feels like the extra effort to do this was sadly a bit pointless.

In conclusion, SEGA Master System: A Visual Compendium is a wonderful love letter to SEGA’s 8 bit marvel and it genuinely feels like it was made with a lot of love for the system. The presentation is consistently excellent throughout, even if the anaglyph 3D pages feel a little unnecessary. The only real disappointment comes in the form of the serviceable writing from the guest contributors who don’t have the luxury of an exciting tale from the game’s development to offer the reader.

Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark 23/07/2019

You can purchase SEGA Master System: A Visual Compendium directly from Bitmap Books by clicking here. Softcover and hardcover options are available and each order comes with a PDF download of the book for use with eReaders as well.

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