Sega and Nintendo Console War: Greatest Moments - Prima Games

Sega and Nintendo Console War: Greatest Moments

by Prima Games Staff

Find out why playing video games in the 90s ruled!

Today marks the release of Console Wars, a book that recounts the epic battle between Sega and Nintendo. For most of the 90s, both companies butted heads in what became known as the 16-bit war. On one side was the Sega Genesis and mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, and on the other, Super Nintendo and Mario. Both publishers took shots at each other and fans immediately took sides. This led to a high level of competition that ultimately benefited gamers.

Sega eventually went third-party and released games on Nintendo systems, but history being what it is, we took a fond look back at this epic confrontation with these 15 glorious moments.

When Sega Fired the First Shot

Sega wasted no time showing off its superiority in the tech department, with the 16-bit Genesis outperforming the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and even claims that it destroyed the SNES. With one simple yet bold TV ad, it proclaimed, “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” with a variety of examples, including sports and action games. It did quite well for Sega, until Nintendo emerged with its own champion.

When the Street Fighters Came to Play

Right off the bat, Nintendo scored a major third-party exclusive for the SNES shortly after its launch – the Capcom arcade brawler Street Fighter II. This bumped up system sales significantly. The Genesis wouldn’t get a taste of the franchise until over a year later, when Special Championship Edition debuted. Unfortunately, a separate six-button Genesis controller was required to get the most from the game.

When Mortal Kombat got Bloody

Don’t feel too bad about Sega missing that initial Street Fighter hype.  It made up for it in 1993 with Mortal Kombat. Acclaim released the game on both consoles with one major difference. Due to family standards with the SNES, its version featured sweat that replaced blood, along with PG-rated fatalities that nixed the graphic arcade maneuvers. The Genesis version was the same way, but all the carnage and bloody fatalities were unlocked via cheat code (ABACABB). This made it the go-to version. 

Mortal Kombat II, which followed a year later, was on a more even playing field, with both SNES and Genesis versions having blood and guts unlocked from the start.

When Blast Processing was an Actual Feature


While the SNES is a very capable piece of hardware with Mode 7 rotating and scaling capabilities, it was notorious for slowdown issues, particularly with shooters like Gradius III. Sega, meanwhile, didn’t experience similar problems, and in 1991 with Sonic the Hedgehog, the company heavily touted the “blast processing” speed. A jab at Nintendo’s processor, perhaps, or just clever advertising? We may never know.

When Add-Ons Weren’t Necessary

In the mid-90s, Sega introduced add-ons to its Sega Genesis to heighten a next-gen experience for players, starting with the Sega CD and 32X. Nintendo, meanwhile, took a simpler path by introducing powerhouse games that didn’t require add-ons for its system. These included Donkey Kong Country and StarFox, which utilized technology within the actual hardware and software.

Meanwhile, Sega’s peripherals cost quite a bit of money, and when it introduced technology into games with the home port of Virtua Racing, it bumped up the price significantly. It originally sold for $100, way too much for a condensed arcade experience.

When Players had so Many Great Bundles to Choose From

Both Sega and Nintendo went back and forth with quality system bundles. In 1989, Sega included a 16-bit port of its arcade game Altered Beast when it launched the Sega Genesis, thinking it would be a good value. However, in 1991, Nintendo answered back, throwing in the 16-bit classic Super Mario World as part of its sweet package deal.

Since that time, both companies offered their own special little bundles – with games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario All Stars included – in the hopes of attracting more buyers. Image Source

When Sega Tried to Crush the Game Boy

The Game Boy was a smash hit in 1989, mainly because of people’s ability to take the classic game Tetris wherever they went. However, in 1991, Sega answered with its own special handheld, the Game Gear. Featuring a full color, backlit screen and a larger control set-up, Sega took the initiative with the handheld, mocking Nintendo’s inability to offer a similar experience. The advertising did well for the system, but Sega couldn’t unseat Nintendo’s tiny portable.

The company would eventually try again in 1995 with the Sega Nomad, a handheld that used Sega Genesis cartridges. Unfortunately, the high cost and battery-sucking life pushed fans away, and the Game Boy – and its subsequent models – continued to dominate.

When Both Sega and Nintendo Battled Sony


The Sony PlayStation looked like an unstoppable juggernaut in 1995, and Nintendo was working on its own thing with the Nintendo 64 in 1996, so Sega opted to take a chance with an early launch of its next console, the Saturn (pictured), on May 11th, 1995. It caught fans by surprise – customers and retailers alike – but ended up being a problem for a couple of reasons.

First, few games came out over several months, aside from the launch line-up. Second, it gave Sony an ample amount of time to prepare with a lower price for its own system, as well as better preparation by retailers.

Meanwhile, Nintendo waited and released the Nintendo 64 in 1996, with stellar sales numbers – mainly due to the release of the elegant Super Mario 64.

Shortly after, the Saturn faded into obscurity, only for Sega to return in 1999 with its final console, the Sega Dreamcast.

When Sega Published Games on Nintendo Consoles, and Vice Versa

There was an interesting point in the 8-bit era when Sega and Nintendo were at each other’s throats with the Master System and NES, respectively, and yet, somehow, their games ended up on their opposite systems – even when they didn’t expect it.

Sega received a pretty good port of the classic Irem/Nintendo-licensed shooter R-Type, a bit of a surprise considering its name was all over the arcade game.

Nintendo got a couple of Sega ports as well, courtesy of unlicensed game manufacturer Tengen. Both Alien Syndrome and After Burner made their way to the system, and while other games were planned, Tengen eventually shut down before it could release more.

When Square Enix Delivered Awesome RPGs…to Nintendo

Both the Sega Genesis and SNES had their share of role-playing games, with hours of memorable adventures and characters to interact with. Sega, for instance, had the Phantasy Star series, and also boasted quite a bit about other big efforts, including Beyond Oasis and Landstalker.

However, Nintendo would eventually win this battle due to one major asset – Square Enix. With this team on board, the pair would release a number of SNES greats, including Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, the Final Fantasy games and Super Mario RPG.

As great as the Genesis RPG era was – how about that Crusader of Centy? – the SNES easily dominated – until Square left for PlayStation, anyway.

When Multiplayer Became a Huge Deal, Online and Off

Both Sega and Nintendo tried to establish better multiplayer options with the Saturn/N64 era. However, even though Sega’s intentions were good and would lay out the infrastructure for better systems to come, Nintendo won due to good old fashioned initiative.

On the Sega Saturn, Sega introduced the Netlink, which allowed gamers to connect online for games of Saturn Bomberman, Duke Nukem 3D and Sega Rally, among others. It was a modest success, though connection speeds at the time resulted in questionable performance issues.

Meanwhile, Nintendo opted for local multiplayer via split-screen set-up on Nintendo 64, and the results paid off brilliantly. Games like F-Zero X, StarFox 64 and Mario Kart 64 benefitted from the format, though one title, Goldeneye 64, changed everything – even if some players accused others of screen watching.

When the Super Scope and Menacer Fought for Light Gun Supremacy


Nintendo, hoping to repeat the success it had with the Zapper on the NES, introduced the Super Scope to the SNES. This over-the-shoulder peripheral worked with titles like Yoshi’s Safari and Terminator 2: The Arcade Game.

In an effort to outdo its competitor, Sega introduced the Menacer (pictured), a weird-looking light gun peripheral that worked with its own games, including a Genesis port of Terminator 2: The Arcade Game.

While both light guns offered an interesting new gameplay experience, neither replicated the simple joys of the NES Zapper, and thus faded into obscurity. However, it was interesting to see both companies with their own models, trying to one up each other.

When Fan Service went to the Next Level

When it came to keeping fans happy, both Sega and Nintendo tried to one-up each other.

For Sega, it was a matter of going after new services, like the Sega Channel, or offering special promotions, like its limited Christmas NiGHTS game for the Saturn.

As for Nintendo, it offered its own promotions, as well as its own publication, Nintendo Power, which would last for several years and become a staple in the game industry, until it eventually closed up shop last year.

When Both Companies Produced Outstanding Controllers

Each publisher did its part to create more comfortable peripherals. The NES got the lead in the beginning, offering a controller with a Start – or pause button – while the Master System was limited to putting that feature on the actual game system.

In the 16-bit era, the Genesis offered a convenient three-button pad, but would be one-upped by Nintendo’s better SNES controller, with six button functionality. Sega introduced a model with six buttons, but SNES continued to dominate.

In the next era, Sega’s Saturn controller stumbled, but the company built a more user-friendly model that came with later bundles of the system. Nintendo, meanwhile, introduced a Nintendo 64 controller (pictured) that not only offered comfort, but also an analog stick for better freedom of movement in 3D games. Sega would try to replicate this design with a special NiGHTS-based controller.

Nintendo would eventually win when it came to controller design, but Sega had one last great gasp of air with its Dreamcast pad, complete with a slot to snugly fit a Dreamcast VMU unit, complete with video screen.

When the War Came to a Surprising End

For years, Sega and Nintendo were at each other’s throats, but once Sega switched from hardware manufacturer to third-party software publisher, it knew that eventually, it would have to bury the hatchet. In the mid-2000s, it finally did by releasing games for Nintendo systems, beginning with Sonic Advance.

If that wasn’t glorious enough, what came next in 2007 was even more shocking – when Mario and Sonic appeared together in a video game. Their two universes combined for Mario & Sonic At the Olympic Games, a successful sports endeavor for both the Wii and DS that would lead to a partnership that continues today.

Since that time, Mario and Sonic have also starred in other games, most notably Super Smash Bros. Brawl, as well as this year’s Smash release for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. It’s a bit shocking considering everything these companies have been through, but a great way for the war to finally come to a close. In the end, gamers win.

Now find out what it was like playing games in the 80s!

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