Coleco’s Sega Master System Handheld

As a kid, I missed part of the evolution of video games. When my Atari 2600 was knocked out by a power surge, I moved on to the Commodore 64 for my gaming fix. And from there, I moved to the Commodore Amiga (a computer that it took Microsoft and Apple a decade to equal). I didn’t get another console until well into the lifespan of the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo.

So I missed out, by and large, on console games for the original Nintendo NES and Sega’s Master System. I’ve since purchased a NES, but I never did buy a Master System. That’s changed a little bit with my latest find in the Target clearance bin.

[Coleco handheld package]

This little gadget, currently on clearance at Target for $12.50 (marked down from $49.99), is in essence a miniature Sega Master System, complete with twenty built-in games from the Master System and the Game Gear. The games are:

  1. Sonic Drift 2
  2. Columns
  3. Fantasy Zone
  4. Assault City
  5. Kung Fu Kid
  6. Fantasy Zone: The Maze
  7. The Ninja
  8. Super Columns
  9. Astro Warrior
  10. Bomber Raid
  11. Sonic: Triple Trouble
  12. Alex Kidd in High Tech World
  13. Alex Kidd in Miracle World
  14. Altered Beast
  15. Aztec Adventure
  16. Global Defense
  17. Quartet
  18. Penguin Land
  19. Ecco: Tides of Time
  20. Snail Maze

You can play the games on the system’s built-in 2.4″ screen…

[Coleco Altered Beast]

Altered Beast

… which is surprisingly clear and bright for a small, cheap handheld device. You won’t have trouble seeing the screen in normal (or even bright) room lighting. Sound comes out of a small speaker located just under the buttons on the right – or you can use headphones.

When you start up the handheld, you get a menu of games.

[Coleco menu]

Select what you want, hit ‘Start”, and you’re off! Here are a few screenshots of some of the games. All taken in the traditional way, of course – by pointing a camera at the screen. 🙂

[Coleco 1]

[Coleco 2]

[Coleco 3]

[Coleco 4]

So, how are the games? Some of them are quite entertaining. Sonic Triple Trouble, Astro Warrior, and The Ninja are a lot of fun.

Some of the games are .. not. Snail Maze will probably bore you to tears, for instance. I’m told that Snail Maze was built-in to Master System consoles. This does not surprise me, as nobody would have bought it on its own merits.

Altered Beast, sadly, seems too much for the Master System to handle. It’s slow, jerky, and borderline unplayable.

Some of the games are a little confusing. I haven’t quite figured out Quartet, for example..

Some of the games will make you go blind. Fantasy Zone, for instance, is very hard on the eyes. Of course, it was designed for playing on a much latger screen, and is just too tiny on the handheld’s small screen. That’s why you might need to take advantage of this:

[Coleco AV Output]

See that little jack on the right?**** You can plug this handheld into a television and save both your battery life and your eyesight. This is almost necessary with some of the Master System games (like Fantasy Zone), since they are very hard to see on anything smaller than a traditional television. Just plug in the provided composite video/mono audio cable and you can play these games on your big plasma screen! The composite output of the console was good – no interference patterns or blurriness.

Overall, the little Coleco handheld is well worth the $12.50 clearance price – even if you only find one game on it that you like. At its original $49.99, though, I’d pass it up. But then again, I never had a Master System as a kid.

To sum up:

Good points

  • Battery Life: 3AAAs seem to last a good long time. I haven’t used up my original set, and I’ve been playing on and off for a few days.
  • AC Adapter jack: for those times you don’t have to use batteries
  • Clear, bright screen
  • A/V output: for seeing the big picture
  • Good variety of games. There’s something for nearly everyone in there.
  • At $12.50 on Target clearance, it’s a steal!

Bad points

  • Build quality is suspect. I bought two of these handhelds, but had to take one back because it wouldn’t output any sound.
  • The game’s speaker is too close to the A/B buttons, meaning that you’ll cover up the speaker and reduce the sound volume when you’re pressing buttons.
  • Screen is very easy to scratch I’ve already got a couple of scratches on mine.
  • Screen brightness isn’t adjustable
  • Poor instructions. There’s only one sheet that shows you how to turn the handheld on. You’re on your own figuring out how to play the games.

****Sony and Nintendo, take note! Put a &^#@ TV output on your handheld consoles! A big chunk of your market is getting older and would like to use a larger screen when it’s available!

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