Even out here in the Baltics there are still a few good stores to get retro gear and in Riga they have a store videogames.lv which I like to browse when I am in town. They also have a new webshop and postage is pretty cheap to Estonia via the parcel service Omniva so its easy to pick up a few items anytime.
Their site said they had a Master System 1 for sale for 60 euros which is fair price from a store. I understand stores need to charge a bit more and also we are in the Baltics after all so its cool and I like to support these guys who support retro stuff locally. I also understand I am somewhat of a crazy collector so of course I know cheaper places for everything. It would not be fair of me to look at a physical store some bloke put lots of hard work into and say “oh I know a small Hard Off 2 hours outside Tokyo where I can find that 20% cheaper”. Well why don’t I go back to Tokyo and get it then smart guy? Yes I often reply sarcastically to my own stupid questions.
I ordered the Master System and when I opened the package it looks a bit weird to me. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Doesn’t that top look…. different? Took me a while to realize it doesn’t have a card slot! Whats up with that? I thought all Master System 1’s had a card slot, I was about to order a few cards from the UK to test this functionality.
Then I looked at the back…
RF only? ie, it only has the old TV antenna hook up, not the 3 yellow, white and red RCA cables. I did get a RF adapter with the package and I have a lovely new (read: old) CRT TV from Uuskasutuskeskus which is like an Estonian “Goodwill” store. They don’t really have any games or consoles but they do have a shitload of great CRT TVs all for 5€.
A flat screen Samsung CRT, it makes retro games feel warmer and way better.
So what’s up with this weird Master System I had purchased sight unseen? Doing some googling on the model number reveals a little info.
That’s a weird model number MK-3096-19 and that serial number B00000301 is oddly small. Googling the serial number shows that this is a special Master System one which was produced in 1990 for the Soviet Union! Oh shit! So the USSR didn’t really fall until about mid ’91 and in the early part of 1990 Sega officially licensed this model of Master System for the USSR. They stripped out the card slot and reset button (I understand the card slot for cost saving but reset button??) and the RF is designed to work on a standard which matched TVs used in the USSR.
There is precious little information online about this model, most people seem confused as I am. Reports say that at maximum 5000 units were produced and maybe as little as 2000. Does my serial number mean this was 301? Shit that ‘gon need some more investigating.
As the story goes, the unit was released at a select few stores in Moscow where you could buy foreign goods but you needed special rubles to buy it, so it’s not like your everyday Ivan or Vladimir was buying this. Added onto that, the games were not localised or produced in the USSR so you essentially would have had to pay full Western price for a game, meaning one game would have cost about half of the average comrade’s monthly wage. THEN add into this that a company called “Steepler” had been producing the “Dendy” which was a hardware clone of the Famicom (the Japanese NES or “original Nintendo”) and this was being made at a much cheaper rate with knock off carts being easy and inexpensive to come by meant that this Master System never stood a chance. If you live in Eastern Europe you have seen the Dendy for sure, it’s the system which plays all those yellow cartridges you have in your attic which have 20 different versions of Mario Bros all which differ only by color.
This system comes with Alex Kidd built in which matches the Master System II which was released in the west around the same time. Sonic didn’t become the built in game in the Master System II until late ’91 so I understand why this game was included but it still seems a bit odd they used the shell of the original Master System and not the Master System II which a cost cutting redesign made for International markets. My guess is that Sega wanted to move fast into the Soviet market at the end of the 1980’s and so pushed out this simpler model using the old case to get it released in Russia and maybe 12 months or so later they finally got the Master System II to market. Another theory I just made up is that this would have been sold in the USSR as a luxury Western item and therefore the appeal would have been stronger with the existing design which would have been more well known.
For reference, this is the Master System II, photo taken from SegaRetro.org. I have such a shit memory of my childhood I can’t remember if I owned this myself or this was the one my neighbors had. We were not very rich growing up so I didn’t have a pile of consoles around me and later on a definitely had a Mega Drive II so I dare say my neighbors were the actual owners even though I hung out there most days .
So back to this Russian Master System 1. The guy who sold this to me in Riga says that he got it used from a retro store in Berlin, Germany in 1997 so who the fuck knows how it got there. Maybe it was in East Germany too?
While at first I didn’t know what to make of this weird Master System 1, I am now very happy I purchased it. I can’t find any for sale so I don’t know a price but I love that this is a link between Western Sega and the Eastern USSR. Ok ok I understand Sega is Japanese so its technically “far east” but you get the idea, don’t spoil my big moment here.
Just quietly, I am most excited about that serial number B00000301. The only other picture of a serial number from this model I can find online is B00001086 so does this mean the serial numbers were sequential and mine was one of the earliest they made? Oh this story ain’t over baby!