Who doesn’t remember the famous “Genesis does what Nintendon’t!” television campaign by Sega CEO Michael Katz to advertise the Genesis back in 1989? That deep-voiced guy, that catchy slogan, it was genius! These thirty second TV spots were the introduction of aggressive marketing for video games, and they’re remembered for really bringing attention to the Genesis and its first boost into the biggest video game war in all of history!
But it’s not only an advertising campaign that sells a video game system, you got to have the main thing, and that’s games. The Katz strategy was to try and get as many celebrities as possible to endorse as many games as possible so it would hopefully garner sales, along with special deals such as $30 Cash Back . We got such legends as Michael Jackson, Joe Montana, James “Buster” Douglas, and Mickey Mouse. But are these games as good as they were advertised to be? Read on, readers!
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
First off is Castle of Illusion, which is one of the few games from the campaign that got a very strong following, even after it was released. Its gameplay, graphics, and sound were a triple threat from Sega and this title became a classic for the Genesis in the years to follow. Like Moonwalker, it also got its own commercial entirely, the only other game to do so throughout the campaign. It was so big it also got numerous sequels on the Genesis and Game Gear, and an 8-bit counterpart on Master System (that’s a different game entirely, I might add). For more information on those games, check out my Sega Ages: The Mickey and Donald Games feature.
Columns is basically Sega’s answer to Tetris, and it has a history that’s almost as convoluted and confusing. It’s an addictive, yet difficult puzzle game in an ancient history design, featuring Egyptian and Roman themes. It was also released on Master System, and then it became the first pack-in game for the Game Gear, a la Tetris for Game Boy. While not the mega hit for Sega that its Game Boy counterpart was, it was successful enough to garner three sequels, Columns III on Genesis, and Super Columns and Columns III on Game Gear. The second game in the series was an arcade exclusive.
James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing
Next we have James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing. This game was released after he beat Mike Tyson in the Championship fight in 1990 (which was actually in Japan ironically). Unfortunately for Sega, Douglas lost his title the very first time he defended it (against Evander Holyfield), which just happened to occur before the game was released!
While Knockout Boxing is a port of the Taito Arcade game Final Blow – and a very close one at that – it boasts only a few more characters, including Douglas himself and is rather bland overall. It’s not as big of a knockout as the other boxing games by Sega, and it plays a little bit differently from them as well, I might add.
Joe Montana Football
Joe Montana Football is one of the most famous “Genesis Does games,” and it didn’t even have its own commercial! The license acquired for this game was supposedly very costly at a $1.7 Million dollar licensing fee for five years, something Sega of Japan was very concerned about (read the full story behind the game’s development). But when the game netted in $3.5 million in sales, Sega of Japan was so happy, they put Joe Montana in as many football games as they could! There was Joe Montana Football I and II (the first Sports Talk game), Joe Montana Football (Game Gear), NFL Sports Talk Football Starring Joe Montana ’93 and ’94. The original game is a rather decent football game overall as well, and it’s arcadey, yet faithful gameplay makes it worth a buy.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
We’ve now come to Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. This game was probably one of the most famous games of the “Genesis Does!” campaign. It garnered its own commercial entirely, whereas the rest of the games (except for Castle of Illusion ) were advertised with other games. Moonwalker is also the only “Genesis Does!” game to be featured in two commercials. This game supposedly cost Sega a good amount of money to secure the licensing on, and when it caught criticism for repetitive gameplay, it didn’t go over that well with Sega of Japan. The game is still worth a play overall though, especially if you are a Michael Jackson fan. It captures the essence of Michael Jackson and the Moonwalker movie perfectly, while being fun at the same time. There was also an arcade game that was not a platformer, but a three-quarters view beat-’em-up. Michael Jackson maintained a good relationship in the years afterwards. he visited Sega of America quite often, and there is also the whole Michael Jackson/Sonic 3 debate.
Pat Riley Basketball
Pat Riley Basketball was made in 1990 for the Mega Drive and given its famous license when it was localized for the Genesis. It featured the star coach of the Lakers, Pat Riley, but like Tommy Lasorda Baseball, the featured person is only in the game’s title screen. Pat Riley is a simple five-on-five basketball game with eight teams and timed-button gameplay. It’s not the best of the Genesis does games. In fact, the reviewer here says it’s absolutely abysmal. There are no NBA teams or players and the presentation is as vanilla as they come. In its defense, it was the only basketball game available on the Genesis at the time, but that has long since changed. Though it was a decent basketball game then, but now, just stick with NBA Jam.
Lastly, we have the famous arcade game Strider by Capcom. Licensed and ported by Sega itself, it was the first 8-Meg video game cartridge and is noted for being extremely faithful to the arcade game. It generated an incredible amount of hype among the gaming press of the time and was rated Game of the Year in 1990 by Electronic Gaming Magazine (as seen in the commercial). There was a sequel entitled Journey from Darkness: Strider Returns, by U.S. Gold for the Genesis, but it is considered to be an extremely poor game that doesn’t play anything like the original Strider. Avoid the sequel and stay with the original.
A Major Legacy
You may also notice that many of the “Genesis Does” games were released under the Sega Classics brand. It shows how well this advertising campaign worked, and it’s really what helped Sega get its foot in the door before Tom Kalinske and the blue hedgehog that we all love came along with better campaigns. “Genesis Does” will live on in the hearts of all Genesis fans as the beginning of one of the best console wars ever.