I’m not going to lie, I completely missed the boat on the Sega Master System. I was an NES kid. Mario and Luigi were the only video game character I cared about, and I ignored almost everything else. Sure, I eventually owned a Genesis and Game Gear, which is based on the same hardware as the Master System, but I didn’t even know about that lineage until almost a decade later! Crazy, right? I was clueless. When I learned about the console, and was told that it was more powerful than an NES, I knew I had to seek one out.
Of course, at the time I wasn’t really interested in beginning a new console collection. No, I just wanted to play some games that I originally missed out on. Instead of adding clutter to my entertainment center, I decided to go the easy route and purchase a Power Base Converter for my Genesis 2. I had read that some cuts were necessary to make the converter fit on the Genesis 2 due to its wonky size, so that’s exactly what I did once it finally arrived in the mail.
Thanks to my great luck, after cutting the converter up, I discovered that the Power Base Converter was defective. When I emailed the eBay seller I had purchased the accessory from, he refused to refund my money due to the cuts. I was angry at both him and myself for getting into this situation, but I understood his stance. Assuming he didn’t purposefully send me a defective product, I had ruined any chance of him reselling the item after any repairs. So, I was stuck with a broken, useless piece of plastic. Ironically, I would end up trading in my Genesis 2 in favor of an s-video modded Genesis 1 a couple of years later.
I gave up on the thought of playing Master System games until I stumbled across ToToTEK’s website. I can’t even tell you what I was originally browsing for, possibly a copier of some sort. What caught my eye immediately, though, was its Master System/Mark III converter for the Sega Genesis. Finally, a converter that skirted the whole size issue! It was merely a pass-through chip encased in a Genesis cartridge case. It looked a bit flimsy, but I was willing to give it a try. I put in an order, and then immediately went down to my local retro shop to purchase some games to try out on it.
After receiving the converter, I put it through its paces by testing a large number of games, both rare and popular. After some tinkering with device to get it to work with each game (more on that in a bit), I decided that ToToTEK’s solution for playing Master System games was an adequate one, but far from the best solution in doing so. The converter is functional, and does what you primarily want it to do: play some Sega 8-bit goodness. Yet it’s far from fully compatible with all software and accessories, limiting it’s potential as a Master System replacement.
In terms of build quality, my initial impressions that it “looked a bit flimsy” were pretty spot on. The converter extends out of a recycled cart, and has two cartridge pin connectors, one on top and one on the back, and a large blue “pause” button on the front. Pushing a game onto one of these connectors requires careful practice, as it feels like the board can easily break with too much pressure pushed onto it. The Genesis cart it sticks out of adds a bit of stability to the converter, but the board actually moves around a bit inside of it. So it never quite feels sturdy. Now, I haven’t had a problem with the build quality just yet, but it’s flimsy enough to give me worry. There’s a chance that I’m simply over-thinking things.
Functionally, the converter works but not without its quirks. Out of the ten games I tried on it, half didn’t boot up immediately. These were always the same games, and I wondered if they just weren’t compatible for whatever reason. To ensure the carts themselves weren’t defective, I took them into my local retro shop and had them tested on an actual Master System; all worked properly. I ended up stumbling across the solution for these games. While they didn’t start up upon the initial boot-up, they would always start up after pressing the Genesis’ reset button. For some odd reason, each time before, I had always taken the cart off the pin connector and tried to place it on better the next time. While it’s a really random work around, and I wish the converter worked flawlessly with every game, I’m still happy to report that it works just fine with any cartridge.
One aspect of the converter that does not work well, though, is its reset button. Remember when I said that the board moves around in the cartridge just a bit? Well, that results in your game freezing whenever you bump into or touch the converter. Most of us don’t have our consoles set on the ground where pets and children can easily trip over them, so this shouldn’t be much of an issue. It does become an annoyance though when you want to pause your game. Because your controller can’t pause your game, you must hit the big blue “pause” button on the converter if you wish to take a break. Naturally, when you touch the converter you game will freeze, and not in the intended “pause” way. Again, there is a slight work-around for this. If you press the back of the cartridge, right behind the pause button, with two finders, you can apply just enough pressure so that your thumb pressing the pause button won’t cause the cartridge to move at all. This will avoid freezing your game, but it’s really difficult to pull off. It takes plenty of patience and carefulness, and while it isn’t ideal, you’ll manage.
Beyond these issues, and the fact that you obviously can’t play cards or utilize Sega’s 3D glasses, ToToTEK’s converter is a decent option for those interested in playing Master System games. It’s always nice to not have to clutter your place with yet another console, and this particular converter is small enough to easily store out of the way when it’s not in use. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s a fantastic option for Genesis/Mega Drive Model 2 owners. As for Model 1 owners, the Power Base Converter is still your best bet. But if you’re looking to save a bit of cash on your Master System gaming, ToToTEK is a decent alternative.