Never released outside of Japan, quickly replaced by a slightly confusion succession of follow-up systems, the SG-1000 seems like little more than a blip -- a curiosity -- in Sega's illustrious history. Yet the console gave the company its first foothold on the home console market. And while its success may have been eclipsed by that of the rival Nintendo Famicom, the SG-1000 did well enough for itself to encourage Sega to remain a key player in the console market for nearly two decades.
At first glance, Girl's Garden looks like your typical arcade-style action game of the early '80s. You control a young girl scrambling through a semi-maze-like space collecting items, avoiding hostiles creatures, and using your limited array of power-ups to turn the tables momentarily as a tinny jingle plays over and over again. Inoffensive, inessential. Aside from the slightly unusual feature of featuring a female protagonist (though sadly one trying to win the affections of a boy rather than trying to rescue him), you probably wouldn't choose to memorialize this simple little confection. And yet, it turns out the designer of Girl's Garden was none other than a man by the name of Yuji Naka -- the same Naka that would go on to design Sonic the Hedgehog. Of course, nothing about Girl's Garden captures the intensity of action that Sonic offered; it's just a neat bit of trivia.
Congo Bongo holds an interesting place in video game history. With its hapless adventurer ascending platforms and dodging hazards in pursuit of a raging gorilla, it clearly represents Sega's answer to Donkey Kong. But some posit that Congo Bongo was also Ikegami Tsushinki's answer to Donkey Kong as well. Who are Ikegami Tsushinki, you ask? By many accounts, they were the company that did the actual programming on Donkey Kong for Nintendo and went to court with over rights issues shortly thereafter. They're also the company that did the programming for Congo Bongo. Interesting, right? Certainly more interesting than this shoddy port of the arcade game, which dropped its slick isometric graphics in favor of a flat-looking 2D plane. It's an especially baffling design choice considering (1) the ColecoVision -- which had remarkably similar hardware to the SG-1000! -- managed to recapture the isometric essence of the original, and (2) this was Sega's own conversion of their own arcade hit for their own console! Plus, the visual change only highlights how much Congo Bongo owed to Donkey Kong. Not a good port, but definitely an interesting one.
One of the strangest facts about Sega's 8-bit consoles is that the company handled nearly all the programming for its arcade ports -- even those licensed from other publishers. Sega-Galaga is notable because it's the one time this quirk of Sega's home business was ever brought to attention with a name change. Despite being handled internally at Sega, it's a respectable conversion of the arcade classic. A bit choppy, perhaps, and lacking some graphical detail. Oh, and the Challenging Stages are gone. But the enemy behavior remains consistent, and overall it plays and sounds as much like the original as you would expect from a home port circa 1983.
As you might expect, this port of the cult classic arcade game -- which sees players take control of a small bird leading nearly a dozen chicks to safety from the depredations of hungry cats roaming a Mappy-like maze -- suffers visually in the move to the modest SG-1000 hardware. It loses all its background detail along with its fluid animation. Tragic! But you know what it manages to hold onto despite the massive downgrade in hardware power? The core gameplay, including the central conceit: You round up a gaggle of tiny birds that follow you in a line. For an old system like this, that's an awful lot of little objects moving around at once. And if there's a bit of flicker when you manage to collect the entire lot, well... it is called Flicky, you know.
If the bulk of these notable games take the form of arcade ports, well, Sega was playing to its strengths with its first console. Unlike Nintendo, Atari, Coleco, and its other contemporaries, Sega had an expansive arcade library under its belt by the time its console launched. Nintendo had Donkey Kong and its sequels, sure, but Sega could claim dozens of its own games. That's why you saw the likes of Monaco GP, a conversion of a 1979 top-down racer that turned heads when it was new but felt a little dated in 1983, where it had to stand next to the likes of Pole Position and Spy Hunter. Still, despite being a little long in the tooth at its debut, Monaco GP did a respectable job of bringing the high-speed arcade racer to the humble living room.
Sega transformed Westone's arcade platformer Wonder Boy into a miniature dynasty, giving it an impressive number of 8- and 16-bit sequels that branched into two separate franchises. This, the very first home conversion, made some disappointing compromises to fit onto the SG-1000's modest hardware, including the lack of scrolling. Mario-style action platformers were never meant to play in flip-screen style, and the hindrance makes a tough game downright hard. While this Wonder Boy has been entirely obviated by the superior ports that followed in its wake, at the time it was a small coup for the SG-1000.