After testing the waters with a range of consoles, including the SG-1000 and the Sega Mark III, Sega decided to launch the Master System in order to compete with Nintendo's NES. The machine was indentical to the Japanese MkIII hardware (although it now included the FM sound module as standard).
The system failed to gain a foothold in both the US and Japan, but in Europe it was a massive success. Nintendo had failed to gain a significant share of the European gaming market and Sega therefore was in a prime position. Distributed by Mastertronic (which would later be purchased by Richard Branson and become Virgin Mastertronic), the SMS sold by the bucketload in key European territories like the UK.
A redesigned Master System II was launched after the Genesis/Mega Drive arrived on the scene and allowed the console to keep on selling in Europe, but by this point it had died completely in the US and Japan, with Sonic being the final US release for the system.
Sega took the Master System hardware and shrunk it down to produce the Game Gear portable console. Boasting a full colour screen, it was far superior to Nintendo's Gameboy in terms of raw power but sadly ate batteries like there was no tomorrow. The machine still sold in decent enough numbers and outlived the other great Gameboy rival of the time, the Atari Lynx.
The Master System was a stunning success in Brazil, where the machine was supported until the late '90s and saw some excellent conversions, including Street Fighter II.
Read our Master System hardware focus