Master System consoles in North America
From Sega Retro
Though the Sega Master System always played second-best to the Nintendo Entertainment System (so much so that few even remember the Master System's existence in this region), many bundles and console revisions were given to the North American audience.
There are three confirmed "sets" of North American Master System; early consoles distributed by Sega, late 80s consoles distributed by Tonka, and a third set for the redesgined Master System II, also distributed by Sega. Canada changed packaging when the US changed distributors, but all consoles in that country were distributed by Irwin Electronics.
Contrary to popular belief, until the advent of the Sega Master System II, Sega did not call the console the "Sega Master System" in North America. Instead the console was referred to as the "Sega System", a rather vague and confusing title which was inevitably scrapped. The console unit itself is often referred to as the "Power Base" (similar to the NES' "Control Deck"), though for unknown reasons the text printed on the top of the unit reads "Master System/Power Base". The "Master System" name clearly stuck, and became the official title for the console in later revisions.
Though there are similarities with European packaging, North American models are easier to spot than one might expect.
The Sega Base System
When the Master System debuted in North America in 1986, two packages were available, the simpler, cheaper option being this "Sega Base System". In this initial "set", most names are prefixed with the word "The". North American bundles can be identified by the blue square patterns on the right hand side.
The Base System contains merely a Power Base and a couple of controllers. Sega were not particularly honest in this region when it came to packaging - despite the existence of a cartridge on the front, there are no games included.
The Sega Master System (with Hang-On / Safari Hunt)
The Sega Base System (Revision)
Though the console was not changed, the controllers were. Initially the lead came out of the side, but here it was altered to come out of the top.
The Sega Master System (with Hang-On / Safari Hunt) (Revision)
A similar story for the Master System bundle. Both were released 1987 and are the models Canada adopted.
Video Game System
These "second generation" Master System bundles arrived a couple of years down the line in 1988, and were distributed by Tonka in the US. They have a slightly different typeface describing the system and the "SEGA" logo replaces the "The Sega" text seen in earlier models.
Tonka then decided to go back to the old method, marketing several bundles at once and calling them different things. Some games are built-in to these consoles this time too. The "Base System" returns and again is the most basic model of the set, but this time has Hang-On built-in (mis-represented by the screenshot on the front of the box). US packaging of this nature can be identified by the text in the bottom left - in the US, the console is described as the "Best" system, while in Europe, it is the "Sega" system.
SegaScope 3-D System
A repackaging of their earlier Video Game System, Tonka released this "SegaScope 3-D System" to once again push the 3D features. Missile Defense 3-D is now a built-in game rather than a separate cartridge.
Master System II
North America received the redesigned Sega Master System II around 1990, this time with Alex Kidd in Miracle World built in. North American Master System IIs are a different colour than their European counterparts - they are grey with white buttons, as opposed to solid black.
Big changes occur in this bundle. There is only one control pad, and it is a cost-reduced version without the extra thumbstick attachment. Likewise this is the first bundle not to contain a Light Phaser. The console has also settled on the name "Master System" - though the unit is still called the Power Base, the Master System name would be used from here on out.