System 16

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A System 16A board with Shinobi daughterboard.

The System 16 is a video game arcade board designed by Sega in the early 1980s, and first sold in 1985. The board was designed to use a main processing board and and interchangeable daughterboards which contained the game data. Creating the board in this way helped streamline Sega's arcade video game production and allowed arcades to swap out games much easier. The architecture of the System 16 eventually served as the basis of the Mega Drive and Genesis as well as the later System 18 board. Sega licensed out the hardware for other developers. SunSoft and Westone produced a couple games each for the hardware, and a couple other companies developed games for the board was well, but the majority of titles were produced in-house by Sega. Sega did well with the board and, over its lifespan, a total of 40 games were released for it, making it one of the most successful arcade boards of the time. The board was revised a couple times over the years with variants know as pre-System 16, System 16A, System 16B, and System 16C.


The first arcade games that really impressed me were in the late-1980s and many of them ran on the Sega System 16 board. There was an arcade at the Lakeland Ice Arena where my older brother played hockey, and I spent most of the time during his practices watching the game's demos or peering over the shoulders of people who actually had money. Altered Beast, Golden Axe, and Shinobi always stood out at me. When I first found out about arcade emulation, the first emulator I downloaded, around the year 2000, was one built specifically for the System 16/18. This was when I learned just how broad the System 16 was and how many games were made for it. Because of this, whenever I think of the "classic" era of arcade games, this is always what comes to mind for me.


Title Released Board Developer
Ace Attacker 1989 System 16B Jaleco
Action Fighter 1986 System 16A Sega
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars 1986 System 16A Sega
Alien Syndrome 1987 Pre-System 16, System 16B Sega
Altered Beast 1988 System 16B Sega
Atomic Point 1990 System 16B Philko (Unlicensed)
Aurail 1990 System 16B Westone
Bay-Route 1989 System 16B Sunsoft
Body Slam 1986 Pre-System 16 Sega
Bullet 1987 System 16B Sega
Charon 198?  ? Sega
Cotton 1991 System 16B Success
Dunk Shot 1987 System 16B Sega
Dynamite Dux 1988 System 16B Datsu
ESWAT 1989 System 16B Sega
Excite League 1989 System 16B Sega
Fantasy Zone 1986 System 16A Sega
Fantasy Zone II DX: The Tears of Opa-Opa 2008 System 16C Sega
Flash Point 1989 System 16B Sega
Golden Axe 1989 System 16B Sega
Heavyweight Champ 1988 System 16B Sega
M.V.P. 1989 System 16B Sega
Major League 1985 Pre-System 16 Sega
Passing Shot 1988 System 16B Sega
Quartet 1987 Pre-System 16 Sega
Quartet 2 1987 Pre-System 16 Sega
Riot City 1991 System 16B Westone
Ryu Kyu 1990 System 16B Sega
SDI 1987 System 16A Sega
Shinobi 1987 System 16A Sega
Snapper 1990 System 16B Philko (Unlicensed)
Sonic Boom 1987 System 16B Sega
Sukeban Jansi Ryuko 1988 System 16A, System 16B Whiteboard
Super League 1987 System 16B Sega
Tetris 1988 System 16A, System 16B Sega
Time Scanner 1987 System 16A, System 16B Sega
Tough Turf 1989 System 16B Sunsoft
Touryuumon 1991 System 16B Jamp
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair 1988 System 16A, System 16B Westone
Wrestle War 1989 System 16B Sega


The board's main CPU is a Motorola 68000 clone (Hitachi FD1094). The audio CPU is a Zilog Z80 clone (NEC μPD780C-1). Music was synthesized on a Yamaha YM2151, and digital samples played on an NEC DAC. The GPU was a custom chip that used a 320×224 resolution (342×262 overscan). It could display 4,096 unique colors from a palette of 98,304, could display up to 128 sprites simultaneously, up to 256x256 in size and drawn from up to 16 colors. It supported a sprite layer, text layer, and two background layers.

The Pre-System 16 board was only used in couple games and was essentially identical to the System 16A board, but with a slower clock speed. The System 16B board saw more memory, an updated GPU, a faster audio CPU, a better DAC, and supported larger ROM chips. In 2008, Sega made a retro game, Fantasy Zone II DX: The Tears of Opa-Opa, specifically confined to their old System 16 hardware. The game was originally released emulated on the PlayStation 2, but it could also run on an updated System 16, now referred to as the System 16C which featured more RAM than the 16B, but is otherwise identical. The later System 18 board was based on the System 16. It used the same CPU and audio controller, but featured a better GPU, audio chips, and more RAM and ROM.

To require licensing, all game data on the daughterboard was encrypted, and the decryption key was built into the CPU.


These are my top 5 favorite games for the System 16.

  1. Golden Axe
  2. Shinobi
  3. Altered Beast
  4. Dynamite Dux
  5. Tetris