As one of the best-loved consoles of the ’80s and ’90s, the Sega Genesis holds a special place in the hearts of gamers. The game system, also known as the Sega Mega Drive outside of the US, sold more than 30 million units worldwide, and as a teen of the era, it certainly seemed to me at the time to be a cooler option than the competing Super Nintendo.
Now the Genesis is getting its own mini-console treatment, and some of the best games of the 16-bit era may finally get the treatment they deserve. The Genesis Mini arrives in stores Sept. 19, for $79 (£69/AU$139).
Up until the Nintendo NES Classic, an unexpected worldwide hit, many classic console games (including Genesis games) only existed in cheap all-in-one emulator packages sold in gift shops, with poor controls and shoddy ports.
Nintendo‘s mini console was a critical hit and sold out for many months, and the SNES version was just as good, if not better. But it isn’t as easy as slapping some old games in a retro-styled plastic box. Sony’s PlayStation Classic missed the mark, with spotty game selection and poor controllers. The box, a replica of a console that sold over 100 million units, was soon selling for up to 80 percent off its original $100 price. An earlier attempt to retro-ize the Genesis happened in 2017, but the Sega Genesis Flashback box was poorly received, and we called it “half-baked.”
New vs. old
So, how does the Genesis Mini stack up? The hardware keeps the Genesis look, down to the front-mounted volume control and cartridge slot with a working trap door. It doesn’t lead anywhere, and you can’t actually plug carts in, but you’ll probably spend the first five minutes playing with it. It’s based on the original 1989 hardware, although several revisions and international versions of the Genesis had different looks.
The batarang-like controllers look like the original three-button version the Genesis launched with, not the more advanced six-button versions that came later. They’re full size, which is great for actual gaming, but also makes them look ridiculously oversized next to the tiny console. They have 6-foot cables, which may still feel restrictive if you’re used to wireless controls, but far better than the short controller cables that came with the NES Classic.
Like most of the other all-in-one game boxes, there’s a main menu, where the 42 included games can be sorted by age, alphabetically or by genre. Obviously these games were all designed for old-fashioned 4:3 tube TV screens, so there are menu options for playing in reverse-letterbox (the original aspect ratio) and a stretched 16:9 version. A video filter can optionally add a CRT line effect, if playing these classic games in a sharp, clear modern format doesn’t feel right.
(Some) great games
This list of included games is solid, leaning heavily on Genesis nostalgia. Original pack-in title Altered Beast is there, as is Sonic the Hedgehog and Eco the Dolphin. Also on the list are various sequels and spin-offs, like Space Harrier 2, Shinobi III, Street Fighter II and Virtua Fighter 2. RPG games are underrepresented (unlike the SNES Classic), but Phantasy Star IV is here, as is the Zelda-like Beyond Oasis.
You can find a full list of Genesis Mini games here, including two titles that were never on the US version of the Genesis originally, Darius, which I know nothing about, and Tetris, which I’m fairly familiar with.
Most of the games I tried felt true to their historical versions, at least as best I remember. Some have aged well, like Shinobi III and Space Harrier 2, others less so (neither Altered Beast nor ToeJam & Earl were as good as I remembered — although you may call me a heretic for saying so).
My biggest issue so far has been the D-pad on the Genesis controller. In games, it works well, but on the main menu screen, it’s way too touchy, leaping across games two and three at a time. If anything, it will make you appreciate the analog sticks and triggers of modern controllers.
A full review of the Sega Genesis Mini will follow at a later date.
As a bonus, I’ve dug up some historical background on the Genesis and why it’s so important. Please excuse the sideburns.
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