Those paying attention will know that retro-style (i.e. throwback) game microconsoles have been instant moneymakers as of late. Whether you’re old enough to legitimately remember or just curious to experience the storied heydays of gaming, the need to relive your childhood has never been more popular. Until recently, most of these efforts have been little more than bargain-bin knockoffs.
While Nintendo mastered the novelty with their NES and SNES Classic, we’ve also experienced the worst and hollow with Sony’s decrepit PlayStation Classic. This disparity led many to wonder how Sega, one of the few companies with a real catalog of hardware + software combinations, might respond to current trends. They’ve been a prime example of a company cheaply farming out the essence of nostalgia with lackluster attempts in the past, to varying degrees of ambiguous quality.
It may have taken a while to get the formula right, but Sega seems to have done the impossible with their Sega Genesis Mini, a self-contained bolt of 16-bit gaming that manages to live up to its namesake’s well-earned reputation by delivering old-school goodness for under $100. Whether you call in the Genesis or the Mega Drive, get ready to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sega’s most popular console in all the best ways possible.
16-Bits in Miniature
We’ve seen countless recreations of Sega’s 16-bit machine, but the Genesis Mini is noticeably different as its produced by M2 and officially licensed by SEGA. Instead of some unrecognizable third-party monstrosity, the Genesis Mini has been lovingly crafted with all the external bells and whistles that mimic the original console—just miniaturized. It’s about a fraction of the size and weight of the original hardware, and the design of the ‘model 1’ Genesis is self-explanatory with the difference being it can fit in the palm of your hand.
If you’ve played with the classic iterations from Nintendo, then the Genesis Mini follows the trend of having a functional power switch and reset button, working exactly as intended. Other touches like the separate volume slider and top cartridge flap are also recreated here and can be played with, even if they are just for show. Still, the attention to detail is exquisite and that counts for something. Granted, the old-school inputs are replaced with modern USB ports where the controllers would normally plug in, with HDMI and Micro USB charge ports sitting in the rear.
The overall attention to detail will have older fans who actually grew up with, and nostalgia collectors gush with enthusiasm, but its lighter weight and hollow plastics require delicate handling – a far cry from its chunkier and heavier origins.
Included in the package are two USB controllers that have likewise been faithfully recreated to match the original design in both size and ergonomics. This means the classic Genesis 3-button controller, responsive D-pad and thick start button; practically perfect for most—but not all of the included games on the console. Those who grew up pounding away on these things shouldn’t find any real issues and its pretty remarkable how muscle memory kicks right in when using that familiar layout.
Including the original 3-button controllers recreates the original Genesis experience, of course, but I wish Sega had included their excellent 6-button model instead. Apart from the comfortable body and extremely generous cable length, this controller is required to make traditional fighters like Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition and Eternal Champions anywhere near playable, thanks entirely to its button layout.
Thankfully, Retro-Bit has this omission covered with their officially licensed 8-button Arcade Pad option for a very reasonable $20. Also, the Mini won’t accept any other input devices—only certified controllers will play nice here.
Box Art and Menus: The Return of Koshiro
We’ll get to the basic rundown of the game selection soon enough, but you can’t ignore the impressive presentation of the Genesis Mini system menu. After the initial bootup and language selection you’ll have a fairly simple grid layout of available games with a bouncy chiptune-inspired track that sounds deceptively familiar, yet still totally new. That’s because Sega invited back synthesizer king Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Beyond Oasis) to compose it.
Games can be arranged via front box-art or spines, and can be quickly indexed via release date, number of players and more. Another welcome touch are those aforementioned language settings which not only change dialect but also the native region the Genesis Mini itself, so if you ever wanted to see if a games’ difficulty or censorship was altered in Japanese or simply curious to play Konami’s Contra: Hard Corps (Probotector in Europe) you can actually do it here. Changing languages also changes the cover and spine artwork, another small detail that showcases the level of detail and care put into the presentation. Good job on Sega for being so enjoyably thorough.
There are a few options to change the way games are presented on your display, though these are pretty limited. You can change aspect ratios (4:3 or stretched 16:9) with the option to add “CRT” scanlines for kitsch appeal. There are two different wallpapers to fill out the blank space between the 4:3 image as well.
Actually playing the games opens up a few more options once you’ve triggered the menu screen, which can be opened by pressing “reset” on the console itself or holding down the “start” button on the controller for a few seconds (note: the 6-button controller alleviates this by having instant access via the “mode” button). Each game has four save-states and you’ll be able to quickly exit back to the main menu to jump right into another game if you like. There’s no game manuals available on the Mini itself, though Sega has a generous website with reproductions.
Arcade Action and Sonic Booms: The Games
As nice as the authentic styling and attention to the detail are, the Sega Genesis Mini is really all about the games. There are 42 available title that represent a great sampling of what the best the console had to offer. Did every single one of your Genesis favorites make the cut? Nope, but most of them did, and kudos to the curators for making sure you’re sure to find a few favorites out of the three dozen-plus available titles.
The Genesis Mini is unique largely due to the possibility that a number of the games are either pop-culture icons from the ‘90s (Sonic the Hedgehog, Ecco the Dolphin, Earthworm Jim) to the more obscure (Monster World IV, Dynamite Headdy, Super Fantasy Zone) and everything else. Gems like Phantasy Star IV, Gunstar Heroes, Contra: Hard Corps, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Shining Force and Thunder Force III are all present here.
Speaking of obscure, there are versions of Tetris and Darius, neither of which ever saw an official release on the console. While it’s nice to see any version of Alexey Pajitnov’s eternal puzzle game, this isn’t the best version, even for the Genesis. The port of the original Darius, however, is a little more interesting as the game is an all-new creation of the 1987 arcade game made specifically for the Genesis Mini by homebrew programmer Hideki “hidecade” Konishi. So yeah, you’re technically getting a “new” Genesis game in 2019. Pretty amazing.
While most of the games are pretty great, less so is the slight, almost imperceptible addition of input lag during gameplay. While nowhere near game-breaking (or deal-killing) those who may have played these games to death in their original form are likely to notice the slightest of slight missed actions when the action gets hot and heavy. This was most noticeable in action-intensive games where reaction is critical, especially in like Golden Axe, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master or Strider. Adjusting your reaction time helps, but even minute input lag makes the Genesis Mini just shy of perfect.
Gotta Get Genesis!
After years of questionable repackaging efforts, Sega has finally put forth the effort and nailed it with the Sega Genesis Mini, a superb way to revisit one of gaming’s most decorated eras. Personally, it’s my favorite of all the micro-consoles, if only because of that eclectic game collection—many of which have been extremely difficult to experience firsthand.
As a curated piece of pure 16-bit nostalgia, it hits almost every sweet spot a Sega fan could ever want, finally giving a real reason to tout their cherished console all over again. Put one of these next to the SNES Classic and you’ll get to enjoy the bounty of 16-bit “console wars” all over again, albeit in shrunken form. “Blast processing” may have been a marketing buzzword, but the Genesis Mini is definitely next level.