Over the years, many unofficial and licensed Mega Drive and Genesis consoles have been launched, with varying degrees of success and popularity. Most notorious of these is the AtGames Mega Drive Classic – a small console that had both emulated pre-installed games and could also take original cartridges.
The idea was great, but the system was not – the games were poorly emulated with lots of slowdown and audio problems. It was a mess. This led to a lot of negativity when AtGames attempted another release with the Mega Drive Flashback HD – a similar device playing emulated games and original cartridges but with an HDMI output that upscaled the video to 720p. Frankly, I thought the HD version was a great system – the emulation was spot on, and the unit looked great. But oh-so-many reviewers gave it a negative score and gamers dismissed it before giving it a fair shake.
Things changed in 2016 when Nintendo stepped up the game by launching the NES Classic and then in 2017 with the Super NES Classic – two tiny consoles that emulate a select number of NES and SNES titles. It showed that these retro consoles worked and the poorly emulated licensed consoles marring SEGA’s legacy didn’t need to exist.
Comparison: my original Mega Drive vs the Mega Drive Mini
So now, in 2019, SEGA has made the move to release a more ‘official’ mini console, called the SEGA Mega Drive Mini (or Genesis Mini in the US).
The Mega Drive Mini and Genesis Mini were both launched in Japan and the US on September 19, 2019 – but the European console is due for release on October 4, 2019. SEGA Europe lent me a review unit so I could get my grubby, British mitts on it before the UK launch. Let’s see how it plays out…
A non-game changer
Unlike the previous licensed AtGames consoles, or similar ‘clone’ systems like the RetroFreak or RetroN 5, the Mega Drive Mini does not allow users to play with original Mega Drive cartridges, nor does it allow for an SD card to play downloaded ROMS.
The tiny form factor of the MD Mini means it physically can’t take a cartridge. And, as for SD cards, I guess SEGA still wouldn’t want gamers downloading games unofficially to play on its official system. Which is a shame because indie developers often release games in ROM form these days – but it’s understandable and to be expected.
Instead of carts and SD cards loaded with ROMS, gamers are left to play with the 42 games already selected by SEGA on the system.
There was a concern for some SEGA fans around this. As well as the retro clone consoles, SEGA has released tons of Mega Drive collections on a variety of consoles. Not to mention the various releases on iOS and Android as part of the SEGA Forever project.
These collections often stack up the same 40-odd games, so what games will SEGA drop on the MD Mini?
Well, there’s a lot of the same games you’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Sonic 1 and 2 are, of course, present, as is Sonic Spinball. But sadly there’s not Sonic 2, & Knuckles or Sonic 3D on show. You also have other SEGA staples, such as Ecco the Dolphin, Vectorman, Alex Kidd and Altered Beast.
But, before you shake your heads, SEGA has stepped up its game and brought along some friends for the ride. There’s the more uncommon releases (though they have been seen before), such as Landstalker, (an excellent isometric adventure/RPG game), Story of Thor, Wonder Boy in Monster World.
Then you have some completely out of the blue and excellent additions, including Capcom greats, such as Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, Ghouls and Ghosts and Mega Man the Wily Wars. Plus Konami classics, Probotector and Castlevania: The Next Generation.
There’s Alisia Dragon, Monster World IV, and two Mickey Mouse games, Castle of Illusion and the exceptional World of Illusion (one of my favourite co-op games of all time). Oh, and Earthworm Jim – one of the most popular action platformers of the ’90s.
Plus, there’s a big surprise, the legendary Mega Drive version of Tetris, which was released and promptly withdrawn from sale after rights issues. Making it one of the rarest Mega Drive/Genesis titles out there… though I must admit it’s far from the best on the system.
There’s also some strange, but welcome, additions, such as EA’s Road Rash II – but weirdly no Road Rash 1. Still it’s awesome to see these games making an appearance.
I’m not going to review every game on the system, but I will go into how the system performs and how user-friendly it is.
The biggest complaint I had for the AtGames Mega Drive HD console was how awkward the user interface is to use. Navigating between the games and the genres/types was confusing – you had to use a combination of the face buttons and the directional buttons to navigate between different genres and pages. You could get used to it, but it was just a bit bizarre.
Fortunately, SEGA’s interface is simple and makes sense. No worries selecting your games here. You can order the list of titles by year of release, genre and alphabetically. Plus, you can also change the game’s language and see the game’s displayed in the different cover artwork depending on their region. It’s a really nice touch to have.
The Mega Drive Mini comes with two 3-button USB controllers. It’s cool, because of the authentic retro vibe, but it’s not the most ideal choice from SEGA, because certain games, such as Street Fighter II are best played with 6-button controllers, (though all games are playable with a 3-button controller).
Also, I’d say the original Mega Drive 6-button controller was my favourite of the time, I preferred it to the SNES’ and other consoles of the era. So it’s a real shame SEGA didn’t include these instead.
But the good news is that because the MD Mini uses USB, SEGA confirmed to Mega Visions that most PC controllers will work. This includes wired Xbox 360/One controllers, and the new 6-button Retro Mega Drive/Genesis controllers by Retro-Bit are compatible. Plus, SEGA has told us that the SNES and PS1 Classic controllers also work too! So if you’re more of a Nintendo or Sony fan – then go nuts.
However, they said that while most USB controllers will work, they can’t guarantee that every controller will. Which is fair enough, I think.
Emulated to perfection
AtGames and other clone console companies got a bad reputation by having poor emulation on a lot of their systems. As mentioned, AtGames fixed this problem with the Mega Drive Flashback HD system, but because their credibility had been previously destroyed, a lot of people justifiably didn’t trust them.
SEGA would have been destroyed online if they screwed this up, so I think they put in the effort to ensure it would be perfect. So, I’m happy to say that they have nailed it. Or rather the team at M2 (the developers behind the 3DS SEGA ports) has once again bought their talented emulation skills to the table.
I didn’t complete every game I played, but I did play at least an hour of every title on the system and didn’t see any signs of dodgy audio or poor emulation.
Also, for European gamers, I was told by SEGA that all the games run at 60hz, not the original PAL 50hz. Arguably 50hz offered slightly better visual quality, which was good for TV and movies, but for gamers 60hz was the better choice, because games ran faster and were smoother. PAL gamers missed out for years. So, it’s great to hear that the games have been enhanced this way over the original console.
And for gamers who like to play spot the difference, when you change the language in the settings, you also change the region coding for the game. So if there are any differences between European or Asian games, such as name, story or animation changes, you can experience them. Another nice touch by the M2 team. However, you can’t change between European and American versions, except on a handful of titles.
A missed opportunity?
One of the biggest things for game collectors and, arguably, a financial downfall of the original Mega Drive were the two add-ons for the system. The Mega CD and the 32X.
The Mega CD gave the Mega Drive new CD-quality titles, with slightly improved visuals, larger game files and better audio. The 32X promised 3D arcade-quality games in the home.
Adding these two chunky, accessories to the Mega Drive made it look way more impressive, but also a cumbersome behemoth. On their releases, they were also very expensive and only had a handful of games launched on them.
But they have become sought-after by collectors, because there are some impressive gems on both the Mega CD and 32X. The thing is, these systems are easy enough to emulate and have a handful of amazing titles.
I highly doubt SEGA will release mini consoles for the Mega CD or 32X, so it would have been amazing to have seen just a few titles appearing on the Mega Drive Mini from these add-ons. Just imagine having a selection of top games that you wouldn’t usually find in these collections or on other mini clone consoles. Titles such as Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, Star Wars Arcade, Doom, Sonic CD, Shining Force CD, Night Trap… there’s a decent selection out there.
And while I understand not having a SD card reader, I do feel the lack of cartridge compatibility is another missed opportunity. The one thing that could have really made this stand out from other mini consoles would have been allowing gamers to legitimately play original games on this beautiful little machine.
That’s the advantage of the AtGames Mega Drive Flashback HD console, you have 85 games built in (though not all of them are Mega Drive titles) and gamers can play almost any original cartridge game on it too. That’s one thing I would have loved to have seen happen on the Mega Drive Mini too.
But despite missing out on my pipedream of having Mega CD and 32X games, and not being able to play original cartridges, the Mega Drive Mini is a great little unit. For £70 you get a lot of fun and a lovely little piece to add to your collection.
Yes, there’s a lot of games we’ve seen in other collections before, but SEGA has managed to bring in other developers to supply some of their own system-selling titles to bulk out the titles on offer and make this a must-have system for gamers.
- Excellent selection of games
- Perfect emulation
- Beautiful, tiny console
- Rare/uncommon releases make it worthwhile
- No option to play original cartridges
- (Pipedream: would have been awesome to have 32X or Mega CD games included)