Genesis Does What Nintendid

In the event that you’ve been living under a rock, retro mini consoles are a hot commodity right now. Nintendo got the ball rolling with the NES Classic Edition (then again with the SNES), Sony did their best to compete with the poorly received Playstation Classic Edition and even some of the more obscure consoles from back in the day (Commodore 64, Neo Geo and the forthcoming Turbografx-16) received the mini retro treatment.

Arguably, though, it was Sega who represented Nintendo’s most intense competition during both the 8-bit and 16-bit generations (especially so the latter). So that has begged the question—where has Sega been in all of this retro mini madness?

The answer is a bit more complicated than it initially appears. Unlike Nintendo and Sony, Sega has realized the potential of the miniaturized plug and play console for getting one’s retro fix all along. However, they achieved this via a method that has proven a bit less favorable in the grand scheme of things. They licensed a handful of titles from their classic catalog to budget hardware manufacturer ATGames; who then distributed these fairly poorly constructed (but affordable) retro units to big box stores, Dollar Generals, even Bed Bath and Beyond! The trouble with this method was twofold—for starters they were marketed more as novelties in the back of the toy aisle rather than legitimate, entertainment shelf-worthy retro gaming systems and secondly, they were shoddy in manufacturing spec, didn’t emulate sound very accurately and typically came with AAA battery-powered wireless controllers that required a direct line of sight to the sensor on the console to operate.

This was the way of things (and probably would have remained the case) until Nintendo raised the bar back in 2016 with the NES Classic Edition. Not only was it designed, built and distributed by Nintendo itself, it maintained the quality of excellence of the original in everything from fit and feel to spot-on emulation. Additionally it introduced some pretty nifty features – things like the ability to customize the aspect ratio of the video output, replicate CRT scan lines in this, the era of the high def flat panel, and the ability to save game progress onto the system’s hardware at will.

Suffice to say, the world took note. Rather than relegate the console to the back corner at Dollar General, Nintendo treated the system as if it were any other piece of their hardware and it sold in levels that shocked the industry. They moved 2.3 million NES Classic Editions from November 2016 through April 2017, with shipments selling out nearly immediately. Some 85% of them never even made it to store shelves and the few that did were snatched up immediately.

This type of success earns attention and Nintendo’s biggest rival knew that if they were to handle this retro mini movement properly, they would have to terminate their licensing agreement with ATGames, fire up the assembly lines and create the hardware themselves just like they did the first time they battled the big N. And that’s exactly what they have done. Meet the Sega Genesis Mini. The official release date is September 19, 2019 (9/19/19 harkening back to the release of the Dreamcast on 9/9/99) but several production units have gone out to the media for initial impressions. If you’re the kind of reader that can’t wait for the conclusion, let’s cut to the chase: this is truly the first retro mini truly capable of competing with (and perhaps beating) Nintendo at their own game. The 16-bit console wars are alive and well once more.

In The Box

When you open up the beautifully rendered Sega Genesis Mini box, you find a pair of corded USB controllers (after the NES Classic Edition’s twin faux pas of including only a single controller with a terribly short cord) greet you. The controllers are exact replicas of the first generation Genesis controller – with fantastic modulation of the D-pad and tall, clicky buttons. The downside, however, is you have to work with Retro-Bit if you want the 6-button controller. Out of the box you’re getting a classic 3-button. The logic here (aside from the obvious in that Sega cut a licensing deal with Retro-Bit to sell controllers) is that a majority of the titles are designed to work with the 3-button. There are some fighting games here, however, that force the player to toggle to pull off special moves. We understand Sega’s decision even if that represents, perhaps, the biggest strike against the console. At least, as a consolation, the included controllers are fantastic genuine Sega products.

Aside from the pair of controllers, you will find the console itself, an HDMI cable, USB power cord and yes the wall brick as well. The trend of not including this crucial piece of equipment under the justification that everyone has them laying around to power their tablets and smartphones is bucked here, thankfully. Including everything required to power a given piece of gaming hardware doesn’t seem unreasonable to us.

The console itself is as gorgeous and historically accurate as the controllers. It’s small, weighty, looks identical to a Generation 1 Genesis and includes ridiculous attention to detail – from the volume slider that slides to the removable (but sadly nonfunctional) side/bottom port that would have been used to attach a Sega CD.

In Play

Booting the system up reveals a menu of 42 titles from which to choose (full list below) and an original score by none other than Motohiro Kawashima made up of bits and chords from the games themselves. We spoke earlier of Nintendo’s success stemming from attention to detail and Sega must have taken notes. Not only are your video output settings all here but Sega thought to do things that actually raise the bar. You can view all of the games via their original box art but you can also opt to have the boxes rotate to their sides as if you were selecting a title from your original game shelf via the box’s spine. What’s more the Mini’s default comes with North American releases at your disposal but changing the system’s language system does more than merely switch up the in-game text. The box art switches immediately and, perhaps most impressive, entire games change accurately to reflect the region of choice as well. It’s surprising how many games were regionalized so the option to check out the originals is at your disposal.

Some other nice additions are the English-translation of Monster World 4, the previously unreleased shooter Darius and what is perhaps the rarest official Genesis title of all time, Tetris (it is said only 4 copies of the game exist).

The entire game list breaks down as follows:

Sonic the Hedgehog

Ecco the Dolphin

Castlevania: Bloodlines

Space Harrier 2

Shining Force

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

ToeJam & Earl

Comix Zone

Altered Beast

Gunstar Heroes

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

Thunder Force 3

Super Fantasy Zone

Shinobi 3

Streets of Rage 2

Earthworm Jim

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Contra: Hard Corps

Landstalker

Mega Man: The Wily Wars

Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition

Ghouls ’n Ghosts

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

Beyond Oasis

Golden Axe

Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millennium

Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball

Vectorman

Wonder Boy in Monster World

Tetris

Darius

Road Rash 2

Strider

Virtua Fighter 2

Alisia Dragoon

Kid Chameleon

Monster World 4

Eternal Champions

Columns

Dynamite Headdy

Light Crusader

AM2 handles all of the emulation detail and it could be argued that nobody knows Sega software emulation better. The games run and sound virtually perfect. We have learned that when played side by side with original carts on actual Gen 1 Genesis’ that there are occasional instances of sound delay and (here is something you almost never hear) even smoother frame rates at higher speeds on the Mini. These are differences that would literally only be detectable to a gamer playing on original hardware side by side. To say they nailed it is an understatement.

Conclusion

All in all it is safe to say that Sega sat back and watched what the competition did right (and wrong) before throwing their hat into the retro mini ring and their patience has paid dividends. Gamers looking for the true Sega Genesis experience on a modern high definition display are going to find much to get excited about here. The selection of games is varied, includes some of the rarer and more cherished titles and the emulation is crisp and sounds fantastic. The MSRP is $79.95 and do keep in mind you’re getting 2 controllers out of the box.

We hope Sega, who hasn’t made video gaming hardware prior since the Dreamcast, finds great success with the Genesis Mini. The potential to continue producing quality minis of their subsequent hardware is absolutely off the charts (Sega-CD Mini, Sega Saturn Mini, Sega Dreamcast Mini). For many, ourselves included, Sega’s decision to bow out of the hardware race has never sat well. Redemption and their return to form just may lie not in looking forward but rather by looking back.

Jason Russell Jason Russell (11 Posts)

Jason Russell has been working in video game journalism since the early 1990s before the internet existed, the term "fanzine" had meaning and sailors still debated as to whether or not the earth was flat. More recently he has been the guy responsible for Thunderbolt Games' Under the Radar column as well as scribes for Game Skinny on a plethora of video game topics. He's somehow managed to author nine novels, writes and runs the blog CG Movie Review in his spare time. And sometimes, when the planets align and the caffeine has fully left his system, it's rumored he sleeps.