Exactly one year after announcing the Super NT — a product that I called “the nicest 16-bit console I’ve ever held” — Analogue is back with the Mega SG, promising to do for the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive what it’s already done for the Super Nintendo. The Mega SG is powered by the same hardware that makes the Super NT possible, and will ask the same $190 price (available to preorder on Analogue’s site ... as soon as it’s back up). But this isn’t simply more of the same; this time around, Analogue has a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Last year, Analogue’s Christopher Taber told us, “We want to do more systems, there’s no question. We’d like to go through video game history — especially a lot of the stuff that’s especially, or unlikely, to ever get any OEM treatment from the original company, like Nintendo is doing — and make systems that are made with respect and care and attention to detail and allow people to celebrate and explore those platforms.”
With Sega thus far failing to capitalize on the growing consumer interest in retro “classic” consoles — the less said about AtGames’ disappointing Sega Genesis Flashback HD attempt, the better — Sega’s consoles certainly seem like an obvious pick to succeed the Super Nintendo.
“Most people who follow us closely knew that this is going to be our next product,” Taber said. “I don’t think it’s too hard to put the pieces together.”
“We’re just following up [the Super NT] with what we have the duty to follow up with, it’s not even a choice. It’s our fucking duty to make the ultimate Sega system, especially because there’s just ... there’s just nothing available at all when it comes to the Genesis, the Mega Drive or Master System. There’s more of a void versus something like Nintendo.”
So Analogue is making the Mega SG to fill that void, and it will begin shipping in April 2019. If you want to skip all the details and instead just enjoy six minutes of Genesis classic Gunstar Heroes in pixel-perfect 1080p, then you can stop here. Put some headphones in and enjoy:
Still around? Let’s go over the details. The Mega SG is similar to the Super NT in that it uses a special chip called an FPGA to simulate the original hardware inside a Sega Genesis. While there are plenty of Sega Genesis emulators that provide an incredibly accurate experience, buying an actual clone console that can read your Sega Genesis cartridges has been an entire other matter. From my write-up of the Super NT last year:
The FPGA that Analogue has chosen is the Altera Cyclone V, which will simulate the original Super Nintendo hardware, as opposed to emulating it in software, so your cartridges won’t know they’re not being run on original hardware, but you enjoy benefits like 1080p HDMI output with no lag and 100 percent library compatibility, thanks to the programming work of Analogue’s Kevin Horton, aka Kevtris.
The Mega SG uses the same Altera Cyclone V chip as the Super NT; however, Horton has spent the better part of this year working on the software core that will power the Mega SG, turning that same piece of hardware into a Sega Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo.
Of course, a big part of an authentic Sega Genesis experience is the sound. While many of the clone consoles have come up (very) short, and even Sega’s own consoles have a surprising amount of variation in the audio quality, the Mega SG should be an ideal platform for anyone looking for the ideal Streets of Rage listening experience.
“Kevin implemented the [Yamaha YM2612] chip, totally in FPGA and it sounds fucking perfect. We’ve got the same audio circuitry and componentry that we designed with Super NT around it, so it sounds better than any Sega has ever sounded, bar none. Absolutely no question.”
Taber offered to send over some uncompressed FLAC audio samples to illustrate this point, which you can find here:
Like the Super NT, the Mega SG doesn’t come with any controllers. Of course, you may have existing three-button or six-button controllers and, just like with Analogue’s previous consoles, those will work just fine. If you prefer a wireless solution, Analogue will be releasing two controllers in partnership with 8BitDo; however, unlike the Super NT controllers, these are 2.4 GHz instead of Bluetooth.
“We made a slight change to this controller bundle versus the one that we sold last year,” Taber said. “The one that we sold last year for $39.99 [...] I think a lot of a lot of people weren’t or aren’t familiar with how powerful that little Retro Receiver is and how much it can actually do and kind of underused it.
“So what we did this time around is, instead of including a Bluetooth Retro Receiver, that’s the same as all the other Retro Receivers from 8BitDo, it’s a 2.4 GHz receiver that is only connectable and compatible with the controller that’s included alongside it in the pack. But because of that, it’s $24.99 versus $39.99, which is a huge price reduction and allows people to buy more controller which I think, just generally from the feedback that we’ve gotten, people would strongly prefer that.”
The M30 controller comes in black and white variants, with a blue power button on the black model recalling the Japanese Mega Drive’s schema.
If you’re ready to convert an existing Genesis controller to a wireless Bluetooth version, using the already available DIY kit from 8BitDo, Taber tells me that a Genesis-compatible Bluetooth receiver should be available before the release of the Mega SG.
The tower of power
If you’re hoping to recreate your tower of power — that would be a Model 1 Sega CD, a Genesis, a 32X, then a Power Base Converter for Sega Master System games, or a copy of Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 3 in the top — then we’ve got good and bad news. While the Sega CD will work — either Model 1 or the side-mounted Model 2, thanks to an edge connector that matches the original console’s — the 32X will not.
“The thing about bringing 32X compatibility to the Mega SG that makes it complicated is Sega’s reliance on insane ass analog, multi-linking cables, you know what I mean? So the way that the Famicom Disk System works [with the NT mini], the way a Super Game Boy works [with a Super NT] or a Sega CD, they’re just there. They’re connecting directly to the cartridge slot or just to an expansion port. There’s no other connection between the systems. Everything is being processed through those connectors. When it comes to the 32X, it does not work the same way. So there’s no way for it to work the same way as these other systems do because it forces you to mix analog signals with HD signals.
While the 32X won’t work because of Sega’s weird wiring, there may be hope for it in the future.
“So what we want to do — and no promises on this; very critically, no promises on this — but ideally what I would love to do is just implement the fucking 32X in FPGA and then you don’t have to ever even use the 32X. You can use one of our simple cartridge adapters, you know, they don’t have any hardware and everything just runs in the Mega SG.
But it’s not that simple. “It takes a lot of time to do those systems from scratch,” Taber explains. “32X is a whole other level. So we’d have to sink a big chunk of time into just doing that one. And it would have to be a balance of how many people are really interested in it versus how much time it’s going to take.”
While the more complicated 32X is awaiting potential FPGA support, the Mega SG supports the entire Sega Master System library right out of the box, thanks to an included adapter. In addition to Sega Master System support, the Mega SG will support a bevy of Sega consoles — including Mark III, Game Gear, Sega Card, SG-1000, SC-3000 — with the purchase of individual cartridge adapters, sold separately.
“We’re bringing modularity to the Mega SG,” Taber said. “There’s a set of cartridge adapters that we’re going to be making available next year; one of them is already going to be included in the box, which is just a simple adapter for Sega Master System games. So out of the box you’ll be able to play Genesis games, Mega Drive games, Sega Master System games with this super small, tightly designed quality adapter, and Sega CD / Mega CD with the original hardware, obviously.
“And then beyond that, all of those systems — obviously besides Sega CD and Mega CD — they are all implemented and designed totally in FPGA by Kevin and what we’re going to do next year is release these cartridge adapters that allow you to play the rest of Sega’s past like Game Gear, SG-1000, SC-3000, Mark III — you know, the Japanese equivalent of the Master System — Sega Cards, Sega My Cards, we’re going to make them available for $10 each.
“All the hardware, they’re just sort of dumb adapters. When I say dumb adapter, I mean it doesn’t have any critical computing or any processing that’s happening at all with the adapter itself. It’s all running directly on the Mega SG. So every single one of those systems have been designed and implemented 100 percent in FPGA and they’re all done. So you’ll be able to just plug in a cartridge adapter, stick in a Game Gear game, play it in all its glory, right in the Mega SG. And it only costs $10. That’s as fucking cheap as it gets.”
To whet your appetite for this master Sega system, if you will, here’s a playlist featuring Golden Axe on the Sega Master System, Ristar on the Sega Master System, and Girl’s Garden on the SG-1000.
While these cartridge adapters are promised, they won’t be available at launch. You may recall a teased component ahead of the Super NT launch that still has yet to be released: the analog output adapter. Cutting the analog output is one of the most notable ways Analogue was able to ship the Super NT at its sub-$200 price, and that strategy continues with the Mega SG. But Taber had suggested there was a possible solution for extracting analog audio and video from the Super NT.
Designed for Super Nt and future Analogue systems. A digital to analog converter that plugs into the HDMI port.— Analogue (@analogue) January 19, 2018
When asked what’s happened to this thing, Taber said, “It’s been done. It’s like 99.9 percent done and has been for like six months. We just didn’t have the time to focus on it. We had a small window of time to be able to focus on something else before we needed to get on Mega SG to be able to stick to our development schedule, and we even pushed the envelope a couple of weeks out and we just couldn’t spend another fucking day on it. We had to drop it. So it’s basically done, ready to be produced. We even have all the parts for it and everything, we just have to pull the trigger on it. So right when we get through these last little details with Mega SG, that’s the first thing on the list.
“Basically it’s a DAC [digital-to-analog converter] that’s just like if you took all of the analog component side of the NT Mini — identical in its quality and every single detail about it — and you put it into an external component that you plug right into the back of any Analogue product and it outputs into all of the analog video signals, audio signals with some other extra special things that we haven’t announced yet.”
As for cost, Taber replied, “We don’t have the price down exactly right but let’s just say it’s not going to be expensive. It will be reasonable.”
But while that analog video output solution is still TBD, the Mega SG comes with analog audio — via a headphone jack right in the front of the console — stock.
“It’s got an analog headphone jack because that’s Sega as fuck and there’s no way we couldn’t do that,” Taber said.
The Mega SG has the same SD card slot as the Super NT, and the NT mini, so it’s probably a safe bet to assume that a hacked firmware will appear at some point post-release, though Taber wouldn’t comment on it. “The only firmware officially released by Analogue will always be found on support.analogue.co,” he said.
But that’s assuming that those who don’t pre-order can even get one. The Super NT has consistently sold out and been restocked before selling out again following its release in March of this year.
When asked if he expects the Mega SG to suffer the same shortages the Super NT has, Taber said that Analogue is “in a much better position” to keep units in stock. Even the Super NT should be back in stock going forward. “We just produced another big round of Super NTs that are in stock now,” Taber said. “We wanted to make sure they were available through the announcement of Mega SG and we’ve had continuous significant demand for it. It’s a product that we have no plans in discontinuing or not making available anytime soon.”
Like the Super NT, you’ll be able to pick from four color variations on the Mega SG: the US variant, with the red accent; the EU variant with the white accent; the JP variant with the blue accent; or the all-white unit, an eye-grabbing complement to the all-black Super NT model.
There are still some things we don’t know about the Mega SG — for example, Taber wouldn’t say whether or not the Mega SG will come with a bundled title, ala Super NT’s Super Turrican: Director’s Cut — but so far, Analogue’s latest looks to be another all-star entry into the increasingly competitive retro gaming hardware category. And, more importantly, a rare example of Sega’s classic hardware getting the kind of attention it deserves.