Sega Genesis Mini proves Sega is ready to take its legacy seriously

Sega has finally, blessedly begun to compete directly with Nintendo’s beloved line of classic console reissues with the Sega Genesis Mini. Come September 19, the other side of the 16-bit console war has a worthy nostalgia piece, at last.

By now, the format should be familiar: The Sega Genesis Mini is a diminutive version of the classic console, but the controllers are full-sized and authentic (enough). The game library, while not exhaustive, is a particularly well-curated survey. What’s unique about the Mini, however, is that for once Sega itself is handling production duties instead of outsourcing to the familiar bargain bin outfit, AtGames. That’s presumably why you’ve read this far, so I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: Whether or not your comparator is the superlative SNES Classic or one of AtGames many disappointing Genesis clones, the Sega Genesis Mini excels at everything it seeks to do.

M2 / emulation

When I said Sega was handling the console itself, that was really only half true. The actual hardware and manufacturing and all that stuff is Sega, but it turns out software emulation is super complicated and one need look no further than the atrocities performed on Sega’s classic titles by the entire AtGames lineup for proof of how badly things can go in the wrong hands.

So Sega tapped a long-standing partner that has been successfully adapting its titles across multiple platforms for decades to handle the emulation itself. M2, the storied Japanese game developer best known for its excellent Sega Ages compilations both old and new, is handling the software end of the Sega Genesis mini, and I would encourage you to watch My Life in Gaming’s one-hour history of the developer if you haven’t heard of the studio. Its bonafides in this area are almost excessive.

Based on M2’s experience, and the time I’ve spent playing games on the Mini (especially the Japanese version of Contra: Hard Corps, which you can read more about below) the emulation is excellent. The goal is to make the games look original, for lack of a better term, and on that note it succeeds.

A major benefit of an emulation-based retro gaming solution are software features like save states and rewind functionality, both of which were featured on the SNES Classic two years ago. Save states offer the ability to save your progress in games where saving isn’t possible, or give you the ability to save before a difficult moment, a feature that makes many older games much more enjoyable.

A rewind feature, like the one found on the SNES Classic or the Nintendo Switch Online NES game library, is becoming something of table stakes for emulators, especially commercial options. The Sega Genesis Mini has the former but, unfortunately, not the latter. That’s not a big deal, but it is disappointing.

Other now-standard features make an appearance here, like 16:9 widescreen stretch (don’t do it!) and CRT “scanline” filters (do it, maybe, if you want). The scanlines deliver alternating black lines meant to simulate the way CRTs drew pixels, and putting them back in is largely a matter of taste.

The system also comes with three backgrounds to fill your widescreen display. There’s the obvious black, which lets the game take the spotlight; there’s the retro-patterned background, which isn’t a terrible look ... and then there’s the Sonic-themed background. And look, it’s a lot. But it’s also so pitch perfect for 1990s Sega that I can’t fault it. I just want to share it with everyone.

Sega via Polygon
Sega via Polygon

The hardware

The Sega Genesis Mini is, well, a mini Sega Genesis, complete with a functioning power switch and non-functioning gewgaws like the volume dial, the cartridge flaps, and the expansion port cover.

The build feels entirely obsessive, as if it had been constructed by a hobby modeler. Power is delivered through a micro-USB port and included USB adapter, while video and audio are sent out over HDMI. The system includes two, three-button USB Genesis controllers. While it would have been nice to see the later six-button controllers — especially since there are fighting games included that could have really used them! — the console does support Retro-Bit’s 8-button USB controllers, and the more authentic 6-button USB controller.

In a very welcome departure from Nintendo’s offerings, the Sega Genesis Mini allows you to return to the main menu using the controller. Holding the Start button for three seconds will bring up the menu using the included controllers, while the 8-button controller’s Mode button brings it up instantly.

Region coding and other UI thoughts

The box art and the games themselves change when you change the regions.
Sega via Polygon

The Sega Genesis Mini loses some points on the user interface, shown above. While it’s better than the UI crime we saw on the AtGames Sega Genesis Flashback HD console, the menu certainly lacks the charm and design of Nintendo’s offerings. It’s spartan, sometimes to a fault.

While the menu is mostly charmless, there are a few exceptions: the menu and box art change based on what region the console is set to, giving you an excellent chance to experience what the console’s branding and identity looked like to players around the globe. And the menu soundtrack — by legendary video game music composer Yuzo Koshiro — is great. Enjoy!

The games themselves

Curating a list of games for a “mini” console like this has to be one of the most challenging jobs in gaming. And look, 42 games is a good variety. It’s 100 percent more games than the SNES Classic’s 21 game selection, and that’s probably not an accident. It’s also, somehow, not quite enough.

But seriously, look at this list! Strider! Gunstar Heroes! Even deep cuts like the SegaNet-exclusive Mega Man: The Wily Wars.

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

I’d like to highlight two undersung classics from some of gaming’s biggest properties that, despite being excellent entries in their respective canon, didn’t get the same attention as their Super NES-based counterparts: Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps. These two Konami titles command a premium on eBay, and it’s great that interested players can pick up an entire Sega Genesis Mini for less than the price of one of these games used.

The rest of the games will either grab you, or they won’t. What people want in these collections is often a very personal thing.

One thing I’d like to highlight here, which is both a testament to M2’s dedication to preservation and, less flatteringly, a design shortcoming: Switching the game’s region not only modifies the menu, but also the games themselves. Take Contra: Hard Corps for instance. The US release was famously modified from the Japanese original, replacing the life bar with one-hit kills and offering only five continues instead of an infinite number. Needless to say, you should play the Japanese version and, since you have a choice on the Sega Genesis Mini, you can.

It’s unfortunate this choice isn’t more obvious in the game’s details page. It’s such a cool detail, and it’s a shame most people probably won’t ever see it. I wish this part of the experience was clearly communicated to the player so everyone knows to enjoy multiple versions of their favorite games.

We can also quickly discuss what’s not on this console. Besides the perennially absent Sonic the Hedgehog 3 — rumors have long pointed to Michael Jackson’s alleged involvement as a reason for its continued omission — there are other games that probably should have been here. There are no sports games on the Sega Genesis Mini, despite sports games dominating much of the 16-bit landscape. NBA Jam? Not here. Any Madden titles? Nope. The legendary NHL ’94? It’s not here.

It’s not also anywhere else due to licensing issues, but it remains a bummer that the best way to play these games is to track down original carts on eBay or Google.

Redemption for Sega’s past

“Sega has done meaningful, arguably irreparable harm to the consumer proposition of purchasing its classic games, while Nintendo has elevated 30-year-old products to must-have status,” I wrote in my review of the last AtGames release. “As a one-time Genesis kid whose nostalgic sweet spot is a Sega Genesis, I feel qualified to say that the Genesis deserves better from its owner. But as long as Sega is willing to license out its platform instead of making its own hardware, it seems unlikely to get better than this, the most declarative console war victory imaginable.”

And now, two years later, Sega has done it. It’s made a best-in-class retro console with excellent games, excellent emulation, original controllers, and a price tag that seems fair. Will it be enough to undo a decade of damage done by poorly made Genesis clone consoles? Who knows! But today, on the 30th anniversary of the original console’s release, it’s enough to say that Sega has accepted the challenge of living up to its own legacy.

The Sega Genesis Mini will be available next week, on Sept. 19 for $79.99.

Photography by Christopher Grant

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Comments

That Sega Genesis Mini Theme

Chef’s Kiss!

Sidenote: Why is "chef’s kiss" so popular all of a sudden? Is this some pop culture thing?

I’m honestly curious if it’s a residual effect from Louis CK.

That’s the 1st time I’ve ever seen it used…

Side note: I’m also very far out of the loop.

It has a super weird moment in Gears 5, which really threw me for a loop.

I know I don’t need it, but I still want it. Nostalgia can be awful to my wallet. But damn will this look nice on my bookshelf… (someone should just sell cute replicas for display, I don’t really need them to do anything beyond that)

If you want the full Genesis ‘tower’, in Japan they are also selling an accessory set for this that includes a Sega CD, 32X, and Sonic & Knuckles with Sonic 1 plugged in. The accessories don’t add any games, but they are made to officially fit into the base console.

If anyone wants the Tower it’s in stock on Amazon JP right now. It has been hard to get an order on anywhere, and I imagine it will plug into the Genesis Mini model just fine.

Sincerely, guy with Genesis and MD Mini and all MD Mini junk on order

I imagine it will plug into the Genesis Mini model just fine.

I’m willing to bet it won’t. The cartridge slot in the Genesis Mini is smaller than the MD Mini, just like the full sized releases. (They have tiny MD cartridges in gashapon machines in Japan that won’t fit either)

Is there a write-up on how this is different from the Sega Genesis Flashback

https://www.polygon.com/2017/10/13/16051258/sega-genesis-flashback-hd-review

The write up would just be "yo fuck that one, buy this one"

This is the right answer. One is bad, the other is not.

The Mega -SG seems like the better option? Which puts out the best/cleanest video signal?

Sure if you’ve got a ton of carts lying around. For those of us who want a cheap way to play a number of classics, this is the best option.

You can always use an everdrive or jailbreak the Mega SG if you don’t have a ton of carts lying around but I agree if you don’t want to spend over $100 this is the best option available.

What is an everdrive? Why do people constantly post this kinda crap regarding mini consoles?

99.9% of people are not interested in stealing. You are just embarrassing yourself.

I agree 100%, but to answer your question. An everdrive is basically a cartridge (they make them for basically everything, NES, SNES, Genesis, Gameboy etc.) that has an SD card slot that allows you to play roms off of the cart on an actual system.

My favorite option out of anything so far is the Analogue systems, they have unofficial jail breaks that unlock the ability to dump your own roms, which allows me to backup my own personal collection, and play them whenever I want without worrying about wearing them out.

Really different products for different markets.

This is a fun nostalgia trip at a good price, and a nice collectors item.

The Mega SG is an enthusiast-grade piece of hardware for people who absolutely love retro games, play them often, and want the best money can buy.

Sega classics is a far better buy. And cheaper. And with more bells and whistles.

I just did a compare-and-contrast on this with the Sega Genesis Classics for Switch and PS4. As for what I’m interested in, this has Castlevania, Strider and the two Mickey Mouse games. The Classics has Phantasy Star II and III (this only has IV) and Shining Force I and II. Both have Beyond Oasis, Sonic 1 and 2 and Comix Zone. See https://genesisclassics.sega.com/

For me personally, I’ll probably eventually get the PS4 version of Sega Genesis Classics because it’s cheaper and it’s not yet another thing connected to my tv. But I will miss Castlevania and Strider.

How much is Sega Classics plus two original controllers that work with the console?

You might be spending like 40-50 USD on Sega Genesis Classics with 2 optional Genesis controllers. But this was a very quick Google search.

Classics is on Target for 24.99 and Genesis controllers are 5-7 dollars on Alibaba, a Genesis dongle if you want for 17. Or spend extra for 8bitdo’s new Genesis controllers that are 29.99 each.

d3t is a fine company, but they’re not M2. I try to stick to original hardware as much as reasonably possible, and M2 releases are as close to the real thing as you can get, sometimes better.

And if you don’t mind Sonic jumping like twelve frames after you press the button.

I’m buying this against my better judgment. My SNES classic hasn’t gotten played longer than a couple hours since it’s been out. Gaming time in your 30’s is harder to come by, and it’s hard enough to keep up with current games you’re interested in. But at the same time, the games lineup looks great, and I wasn’t really a Genesis kid growing up, so I’d like to try a few of these if I find the time.

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