Two years after the AtGames Sega Genesis Flashback system was released to widely negative reviews, the Sega Genesis finally has a retro compilation system worthy of its name. The Sega Genesis Mini (or Mega Drive Mini, if you’re in Europe or Japan) stands alongside Nintendo’s NES Classic and SNES Classic as one of the best examples of harnessing gaming nostalgia in a standalone device. This tiny $79.99 console looks and sounds just right, and is loaded with 42 different games. It even comes with two controllers (though they’re a bit too nostalgia-driven with their original three-button layouts). The Genesis Mini is a must-have for fans of the original, and our Editors’ Choice.
The Sega Genesis Mini was designed and built with the same nostalgic care as the NES Classic, the SNES Classic, and the PlayStation Classic. It’s a miniaturized Sega Genesis (Version 1) console measuring 1.2 by 6.2 by 4.7 inches (HWD) and loaded with loving details. The doors on the cartridge slot open (to a small, empty recess), the volume slider moves (it’s non-functional), and a molded, silver “16-bit” logo stands out on the flat dome that dominates the top of the console. The power switch and reset button both work as intended, respectively turning the system on and returning to the main menu.
The front of the system holds two USB ports for the included controllers. Unlike the original Sega Genesis, it doesn’t have a headphone jack. The back of the console features an HDMI port and a micro USB port for power, just like the Nintendo and Sony miniatures.
The Sega Genesis Mini comes with two wired controllers, which is generous. They have only three buttons, however, which is decidedly less so. The gamepads are designed like the original Genesis controllers, with the same matte black plastic bodies in the same fat croissant shape. Each features a circular direction pad, A, B, and C buttons, a Start button, and a pleasantly long six-foot USB cable.
It mostly matches the design of the original Sega Genesis controller, which had only three buttons. Unfortunately, that just isn’t enough for some games, which Sega eventually recognized, which is why the gamepad was replaced by the Six Button Control Pad later in the Genesis’ life. The Six Button Control Pad has A, B, C, X, Y, and Z face buttons, greatly expanding the available controls. The controller was originally released with Street Fighter II’: Special Championship Edition, a game that uses all six buttons. That version of Street Fighter II is included on the Sega Genesis Mini, which means there’s at least one game on the system you can’t play to the fullest extent out of the box (it’s playable, but with a three-button controller, you need to use the Start button to switch between punches and kicks, which is incredibly unwieldy).
Fortunately, superior alternatives are available in the form of the Retro-Bit Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn 8-Button Arcade Pad USB controllers, respectively $15 and $20 each. These are modeled after the Six Button Control Pad and Sega Saturn controller, providing all of the buttons you need for Comix Zone, Eternal Champions, Virtual Fighter 2, and, yes, Street Fighter II’: Special Championship Edition. These controllers are official collaborations with Sega, and are built with the same faithful nostalgia as the Genesis Mini itself, and feel slightly firmer and more responsive than the included gamepads. As a bonus, the Mode button on the controllers brings up the system’s menu, so you don’t have to reach over and press the reset button on the console itself. It’s a shame Sega didn’t simply include one with the system.
Lots of Games
The Sega Genesis Mini comes with 42 games, and it’s an inconsistent but generally strong mix. Top-tier titles include Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Contra: Hard Corps, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Gunstar Heroes, Mega Man: The Wily Wars (a compilation of 16-bit versions of Mega Man, Mega Man II, and Mega Man III), Shining Force, Shinobi III, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Streets of Rage 2, and Strider. Early Genesis games are represented well by Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Altered Beast, Columns, Ecco the Dolphin, Golden Age, Kid Chameleon, and Sonic the Hedgehog. For fans of Sega’s more offbeat titles, there’s Comix Zone, Dynamite Heady, Earthworm Jim, Super Fantasy Zone, Toejam and Earl, and Vectorman. Fighting games include the aforementioned Eternal Champions, Street Fighter II’: Special Championship Edition, and Virtua Fighter 2.
Two bonus games not originally released on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive are also included: Darius and Tetris. These games were adapted from arcade or unreleased versions by M2, the developer responsible for the interface and system emulation of the Sega Genesis Mini.
Sports games are notably absent, a trend that’s painfully common among mini retro game systems. Road Rash 2 is the closest thing you’ll find related to sports on the console; there’s no Madden NFL, NBA Jam, Sports Talk Baseball, or even Mutant League Football. The system is also strangely inconsistent when it comes to sequels; it comes with three Sonic the Hedgehog games, three Wonder Boy/Monster World games, and two Mickey Mouse games, but outside of those, Sega seems to have chosen one game from each franchise. There’s Streets of Rage 2, but not the first or third ones. There’s Thunder Force III, but not II MD or IV. There’s Vectorman, but no Vectorman 2. There’s Toejam & Earl, but no Toejam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron. And, perhaps most perplexingly, the Genesis Mini has Sonic Spinball, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles (to say nothing of the lock-on combination Sonic 3 & Knuckles) are absent. It’s still a strong selection, but it has noticeable gaps.
The menu system is attractive and nostalgic. By default, it shows rows of Genesis game boxes representing each title, over a very early ’90s geometric magenta background with a Sega Genesis logo on the top of the screen. The box art for each game is faithful to a fault, complete with promotional overlays that no longer apply. Comic Zone’s box mentions a bonus CD that isn’t included with the Genesis Mini, and Vectorman’s box promotes a $25,000 sweepstakes that has long since expired. The menu also feels a bit slippery and overly sensitive, often skipping over a game if you hold down the direction pad for a fraction of a second too long.
Despite these issues, it’s a pleasant interface that evokes its era just like the SNES Classic, with a few welcome extras. Pressing the B button switches the view from the fronts of the boxes to their spines, letting you browse the full selection on one screen as if you are looking at game boxes on a shelf. Changing the language on the system also changes the style, switching to a different background and replacing the Genesis logo with the Mega Drive logo, and swapping out each game’s box art for its relevant European or Japanese box. It’s a shame there’s no UK option, for simply showing the Mega Drive art but keeping English as the language.
Graphical options are minimal. You can choose between a pillarboxed 4:3 aspect ratio with your choice of two wallpapers or a black background, or a 16:9 aspect ratio that fills the screen but also stretches the game to look wider than it should. There are no smoothing or sharpening settings and no CRT filter option.
For emulation tricks, you get four save states for each game accessible through the system menu by pressing the reset button. That’s it, just like the NES Classic and SNES Classic. There is not cheating, no rewinding feature, and no way to legitimately patch, modify, or add games. This is all standard for mini retro systems.
Sega Genesis games look crisp and colorful on the Genesis Mini, with generally excellent emulation on the same level as the SNES Classic. The system outputs video over HDMI at 720p, and even upconverted on a 4K screen, sprites look sharp. Every game performs well, with no slowdown or emulation glitches to be seen. Action is smooth and responsive (especially if you use a Retro-bit controller).
Sound is also faithfully reproduced, capturing the aural magic harnessed by the beloved Yamaha YM 2612 sound chip that powered the original Genesis’ audio. Sound effects are accurate, from synthesized voices in Altered Beast, to the shrill slash of Strider’s sword, to the dinging of rings in Sonic the Hedgehog. Music is also presented accurately, with the driving beat of Streets of Rage 2’s “Go Straight” still standing out as one of the best songs in a beat-’em-up, and the funky bloops of Toejam and Earl demonstrating why some Sega soundtracks are best described as “electrofart.”
Sega as It Should Be
The Sega Genesis Mini is to the original Sega Genesis what the SNES Classic is to the Super Nintendo. The retro game system is a love letter to Sega’s 16-bit games, with a fantastic design and excellent emulation. The game selection could be stronger, but it captures some of the best the Genesis had to offer. Our only real complaint is the three-button controller limiting fighting games on the system. The Genesis Mini is easily worth its $80 price, along with the extra $15 to $20 you should spend on a Retro-Bit 8-Button Arcade Pad to go with it. The system earns our Editors’ Choice, standing alongside Nintendo’s Classic models as essential hardware for any fan of the original Genesis.