When it was a hardware manufacturer, Sega was often the company first to market with new technology. The Genesis (Mega Drive for non North American gamers) beat the Super Nintendo to market, the Sega CD beat the never released Super Nintendo CD, the 32X aggressively tried to make the 32 bit era begin early, the Saturn beget the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and finally the Dreamcast arrived before the PlayStation 2 by over a year. When it came to the new mini consoles though, Sega was a laggard. I suppose you could credit the company with embracing this sort of plug and play retro gaming before the others as “flashback” systems have been at retail for years. Those releases were cheap though and the less said the better. Nintendo essentially saw what Sega was doing and decided to do it right when it released the NES Classic Edition in 2016 providing the blueprint for how these things should be done.
Sega saw the folly of its ways and for once decided to take things slow. The Genesis Mini was supposed to launch in 2018 and be yet another partnership with AtGames who had released the subpar Sega branded hardware already featured at retail. Sega understood the quality just wasn’t there, and the agreement between the two was either terminated or expired. Sega took development in-house, and also brought in M2 which had done the emulation for the well-received Sega Ages compilation. And thus Sega became a hardware manufacturer once again for the first time in nearly 20 years.
The Sega Genesis Mini is the latest in the mini console wave of devices that is now in its fourth year of relevancy. It follows the NES Classic, the SNES Classic, Neo Geo Mini, and PlayStation Classic and precedes the upcoming TurboGrafx-16 Mini which will bring this mini console era into 2020. The Genesis has been the missing link as it was one of the most popular video game consoles of its time and was arguably more deserving of such a release than the likes of the Neo Geo and PlayStation. There was considerably less demand for it though and I attribute that to the poor AtGames releases which really harmed the Sega brand in recent years.
Sega and its Genesis console have become a bit of a punching bag over the years. Most remember the marketing surrounding the machine than the actual games themselves. Sega was willing to go the distance to get noticed and basically every 90s cliché one can dream of can be found in Genesis marketing material. It aggressively promoted itself against the Super Nintendo by toting “Blast Processing” and that Genesis does what Nintendon’t. These marketing promotions are laughed at now because most admit that the Super Nintendo is among the greatest gaming devices ever invented. It’s almost absurd to suggest that the Genesis was superior, even if those marketing gimmicks kept Sega in the lead in terms of sales for much of the 90s.
All of the retro silliness surrounding Sega these days tends to ignore the fact that the Genesis was pretty damn good in its own right. Sega was aggressive in acquiring licensed material for its machine and as a result the best selling Genesis titles tend to be not great. Those games overshadow the smaller releases that really were something special like Shining Force and Gunstar Heroes. Sega has either acknowledged that, or difficulties in getting those licensed games for its mini console has allowed the Sega Genesis Mini to function as a showcase for those forgotten gems. And the fact that the device comes packed with 42 games means there’s also plenty of room for Sonic.
If you have played one of the Nintendo mini consoles then you basically know what to expect with the Genesis Mini. It’s about half the size of the model one Genesis and comes with two controllers that connect via USB instead of the old Genesis pin connectors. The console looks great and it’s quite light because there’s really not a lot that needs to go into these things to make them functional. The device comes with an HDMI cable for hook-up to modern televisions as well as a USB to AC wall connector for power. The controller cables are about six feet long, which is neither good nor bad, and turning on the console brings you to a dashboard from which the games can be played. The Genesis Mini outputs an HD signal, but the quality of the emulation means there’s no input lag nor do the images look washed out. The games can be played in their native 4:3 aspect ratio, or zoomeded to 16:9 if you’re a monster. The games can also be played with a filter designed to mimic old scan lines if you choose, though I find the image to be darker and muddier as a result.
The Sega Genesis Mini doesn’t really distinguish itself from what Nintendo did in terms of function, and that’s because it doesn’t need to. This is an appropriate way to make these games available in 2019 and the emulation is top-notch. The controllers themselves feel a touch off when compared with the real thing, but they function perfectly fine. It is a shame that Sega included the 3-button controller instead of the six (which Japan received), but I suppose it was done to coordinate with the original release of the Genesis. It’s also disappointing that Nintendo utilized its own proprietary connector on its consoles instead of USB so the extension cables I bought for my Nintendo consoles won’t help me here. Sega did at least include a menu shortcut in its software that is achieved by simply holding down the start butto, something Nintendo didn’t even do with its SNES Classic. Where Sega differentiates itself from Nintendo further is in the celebration of the little things. The Mini is not region locked, and you can even experience this software in Japanese if you wish. This is pretty cool with a game like Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which was a re-skin of Puyo Puyo for the North American market. Changing the region to Japan actually changes Dr. Robotnik to Puyo Puyo, even though that game wasn’t even emulated for the Japanese release of the Mini.
By now you have likely also seen where Sega separated itself from the other retro consoles by making everything on the Genesis Mini semi-functional. That means the flaps on the cartridge socket work and the expansion port for the Sega CD is also present. These things don’t actually do anything, but it’s such a simple and appreciated touch. Sega has even gone way beyond the extra mile in Japan by releasing a mini Sega Tower. By that I mean you can actually purchase mini versions of the Sega CD, 32X, Sonic & Knuckles lock-on cartridge, and a mini cartridge of Sonic the Hedgehog to connect to your Genesis Mini. Again, these serve no functional purpose what so ever, but it’s Sega celebrating what it’s known for. If that silly thing does indeed earn a North American release, you can bet your ass I’ll be all over it.
The Genesis Mini would be nothing without quality software, and here Sega has delivered as well. I previously ranked each game set for release and as I get reacquainted with these titles I see little reason to change those rankings. There are a few duds I won’t ever play, but mostly this is a collection of the best games available for the system as opposed to the most popular. I’m sure there are folks who will say something is missing. I know a lot of people were surprised to see no Sonic the Hedgehog 3 or Sonic & Knuckles, but it’s not like the hedgehog isn’t well represented as-is. I’m quite surprised that Mortal Kombat wasn’t included because of how important that game was for the Genesis, but I also can’t say I miss playing it as the game hasn’t aged particularly well. Licensing issues obviously prevented Sega from including one of the many well-received sports titles as well. And as Nintendo did with Star Fox 2 on its classic console release, Sega has included unreleased titles on this one as well including Monster World IV and Mega Man: The Wily Wars, games not sold at retail in North America. And as for games never released at all on the Genesis, there’s the Genesis version of Tetris and Darius.
All of this basically just means that Sega has gone out and released perhaps the best Mini console so far. The emulation is great and it’s packed with games that are still worth playing in 2019. Sega has also made sure to make this a fun release that celebrates both the Genesis and Sega as a whole. If you thought you didn’t need to experience the Genesis again then I encourage you to rethink that position.