Tag Archives: mini consoles

The Sega Genesis Mini

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The Sega Genesis Mini has arrived, though Amazon wasn’t particularly careful about packaging…

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.

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That’s quite a lineup.

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.

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The size of these mini consoles will never not amuse me.

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.

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It’s comparison time! Apologies for not having the US version of the SNES Mini

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.

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I don’t have a model one Genesis, so this is the best I can do.

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.

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And in case you were wondering, here is how the Mini compares with a Sega CDX.

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.


The NEOGEO Mini

 

img_0003When I was a kid, there was a game console that was so unattainable it was practically mythical. And that console was SNK’s Neo Geo, the home console version of SNK’s popular arcade technology. I only heard about it through social circles, but never knew anyone who actually had one. And had I wanted to even see one I wouldn’t have known how to even go about that. Game magazine didn’t bother covering it and I can’t recall ever seeing one in a store. And that’s because the unit ran for around $650, and that was just for the console. The individual games were often sold for $150 a piece, some even more. And these things were behemoths! Just eyeballing it, they look to be around 8″ by 6″ and are about an inch and a half thick.

It’s sort of ironic that the Neo Geo was so expensive and rarely encountered because SNK’s arcade cabinets were the opposite. Those white, black, and red cabinets were pretty prolific in the 90s and that was because they were quite the value compared with other games. A SNK cabinet contained a board that usually had at least two cartridge slots and as many as five. These cabinets essentially functioned like a console, and arcade owners could swap out games whenever they wished if they felt they needed to change things up, which is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying an all new cabinet. Plus the owner gets to save on floor space, making SNK machines pretty popular for smaller venues looking to just add a game or two like a pizza place or a bowling alley.

The Neo Geo was also super expensive because SNK wasn’t really looking to compete with the likes of Nintendo and Sega. SNK knew what it did well, and it had a dedicated fanbase. The Neo Geo was for people who loved SNK’s arcade games and wanted to take the experience home without having to buy an actual cabinet. Because of this, the guts inside the Neo Geo is essentially identical to that of the arcade cabinet. Where other console developers looked to achieve a half measure or so, SNK said “screw that.” And the gigantic cartridges gave SNK plenty of room to increase the power in its games helping the Neo Geo to still be viable into the 2000s.

Something the Neo Geo brand has never really shook is its high cost. Even decades removed from its debut, a secondhand console will still set you back several hundreds of dollars. And the games might set you back even more since they weren’t produced in massive quantities. SNK’s home version of the Neo Geo hardware was referred to as the AES, with the arcade version referred to as the MVS. Since they were the same, SNK made the shape of the cartridges different between the two. The thinking was that SNK didn’t want Neo Geo owners just buying the cheaper MVS carts, which featured no artwork or case, and playing them at home. Over the years, third parties have come up with adapters so Neo Geo AES owners could indeed play the cheaper MVS carts on their home system. More experimental and determined gamers have even taken old cabinets and “consolized” them to create their own Neo Geo. Many years ago, I bought such a device as I wanted to get into Neo Geo. At the time, the MVS community was starting to take off and now collecting those instead of AES games isn’t the value it used to be. I made one post on that thing, and no more because I just wasn’t willing to devote all of those resources to Neo Geo.

 

Not surprisingly, SNK decided to get into the mini console business. It’s a business presently booming, and there’s money to be made. SNK also decided it needed to do things a bit different. While Nintendo and Sony had dedicated home consoles to celebrate from its respective pasts, SNK also wanted to acknowledge that Neo Geo wasn’t just a home brand, but an arcade as well. And in true SNK fashion, it also decided it needed to be the most expensive option in town.

The Neo Geo Mini was released late in 2018 for both Japan and the international market. Like other mini consoles, the lineup of software differed between the two regions and was supposedly tailored to the tastes of each. Considering SNK’s games span few genres, I’m not sure what differences there really is in terms of taste save for SNK’s football title. The Neo Geo Mini ran for as high as $130 on release, though of all the mini consoles this one seemed to vary the most in price depending on where you purchased it with some offering price points closer to $100 (which is what the Japanese version translated to in US dollars).

That price point may have seemed alarming at the time, but there was some justification behind it beyond the usual “it’s Neo Geo.” The Neo Geo Mini comes with 40 pre-loaded games, the most yet for these official mini consoles (the soon to be released Genesis Mini will top it with 42) so if you were placing a value of 2 bucks a piece on each game that would already get you to 80 dollars. And to celebrate the arcade legacy of Neo Geo, SNK opted to make its mini console a dedicated gaming device without the need of a television. The Neo Geo Mini is an adorable little arcade cabinet all by itself. It more resembles the barcade style than an actual SNK cabinet, but this makes it much easier to place the device on your lap. It has a 3.5″ LCD screen which is in a 4:3 format to preserve the native aspect ratio of the software. There’s a mini analog joystick on the left, and the four buttons are on the right. Because of the limited space, the buttons are arrayed in a diamond shape as opposed to in a row as they would have been on an actual cabinet or on the AES joysticks. The Mini is powered by a USB cable, but it does not come with a wall adapter. It also does not contain an internal battery, so it has to be plugged in. This is the first of many design flaws to come.

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Left to right: SNK Black controller for the Mini, Neo Geo CD controller, SNK White controller for the Mini.

The Neo Geo Mini is undeniably cute, but SNK made some odd choices with it. First of all, one such odd choice is not the screen. It may be LCD, but it looks just fine for these games. If you found these titles impressive to look at in the arcade, the same will be true here. Playing them though won’t be quite as fun. The joystick SNK went with is pretty basic. It’s floaty, like an analog stick on a modern console, which works okay for games like Metal Slug, but for fighters it’s problematic. It’s confounding because SNK has a history of making good analog sticks that are actually usable for fighters. The Neo Geo Pocket had a great one. It had plenty of resistance and had that satisfying click to it. The gamepads for the Neo Geo CD too had these clicky analog “discs” on them that were also usable in fighters. You would prefer to use a joystick, but you also didn’t feel severely limited if you had to use one of the gamepads. More confusing is SNK’s decision to change the layout of the buttons. On the old controllers where this diamond shape was utilized, the buttons went (starting at the top, clockwise):  D, B, A, C. On the Neo Geo Mini they go:  A, C, D, B. I’m not super familiar with old Neo Geo games, but even I’m thrown off with this new configuration. I have to assume it has something to do with how these games have been released in emulated form on modern consoles, but it’s weird that they opted to make things different here.

Making things even odder, is you can purchase additional controllers for the Mini. They’re styled after those Neo Geo CD gamepads, but they’re different in the worst ways. For one, they have the new button layout so if you thought you could get around that setup, well, you can’t. They’re also using new components, and sadly the analog disc is one of them. It’s no longer that satisfying clicky input. There’s even less resistance in it when compared with the Mini’s joystick, making it a downgrade if you want to play VS modes. They connect via USB Mini, so it’s possible that better joysticks are available, but it’s a shame that the official SNK controllers are so disappointing.

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When both controllers are plugged into each side of the Mini, the controls on the device go “dead” making this a maximum of 2 players only.

The Neo Geo Mini includes a TV out function via HDMI mini. Strangely, it did not come with a cable though so you had to buy a separate one. Thankfully, if you own any of the Nintendo mini consoles then you’re all set. I actually often just switch the cable between my mini consoles when I want to play since I don’t have enough inputs on my television. If you choose to go this route, know that it isn’t really optimal. SNK didn’t spend much time on this feature it would seem as the games all feature a noticeable downgrade in visual quality when played on a television. It’s not unplayable, but also not very kind to these otherwise lovely looking games. On the plus side, the controller cables are at least generous in length and the Neo Geo Mini is heavier than the Nintendo mini consoles so there’s less chance of yanking it accidentally off a TV stand. Though, if you happen to do so there’s also more risk of damage given the presence of the screen.

Because of the cost and shortcomings, I passed on the Neo Geo Mini last year. This summer though, a new bundle was released and it was enough to get me to jump onboard. The Neo Geo Mini bundle is available at Amazon and Wal-Mart and it includes:

  • The Neo Geo Mini International Edition
  • 2 SNK controllers (one black, one white)
  • 1 HDMI cable
  • $99

The bundle addresses the monetary shortcomings and puts the console closer in-line with the SNES Mini. Yes, it’s still more expensive than that device, but it also has nearly twice as many games and features the off-TV mode. In addition to all that I highlighted, the Mini also comes with stickers. The only graphics on the International version are the Neo Geo logos on each side of the cabinet so if you want to add some extra flash to it you have the stickers. I haven’t placed any on my unit, but I probably will stick one above the screen at least.

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You may bemoan the lack of variety, but there’s no denying this thing comes packed with a lot of games.

Of course, if you’re interested in this device then you probably want to know what you can play on it. The games on the International version are as follows:

  • Metal Slug 1 – 5
  • Metal Slug X
  • King of the Monsters 1 and 2
  • Sengoku 3
  • Magician Lord
  • Blue’s Journey
  • Shock Troopers
  • Shock Troopers 2nd Squad
  • Robo Army
  • Crossed Swords
  • Mutation Nation
  • 3 Count Bout
  • The King of Fighters 95, 97, 98, 2000, 2002
  • Art of Fighting
  • Fatal Fury Special
  • Real Bout Fatal Fury
  • Garou: Mark of the Wolves
  • Samurai Showdown II, IV, V Special
  • The Last Blade 2
  • World Heroes Perfect
  • Kizuna Encounter
  • Ninja Master’s
  • Top Player’s Golf
  • Super Sidekicks
  • Football Frenzy
  • Blazing Star
  • Last Resort
  • Ghost Pilots
  • Puzzled

That’s a lot of fighting games. Safe to say, if you don’t like fighters then this isn’t the machine for you (and you probably already knew that). I’ve tested all of the games in off-TV mode and all emulate very well with no input lag. If you liked these games before, you’ll like what you have here. The obvious shortcoming being the input method for the fighters. I’m not particularly good at SNK fighters, but I’m really not good on this machine. Maybe I can get used to it and get close to what I am when playing on a Neo Geo, but it’s going to take some practice. I should also note, that since this contains US versions of these games, Samurai Showdown features the censored green blood. If you want the red stuff you’ll have to get the Japanese version.

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There are some design shortcomings with this device, but there’s no denying the games look good on the small screen.

As for the lineup, it’s hard to argue it’s not a solid representation of what SNK’s legacy is. I would have preferred fewer fighting games, but there’s not a ton missing either. I’m surprised at the exclusion of Bust-A-Move, aka Puzzle Bobble, but that might be because SNK doesn’t own those characters. I would have liked to see Baseball Stars as well, and I’m surprised at its exclusion. Since these games are all essentially arcade games, they’re pretty damn hard since they were meant to guzzle quarters. You’ll be happy to know that there are Save State options present making these games a bit easier to manage. Simply pressing Start and Select together brings up the menu to do so which is also the way you exit a game without powering off the console. The user interface is bare bones, but gets the job done. If you happen to get the Japanese version you can even switch the language to English, though the in-game text will still be Japanese (not that any of these games contain required reading).

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Getting used to this little guy will be key to enjoying the fighting games. For games like Metal Slug though it works just fine.

Given all of this, it’s a bit hard to recommend the Neo Geo Mini as anything other than a novelty. If you like the idea of being able to play these games off-TV in a unique format then by all means give it a shot. The new bundle makes it a little easier to recommend, though the extra stuff also highlights what this system isn’t very good at doing. If you just want to experience SNK’s games on the cheap, or even on the go, you have lots of options now as most of these games can be purchased digitally for various platforms, including Nintendo Switch. Of course, the Switch will give you its own issues with inputs for fighting games, but it will also give you better on-TV emulation. These games are no longer prohibitively expensive to enjoy, which does harm the novelty of the Neo Geo Mini.

I find the aesthetic of the Neo Geo Mini to be so pleasing that I’m reluctant to say I find it disappointing. It’s too charming to be a dud. The only true disappointment for me is that the on-TV experience isn’t good enough to make me get rid of the few MVS games I own. Hopefully I keep at it with this thing and eventually get a little better at a few of the fighters. I’d also like to see SNK take at least one more stab at creating a dedicated gaming device that’s cost-effective and also sets a new standard for the best way to experience SNK’s games. The Neo Geo X and the Mini both were tantalizing, but come up a bit short. If you like SNK’s offerings and don’t mind the price tag, the Neo Geo Mini is fine. If you’re still on the fence, then maybe wait and see if the price comes down more or seek out a used one. I’ve seen stand-alone Minis for as low as $89 new. I don’t think it will crash to the levels of the PlayStation Classic (which I’ve seen for as low as $15!), but there may be some more room to fall.


Ranking the Games of the Sega Genesis Mini

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Commemorating 30 years of the Genesis, Mega Drive to you non-Yankees, in comes the Genesis Mini to go along with your other mini consoles.

Did you think the era of the mini console was over? You would be forgiven if you had. Last year’s Sony Playstation Classic arrived with a thud. Originally retailing for $100, you can probably score one now for less than half of that as they clogged shelves during the holiday season and failed to excite. And it wasn’t a surprise. Sony just didn’t have the software muscle to make the Playstation Classic a must-own console. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Sony’s part. There was a clear desire to have this device harken back to the early days of the Playstation as a celebration of one of the most popular gaming devices of all time. The problem was it may have been too reverential for those early days as a lot of the software just hasn’t aged too well. And the games that had have been readily available for download or in compilation packages for years. Top it off with no dual shock and a hefty price tag just made the console undesirable. Maybe Sony still made money off of the machine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the electronics giant took a loss either.

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Not to be confused with the awful other mini Genesis units out there.

If you thought that high profile failure would deter others from following suit, well then you would be wrong. Throwing their hats back into the ring is Sega, who has been licensing its old software and hardware for years as part of third-party plug-and-play devices of less than desirable quality. Even when the NES Classic was available, Sega had a Genesis Mini on store shelves that boasted wireless controllers and a port on the console for an actual Genesis cartridge. Everything about it though was clunky and pretty awful. Since it was licensed out, it likely cost Sega nothing aside from a hit to its brand reputation. Maybe Sega decided it needed to help that brand out while making another effort at tapping into that mini console nostalgia that has boosted Nintendo’s bottom line for a few years now.

To do so, Sega has sought the services of M2, the developer behind the Sega Ages compilations which have been universally praised for their emulation quality. Sega also is apparently handling the actual hardware in-house, and actual Genesis controllers will ship with the system this fall. This smells like an honest attempt at a quality device, the only question really is can Sega still manufacture and produce quality hardware? It’s not something the company has been involved with for decades now since the high profile failure that was the Dreamcast. Considering there isn’t much to these mini consoles, there probably should be some degree of confidence Sega can pull it off. By sticking with wired controllers there’s no worry about cheap, wireless, devices which plagued the prior models. And we already know the emulation end should come out quite well.

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Sega is apparently going all-in on the nostalgia and even releasing a non-functioning Sega CD and 32X mini in case you want to remember this abomination.

What we also know is the price ($79.99, same as the SNES Classic) and contents of the package. The US version will include two classic 3-button controllers and 42 games. Yes, it would have been preferential to have the six-button controller, which will apparently be included with the Japanese version so perhaps there will be some six-button controllers for sale, but it’s not a deal-breaker since every game had to utilize the 3-button layout. Mostly though, look at that games total:  42! Where Nintendo seemed careful about what it included with the SNES Classic, likely wanting to adhere to placing a dollar value on each game, Sega has simply said “Screw that!” and put a vast collection of games on this set that well-represent what the Genesis was famous for. Sure, there are some notable omissions. Mortal Kombat was huge for the Genesis, so it’s surprising to see it excluded. Considering the game doesn’t possess the gameplay to match its visuals, it’s only a sentimental loss. An actual good game that is missing is Sonic the Hedgehog 3 + Sonic & Knuckles. It’s possible the lock-on function was difficult to duplicate, or maybe Sega just felt that would be too much Sonic. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of obvious omissions. Sports were huge on the Genesis, but licensing for sports titles is likely far too complex and expensive. Likely, most of your personal omissions are a preference for one game in a series (Shining Force vs Shining Force II, for example) vs another.

I’ve taken the time to rank the games of the other high-profile mini consoles, only skipping SNK’s, so I feel an obligation to do the same for the Genesis. This is the only negative for me of Sega including 42 games as I have to rank them all! This is no easy feat, but I’ll do my best. Now, I have played every game on this list, but that doesn’t mean I am supremely familiar with all of them. I’ll try to convey my familiarity where I can, but this is also just one man’s opinion so take it for what it is.

First of all, there are actually 2 games I have not played and they are the two most recent revelations:  Tetris and Darius. The Genesis Tetris was somewhat infamously discontinued before it got going. It’s one of the most expensive carts to this day. It’s Tetris, so you probably have played it before on another platform. I’m sure it’s good. The other game I have not played is the arcade-only Darius. A fan version of this game showed up on the internet and it’s speculated the version here is the same. It’s an auto-scrolling shooter from Taito so if you like that stuff I suppose you’ll be excited to play it. As for the other 40 games, well let’s just get right down to it.

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Altered Beast is memorable and was an early success story, but it was never really a good game.

40.  Altered BeastAltered Beast is an arcade classic, and as an early Genesis title, it does have some fans. On the other hand, it’s an example of how porting from arcade to the Genesis wasn’t entirely smooth and that arcade perfect ports were still years away. The transforming beast gimmick is neat, but everything else is rather terrible. It’s playable, and as a kid I liked it enough, so if it’s your worst title then that’s not too bad.

39.  Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – The mascot before Sonic, Alex Kidd is perhaps best forgotten, a super floaty platformer that is representative of a lot of the shovel-ware that would clog game systems during the era. There’s at least some skill to be formed while playing this one, hence why I put it ahead of the vanilla brawler, Altered Beast.

38. Virtua Fighter 2Virtua Fighter 2 is a late era representative of how porting from the arcade to the home was hard. This time, it’s because arcade hardware had more than lapped what was available for most gamers at home. If playing this title on the Saturn, then it’s pretty good. On the Genesis? Well, let’s just say it’s a shocker they even bothered.

37. Eternal Champions – Sega’s in-house fighting game entry, Eternal Champions was the straight to home fighting game that wanted to be violent and shocking. Instead, it’s just a one on one fighter with little charm that’s also some-what bogged down by overly complex mechanics. The fact that it was developed for the Genesis, and not the arcade, made it noteworthy at the time because that was practically unheard of for fighting games. It ended up being a harbinger of things to come as the arcades became more marginalized as the 90s wore on. Playable, but hardly memorable unless you really like the fatality-like Overkills.

36. Ecco the Dolphin – Pretty nice looking for a Genesis title and certainly unique given that you play as a dolphin and solve puzzles. It’s also one of the most boring titles I’ve ever played. Some people love it, and it was a huge seller, so maybe others will too.

35. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – I’m on the record as just not being a fan of this franchise. This version is naturally superior to what was on the NES, so if you like that game then you’ll love this one. I personally just find this game difficult to a fault, where it only cares about being hard and not being entertaining. Such a slog.

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Space Harrier 2 is certainly a unique shooter that was far more impressive back when it came out than it is today.

34. Space Harrier 2 – A strange behind-the-back on-rails shooter. You can move your character all over the screen to avoid attacks. It gets pretty chaotic, but if you’re a fan of on-rails shooters it might offer a nice change of pace from the typical approach.

33. Golden Axe – A solid arcade port that’s still plenty playable, Golden Axe is far more enjoyable with two-players. I’m surprised Sega went with the original here, but there’s not a ton separating the games in this franchise so I suppose it matters little. It’s fine, but I’ve played Golden Axe so much that it’s hard to get excited about it.

32. Kid Chameleon – A platformer in which you play as what appears to be a 50’s greaser and collect power-ups that impart new abilities. It’s a neat concept and if you stick with it you may find it rewarding. I’ve personally just always hated the “feel” of this one as the character is really floaty and slippery.

31. Comix Zone – One of the coolest looking games on the Genesis, Comix Zone has a great concept. You play as a comic book artist who gets sucked into his own panels. It’s just so unbelievably hard that all enjoyment is ruined. I guess you could save-skum your way through it, but that’s hardly what I consider fun.

30. Light Crusaders – An isometric RPG, it’s actually one of many RPGs on the Genesis Mini. It’s crazy how many there are. Is this one the worst? Probably. I’ve never spent a ton of time with it though so maybe I’m selling it short. I’m not a fan of the perspective or the visuals, finding it frustrating. It does at times feel like a precursor to the much superior Diablo given the perspective and the fact that there’s just one, really long, dungeon in the game. It did receive quite a bit of praise when it was released in 1995 so maybe I should give it another shot?

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Visually, Beyond Oasis strikes me as Secret of Mana meets Dragon’s Lair.

29. Beyond Oasis – A top-down action RPG, this one reminds me of Secret of Mana. It has some distinctive visuals, but the animations can be a bit chunky. Not the greatest controls either as you’re most likely going to find little snakes you have to crouch to hit to be the biggest annoyance. It’s an interesting game, but it’s somewhat made worse for its RPG elements as dealing with NPCs just feels tedious and dry.

28. Super Fantasy Zone – a shooter, but one in which you have full control of the vehicle similar to TaleSpin on the NES. It’s a pleasing title to look at and an easy one to just pick up and play when you have a half hour to kill or something. I prefer this style to auto-scrolling, even if it’s still not the type of game I seek out. It was also never released on the Genesis in the US, but was released on the Virtual Console in 2008.

27. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse – Disney and Sega had a nice thing going for awhile. Castle of Illusion was among the first and an early entrant on the Genesis. It’s a rather benign platforming title that might be easier than you remember if you last played it as a little kid. That is unless your skills in 2D have diminished, then it might be harder than you remember.

26. Earthworm Jim – This game was inescapable when it came out as the marketing was obnoxious. It’s a flashy looking shooter/platform type that gets pretty hard pretty fast. I think it’s a bit style over substance, but it does have an addictive quality to it. I know it still  has a strong fanbase to this day, which is probably why the character is set to attempt a comeback on the Intellivision Amico.

25. Thunder Force III – This game is a totally serviceable shooter in the same vein as R-Type. Not my cup of tea, but plenty fine. This is the best game in the franchise as it switched to the horizontal format and even introduced some elements that would be considered forgiving, a rarity in this genre.

24. Wonderboy in Monster World – Yet another RPG, this one is a side-scrolling action one. It’s perfectly playable and even enjoyable still today. It’s also a little boring when it comes to the RPG elements which is probably why Wonderboy never took off like Zelda did. Either that or it was because his name is Wonderboy. I mostly rank it this high on the list because I find the aesthetics of the game quite charming.

dynamite headdy

Dynamite Headdy was a later arrival on the Genesis so it may have been overlooked by many.

23. Dynamite Headdy – There were so many mascot plaformer types in the 90s that it’s forgivable if you forgot about Dynamite Headdy. He’s basically a bug without a neck who can throw his head at enemies. Interesting concept, for sure, and a totally fine platforming title. Headdy handles well and the game is bright colorful, what more do you want?

22. Alisia Dragoon – It’s kind of like Castlevania with lightning bolts and dragons. Alisia Dragoon is a side scroller in which you have lightning powers and multiple dragon sidekicks to cycle through. Like Castlevania, there’s exploration elements and hidden places to find. It’s also pretty relentless about attacking from all sides making it imperative to use your powers judiciously so they have time to recharge and strike out in all directions. This is a game I’ll likely spend more time with should I get a Genesis Mini.

21. Sonic Spinball – It’s pinball, but with Sonic the Hedgehog instead of a ball. I’m actually not sure if this title is overrated or underrated. When it came out, a lot of people were a little irritated it wasn’t a proper new Sonic game, but it’s hard to deny it’s a rather fun experience. It won’t blow you away, but you’re unlikely to have a bad time at least.

20. Columns – A Sega classic, of sorts, Columns was the brick-falling game not named Tetris. It’s a match 3 type of puzzler and it’s fine. It won’t wow you, but it’s easy to get absorbed in. I’d much rather play this than something like Yoshi’s Cookie, though I’d prefer to play one other puzzler on this set over it.

19. Landstalkers – Another isometric action RPG, this one is just much more enjoyable than Light Crusader. It’s nicer on the eyes, and while the story isn’t anything special the world is far more interesting to explore. The perspective is still more annoying than fun, but this is a title in need of some added exposure so hopefully the Genesis Mini is a benefit for it.

monster world iv

Monster World IV features a colorful and cute design that I just find so charming.

18. Monster World IV – The last entrant in the Wonderboy series on the Genesis and a game previously unreleased on the console outside of Japan. It has been included on compilations in recent years, but this will be the first time US gamers will get to experience it on Sega hardware. It’s yet another side-scrolling RPG, but it has charm and looks great. A surprise, but worthy, inclusion for the Genesis Mini.

17. Mega Man:  The Wily Wars – This one is almost like cheating as it’s a compilation of the first three Mega Man titles ported to the Genesis with enhanced visuals. It should be awesome, but I’ve never liked how it feels compared with the NES games. It seems slower and more deliberate almost as if Capcom went too far in updating the visuals and instead negatively impacted the gameplay. Maybe that’s why it originally went unreleased, being only available on the Sega Channel. I’ll give it another shot, for sure, as it’s still Mega Man and those three games are classics in their own right.

16. World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck – I’m probably ranking this one too high, but it was a personal favorite of mine as a kid. It’s Castle of Illusion, but with two-players and much improved visuals. It’s a fun, breezy, platformer that should be beatable for even those who have let their skills diminish over the years. It just might take some practice.

sonic 1 main

Sonic’s gameplay is somewhat divisive, but what isn’t is the impact he had on Sega and video games as a whole in the 90s.

15. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega’s first real answer to Mario, you either love it or you don’t. The game is a constant battle with the urge to travel at top speed, because once achieved, you open Sonic up to a world of hurt in the form of spike traps and death pits. It’s a game of trial and error, and had it not been a success back in the 90s we might not even be here having this conversation. Still very playable, just not the best Sonic title any longer.

14. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition – It’s the arcade classic now on the Genesis. This is about as competent a fighter as you’re going to find, it’s just hard to get excited about playing it in 2019. The 3-button controller is not the ideal way to experience Street Fighter, but it’s competent at least. It’s still Street Fighter II though, which is a nice floor to have.

13. Road Rash II – The motorcycle racer that was a staple on the Genesis, until it wasn’t. This game was largely popular amongst my friends because you could attack other racers, but even absent that it was still a damn good time and a fun racer. I’m a bit surprised it’s the only racer on this set though, but I’m not sure Outrun has aged all that well and Virtua Racing is probably too hard to emulate.

12. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – Another stacking puzzle game, this is just Puyo Puyo but with a Sonic skin. Specifically, it’s done in the style of the cartoon Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s the rare puzzler that’s better with two players. Probably the only puzzle game I prefer to it is Puzzle Fighter, which isn’t surprising since they’re pretty similar. Definitely check this one out if you never have.

11. Contra:  Hard Corps – The venerable Contra series on the Genesis. Some Contra fans cite this as their favorite entry in the series. I’m no Contra expert, so don’t ask me. It’s a fun and challenging shooter though. Too hard for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Have fun using save states on this one.

strider

Strider is Capcom’s forgotten hit franchise. Its visuals are a tad dated as this was an early Genesis title, but its gameplay is not.

10. Strider – This felt like Capcom’s answer to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Strider is a bit more vertical and the main character Hiryu has a lot of weapons at his disposal. Strider controls well and offers plenty of action, a good one to get lost in especially since the challenging difficulty will keep you busy.

9. Vectorman – Speaking of hard games, here’s another. Vectorman is a shooter/platformer with some gimmicky stuff as well as the titular character can change form. Visually distinctive, Vectorman is a game I enjoy despite the fact that I suck at it. Maybe I just need more practice. I’ll probably play this one a few times and struggle to make it to level 3.

8. Shinobi III – A challenging platformer, but one more deliberately paced. I’ve always preferred Shinobi to Ninja Gaiden or Strider because of that pacing. It’s easier to plot out an attack and feel out a boss fight. It’s also still hard, but often fair. Smart move by Sega to go with the third entry over the other two as this one has always felt like the most balanced entry in the series.

7. Phantasy Star IV – A more traditional JRPG, this series is basically Sega’s Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I’m a bit surprised they opted to go with IV over the more popular II, but either one is fine. I wish it looked and sounded better, but it’s strangely addicting thanks to its combat system and I look forward to playing through it.

toejam_and_earl wiener

The only game brave enough to refer to its characters as wieners.

6. Toejam & Earl – Too high? Possibly. This game is just too weird not to love and represents the oddball nature of the Genesis so well. You practically have to play it with two players, but the journey to piece together the spaceship of a couple lost aliens is certainly memorable and humorous. This is also the rare game where the power-ups feel more like a curse as they make it so hard to control the characters. This is definitely the go-to game when a buddy stops over. Maybe now I can finally beat it?

5. Gunstar Heroes – A more forgiving run and gun game than Contra or SNK’s Metal Slug. It’s also faster and has its own distinct visual style. This is routinely cited by many as one of the best games on the Genesis so it was a must-include for Sega. It’s surprising that this series hasn’t been able to live on as a modern-looking version would be amazing. We’ll just have to settle for this release, I guess.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – It’s like the first game, only everything is better. Maybe you want to say the soundtrack is better on the original – that’s fine. Every level here though is probably superior to every level in the first game. The inclusion of Tails technically makes it two-player, but no one has fun controlling Tails. He’s the original “give this guy to your little brother/sister” character as he can’t die and has no control over what is happening on screen. Which is why if I play any game with one of my kids it will be this one.

streets 2 uppercut

Arguably the best brawler ever created, it’s amazing that Streets of Rage 2 has maintained a stranglehold on that title for so many years.

3. Streets of Rage 2 – Considered by many to be the best brawler ever created. Even better than Final Fight or Double Dragon II. Streets of Rage 2 stretches the genre about as far as it can go. It has a surprisingly deep combat system and it looks great as well. So many games have attempted to rip it off, and none have come all that close.

2. Shining Force – If Phantasy Star was Sega’s answer to Dragon Quest, then Shining Force was its answer to Fire Emblem. Shining Force is a criminally under-appreciated strategy RPG. Maybe we just didn’t have the attention span for it back in the day, which explains why Nintendo never bothered with Fire Emblem until much later, but I never knew anyone who talked about this franchise. It’s great though, but I’m surprised Sega went with the original over the better sequel. It’s not a big deal though. If you don’t like this style of gameplay, then Shining Force won’t win you over. I’m a bit of a junkie for this stuff though, hence the placement here.

bloodlines 3

Bloodlines was sort of dismissed upon arrival, maybe due to Castlevania fatigue, but it’s one of the best games in the long-running franchise.

1. Castlevania:  Bloodlines – The secret best 16-bit Castlevania? A lot of praise gets tossed at Super Castlevania IV, but Bloodlines is the superior game. It returns the player’s sprite to a more diminutive size giving the game more space. It features tried and true Castlevania gameplay and a great soundtrack as well. Like a lot of games on this console, it wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been at the time, but at least there’s time to rectify that. This is a fabulous game on the Genesis, and if you love Super Castlevania IV but haven’t played this one much or at all then now is as good a time as any to rectify that.

That’s my opinion of the Genesis Mini’s software. It’s a great collection of games and the sheer amount likely pushes this one ahead of the SNES Classic in terms of value. What remains to be seen is if Sega can deliver on the quality, and while I’m fairly confident the company can, it’s hardly a sure thing. Performing this exercise has, more or less, convinced me to get one myself. And thankfully, it looks like the Genesis Mini will be a lot easier to come by than either of Nintendo’s offerings initially were. And if you think we’re done with mini consoles, well you are mistaken. Konami just announced a TurboGrafx-16 Mini so there’s that to look forward to. And the specter of a Nintendo 64 Classic will continue to loom large over the market until it’s either released or we all collectively decide to believe Nintendo that it isn’t coming.


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