Tag Archives: sonic the hedgehog

Dec. 25 – Sonic Christmas Blast

Original air date November 24, 1996

It’s Christmas morning, and if you woke up to a tree packed full of presents you have only one person to thank for that – Sonic the Hedgehog! What? You didn’t know that Sonic took over for Santa back in 1996? Oh, well find yourself a comfy chair and a plate of chili dogs while I tell you the tale of An X-Tremely Sonic Christmas Sonic Christmas Blast!

Back in 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog was so popular that he warranted two separate cartoon series: The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and the more plainly named Sonic the Hedgehog. Adventures was the direct-to-syndication cartoon and aired on weekday afternoons, while the other cartoon aired on Saturday mornings as part of ABC’s block of cartoons and came to be known as Sonic SatAM. Both cartoons were produced by DiC and both featured everyone’s favorite nerd (at the time), Jaleel White, as the voice of Sonic. The executive producer on both was Andy Heyward, who you may recall was also the executive producer for The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. He may be the first person to work on official productions of both Mario and Sonic, which I guess is pretty cool. While the Saturday morning program had a more serious tone, the afternoon Adventures was more of a typical screwball comedy where the wily Sonic outsmarted and outwitted his nemesis, Dr. Robotnik (Long John Baldry), on the regular.

Sonic has arguably never been as popular as he was in 1993. That’s because he had a host of games on the Sega Genesis that were well received. In 1996, Sega was promoting the Sega Saturn console and looking to unleash its mega-popular hedgehog on that machine. The game was to be called Sonic X-treme, and in order to market it, someone got the bright idea to commission a Christmas special. It would be in the style of Adventures and would be produced by DiC, though it would no longer be in conjunction with Bohbot Entertainment. The problem was, the game was never released. Sonic X-treme was cancelled, but Sega still had a cartoon it paid money for and intended to air. The solution: simply change the title!

This one is like a regular episode of the show, but it’s Christmas!

Sonic wasn’t leaving the 16-bit world in the dust just yet as Sega was prepping a title for the Genesis: Sonic 3D Blast. It was an experimental game that attempted 3D on the aging Genesis hardware via an isometric perspective. If you do not remember it there’s a good reason: it was terrible. Bad game or not, it was still worthy of promotion so the Christmas special was re-named Sonic Christmas Blast and released on VHS and aired on the USA network.

A few days ago we did Mario Christmas, so it only felt right to do Sonic as well. Plus, Sonic has the distinction of being the best movie I saw in a theater in 2020. No, it’s not a fantastic film, but it got to win that coveted crown by simply being the only film I saw in a theater in 2020! Thanks, COVID!

Meet today’s audience surrogate: Ugly Kid. He has no name, but an ugly character model, therefore we shall call him Ugly Kid.

This one starts off with a festive remix of the traditional intro, except most of the footage has been removed and just replaced with clips from the special to come. Boring. It then picks up in the city of Robotropolis, a city from Sonic SatAM that I do not believe was ever depicted in Adventures. At any rate, it doesn’t resemble the city from the other show, it just shares a name.

Something’s not right with this Santa…

Citizens are gathering to view a giant television that is apparently about to broadcast a message from Santa (do they not have malls here?). The camera is rather focused on an ugly little boy with no name (Eric Pospisil). I don’t mean he’s ugly as far as Sonic Society is concerned, just that his character design is rather offensive to the eyes. Santa (Jay Brazeau) appears on the big television screen with a rather important announcement. For one, he’s clearly a robot as he has pins in his elbows and he doesn’t appear to move very well so I am rather suspect of this forthcoming announcement.

Robotnik has somehow become even more insane looking.

And that announcement is that he is retiring! Yes, the unthinkable is happening at Christmas! Not to worry though, for Santa has already named a replacement. And that man is: Robotnik Claus! Yes, the evil Dr. Robotnik is set to take over for Santa and he is introduced to a stunned audience. For some reason, he looks like a homeless Santa as his suit fits rather poorly exposing his hairy gut and his shoes are torn. Robotnik’s first announcement as Santa is that this year things will be different. Rather than Robotnik Claus delivering presents to all the good little boys and girls of the world, they are to deliver presents to him! The madness!

Judging by that smile on Ugly Kid’s face, it would seem he was initially hopeful about this whole Robotnik Claus thing.

Scratch (Phil Hayes), the robotic chicken with the incredibly annoying voice, and Grounder (Garry Chalk) are positioned as cheer leaders for Robotnik Claus, but they annoy him more than support him. We then have it confirmed that this world does indeed possess malls as we see Robotnik Claus seated in a chair with a line of children waiting to see him. Ugly kid from earlier hops on his lap and Robotnik rather enthusiastically asks the child what he’ll be giving him for Christmas. The kid responds by punching him in the gut and informs him that he will do no such thing. Robotnik is rather pissed, but apparently he is still only cartoonishly evil as he doesn’t kill the little squirt, but he does order him imprisoned in his robot factory.

Hey! Look! It’s Princess Sal, in her original pilot colors! She looks like she has something to say in this image, but she actually has nothing to say. Absolutely nothing.

Elsewhere, Sonic is gearing up for Christmas with Princess Sally Acorn (Tabitha St. Germain is credited, but the character has zero lines). Apparently Sally gave Sonic a fancy ring last Christmas and he gave her squat, so he’s dead-set on getting her a bunch of stuff this year, even though she apparently wants nothing. Before she can utter a word of rebuttal, Sonic takes off with his buddy Tails (Chris Turner) to go do some shopping. While he runs, he decides to jump up and grab onto a tree branch for no particular reason and just dangle there. A bird in its nest takes notice of Sonic’s ring that Sally gave him which features an unusual marking. Ah, he grabbed the tree as a plot device since this ring is going to be important. Logical.

These two clowns are up to no good, but at least they’re well dressed.

In town, Scratch and Grounder are going door-to-door Sheriff of Nottingham style to collect presents for Robotnik Claus. They confront one poor sap who claims he has nothing to give, so they tell him they’ll be taking his house. And not in a way a bank would, but by literally using an excavator to take the man’s house while he begs them not to. Vicious.

Oh, good. Ugly Kid made it out of Robotnik’s factory unharmed. I was real worried for a sec.

Sonic and Tails arrive at a mall to find it completely barren. Someone has taken all of the wares and Sonic is apparently out of the loop. Outside, they run across Ugly Kid who tells them that he escaped from Robotnik Claus and informs Sonic of what’s going on. Scratch and Grounder then appear and like good, ineffective, hench-robots, inform Sonic of Robotnik’s plan to take over Christmas and get lots of presents for himself. They also tell him that they kidnapped Santa and used a robot to transfer his role over to Robotnik without a hitch. They even brought the robot with them as proof of their misdeed. They also brought some giant tank too.

Well, at least they seemed to have come prepared. Not that it will make any difference.

Scratch then wishes Sonic and his pals a “Merry Crush-mas!” as he tries dropping a big, spiky, block on the trio. Sonic is too fast for it though, and he goes all buzz-saw and lands in their cockpit. He then controls the giant arm of the tank to position a magnet over them sucking up the three robots and then dropping them to the ground in a heap of parts.

Nothing puts me in the Christmas mood like a pile of broken body parts.

As Scratch and Grounder begin reassembling themselves, while mostly ignoring the destroyed Santa robot, Sonic comes waltzing by dressed as a janitor. He’s a bit like Bugs Bunny in this show in that he can always produce a not-so-clever disguise that fools the bad guy every time. He plays friendly and gets the two to spill the beans on where Robotnik is keeping Santa before splitting, but not first without revealing his identity to Scratch and Grounder and smashing them to bits again with a garbage can.

Why does he have a butt?

Scratch and Grounder head to the home of Robotnik which is currently being outfitted with many, many, chimneys. Robotnik is even demanding more of his robot minions for he wants enough chimneys on his home so that every citizen in the city can enter his home at once with big sacks of presents. The brainless duo flags down Robotnik with the bad news, and they’re informed that they can no longer expect a Christmas card this year. Robotnik then orders his defenses be increased while also informing the duo that they are to bring him the most important of Christmas presents this year: Sonic the Hedgehog! Hey, that’s the same thing my kid asked for!

Some “scary” looking robots.

Sonic and Tails are shown in a cold environment heading to the location of the kidnapped Santa. It’s surrounded by Swatbots, but they do not at all resemble the Swatbots from Sonic SatAM. They just look dumb. Sonic gets past them rather easily and finds Santa in a frozen cell. He tells Sonic they need to get to his workshop fast if they intend to save Christmas.

A clever use of exponents.

At Santa’s workshop (apparently titled Ho cubed), the heroes find out that Robotnik Claus has already paid a visit to the workshop and stolen everything! Santa is rather despondent, but Sonic thinks there’s still time to recapture the presents and save Christmas! As they sit and think, Santa notices Sonic’s ring. He recognizes the marking on it from the cave Robotnik had kept him at (how convenient!) and they return to consult some glyphs. Apparently, Sonic needs to complete a series of trials to unlock the secret of ultimate velocity. I don’t know how Santa got that much out of the wall, but it should fill some time.

Well, that was hardly a challenge.

They head to the location of the first trial: Ice Pick Peak. Sonic merely has to race up a mountain – no problem. Trial number two is to snowboard down Calamity Cliffs. This is amusing since the Mario Christmas special rather prominently featured a snowboard as well, and it too was orange!

Nothing’s more “X-Treme” than snowboarding, man!

As Sonic snowboards, Scratch and Grounder spy him and place a giant bear trap in his way. Sonic sees it, and just swerves out of the way spraying a bunch of snow in their face which buries them with the bear trap. Sonic then grasps a hang-glider and soars over the pair and dumps his snowboard on them.

This Santa is a real buzz kill. I think I like Robotnik Claus better.

The last piece of the trial is a bike ride. Sonic rides over the frozen tundra dodging moving icebergs. The animation is offensively bad and little of interest occurs during Sonic’s ride. When all is said and done, they’re back at Santa’s workshop and Sonic has apparently attained super speed. He didn’t physically receive anything, there was no flash of light, he just is faster, I guess. Santa still thinks all is for naught though, but Sonic is ever the optimist!

I am legitimately shocked at the absence of exposed butt-crack.

Sonic speeds off to Robotnik’s home where the jolly, fat, man is rummaging through the presents under his tree. He’s in an impossibly good mood, so it’s the perfect time for Sonic to swipe everything! He moves as a blue blur taking not just the presents and ornaments, but Robotnik’s clothes as well, leaving him to stew in his underwear proclaiming his hatred for that hedgehog.

Well, looks like he’s happy. I don’t know what I would have done if Ugly Kid didn’t get to have a merry Christmas.

We then check in on Ugly Kid, who is in his living room with a naked Christmas tree. The blue blur whizzes inside and decorates the tree while depositing a large amount of gifts under the tree. The kid can’t believe it, but he knows who to thank. He opens his window and shouts out thanks to Sonic.

Once again, you would think she’d have something to say.

Alone on a snowy hill by a campfire, Sally does her best Karen impression from Frosty the Snowman as she looks cold and lonely. Sonic then pops in with an arm full of presents he promptly buries her under. She says nothing, just looks surprised, while Sonic rambles on about wanting to give her a merry Christmas. He removes a present to expose her head, waves some mistletoe over her, and smooches her forehead before re-burying her. He then runs off before she can even react to his gesture. Honestly, I don’t know why they bothered including her if she wasn’t even going to say a word.

And now Sonic is Santa, how’s that for a resolution?!

Sonic returns to Santa’s workshop to celebrate a Christmas well done. There he receives some rather shocking news: Santa does indeed intend to retire! Sonic can’t believe it, but Santa informs him there’s no need to worry, for he has found a suitable replacement: Sonic! Tails slaps a hat on his head proclaiming him Sonic Claus. He seems unsure at first, but one look in a mirror seems to convince Sonic that this is the way. He and Tails then stand and wave at the camera while Sonic wishes us an “X-tremely Merry Christmas,” the one relic of the original title, as the credits roll.

And that’s the story about how Sonic came to be Santa Claus! If your tree is looking rather bare and has been for years, that’s likely because you’ve been leaving out a plate of milk and cookies as opposed to chili dogs and Mountain Dew (I just assume Sonic would do the Dew). I suppose I should have filled you in on that important piece of information prior to today, but there’s always next year!

Sonic Christmas Blast is a terrible Christmas special. Things just happen to advance the plot, and almost everyone is dumb and annoying. Sonic is fine, and I have no issue with Tails, but all of the other characters are just too stupid to even be funny. I’ll give it credit for coming up with an original plot. It’s sort of like The Grinch, except Robotnik is direct and open about his thievery, with a dash of unconvincing trickery too. It’s still not entertaining, and the resolution of Sonic becoming Santa is rather preposterous. I guess it’s the kind of thing you can do when you know there are no more episodes of this particular show coming.

I will say, as ridiculous as he is, I do mostly like this take on Robotnik.

Adding further insult to the special is the fact that it looks pretty bad. It’s definitely in style with Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, but it was also handled by a different animation studio. Believe it or not, this actually looks slightly better than a typical episode as far as character animation goes. The backgrounds though are terrible, and the non-regular characters (like the ugly kid and various robots) look like they were designed in five minutes, and drawn just as quickly. There isn’t any one scene or piece of animation that I’d call fun to look at while the audio is basically what you would expect of any episode from the show.

If you wish to ignore my warnings and spend Christmas with Sonic, Sonic Christmas Blast is X-tremely easy to come by. It’s currently included with a subscription to Amazon Prime so you can freely stream it there. It’s also available for free on YouTube along with apparently every other episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and in great quality at that. It also was released on DVD and will probably be in discount racks tomorrow for five bucks, but the only folks who should own this one are Sonic diehards and they probably already have it.

This concludes the 2020 edition of The Christmas Spot! It was a truly bizarre and eventful year and I’ll be happy to kiss it good by in a week, but hopefully these past 25 days have helped bring you a little Christmas joy. Thanks for reading, and merry Christmas!


Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

bad sonic

This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

good sonic

Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

jim carrey robotnik

Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

sonic ring

Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

sonic friends

Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.


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.


Ranking the Games of the Sega Genesis Mini

us genesis mini box

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.

bad genesis mini

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.

genesis mini tower

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.

altered beast boss 1

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.

space harrier 2 4

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?

beyond oasis

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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