You could argue that Nintendo kickstarted the micro retro console revival and has done it best, but as an old-school SEGA fanboy, the Mega Drive/Genesis Mini is the one I’ve been waiting for.
The thing is, there have been a bunch of micro Mega Drives doing the rounds for some time now, licensed by SEGA but the product of a company called AtGames, also known for turning around cheap tacky versions of Atari and Colecovision flashback consoles. These husks of a box barely even looked like the console they were aping, running on dodgy emulation, and many of the games in their libraries just crappy free games you could find on your phone.
But for the Mega Drive’s 30th anniversary, SEGA has made things right. It has dropped its partnership with AtGames, which meant a delay to the Mega Drive Mini, pushing its release past the official 30th anniversary, which was last year.
The Mega Drive Mini is the work of SEGA’s in-house team while the emulation is the work of retro wizards M2 (whose most recent technical marvel was the Switch port of Virtua Racing). Even composing legend Yuzo Koshiro has been involved, providing music for the menu screen.
It’s a nostalgic delight seeing the micro 16-bit console in front of me, totally faithful to its original design, complete with a volume slider and cartridge flap – even if they’re just there for show. The Mega Drive Mini also includes a pair of three-button controllers, different from Japan, which is including the six-button controllers released later, but I personally think more people will resonate with the original versions.
Of the 42 games included on the Mega Drive Mini, I only had a short time to sample a small selection but naturally gravitated towards favourites like Sonic 2, Streets of Rage 2, and Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. I was also pleased to find some classic Disney platformers on there, like World of Illusion. These are all presented in 4:3 ratio with CRT scanlines. I wouldn’t have any other way – though there are other settings you can reconfigure it to, you monster.
I also had to have a go on Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition. Capcom’s seminal fighter might be more synonymous with the SNES, but when that title music starts up, there’s no denying that the music absolutely owns on SEGA’s console, thanks to that extra kick from its superior synthesizer sound chip. It’s certainly not the ideal game to play with a three-button pad – although you’ll be able buy the official six-button controller being made by Retro-Bit – and yet this experience more accurately resonates with my childhood; I didn’t own a six-button controller so made do with using the start button to switch between punch and kick commands. Surely the most hardcore way of playing Street Fighter II?
It’s nonetheless disappointing to find that the Mega Drive Mini doesn’t include Sonic 3 (and the Knuckles expansion). It’s supposed to be the definitive Mega Drive experience after all, so it makes you wonder how something as dreadful as the 2D port of Virtua Fighter 2 made the cut. I guess that’s more there as a historical curio than as something to actually play and enjoy – but seriously though, what was SEGA thinking?
As an interesting bonus, the console also includes Darius and Tetris, two titles never-before-released on the Mega Drive (well, the latter does exist but is incredibly rare). Darius is an old-school hardcore shmup where being careless will probably have you seeing the ‘game over’ screen within a minute. As for Tetris, a game I already own in various guises on multiple platforms now, this version feels incredibly rigid to play; I found it unresponsive when trying to rotate blocks at the side of the screen, which makes me wonder if I can even T-spin properly.
Europe unfortunately also has to wait longer than the other territories for the Mega Drive Mini, where it will launch on October 4th. But when it does, I can’t wait to get stuck into some more 16-bit memories.
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