is the best all-in-one retro console ever made. With a line-up of 42 games (some of which never saw proper Western releases), great UI and software handled by legendary software company M2, catchy menu music composed on original hardware by a Genesis musical legend, and some trademark M2 surprises, this is the high watermark against which all retro mini consoles should be measured going forward. It’s not perfect, but it easily rises above all the others.
The tiny SEGA Genesis Mini takes its design very seriously, with spring-loaded cartridge bay doors that swing closed, a movable volume control (that doesn’t actually do anything) and even an expansion bay door that pops off for no reason at all (at least for the US release, the Japanese version has an optional, completely non-functioning “Tower of Power” version available).
The included Genesis controllers look and feel like the real deal, and my first thought on holding one in my hands after all these years was “wow these things are big.” It’s a bummer the superior 6-button controllers aren’t included, but for basically 40 of the 42 included games, the pack-in controllers work fine. It makes Street Fighter 2 and Eternal Champions a much better experience, but you’re only going to play Eternal Champions once, anyway.
Inside the box there’s also an HDMI cable, USB power cable, and an AC adapter. The only thing it lacks is a cool, period-specific poster like the Super Nintendo and NES Classics. As a collector of video game detritus, nothing excites me more than a poster I’ll never get around to hanging up.
The main menu screen is a delight. When the Genesis Mini starts up, the game icons burst from the center of the screen and take their places in the UI. A catchy tune by Streets of Rage 2 composer Yuzo Koshiro plays over the main menu, and you can sort the games alphabetically, by release date, genre, or number of players. It’s fully animated, too: when you change the sorting options, the boxes quickly move into their new order. There’s even an option to sort them by spine, letting you see all the available games at once as though they’re sitting on a shelf.
Navigating back to the main menu from inside one of the games is a simple matter of holding the ‘Start’ button for a few seconds on one of the pair of included 3-button controllers. Personally, I recommend picking up the officially licensed Retro-Bit USB Genesis controller for a million different reasons, the best of which is that hitting its “Mode” button accomplishes with a quick press what holding down the Start button does on the included controllers.
So far I haven’t found any surprises in the in-game menus. You can save, load, reset or return to a game, or return to the main menu. Standard stuff. Back in the settings menu, the filter and wallpaper options are also pretty standard, and are one place I wish M2 had added a little extra. You can choose from one of two wallpapers, or no wallpaper at all. There’s also an option to play 4:3 or 16:9, although you’d have to be a cop to play in 16:9. There’s no pixel-perfect option, which is weird since almost all emulation software includes the pixel-perfect option, but you can toggle a CRT filter on or off. This just adds faux-scanlines to the games, giving the rough estimation of playing them on a period-appropriate display. It’s a nice touch, one I almost always opt for when playing old-school games. However, it makes games a little too dark, since so much of the screen is replaced with tiny black lines.
With the Genesis Mini, SEGA opted for quantity AND quality, giving us exactly twice as many games as the SNES Classic, its closest competitor. While the list is chock-full of familiar Genesis classics, M2 and SEGA went ahead and added a few games never before released on Western shores. In the case of Darius, it was never ported to the Genesis or Mega Drive at all. With so many games from all across the lifetime of the SEGA Genesis, it’s hard to complain about the included library. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of hours of gameplay locked inside.
So how about those games, huh? It’s a super-solid line-up, spanning a wide release period and including games you will definitely expect like Sonic and Sonic 2, to games maybe you kind-of remember like Alyssia Dragoon, right up to the never-before released in the west version of Tetris for Sega Genesis. They all play mostly as you remember them.
Unfortunately, I did notice some weird emulation glitches, particularly in Sonic. If you capture a chaos emerald in one of the bonus levels, for example, it blinks in and out of existence on the score screen. The checkerboard pattern on Dr. Robotnik’s wrecking ball in the first boss fight also flickers in and out of existence, rendering the ball shiny and brown rather than checkered.
Weird but infrequent emulation issues aside, the games you remember fondly won’t disappoint. I’m excited to finally grind my way through Phantasy Star IV after missing out on it the first time around. It really is hard to find fault this lineup, even if some of the earlier games, like Altered Beast and Golden Axe, are pretty clunky nowadays. But both of those games are historically important to the Genesis. Long before Sonic wowed us with his rude attitude and blast-processing, Altered Beast was the pack-in game with the Genesis.
The bonus games, Darius and Tetris, are also important, but for different reasons. I will say the Genesis version of Tetris, which never officially released in the US, is maybe the most disappointing game of the bunch. Of all the dozens of Tetris versions I’ve played over the decades, I think it might be my least favorite way to play Tetris. Historically, it’s significant. Gameplay-wise? Just try it once and then move along.
There are other Genesis games included with the collection you may have never played before due to the fact they weren’t widely released. Mega Man: The Wily Wars, a 16-bit remaster of the first three NES Mega Man games, was a Sega Channel exclusive. In all my life I’ve never known anyone who had a Sega Channel subscription. Monster World IV, another included game, never actually came out for the Sega Genesis. It eventually found its way West via the Wii Virtual Console, but if you didn’t buy it then, there’s been no legitimate way to play it. Now you can play it in HD. The Genesis Mini gives us a chance to visit the US versions of games nearly impossible to obtain otherwise.
You Can’t Do This on Nintendo
One of the most surprising features of the Sega Genesis Mini, and true to M2’s reputation of going above and beyond, is the fact you actually get even more content when you change the language options in the system menu. There’s no reason for the changes to exist, since different regions are getting different versions of the console. And yet, they’re included, and it’s such an unexpectedly cool addition.
For example, if you change the menu to Japanese, the entire UI changes to match the Japanese Mega Drive, right down to the box art on the games. Even the ROM versions change to match the region, so Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine becomes Puyo Puyo. Even subtle differences give away the fact the Genesis Mini has more ROMs than expected: the Japanese version of Sonic has parallax-scrolling clouds, while the US lacks the feature. It’s so completely unnecessary and I love it.