Nintendo's Classic Mini: NES fired up imaginations when it was announced last week, and the same nostalgic fans who went crazy for that tiny machine will likely find themselves transported even more convincingly into the past when they learn that SEGA promptly followed up Nintendo's news with the announcement of their own miniature clone console.
Shipping in October (at least in the U.K.) and containing a whopping 80 games, the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis Classic Game Console looks exactly like a shot fired over Nintendo's bow, a reminder of the classic console wars during which the companies found themselves in a constant state of one-upmanship. Yet SEGA's upcoming creation will more likely serve as a contrast to better underscore the value and merit of Nintendo's retro device.
Based on the descriptive text at U.K. retailer Smyths Toys' website, this "new" device is little more than the latest iteration of the Genesis clone consoles a Chinese manufacturer called At Games has been issuing in different formats for the past few years. Unfortunately, they're anything but a nostalgic home run.
In principle, these SEGA reissues should be much better than Nintendo's upcoming offering, including more built-on games and a functioning cartridge slot to allow players to use their original Genesis games. In practice, they're shoddy: Rather than incorporating original Genesis hardware — despite the cartridge slot — they run on mediocre emulators that don't offer full compatibility with cartridges. Inexplicably, they don't even offer save support for carts that include battery backup (so please enjoy completing Phantasy Star II in a single sitting). They also provide standard-definition video out via composite cables, the worst possible way to view games on modern TVs — assuming, that is, your TV isn't so modern that it no longer supports a composite signal. And the systems' sound quality calls into question the word "quality," with familiar tunes like Sonic's "Green Hill Zone" sounding more like the flatulent final expulsion of a dying robot. Meanwhile, Nintendo's Classic Mini: NES offers high-definition visuals over HDMI and is almost certain to support full game saves. While it doesn't offer any way to play games beyond the 30 announced titles, one questions the value of playing a vast library of badly rendered, ear-shattering, incompletely supported games. Is that really a superior experience to playing a handful of well-curated and nicely presented classics? (Spoilers: No.)
Oh, and it's probably worth mentioning that only half of the 80 included games are legitimate Genesis classics; the other 40 titles are cheap-looking shovelware with enticing names like "Cross the Road," "Snake," "Sudoku Quiz," and "Jack's Pea."
The weird irony of this is that SEGA consoles offer the best emulation quality of any systems on Virtual Console, thanks to the involvement of SEGA 3D Classics Collection developer M2. But they clearly had no role in At Games' creations. Which means that, for the moment at least, the absolute best Genesis reissues you're going to find are all on Nintendo systems. Truly, the most unexpected outcome of the console wars.
Then again, maybe this will be the time At Games finally does SEGA's classic console justice. Hey, anything's possible.
Header photo credit: Evan Amos