The mini-console is an interesting artifact of this generation, a tiny museum trapped in a familiar, nostalgic shell. A proper mini-console is about curating the right library, providing the right feel of nostalgia. Those that don't are just one of AtGames' cheap Flashback units.
This is an especially relevant dig for the Sega Genesis Mini, which was originally going to be designed and handled by AtGames. Following a backlash, Sega brought the system back in house, working with Sega Ages developers M2 on providing proper emulation. I don't know what the previous model would've been like, but the release version of the Sega Genesis Mini stands up pretty well next to its Nintendo-developed counterparts.
The Sega Genesis Mini is a compact little thing, fitting roughly in scale with the similar SNES Classic. It's under half the size of the original Sega Genesis, coming in at 6 x 4.5 x 1.5 inches and .415 lbs (6.64 oz). The Genesis Mini is a bit lighter than the sturdy SNES Classic, but it still feels solid in terms of build quality.
The exterior of the unit sports a few callbacks to original Genesis, like the sliding on/off switch, the familiar reset button, and volume slider. There are also a few additions that are non-functional, but aimed squarely at nostalgia: the familiar sliding doors covering the "cartridge" slot, and a removable cover for what was the Sega CD expansion slot on the original unit. These are nice little nods to the Genesis' history, so I'm surprised and heartened by their inclusion, even if they don't actually do anything.
In terms of actual connectivity, the Genesis Mini has a micro USB and HDMI slot on the rear, providing power and video-out for the system. It also has two USB slots on the front of the unit, for use with the two Genesis replica controllers that come in the box. The controllers themselves are cast in the image of the original three-button controller, retaining 6ft of cable versus the 4ft of the originals. The build quality and overall feel of the controllers are spot on, with the directional pad being a single piece of matte plastic that rolls. It feels great in a game like Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition, while also being quite precise in the many platformers available in the Mini's library. The relatively-large face buttons also have a satisfying tactile feel when pressed, something I prefer over the SNES Classic controllers.
My major issue is the controllers are not the superior six-button replacement that launched for the Genesis in 1993. This is probably one of the major missteps of the North American package, as the Mega Drive Mini in Japan does come with the six-button version. Instead, we in the US have to pick up the six-button controller replica from Retro-Bit for $14.99. In terms of compatibility, this isn't really a huge problem. Only a few of the 40 games on the Mini support the six-button controller, namely Comix Zone, Contra: Hard Corps, Eternal Champions, and Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition. Still, proper play in Eternal Champions and Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition would've been great, even if it would've been a mixed snapshot of the Genesis' history. (The six-button controller came to the US with the Genesis' second, smaller model.)
On the software side, we start to get into M2's excellent work. The main menu interface features new music from Yuzo Koshiro, the classic composer behind games like Streets of Rage and The Revenge of Shinobi. Every game features its original box art, whether that's in the launch style, or the later red label packaging. Toggling the system language also changes the box art, with Japanese and certain European languages sporting the Mega Drive branding. You can sort the games by various methods, including alphabetical or release date. By default the menu shows all game titles as front-facing, but you also have the ability to switch over to a bookshelf-style side spine look.
In terms of in-game presentation and features, you get a straightforward 4:3 presentation with black bars on the left and right of the image. You can stick with these bars, or choose one of two different wallpapers to fill that space. There's also a setting that stretches gameplay to fit your 16:9 screen, but I honestly don't recommend it. (Honestly, what kind of deviants use the screen stretch options?) For you hard old school fans, there's also a CRT scanline filter available; some will note the lack of smoothing or vintage screen options that are available on the Sega Ages games.
Hitting the Reset Button or holding down the Start button on any controller brings up the Save State menu. You have a total of four save states per title, and the menu lets you save or load from the available save states at will, or return to the main menu. You can also lock certain save data to prevent overwriting. I'll admit, I wanted the additional rewind options that are available on the SNES Classic and Nintendo Switch Online SNES collection, but nothing like that is available here. It's just pure, solid emulation with save states.
The system library includes a total of 42 games, 40 that were readily available during the Sega Genesis' lifespan and two additional titles. Tetris and Darius are brand-new to the Genesis, with M2 porting them from arcade iterations. Here's the full set of games:
- Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
- Alisia Dragoon
- Altered Beast
- Beyond Oasis
- Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
- Castlevania: Bloodlines
- Comix Zone
- Contra: Hard Corps
- Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
- Dynamite Headdy
- Earthworm Jim
- Ecco the Dolphin
- Eternal Champions
- Ghouls 'n Ghosts
- Golden Axe
- Gunstar Heroes
- Kid Chameleon
- Light Crusader
- Mega Man: The Wily Wars
- Monster World 4
- Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millennium
- Road Rash 2
- Shining Force
- Shinobi 3
- Sonic The Hedgehog
- Sonic The Hedgehog 2
- Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball
- Space Harrier 2
- Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition
- Streets of Rage 2
- Super Fantasy Zone
- Thunder Force 3
- ToeJam & Earl
- Virtua Fighter 2
- Wonder Boy in Monster World
- World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
I've written about the library on the Genesis Mini before, and spending more time with the system has firmed up a couple of points. Generally, this is a great lineup of Sega Genesis classics. As a Genesis owner, it's a pretty good snapshot of this era in history, aiming for nostalgia and historic value over just providing a collection of top-notch hits.
Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Shinobi 3, Castle Illusion, Phantasy Star 4, Gunstar Heroes, Castle of Illusion, Shining Force, Contra: Hard Corps, Monster World 4, and Beyond Oasis are simply some of the best the Sega Genesis has to offer. What perplexes me are some of the titles surrounding those games that didn't make the collection. There's no way to add more games to the Sega Genesis Mini currently, so I'm sad to see missed opportunities in terms of prequels or sequels. Streets of Rage 3, Shining Force 2, Phantasy Star 2 or 3, Super Street Fighter 2, and Sonic & Knuckles seem like odd omissions. I can see only wanting the best game from a series here, but then you also have Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World 4 doing double-duty for the Wonder Boy/Monster World series.
It's also a shame that some other titles couldn't make the cut, likely for licensing reasons. The Sega Genesis was the sports console back in the day, so the lack of games like NBA Jam, NHL ’94, Sports Talk Baseball, John Madden Football, or Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs hurts. Mortal Kombat is probably the biggest miss for the Genesis Mini, as the original on the Genesis defined an entire era of competition with Nintendo. And I'll give a personal shoutout to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, a great version of the TMNT arcade game for Genesis.
That said, I do have to give Sega kudos for the games that it did make the collection. Landstalker, Light Crusader, and Mega Man: The Wily Wars feel like inspired choices. Mega Man, because the game was previously only available on the subscription-based Sega Channel, and Landstalker and Light Crusader because they're intriguing adventure games that I don't think got their due the first time around. Tetris and Darius are also fantastic additions; Tetris is Tetris, but Darius is a great back-up for Thunder Force 3 if you're a shoot-em-up fan.
The Final Countdown
All told, the Sega Genesis Mini is a very good museum for the system that helped make Sega in North America. There's clear love and attention paid to the system's history, from the great build quality, to the accurate box art, perfect software emulation, and even weird physical touches like the expansion slot. Like the competition, it's a system that feels like it was made by people who understood what the Genesis represented: an underdog powered by some offbeat titles and an aggressive marketing campaign. The Sega Genesis Mini captures that verve while being a solid piece of hardware.
If you loved the Sega Genesis and want to revisit that part of your past, the Sega Genesis Mini is a physical alternative to the Sega Genesis Classic Collection available on some other consoles. It's a little playable trophy for a system that helped define the console war in its early skirmishes. And even if it's missing a few of the touchpoints of those battles, the Sega Genesis Mini still feels like a winner overall.