Sega did mini consoles before mini consoles were cool. For well over a decade you’ve been able to buy plug-and-play Sega machines filled with Genesis classics. Of course, they all pretty much sucked, full of emulation problems and mediocre games. But the Mega Drive Mini is almost here, and it’s ready to restore Sega’s good name in the field of tiny retro consoles.
Releasing on September 19 for $139.95, the Genesis Mini is a first-party Sega product, not a licensed offshoot like all the rest. I’ve had one for a few days now, and it’s excellent so far. The software is done by M2, a group of emulation experts obsessed with quality and accuracy. The device’s 42 games are a selection of some of the best games that Sega’s 16-bit console had to offer.
The game selection was the real sticking point with 2017’s Genesis Flashback HD, the last tiny Genesis on store shelves. The emulation was OK, and the hardware was fine, but the game selection could hardly have been said to be the cream of the crop.
There was a lot of B-tier stuff on there. Sure, it had Sonic the Hedgehog, but where was Gunstar Heroes, Castlevania: Bloodlines, or Streets of Rage 2?
Well, here they are on the Mega Drive Mini. While it is the nature of these tiny consoles that someone will always be able to quibble about this game or that one being missing, the list here is quite strong. Pick a game, any game, and you’re unlikely to come away disappointed. Yes, the emulation’s great, but more importantly so are the things being emulated.
What makes the Mega Drive Mini appealing beyond the game selection is that it’s so much fun to play around with. In its quest to replicate the exact look of the original console, Sega even replicated the volume control knob, the cartridge port, and the expansion slot on the bottom. You can push the volume control up and down, stick your finger into the cartridge slot to move the spring-loaded flaps, and take the expansion port cover on and off.
None of these things actually do anything. They’re just little interactive bits on a toy. But they make the hardware itself that much more fun.
Plug the Mega Drive Mini in, and you’ll probably end up poking around all the menus before you play a game. Unlike the Flashback HD’s unintuitive and clunky menu screen, the Mini’s interface is smooth and enjoyable to mess with. You can sort the games by release date, alphabetically, number of players, or genre. You can view the front of the box art or line the games up by their spine art.
You can also pop into the settings menu and change the system language, which is more interesting than you might think. Change it to Japanese and the whole menu changes to the Japanese Mega Drive. The box arts switch to the Japanese versions, and even the game versions change. Switch to European languages and you’ll see the same thing; the PAL region Mega Drive aesthetic and European versions of the games.
While most games only had minor differences between regions, that isn’t always the case. Play the Japanese version of Contra: Hard Corps, and you’ll get a three-bar life meter and unlimited continues, unlike the U.S. version’s one-hit kills and limited retries.
Even if you don’t want to play games from around the world, it’s fun to see what changes when you switch regions in the Genesis Mini’s setting. Did you know Beyond Oasis had a French-language version called La Légende de Thor? I didn’t, but I’m impressed that Sega and M2 dove so deeply into the archives to find and include it.
It’s not just a bundle of ROMs; there’s a sense that this is something that was deeply curated by experts. Every little detail of the Genesis Mini feels like it was obsessed over; it’s the quality revival that the Genesis has always deserved.