Ever since the NES Classic burst onto the scene back in 2017, every console manufacturer seems to have a mini edition of one of their retro consoles available or in the works. While most of these nostalgia-fueled consoles have done little to eclipse the cultural impact (and sales) of Nintendo’s NES and SNES classics, its been interesting seeing more of these systems come out to varying degrees of quality and success. When SEGA announced their take on the retro mini console craze with the Genesis Mini I was skeptical on what they could bring to the table but was also optimistic that the once-mighty rival to Nintendo would release something worthy of the legacy of the SEGA Genesis.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it would be at a disservice to talk about any of these mini consoles without briefly mentioning exactly why it's so powerful. In our formative years we tend to attach ourselves to the things we enjoy and, as a result, develop a sense of individuality through it. This is part of why things such as music and sub-cultures are so important to us as teenagers and not so much as we grow out of adolescence into adulthood.
We build ourselves around the things we like, and in turn when we grow older we tend to look back on whatever it was we attached ourselves to and look back fondly on it. In short, nostalgia is as much a chemical reaction as it is psychosomatic, kinda like a cigarette. If you want to know more about why we love the things we grew up with and why “enchantment marketing” is so powerful, check out this video.
So what does any of that have to do with the Genesis Mini? A lot actually, so with that in mind lets continue on to the review.
SEGA Genesis Mini Review | What’s In the Box?
The presentation of the Genesis Mini is outstanding. The Genesis Mini has an attention to detail inside and out that fuels that nostalgia-driven curiosity I find myself infatuated within my adult years. The packaging and marketing for the little system is designed to feel straight out of the ’90s with phrases about the attitude of the system and how the “Genesis Does” what Nintendont.
There’s a lot to appreciate with the extra step in detail and attention SEGA put into the external presentation of their system, such as the quality of its three-button controllers, the removable AV out slot (purely cosmetic), and even the volume slider next to the power button (it doesn’t do anything). It’s the little details that really help make this system fun for those of us who grew up playing the Genesis as kids that will inevitably have this as a desk decoration long after we’ve unplugged the console.
While the attention to detail on the physical hardware itself is superb, its menus and intuitive layout really give competitors a run for their rings here. The game layout is simple and you can organize everything by the player count, genre, and even by the packaging spine. The games themselves have brief descriptions and feature box art that looks as it did back when these games were available in retail, scuff marks and stickers intact.
It’s also worth mentioning that the menu music is an original composition from famed composer Yuzo Kushiro (Streets of Rage, Shenmue, Smash Bros) using the original YM2612 sound chip found in the original SEGA Genesis, which shows another layer of detail and care SEGA put into the Genesis Mini.
SEGA Genesis Mini Review | Games Games and More Games
The game selection is interesting here. At first glance, it doesn’t hold up as well against its biggest rival the SNES classic, and I can't quite understand why Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic 3 are missing here. While 42 titles is still a hefty selection and there’s definitely some hidden gems in there, it would have been nice to have a complete collection of the Sonic titles on the console alongside a bit more variety with a racing game other than Road Rash 2.
Some of the more stand out non-Sonic titles are Comix Zone, Vectorman, Earthworm Jim, Phantasy Star IV, and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse 1&2. The inclusion of the Mickey Mouse games are definitely the biggest surprise here since none of these classic consoles have featured any licensed titles so far (in a perfect world Aladdin would have been in this list). The Genesis Mini also includes two “bonus” titles, Tetris and Darius. The bonus titles are interesting, and while not at the same caliber as Star Fox 2, it's still cool getting the chance to play the original arcade port of Tetris and the lesser-known Darius.
The library is full of deep cuts, recognizable titles, and Sonic. While some of the single player titles may be a harder sell to younger audiences (who doesn’t want to drop Fortnite for Columns?), its multiplayer is really where the Genesis Mini shines. In the age of always-online multiplayer or RPG-like brawlers, I can't stress how fun it was playing Streets of Rage and Contra with my less gaming inclined friends. If you’re looking for something to play with a significant other or some buddies, and you don’t want to spend a ton of time going over the games core mechanics or plot, the Genesis Mini totally fits that niche.
The single player selection, while diverse, is a bit all over the place in terms of recognizability and fun. This is where the nostalgia cigarette really determines how much you like this (or any classic system) in the long run. While I adore games like Sonic 2 and Comix Zone, I found it really difficult to keep myself interested in some of the lesser-known games for more than a half-hour, and quite frankly, if I wasn’t reviewing everything in here there's a few titles I probably wouldn’t have played at all.
This isn’t a fault of the system as a whole or the titles itself, but it had me thinking about the difference of impact this system will have on a 30-year-old like myself and my 13-year-old cousins. There are some amazing titles I would have never played before (World of Illusion 2), but it’s still definitely something you need to go into with an open mind or a pre-determined fondness of to get the most out of.
While it would have been awesome to include a game genie like option to break all of these games open and add a bit more accessibility to people who just aren’t that great at games, having the ability to save on the fly (and go back and fix your mistakes) is a welcome addition here and definitely made some of the more brutally difficult titles more enjoyable.
Developer M2 (SEGA Ages, SEGA 3D Classics Collection) handled the emulation superbly. The games will run exactly as they did on the original hardware and throughout my dozens of hours of playing I never really noticed any audio issues or irregular frame rate issues, which can't be said about Sony's recent PlayStation classic, or the multiple iterations of the Genesis that were available before this.
SEGA Genesis Mini Review | Final Thoughts
Yes, there is a bit of that “nostalgia cigarette” covering up some of the games library shortcomings, but once you look past the enchantment of how things used to be, it's clear there's really something special here. The SEGA Genesis Mini easily rivals the Nintendo NES & SNES Classic in terms of quality, playability, and presentation. While its library is lacking a bit in some areas, it makes up for it in some interesting deep cuts and healthy multiplayer titles.
If you grew up with a Genesis, are a fan of retro gaming, or just have a genuine interest in the console that went toe to toe with Nintendo back in the '90s, then I would absolutely recommend giving the SEGA Genesis Mini a chance. Now go play Comix Zone.
TechRaptor was given a SEGA Genesis Mini for review from SEGA of America
The SEGA Genesis Mini is available for purchase on September 19th, 2019 and you can find more info about the system and its complete lineup here.
What do you think about the SEGA Genesis Mini? What’s your favorite NON-SONIC game on this list? Will you be picking one up? Let us know in the comments below!