Sega Genesis Mini: Console Review

The best of the mini consoles.
9/19/2019

Did Sega just win a console war?

When I first heard Sega was announcing a Sega Genesis Mini, I was confused because I already … owned … a Sega Genesis Mini?

I went into my plastic bin o' consoles and sure enough there it was, a half-scale Sega Genesis Model 1, with a cartridge slot and original controller ports. Huh! 

As it turns out, I just hadn't been paying attention. The "Mini" I had was actually called the "Genesis Flashback HD." It was produced by a company called AtGames and release in late 2017.

Since this is not a Flashback HD review, I'll just say that after comparing it to the genuine Mini, it's abundantly clear why Sega decided to take matters into its own hands.

The Flashback is bad; the emulation is so poorly done that some of the included games are borderline unplayable — notably, my all-time favorite Super Thunder Blade. The Mini is good. In fact, it's the best of the mini consoles so far, if for no other reason than Sega has addressed the fatal flaws in the NES and SNES Classic consoles (the less said about the PlayStation Classic, the better).

The NES Classic comes with one controller. The Genesis Mini comes with two! The only way you can return to the home menu on the SNES Classic is to hit the reset button on the console itself. With the Genesis mini, you can just hold down the start button! This is not a high bar to clear.

Also, the Genesis Mini includes 42 games — still an inexplicably low number considering the entire 700-plus game Genesis library accounts for less hard drive space than a few minutes of HD video, but double the 21 games on the SNES Classic. This is also not a high bar to clear! But that's where we are after a few years of the console companies of yore trying to secure that nostalgia bag: The Genesis Mini is the best of the lot just because there's nothing super-annoying about it!

I was a bit skeptical about Sega's decision to include the three-button original controllers — especially in light of Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition's inclusion. But, well, I was wrong? If nostalgia is the goal here, the original three-button controller — which is, in my opinion, still the most ergonomic console controller ever — was the obvious choice. If I'm being honest, even the annoying process of using the start button to swap between punches and kicks in SFII was annoying in a satisfyingly nostalgic way. My only complaint is the D pad is a bit sensitive and will register two inputs for all but the briefest of taps.  

Also, thank you to Sega for this paradigm-shifting innovation in the world of mini consoles: a pack-in controller with an adequate cord length! A full 6 feet — incredible! Could this be a bellwether for Sega's eventual return to the apex of the console market? If I were a marketing exec at Nintendo, sleep would not come easy tonight knowing that Sega has the business acumen to deliver the type of base-level adequacy in its products that, after two tries, my own company has failed to achieve.

The games themselves all play and sound great. The emulation was handled by Japanese artisinal retro remake house M2, which has plenty of experience porting classic Sega games onto pretty much any system you can think of, most notably its 3D Classics series for the Nintendo 3DS.  

Here's the list of included games:

Sonic the Hedgehog
Ecco the Dolphin
Castlevania: Bloodlines
Space Harrier 2
Shining Force
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
ToeJam & Earl
Comix Zone
Altered Beast
Gunstar Heroes
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
Thunder Force III
Super Fantasy Zone
Shinobi III
Streets of Rage 2
Earthworm Jim
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Contra: Hard Corps
Landstalker
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Beyond Oasis
Golden Axe
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
Sonic Spinball
VectorMan
Wonder Boy in Monster World
Road Rash II
Strider
Virtua Fighter 2
Alisia Dragoon
Kid Chameleon
Monster World IV
Eternal Champions
Columns
Dynamite Headdy
Light Crusader
Tetris
Darius

The last two titles were never released for the Genesis and are new ports, also handled by M2. It's not a new Star Fox, but it's something!

Setting aside my own love of action RPGs, which are well represented here, this is a great selection that plays to the Genesis' strength: action games.

The lineup includes four shoot-'em-ups, three fighting games, three puzzle games (which, eh), one TRPG, one JRPG, one racing game, Sonic Spinball and 26 games that fall somewhere on the action-adventure spectrum. (The home menu gives you the option of sorting by genre, which is pretty funny.) Also worth noting is that 10 of the 42 games are multiplayer, though curiously, none of the fighting games and only one of the shoot-'em-ups.

Of course, everyone is going to have a few qualms about the lineup and I am no different. I would have loved to see Out of This World, Super Thunder Blade, General Chaos and a few more picks from the Genesis' solid schmup library. But the one extremely glaring omission here is sports titles, the one genre where it's just an ironclad fact that the Genesis was superior to the SNES. And yet despite that, and despite the fact the there's an EA title in the mix so you figure they were on board, no Madden? No NHLPA Hockey '93 or '94 (pick your poison: '93's fights or '94's one-timers)? Maybe including such games would require more licensing fees to the leagues, but Sega and EA could have at least included one of the Mutant League games! Then again, it's a dead lock that I will never finish all of the games Sega did include, so, at some level, what am I asking for here? The small burst of serotonin I'll get from the title screen and theme music? Pretty much.

All told, the Genesis Mini, with its less-artificially-suppressed library of games and its controller cords that don't make me want to fly to Japan and handcuff myself to Sega's office doors, is easily the best of the mini consoles released so far. Congratulations, Sega, you just won a console war. Your move, TurboGrafx.