As retro games fans ourselves, the mini console boom has been very well received. And, we’ve found bits to admire in each reinvented machine released so far, including the NES Classic Mini, SNES Classic Mini, PlayStation Classic and C64 Mini.
However, while they hit some great heights, none of them were perfect. Aside from one or two hardware or emulation niggles, they could have each benefitted from better games libraries.
That’s where the Sega Mega Drive Mini comes in. Not only is it a faithful love letter to the original Mega Drive (or Genesis, in US lingo), it has a superb games selection influenced less by rights issues and more by a clearly passionate team of fellow retro gamers.
It is, in short, the best mini console around.
Build and design
Part of the reason that the reimagined Sega 16-bit machine is so adorable is that much care and attention has been made to get the finer details right. While tiny, the Mega Drive Mini has all the same buttons and flaps as its 1990 counterpart – even though many of them are simply for show.
You can, for example, insert a fake cartridge into the slot at the top for authenticity. You don’t get one on the box but, we suspect, the collectable accessories will pop up on eBay and could complete the aesthetic, if you’re that way inclined.
Even the bottom of the Mini has a removable flap where the original’s expansion slot could be found. Again, it does nothing, but is a great throwback by a team who clearly care about the smallest touches.
The reset button and on/off switch are where they should be, and work, while there is a volume slider above the headphone port that is purely for show.
The rear is a little different, with a single HDMI output where analogue video would have been. And, there is a micro-USB port for power. You don’t get a plug in the box, just a cable, but that’s the norm for this kind of doohickey these days.
Two USB ports are housed on the front for the dual included controllers.
They too are spot-on, with the PAL European version of the Mega Drive Mini coming with the original style three button controllers, that feel and behave exactly like their almost 30-year-old predecessors.
It’s a shame that we don’t get the six-button versions included with the Japanese edition, especially when it comes to Street Fighter II, which would benefit from the extras, but que sera sera. Authenticity rules over functionality, in this case. And, there will no doubt be third-party equivalents you could add.
One thing that should be wholly celebrated is that, finally, a Mini console has arrived with controller leads long enough. Almost every other machine to date has needed separate extension leads or an expensive upgrade for wireless controllers. Not so Sega’s unit – the controllers have cables that are plenty long enough for modern living rooms, so you don’t have to sit with your face up against a 65-inch LG OLED.
Hardware and UI
We are told that the processing unit included in the Mega Drive Mini is the Zuiki Z7213, which means little to be honest. Needless to say it runs early 90s games with aplomb.
There is 256GB of RAM and 512MB of flash memory that stores the 42 included games. They load quickly, as expected, and there seems to be plenty of extra room to store save game files.
We don’t know if you’ll be able to add extra ROMs (the game files) in future, through official or less salubrious means, but it is likely there will be some extra headroom if that does, indeed, become possible.
Whether you’ll see them on the user interface is another thing entirely. In fact, we wouldn’t want to spoil what is a clean, well thought-out homescreen that offers box art of every included game and multiple filters to bring the right titles to the top.
You can even swap the front-facing art for the spine, which is a splendid touch. And, if you change the language, you even get the alternative versions as released in the relative regions.
In fact, Sega goes one step further and even offers the different regional ROMs where possible – so you can play the Japanese versions of games when you switch the main language, for example. They sometimes had extra content, so a definite win for the geekier retro fan.
The settings yield a couple of interesting things to play around with. You can change the way a game is presented, in 4:3 or 16:9 modes and with CRT effects switched on or off. To be honest, there is little reason to do either of the latter, as 16:9 simply stretches the graphics to fit modern widescreen TVs and the CRT mode adds scan lines and a softening of the pixels. Neither looks good.
Instead, you will no doubt stick to the 4:3 mode and, in that case, you also get a choice of wallpaper to go around the edges. If you own an OLED set, like us, you might want to opt for just black bars – that way you’ll be less prone to image retention through the static images either side – but it’s nice to have the option.
So far so good, but where the Mega Drive Mini really shines is in its games library.
There are 42 games in total on the PAL machine – 40 that were revealed in bunches prior to release and two bonus titles, with one of them being a real treat.
Tetris is one of the games that Mega Drive collectors pay big bucks for as the original cartridge is as rare as hens teeth, so its inclusion here is probably the first time many of us get to play the game.
There are some real classics included in the rest of the selection too though, with the superb Streets of Rage II, Shinobi III and Earthworm Jim being most-welcomed round these parts. Of course, you also get a few Sonic games, with Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel being the reason we bought the Mega Drive in the first place.
Sonic Spinball is a nice inclusion too, as we spent too much time playing the original.
In fact, we’d say that there is something for everyone included with the Mini and, while there will be always one or two notable absentees, we can’t think of a single game on the machine as it stands that shouldn’t be.
The way they are treated is splendid too. There are a few minor issues with the emulation, including some tricky, even ropey sound reproduction, but they mostly run exactly as we remember. Plus, unlike some of the console’s peers, you get the option to reset or save them in-game, by holding down the controller’s start button for a while.
This brings up a save/reset menu that gives you the chance to store or load a snapshot of your precise location in the game, or take you back to the main menu.
Basically, everything has been carefully considered and presented to make the gameplay shine as it always did. Yes, Sega and its partnering developer, retro-specialist M2, had the benefit of hindsight when creating the Mega Drive Mini in respect to its rivals, but it has used that time very well indeed.