Sega Genesis Mini Touts an Impressive Library and Quality of Life Improvements Compared to Competitors
The Sega Genesis Mini is looking at feedback towards competitors to offer what Sega believes to be the best retro mini console experience.
Every HDTV in our homes will probably have two or three HDMI ports, and with so many devices at our disposal we eventually have to get picky about what uses those. So why devote one of those ports for a throwback retro console? That’s the question I have for all of these mini consoles that were popularized after the Nintendo Entertainment System Classic released in 2016. It was also my top question when I saw the Sega Genesis Mini at E3 2019.
While all of these game companies are taking a page from Nintendo, there was something odd about the marketing of all of them. They all acted like they were made in a vacuum, not acknowledging the influence of the mini consoles to come before and acting as if though there was a fervent demand to bring their classic console into this modern form. The folks behind the Sega Genesis Mini, however, are very open about this specific market and relishes the comparisons to those other mini consoles. Whether the Sega Genesis Mini is the best of these will be up to the consumers, but in terms of pure confidence Sega appears to have their competitors beat.
The first point made at my E3 appointment was that Sega believes that they have a strong library of games. I wasn’t one to believe that Genesis did what “Nintendon’t” back in the day, but it was hard to argue against that point. There were the obligatory Sonic the Hedgehog games, but then you had Toe Jam & Earl, Streets of Rage 2, Castle of Illusion, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and other Sega classics like Altered Beast, Alex Kidd, and Golden Axe.
I enjoyed how the games were presented with all of the box art laid out on a menu. There were options to organize the titles in a number of different ways: alphabetical, by genre, by release date, and so on. If the box art wasn’t tickling that nostalgia bone already, you can change it up so the games are presented like cartridges on their side with the titles labeled on their spine. It saves a bit of screen space, and it emulates that game shelf you might have had as a kid or still have to this day.
And that’s the digitized nostalgia—the physical aspect is a different story. Sega wanted to emphasize the tactile feeling of the actual machine so it felt identical to the original console, albeit in miniature form. The on-off switch is functioning as expected, and the reset button takes players to the menu. The flaps for the cartridges are real and mechanical, even though there isn’t any technical purpose to them; consequently, the same goes for the volume slider to the left of all of this.
And although this mini console doesn’t actually use cartridges, Sega had a number of non-functioning plastic cartridges as a goodie. Weirdly enough, instead of picking the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 cartridge that was left, I gravitated towards Ecco the Dolphin as it was a game that was stuck in my memory. While I never owned a Genesis myself, the dentist I had as a child had one in the waiting room and I remember being baffled by that game.
Instead of choosing any of the excellent titles available, I instead tried out the dolphin one. I can report that I still have no clue what to do in that game, even as an adult working in games media. But from there, I was told about one of the finer quality-of-life features of the mini console: pressing and holding the “Start” button, no matter what I was already doing, would bring up the menu that the Reset button usually would. The Sega representative I was with wasn’t shy to directly mention that this was based on feedback from the NES Classic, as that mini-console lacked such an obvious feature. My only minor complaint was that this quick menu wouldn’t allow me to change screen options (a fake CRT filter, for example) like the main menu did.
Also worth mentioning is the inclusion of a number of multiplayer games. I was told was based on feedback on the PlayStation Classic, a mini-console with many problems Rather than using proprietary ports for their controllers like the Nintendo mini-consoles, the Sega Genesis Mini used standard USB ports so it is easy for anyone wants to join in on the fun. I continued my streak of playing weird, niche selections from the library like Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. I also decided to check out Tetris, one of the bonus games included in this system; interestingly, the other bonus game is Darius, which never hit the Genesis in the States.
My biggest and most personal concern was not just about the Sega Genesis Mini, but for all of these retro throwback consoles as a whole: why own one in the first place? Why plug any of these into our televisions instead of something newer, with more utility? During this appointment, I had a fun conversation with EMEA PR & Marketing Assistant Sunil Kalotia from Sega Europe Limited who still had a tendency of calling it the “Mega Drive.”
We talked about the appeal that these consoles have overall, with the NES Mini surprisingly being a hit for younger people, providing all of these old titles to a new generation. This was also the aim of the Genesis Mini, I was told. I asked about what was the value of owning the Mini, when there are so many existing options to play these title; for example, digital compilations for modern consoles like the PS4 and Switch. From what I gathered from our conversation, it seems like Sega wants to offer options for consumers, both digitally with the aforementioned collection and physically in the form of the Genesis Mini.
Just because that tactile feel of the Sega Genesis Mini and the virtual game shelf won’t appeal to me personally doesn’t mean that it won’t to other people. Plus, just because there are people who want to buy the Sega Genesis Mini to play classic games on it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who just want to buy the Genesis Mini as a collector, someone who would sit the mini-console on a shelf unplugged for a sense of pride and nostalgia. Perhaps Sega is indeed trying to capitalize on the mini-console craze, but even so, they seem more wary of their target audience. If they’re to be believed, they are more cognizant than their competitors.
The Sega Genesis Mini (or Mega Drive Mini, depending on your territory) will be available for purchase starting September 19.