It seems like there are new ways to pay tribute to the past each year. Nintendo released Nintendo Switch Online subscriber apps to access old NES and SNES games. Microsoft confirms backwards compatibility for Xbox games on the Xbox One. With Sega in 2019, it was the Sega Genesis Mini. This device, filled with 42 games collected and prepared by M2, is a convenient little time capsule. It’s also one of the handier plug-and-play microconsoles.
It feels like the goal with the Sega Genesis Mini is quality. We’ve had the AtGames Genesis Flashback consoles before, which are a similar sort of beast. The build quality and attention to detail there isn’t as evident, with the cartridge slot designed to play actual Genesis cartridges always feeling a bit flimsy and being finicky about accepting only ones made by Sega. They would boast bloated game lists, with the Sega Genesis Flashback HD in 2017 having 85 titles. But of those, 45 are actual Genesis games, with the rest being seven Game Gear titles and 14 Master System selections.
None of the other plug-and-play Genesis systems or “Ultimate Portable Game Players” had the level of care put into them. The work M2 did here is evident. The sound quality is exceptional, which is critical for games like Beyond Oasis, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Streets of Rage II, and ToeJam and Earl. Games look and play beautifully and smoothly, without RPGs like Landstalker, Phantasy Star IV, and Shining Force looking especially extraordinary. If someone pops a cartridge into a RetroN 5 or uses one of those AtGames systems, then sure. You can play the game and have it function. But the crispness and playback here is something exceptional. It’s more than grabbing some roms and dropping them in. There’s actual care here.
There is curation as well. Past Sega Genesis plug-and-play systems suffered from repetitious libraries and inclusions of games that didn’t best represent the system’s past. As an example, the Sega Genesis Flashback HD included things like two versions of Columns, multiple Mortal Kombats, and never missed an opportunity to remind people Vectorman exists. Which isn’t to say such games are necessarily bad, but when you want a more well rounded library, you need to consider other factors. The Sega Genesis Mini shows a situation where Sega made wiser choices. Instead of three versions of Golden Axe, we have the original installment. Rather than bring up Decap Attack again, Dynamite Headdy has been brought in. While, as a big Phantasy Star fan, I loved having every single one on the Sega Genesis Flashback HD, I prefer just getting Phantasy Star IV in exchange for Landstalker and Monster World IV.
The selection just makes sense. When there’s overlap, it is because the games are important and deserve to be on the Sega Genesis Mini. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Altered Beast, Columns, Comix Zone, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Eternal Champions, Golden Axe, Kid Chameleon, Phantasy Star IV, Shining Force, Shinobi III, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic Spinball, Vectorman, and Virtual Fighter 2 appear on both it and the Sega Genesis Flashback HD, and rightfully so. But it’s the ones that don’t that stand out the most. The Alisia Dragoon, Beyond Oasis, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Contra: Hard Corps, Darius, Dynamite Headdy, Earthworm Jim, Ecco the Dolphin, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Gunstar Heroes, Landstalker, Light Crusader, Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Monster World IV, Road Rash II, Space Harrier II, Space Harrier II: Special Champion Edition, Streets of Rage 2, Strider, Super Fantasy Zone, Tetris, Thunder Force III, ToeJam & Earl, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and World of Illusion all matter so much. Each one shows how varied the Genesis library was, and this plug-and-play captures that. Being able to even switch regions on the console, letting someone do something like play Puyo Puyo instead of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, is also striking.
Moreover, it is a champion of what else was possible with the Genesis. There are games here that people could be playing for the first time. It is possible to actually play Darius on the Sega Genesis Mini. The port here never was officially released, but it works beautifully on the plug-and-play. A Tetris iteration that never officially released because of copyright reasons is playable and, while it isn’t the best Tetris adaptation, is a slice of history. Mega Man: The Wily Wars, which lets people play through remakes of Mega Man, Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 3, was only on the Sega Channel in North America. People probably missed it or never were able to import a Japanese or European physical copy to get access to it. But now, people can go through it again. Monster World IV was originally a Japan-exclusive adventure that only showed up digitally worldwide in 2012 on the PlayStation Store, Wii Virtual Console, and Xbox Live Arcade.
The Sega Genesis Mini is a way to both relive and make memories. It is like a plug-and-play time capsule, with Sega and M2 using it to show people what mattered about this system. Rather than giving people a bunch of entries in an established series, like tossing all the Golden Axes, Phantasy Stars, and Sonic the Hedgehogs on there, there’s a better range of what made this system matter. There are even peeks at what could have been and what may have been lost over the years, with Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Tetris.
The Sega Genesis Mini is available worldwide.