Review: The Brook PS3/PS4 to Mega Drive (Genesis) to to PC Engine Super Converter

The Mega Drive and PC Engine are known for their shoot 'em ups. While arcade sticks are now in vogue for shooters, there weren't a lot of arcade sticks available back in the heyday of these systems, at least not here in North America. The official Sega Power stick was the made available for the Genesis in three and six button variants, but the stick itself was just ok. The PC Engine had a couple of sticks by Ascii and Hori, and those were ok for the time. As time passes, arcade stick tech has made leaps and bounds, and today there is a huge fighting game scene that drives production of high end arcade sticks. 

This converter is designed for PS4, PS3, and Switch controllers to be used for the Genesis/Mega Drive and PC Engine. That means modern, high quality PS3 and PS4 sticks can be used. I have a Hori Real Arcade Pro (RAP) stick for the PS3, and until recently it has sat collecting dust for the past decade. The RAP has excellent built quality, with high quality parts. Playing MUSHA and Blazing Lasers with it has been a revelation. Never before have I played 4th generation shooters with a microswitched joystick, and I'm becoming a believer. It has totally reignited my interest in 4th generation shooters, and gives them a fresh feel. 

The controller converter has a wired connection for both the Genesis and PC Engine, which is smart. The  Achilles heel for shoot 'em ups has always input latency, and wireless controllers always have some added latency. Many shooters require twitch reflexes, and this wired setup has no perceptible lag as far as I can tell; it plays like I'm using a genuine controller. I've played shooters in every conceivable configuration, and this is truly a revelation. Admittedly, I was a little skeptical when I ordered this. I Brook's PS3/PS4 to Switch adapter, and there is a little lag present with that adapter, so I was surprised to see how well this adapter works. 

When I connected the Dual Shock 4 via usb, extra power was needed, so I plugged in another USB cord with a power brick. The converter recognized the controller, and synced immediately. I wasn't sure what to expect, but since the controller was directly connected through USB, it played without any noticeable lag. I was surprised. I then proceeded to test the Dual Shock 3, Switch Pro Controller, and 8Bitdo SN30 Pro controllers. All had similar results. Now I am not a fan of the Playstation controllers' d-pad, but the SN30 Pro is great. I also tried a USB controller that I am quite fond of, Retrobit's officially licensed Sega Saturn pad. Sadly, it did not work, but I suspect it would be an easy fix over firmware, should Brook be so inclined. 

Now the PC Engine was the Japanese version of the Turbo Grafx-16, and so the hardware is identical, except for some regional changes to the physical build of the console. The TG-16 controller port is much larger than that of the PC Engine, so you would need an adapter if you wanted to use this on a TG-16. I don't have that console, so I was unable to test it, but I can't imagine that it wouldn't work. Maybe someone else can try it out and let us know.

Overall, this is an EXCELLENT adapter that allows PS3/PS4 arcade sticks to be used on the Genesis and PC Engine. There are not many good arcade stick options for those consoles, and this opens up possibilities. With the PS4 nearing end of life, you can be sure to find arcade sticks for both PS3 and PS4 for a fraction of the cost that they retailed at. Keep in mind these sticks were expensive originally ($300+), so the savings is relative. A quick eBay search produced several sub-$100 options for used sticks. It won't be for everyone, but for shmup retro gamers who favor the early '90's consoles, this is one of the best innovations in a long time for controller adapters.  




Review: The PolyMega Multi-Console




The PolyMega is a multi-system emulation console. It natively plays CD games for Playstation, Sega CD, Turbo Grafx CD, Neo Geo CD, and Sega Saturn, for all regions. Also available are cartridge modules, indivudualy sold, each of which can play NES, SNES, Genesis, and Turbo Grafx-16, also in all regions (except Famicom due to its unique shape). The console was originally pitched as an FPGA system, allowing for hardware simulation, but later was reverted in design for software emulation early in development. This caused a bit of controversy as early supporters felt a bait and switch took place. Not helping the situation, the social media manager for the PolyMega was caught throwing shade at its competitors, which stirred a flame war and resulted in a tarnished reputation for PolyMega before it even came into existence.

Rough beginnings notwithstanding, the project continued, with a prototype showing in 2019, and Beta release in 2020, which was given praise for its Saturn emulation quality from several reviewers, including Modern Vintage Gamer. It should be noted that Sega Saturn compatibility was a late addition, after a custom emulation core was designed. This was the spark that caught my attention. I preordered in 2019, after watching said reviews. The original release date was pushed from summer 2019 to fall, to spring, to summer 2020. The delays were due in part to a chip shortage, mixed in with a pandemic, and some last minute tweaking. It is now late July 2020, and the base unit (Beta) has finally arrived at my doorstep.

The base unit feels solid. The plastic molding feels good, reflecting a quality build. The rear presents HDMI video out, a power jack, micro SD slot, and ethernet port. 


It comes with a modern-style wireless controller, with dual analog sticks, four face action buttons, left/right shoulder buttons and triggers, start/select, turbo and home buttons. The controller is has two textures; the top is rubberized plastic, while the back is conventional controller plastic. Its weight is lighter than modern controllers, which makes sense given the lesser tech requirements. The analog sticks feel fine, and the d-pad is made from a shiny plastic which I don't care for, but it feels right pressure-wise. The buttons are are convex shiny plastic with a snappy response. The controller is wireless via a 2.4 GHz dongle, which I much prefer over Bluetooth, for reduced latency. Included is a micro USB cord for charging and playing, but it is too short to realistically play with when charging unless you swap out for a different cord. I tried Retrobit's excellent officially licensed Sega Genesis and Saturn USB controllers, and they were recognized immediately, so this may be what I use. The 2.4 GHz wireless variants from Retrobit worked as well.

When powering on, you are immediately asked to register the controller being used by holding right on the d-pad. After that a clean, intuitive interface appears. The left sidebar presents options to select games according to different sorting methods, such as by console, my collection, and a database. 
Once a game is inserted, a game specific banner appears at the top

When inserting a game disc, a header/title appears as the game is recognized. The game can be added to you collection, as well as downloaded onto the console itself (or selected storage medium like an internal SSD). This is appealing as once you do this you will not need to handle the physical game again, and you can add as many of your games as your storage will allow. You can then select from your library of imported games in the future. Included are a sample of licensed games to get you playing right away, most of which are forgettable, but Iron Commando for SNES is a nice offering.

When launching games, you can opt for classic mode or the default modern mode, that offers more options, like save states, screen shots, fast forward, etc. Being able to play your own games AND utilize save states is an uncommon and welcome feature in modern retro gaming consoles. 

Visually, everything is bright and crisp in 1080p. The aspect ratio can be set to standard 4:3. 4:3 zoom, square pixels, and wide screen. I love my square pixels, they make everything cleaner when the screen moves. Other visual options are present, like RGB mode and composite mode. RBG mode includes scan lines, but ends up looking too dark. Brightness and contrast settings are present, but they still don't improve the quality. The composite option is present for people who really like fuzzy visuals, and I'm not sure why anyone buying this would choose this option. I personally would have liked more options, like integer scaling, different resolutions, and a scanline feature over 720p. Perhaps these may come via updates.

As far as gameplay, I played a sampling of Playstation, PC-Engine CD, Sega CD, and Saturn games. It does play Neo Geo CD as well, but I don't have any to test. 

Visually, the image quality is excellent

I started with Sega Saturn, and I tested several games, including:
Street Fighter Zero 2 
Street Fighter Zero 3
X-Men Vs. Street Fighter
Strikers 1945
Strikers 1945 2
Donpachi
Dodonpachi
Soukyugurentai
Batsugun
Radiant Silvergun
Battle Garegga
Metal Slug 
Daytona USA
Layer Section
Sengoku Blade
HuperDuel
Salamander Deluxe Pack

The Saturn had some accessories, most notably here the 4MB and 1MB expansion carts for specific games. The PolyMega does not have slots for these carts, so the functionality of these must be built in. I have tested several of those games and they appear to be working fine. Since this is an HD system, the light gun games are not supported yet, but there is a light gun in the works specifically for the PolyMega.
I tried a couple of burned reproduction games, and surprisingly, they work. 

You may notice that the bulk of these games tested are shoot 'em ups. That is my go-to genre, and the vast majority of my game collection are shmups. After years of gaming on lag-free setups, I immediately noticed some lag.  It's not much, but its there. I realize that I am more picky about this than most gamers, as my favorite games require twitch reflexes and instantaneous response from a controller. 
So I started troubleshooting. I double checked that the TV was set to game mode, and I switched to a wired controller. Still, it felt a tinge laggy. The it was suggested to me to plug the HDMI direct into the TV, bypassing the HDMI switch. Doing this brought the latency down significantly. I can say that I am impressed by the quality of the Saturn emulation. This was the reason I preordered and I am not disappointed.

My "unofficial" copy of Nekketsu Oyako played just fine

I tested the PC-Engine CD next, with the following games:
Dracula X Rondo of Blood
Sapphire
Sylphia
FX Unit Yuki (indie game)
Spriggan
Winds of Thunder
Gate of Thunder
Star Parodier


The PC-Engine CD is notorious for its system cards that are required to play its games, and the PolyMega has eliminated the need for that as they are all incorporated in the system. Super CD games, CD ROM ROM games, Arcade card games all work. Some games had noticeable lag, like Gate of Thunder, where Winds of Thunder felt like it had a little more. 

I tested Playstation next:
Harmful Park
Einhander
G Darius
Dodonpachi
Crash Bandicoot
Raiden Project

The Playstation testing was varied. Einhander and Harmful Park showed no obvious lag, but G Darius and Dodonpachi did. It seems to be hit or miss with the Playstation. 

Some bootlegs are not recognized by title, but they play nonetheless

I tested Sega CD last:
Lords of Thunder
Keio Flying Squadron
Slypheed
Final Fight CD
The Terminator

The Terminator was the only game that I tried that did not work. It wasn't buggy, it just flat out did not work. Once the game started, your character immediately fell and died. There was nothing else loaded on screen. After doing some digging, I discovered that you can place your backup Sega CD bios onto an SD card and the PolyMega will default to that. I tried it, and the game did run. This is probably going to be fixed in an update, as they are constantly working on game compatibility.

There's a lot to take in here, so I'll break down the main points in a list of Pros and Cons for the PolyMega.

Pros:
  • tremendous compatibility with a multitude of consoles, reducing the need for much of the original hardware
  • its the only CD based clone console available
  • video output is 1080p via HDMI, compatible with modern televisions, so no fussing with connections and adapter cables
  • games can be stored on internal storage, reducing wear and tear on original games
  • modern amenities like screen shots, save states, game patching are present
  • controller is included, playable wirelessly or wired
  • compatible with 3rd party controllers like Retrobit
  • sound emulation is excellent
  • several games are included
  • wireless firmware updates via wifi
  • ips patches can be used from an SD card

Cons:
  • Emulation is software based, not hardware simulation like with an FPGA, leading to some mild input lag
  • swapping out individual cartridge modules may become annoying every time you play a game from a different console
  • the controller d-pad is inadequate for a retro themed system 
This console has a ton to offer. The ability to load my collection into a solid state drive is very appealing. The ability to throw some ips game patches on an sd card and apply them to any game is awesome. The compatibility with Retrobit's excellent Sega controllers is a great feature. The fact that it can play burned games must be a boon to many people who can't afford today's inflated game prices. The savings on the hardware necessary to play Sega CD, PC-Engine CD, Neo Geo CD, Saturn, and Playstation is vast. There is a lot to like about this console.  

Whether the PolyMega is for you depends on your situation and preferences. If you prefer games that are not so dependent on precision inputs and timing, and then this can be a viable option for you. On the flip side, if you are a hardcore gamer who is into original hardware, or if you play games that require precision input like shmups, this is probably not for you. There are those who are so deeply rooted in the hobby, that they have specific expectations and requirements; this is not for them. There are definitely people who scoff at emulation, and this is definitely not for them. I can't see this replacing my current setup of RGB consoles and Open Source Scan Convertor, but that is not a setup that everyone has. However, for someone who is new to the hobby this is definitely an option to consider, the cost savings in hardware alone will assure that. Anyway you look at it, I think it is a good thing that more products are entering the retro gaming space. 






MODE: The Multi Optical Disc Emulator Review for Saturn and Dreamcast


As video game consoles age, they are more prone to failure, especially when moving parts are involved. The more complex the console's design, the more susceptible it is. As such, the lasers in optical disc consoles are less robust than their cartridge predecessors. An optical disc emulator is a device that replaces the laser assembly in a disc-reading game console. The purpose is twofold: to breathe new life into a dying system, and to allow games to be played from modern storage devices, like SD cards and USB drives. For a proper explanation of MODE, I feel it is necessary to discuss previous ODEs for comparision and context.

The first optical drive emulator (ODE) that I encountered was the GDEMU, for the Dreamcast. It was a simple board, easy to install, and initially hard to acquire. It was developed and distributed by Deunan Knute. Since it was/is a hobbyist venture, production occurs in small batches, and demand greatly surpassed supply. This led to the cloning of GDEMU, and the soon the clones were all over eBay. These clones are supposedly very similar, and hard to tell apart from the original. One surefire way to tell is if you brick the unit while trying to upgrade the firmware, as the clones are not compatible official firmware.
The installation of the unit is easy, but the SD card setup is a pain, at least it was for me. My desktop computer is a Mac, and per usual, there are fewer software options for Mac users. I have an old HP laptop that barely runs Windows 10 that I use for programs of this sort, and its not graceful. From needing to format to FAT32, to ripping the games into the CCD or GDI formats, to adding the games to numeric folders, there is some nonintuitive front work needed. I eventually got it running, but there are still weird issues here and there that bother me. Things like extra folders titled "unsupported game", or the super long startup process. I like things to be neat and organized, and fixing weird errors and issues took some sleuthing and a lot of time. I teeter back and forth as to whether it is worth it, as I still have all of my original games, and another Dreamcast that is region modded. 



My second ODE was Rhea, for the model 1 Sega Saturn (20 pin variant - there was also a version made for the model 2 Saturns called Phoebe). Also produced by Deunan, the one-man shop operation was also limited in its production scope. I resorted to picking one up from eBay.
I was far more interested in this than the GDEMU as the Saturn is possibly my favorite console.  I have way more games for the Saturn than the DC, and so using Clone CD to rip the games to CCD format was a long and arduous process. Prepping the SD card was equally as painful as the GDEMU, perhaps more so due to the larger number of games that I processed. 
Operationally, the Rhea works wonderfully once configured properly. It allowed me to play my games without fear of dropping or scratching them, as Saturn games have really shot up in value (I'm not so concerned with value as I am the cost to replace). The button combination to back out to the menu is a nice touch. 


My third ODE is the Super System 3 for thePC Engine/Turbo Grafx-16, made by Terra Onion. This is not as much a disc drive replacement as much as it is an accessory that mimics the CD Rom attachment. The setup for this was significantly easier than the two previous entries. All you need to do is drop your game files (CD Rom games or Hu card games) onto a card and insert; its about as plug and play as it should be. There is something to be said for simplicity of setup when it comes to devices like this.
There were some issues early on with video quality, but those have been mitigated since. Not only does the SSD3 allow you to play your games from an SD card, it taps into the RGB video pinouts, allowing mod-free RGB video with the proper cables. Last but not least, it contains the necessary CD system cards built in. Using all original hardware to play PC Engine CD Roms is confusing and expensive, so this unit is well worth it's asking price. 

That brings us to MODE, an acronym for Multi Optical Disc Emulator, again produced by Terra Onion. This is like a GDEMU and Rhea combined into one; you can install it either in a Saturn or a Dreamcast. I don't think I'm going to swap mine back and forth, but it is an option. It's functional purpose is the same as the first two ODE's, to play games from an SD card. This carries with it some additional features, such as being able to use three different storage formats: micro SD, USB, or hard drive. Use whatever you have lying around, there is no need to buy additional storage if you have it. MODE is compatible with both versions of the Saturn as well as VA0 and VA1 Dreamcast variants. 


The installation of MODE does not require any soldering, just some disassembly with a screwdriver. The board itself is larger than the Rhea, to accommodate the added pin outs for variety of models that it supports. Its a wonky fit, as one of the legs is poised to rest on the ribbon cable for the controller board. The legs that come with it have self adhesive feet, so this helps keep it in place.  Also, once installed, the storage device is not accessible as it is in the other ODEs, so make sure you have what you want on the SD card the first time, or you'll be taking the console apart over and over.





The interface is clean and simple, if a little jittery as it is presented in 480i. Games can be nested in folders, which is a big deal for me, as I like to categorize my games by genre. The menu options are sparse but appreciated, and currently the reset to menu feature is not working, it just resets to the same loaded game. However, I have been told by customer support that this will be remedied in a future firmware update. I hope this comes soon, because power cycling the console to change games gets old.
The menu has support for cover art display, via downloadable support file. This is a nice touch, even if some of the art is oddly cropped.


The gameplay is as it should be, I have not encountered any issues with any of my games. The RAM carts work as they should as well. 

Priced at $200 ($182 euros), it is the most expensive option compared to Rhea/Phoebe (132 euros) and Finrir ($104.5). Even still, I feel like this is the most polished option, and users will have the most positive experience with it. Tinkerers who don't mind doing extra legwork can get along just fine with the others, I did for a while. But I found those to be cumbersome whenever I wanted to change something, I had to relearn the nuances and quirks of the setup and eventually ended up succeeding, but not without struggling.   

Overall, I highly recommend MODE. While there are other devices options that achieve the same function, MODE has refinements that improve the user experience. The higher compatibility with game files, the multiple options for storage media, the clean and simple visual interface, the ease of setup, and availability are all reasons that put this at the top.