Review: The Sega Genesis Mini

The Sega Genesis Mini reviewed.

September 19th finally arrived and the Genesis Mini was released to much anticipation. In what is now a trend, the mini consoles of yesterday's technology are popular due to their strong nostalgia, and the fact that the kids who grew up with the original consoles are now gainfully employed with disposable incomes. Nintendo, Neo Geo, and Sony have entered the mini console market in recent years.
Prior to this release, Sega had licensed their back catalog to At Games, who have been making plug 'n play consoles for years. The difference is, those At Games systems were meant to be budget priced, end-cap fodder. The quality of the emulation and gameplay were less than good, and so they remained budget items. This recent release is Sega's effort in earnest, at producing a mini console that matches up to the standard set by the NES Classic Edition.

The controller is just as big as the console itself

First impressions of the hardware itself are strong. The detailing of the console, its nooks and crannies, movable switches, and controller are spot on. The power switch and reset button are functional. The cartridge flap opens, but it is purely aestheitc; there's no circuitry, and same for the cd expansion slot underneath. Still, the fact that Sega actually went ahead and added these accouterments shows the love that went into making this.

Upon powering on the unit, you are first asked to select a language, which can be toggled back and forth later as well. The menu screen pops up, and the 42 games available are selectable by a slightly twitch bracket icon. Games can be sorted by name, release date, genre, and number of players. The menu music is a seamless medley of melodies and motifs from the included games, arranged by the most famous of Sega Genesis composers, Yuzo Koshiro.

The gameplay emulation was programmed by industry-leader M2, and this is exactly what hardcore followers wanted to hear. Had Sega produced this console with At Games, the reception and anticipation would probably have been lukewarm at best. After putting the games through their paces, I think the emulation is fantastic. Nearly everything runs like original hardware, except for a few little issues. On some games, there is a sound effect delay. I did not notice this myself, it was pointed out in some YouTube videos. Also, a few games have slightly different video resolution that result in a shimmering effect as the screen scrolls. 

The transparency of the lighting in the bar stage in Streets of Rage 2 is not the same
The Genesis, like all retro systems, had certain tricks to pull off more impressive graphical feats back in the day. An example is the expansion of the color palate by altering the shades of brightness for each color. Another is the transparency trick, which is designed with CRT televisions in mind. Since this console outputs 720p HD resolution, the lack of certain tricks is apparent to those who remember them.

Like the mini consoles before it, save states are available, which actually improves the experience of some older games that take way too long to complete in a single sitting (Kid Chameleon, for example). To save, just hold the start button for 5 seconds and select a slot.

The Japanese Mega Drive game select screen
Another perk is the ability to play the rom from a different region. When selecting the language from the settings screen, you are also selecting the region for the game rom. While this seems superficial, it actually can change the gameplay experience. For example, the Japanese rom for Contra Hard Corps is a lot easier than the domestic version, since the Japanese rom allows three hit points per life, instead of instant one-hit kills.

Those boxes underneath shot type represent hit points you can take before dying
As far as Game selection, 42 games are included. Two of the games, Tetris and Darius, never saw release on any version of the Genesis. Tetris was Sega's arcade version, and Darius was ported from the ground up, based on Taito's arcade. Mega Man: The Wily Wars was available in North America only on the Sega Channel, which was a game download service in the 90's. Monster World IV was also unavailable in the west. The additions are great, and offer something new to longtime collectors.

The included retail games are generally good, with some standouts like Castlevania Bloodlines, Contra Hard Corps, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage 2, and Thunder Force III. There are expected games, which are found on nearly every Sega game compilation: Sonic The Hedgehog, Golden Axe, Vectorman, Columns, Altered Beast, etc. There are also missed opportunities. I was really hoping for MUSHA. Revenge of Shinobi, Thunder Force IV, Raiden Trad, and Gaiares. I understand that licensing fees can become prohibitive, but Sega owns the Thunder Force and Shinobi franchises. Instead we got clunkers like Alex Kidd, Eternal Champions, Virtua Fighter 2, Space Harrier II, and Sonic Spinball. In some way, including these marginal games dilutes the experience. Its true that you can't please everyone, but come on. At lease load up on your own best franchises and add the rest of the Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Golden Axe, and Thunder Force games.

Game selection aside, bonus points are earned by being compatible with RetroBit's excellent 6 button pad (officially licensed by Sega). It makes Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition playable. I know that many people are disappointed that the domestic release of the Genesis Mini does not come with the 6 button pads, and the Asian releases do, but keep in mind that the Asian 6 button pads are smaller, and different than the ones we are used to. I find Retrobit's offering to be excellent.

Overall, the Genesis Mini is great. It is just as good if not a tad better than the SNES Classic, in my opinion. It's perfect for those who want a simple way to play the classic Genesis games of yesteryear. Hardcore fans will still like it for its attention to detail. Get one while you can.

1989 and 2019

Top Ten Genesis Two-Player Cooperative Games

The Sega Genesis mini is due to come out in a few weeks, and I can't wait to see one of my favorite console replicated in miniature form. I love that it is coming with two controllers, so we can hit the couch co-op right away. In the spirit of the event, I thought I'd conjure up my top ten Genesis co-op games.

Contra Hard Corps
This game is chock full of explosions

The only Contra offering on the Genesis is also one of the most hectic and difficult. The graphic design, the music, and the frame rate are all examples of the hardware's capabilities at its best, and it is a console exclusive. There are four different protagonists to choose from, each with unique weapons and abilities. New to the series are branching paths, building in more replay value, as if the character-building difficulty didn't already do that. Grab a player two, because the you'll need all the help you can get. This would have been rated higher, if not for its crushing difficulty. Incidentally, the Japanese import version of the game gives three hit points per life, greatly reducing the frustration and making the game tremendously easier.

Forgotten Worlds
Wearing jetpacks means its too hot to wear shirts

An early Capcom arcade conversion, Forgotten Worlds is a shoot' em up of the flying humanoid variety. The two players operate similarly despite being different colors. You rotate your player to shoot in all directions, and flay all over with a jet pack. Defeated enemies drop currency which can be used to purchase power ups in the shops that sporadically appear, ala Fantasy Zone. Weapon upgrades are a must, as well as body armor and life-restoring elixirs (you have hit points instead of lives). The difficulty is high, but manageable once you remember the enemy patterns. Also, the voice acting is incredible*.

Captain America and the Avengers

Pick between Captain America, The Vision, Iron Man, and Hawkeye and take on The Mandarin and his cronies in this wild quarter-munching beat'em up. Each player has their own dedicated moves, like Iron Man's repulsor beam, Cap's shield throw, Hawkeye's arrows, and Vision's laser beam. As cool as those sound, they are nominal in effectiveness, and you may just end up mashing away at the attack button. There is some stage variety in the flying shoot'em up stages, which is unusual for a beat'em up. It's a difficult, but manageable game, made easier with help from a friend. The voice sample clips are bad in a good way. The Genesis port is much more agreeable than the nearly impossible SNES port.

The Punisher

An edgy beat' em up, play as either the Punisher or Nick Fury and you punch and blast your way through an urban war zone. Anyone who has read the Punisher comics knows that he doles most of his punishment from the barrel of a gun. Even though the gameplay is mostly fisticuffs, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up guns and blast away. The arcade versions is better, as to be expected, but the Genesis rendition is no slouch.

Sunset Riders

This western-themed run'n gun evokes the ethos of Contra, and as such, is just as fun. Ported from the arcade, it is often compared against its counterpart on the SNES. You have the choice of two players, which carry different weapons (single shooter vs. shotgun). The action is quick, and boss fights are challenging, but not so challenging as Hard Corps. The game boasts plenty of humor, a great soundtrack, and great control. It's definitely one of the most fun co-op games for the Genesis.

Gunstar Heroes

One of the most heralded games on the Genesis needs no introduction. Game developer Treasure's first outing is arguably their finest. The level of on-screen action is on par with Contra Hard Corps, as explosions, enemy sprites, and bullets litter the screen. The humor embedded in enemy behavior is palpable. You have a life meter, which is pretty forgiving, and thus easier for newcomers to pick up and play. You can throw your partner across the screen to wipe out enemies, without taking damage. The weapons can be combined for a myriad of options, and your firing stance can be set to fixed-in-place or free moving. Also, it's loaded with charm. It's simply one of the best games for the system, let alone for two-player.

Gain Ground

A surprise entry on this list, Gain Ground is very much under the radar when it comes to Sega classics. Originally an arcade game, it was ported very faithfully to the Genesis. Part a run'n gun game, part strategy, this game requires on the fly decision making as well as quick reflexes. The story is absurd, essentially you need to get from point A to point B on a single screen. The sheer variety in this game is immense, from the available protagonists, weapon types, enemies, stage designs, and bosses. Co-op play brings the fun factor to new levels as the two of you try to figure out how to accomplish the seemingly simple task of crossing the screen.

Golden Axe

When Sega observed the success the Double Dragon was having in the arcades, they wanted their own brawler that people lined up to play. Changing the theme and setting so as to not appear as a direct copy, they produced Golden Axe, which I feel is the superior game. Character inspirations are clearly drawn from the Conan the Barbarian franchise. At the time there was no other game like it. Kleptomaniac dwarves, rideable beasts, magic spells, dash attacks, and a fantastic soundtrack are all part of the package.

TMNT Hyperstone Heist
TMNT Hyperstone heist is often overlooked relative to its SNES rival, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time. It's true the games are very similar, but the Genesis outing has enough differences to make it less a port and more its own game. It sports some of the best hit detection and pacing on the system. The voice samples do suffer a bit, but that's the only issue I find with the game. Grab some pizza and get ready to kick some shell.

Streets of Rage 2
What Final Fight? The premier first-party series on the Genesis peaked with this second entry. SOR2 offers variety in four selectable characters, each with strengths and weaknesses. Attack combos are now present that increase the satisfaction in dispatching thugs. The gameplay is balanced and fair, and the time flies when playing with a partner. The soundtrack is perhaps one of if not the best on the Genesis. This is a shining example of what can be done with the Genesis sound chip if programmed by the right people. If you have never played this game, you don't know what the Genesis is capable of.

So all in, the best two-player co-op games seem to fall into the vein of beat'em ups and run'n gun games, in my opinion. There are a bevy of sports titles that I left out, as those are primarily versus games, with head to head gameplay. I was surprised when I realized that although the Genesis is known for its quality shoot'em ups, almost all of the good ones are single player only! I'm sure I left off a bunch that others would argue belong on this list, but hey, it's my list.

In conclusion, if you like playing couch co-op, check these out. You won't be disappointed.