Forget the old bigger is better mantra, for when it comes to retro gaming, recent years have seen the miniaturisation of history. The new SEGA Mega Drive Mini continues this trend, and we’ve been busy putting it through its paces.
Coming in at around 55 per cent of the size of the classic original, which finally graced our Australian shores back in 1990, the Mega Drive Mini comes packed with two replica controllers – almost indistinguishable form the originals externally, save for the USB plugs and one small colour change that few will likely even notice. Yes, classic consoles meant couch co-op, and the Mega Drive Mini certainly doesn’t forget it.
It’s a doddle to connect the unit up – plug the included USB cable into a powered USB socket somewhere and plug the packed-in full-size HDMI cable into a TV and you’re ready to go. No faffing about with old school RF modulators or RCA cables.
A menu pops up showing covers of the games included. For some reason it defaults to sorting via release date, but pop up top right and you can easily change this to alphabetical, genre or player count. You can also view the game collection spine-on.
Settings are scarce, but none are really required beyond what’s featured, the key one for old school players being the ability to turn on scanlines – the fine horizontal lines on old CRT screens that made proceedings look decidedly less blocky and more arcade-like. You can also stretch the old school sized screen horizontally to fit your new one (sacrilege!) and select from three background wallpapers.
A quick glance through the list of 42 included games will have any old Mega Drive fan getting nostalgic pretty quickly. From first-party arcade conversions to a bunch of licensed product, the selection is superb. Everybody will have one or two faves that missed out – hello Truxton – but with the likes of three Sonic the Hedgehog games (plus Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which is basically Puyo Puyo in drag), Ecco the Dolphin, Toe Jam & Earl, Columns and the now finally officially available Tetris, we found little cause for grumbling.
The Mega Drive gave us more than our fair share of arcade shmups, and there’s a reasonable representation of the genre here, with Thunder Force III and the underrated Super Fantasy Zone our highlights.
Beat ’em-up fans will be in brawler heaven, with Streets of Rage 2 and Capcom’s legendary Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, amongst others. It’s worth noting that the game cartridge for that last one alone cost as much upon release as this entire unit costs today, some 25 years later!
As for platformers, hold on to your hats! Both Castle and World of Illusion, Earthworm Jim (groovy!), the RPG hybrid Wonder Boy in Monster World lead the way, but are just a handful of examples of the genre included here.
Despite still having our much-loved original unit set up on an old CRT screen, we spent hours reliving memories with the Mega Drive Mini, and could never fault the emulation. Our prime bugbear with the unit, however – and it’s a big one – is that high scores aren’t saved. Once you quit out of a game, they’re gone (or gone-ski if you were playing Tetris). Yes, this is like it used to be, but it’s now 2019, people! When there’s memory onboard to save the states of up to four games at any one time, this is a peculiar oversight. We doubt anybody would complain about high score saves being unfaithful to the original machine, but many will be harumphing it up big time about having to keep written notes of our best achievements (with the old ones triumphantly scribbled out) again like we did back in the days when heaps of onboard memory was the thing of (electric) dreams.
The only other thing that may have people scratching heads is the inclusion of six-button games such as Comix Zone, Eternal Champions, Shinobi III, Virtua Fighter 2 and, of course, Street FIghter II when the system comes with replicas of the original three-button design. A third party six button controller for the Mega Drive Mini will apparently be available, but, of course, at extra cost.
Other than that, the SEGA Mega Drive offers a pleasingly authentic experience – including controller-induced hand cramp if you play too long – that makes it dead simple to play some of the absolutely best games of the 16-bit era once again. Plus it looks as cute as a button!
The SEGA Mega Drive Mini launches on September 19.
The full games list:
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Castlevania: The New Generation
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Ecco the Dolphin
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Monster World IV
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
Road Rash II
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball
Space Harrier 2
Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
Streets of Rage 2
Super Fantasy Zone
The Story of Thor
Thunder Force III
ToeJam & Earl
Virtua Fighter 2
Wonder Boy in Monster World
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck