I dig the SEGA Mega Drive Mini, but I need to be brutally honest. When it comes to diminutive consoles that have visited the Szalinski residence from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, or old-school SEGA compilations in general, this is nobody's first rodeo. For example, a search on EB Games will reveal at least two other tiny, quasi-official Mega Drive consoles. Likewise, it seems to be gaming law that you can't release a new system without having a Mega Drive Collection rock up.
Basically, if nostalgia was a stock, Sega's would be at a low. The market is about as flooded as that damned Aquatic Ruin Zone in Sonic the Hedhehog 2. That being said, what's on offer here is a bonafide official experience. We're talking authenticity and accuracy, both in the feel of those button presses and the replication of 16-bit “Blast Processing” on your telly. Like a righteous Gilius Thunderhead, the Mini kicks its lesser dwarven rivals in the face and secures the true OG magic for itself.
Personally, I'd say the Mini is slightly more adorable than Nintendo's NES and SNES minis. Being 55% smaller than the original article goes a long way towards making that happen, but what clinches it is being able to slide the (utterly useless, both now and then) volume slider on the front. Props also have to go to Sega for including two full-sized USB controllers that don't use a proprietary plug and have two-metre long cabling. Sadly, points must be deducted for dicking us out of a power adaptor for the micro USB power cable.
“What's on offer here is a bonafide official experience. We're talking authenticity and accuracy, both in the feel of those button presses and the replication of 16-bit 'Blast Processing' on your telly.”
I do have a small beef with these controllers, but it's not in regards to looks or responsiveness. These are spot on replicas of the originals – no input lag and they stood up to a weeks worth of my kids bashing on them. What bothers me is that they're the three button ones as opposed to the six button beauties you can get with the Japanese edition of the SEGA Mega Drive Mini. You could argue that including those would be an anachronism. I'd argue back that it sucks spiky Sonic spinballs trying to get your Ryu on with only A, B and C. Press Start to swap between kicks and punches? Pffft, nope.
Did we lose a console war or something?
Anyway, when you turn the Mini on you'll be greeted with a fairly par for the course menu system. Your ears shall be treated to era specific chip-tunes as you sift through the 42 games included, either by box-shot or spine, and you can sort them further by year of release, players, genre or good old fashioned alphabetical. A-Z.
Diving into the settings reveals 16:9 stretch (blasphemous) and 4:3 original viewing options that have bezel art to cover up those unsightly black bars. Lastly, there's a CRT filter for those of you who insist on making the 720p output look like it's displaying on a POS Sorny from 1989.
When you're in-game, it'll take a full six seconds of holding the Start button to reenter this menu system. Which feels a lot longer than it sounds. But when you do get there you can easily exit to main, save/load states up to four thumbnailed slots, or reset the game. Because screw getting up and walking over to the console.
When it comes to the all-important games, the emulation looks and sounds perfect, plus the hits vastly outweigh the filler. Games that I'd personally consider to be true classics include: Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2, Castlevania, Shining Force, ToeJam & Earl, Comix Zone, Altered Beast, Gunstar Heroes, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage 2 with its dope-ass soundtrack, Earthworm Jim, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition and Golden Axe.
“When it comes to the all-important games, the emulation looks and sounds perfect.”
The hits continue with Probotector (aka what we called Contra in Australia), Ecco the Dolphin, Landstalker, Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Space Harrier 2, Mickey's Castle of Illusion & World of Illusion, Thunder Force III, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Alex Kidd, The Story of Thor, Phantasy Star IV, Wonder Boy in Monster World, Darius, Road Rash II and Strider.
Lastly, there are some slightly less iconic titles in the mix. The Bronze medals or last place finishers. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Eternal Champions, Columns, Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball, Alisia Dragoon, Kid Chameleon, Monster World IV, Vectorman, Super Fantasy Zone, Dynamite Headdy, Virtua Fighter 2 (only because of it being, well, a 3D game on a console not built for it) and Light Crusader.
Taking a move out of Nintendo's playbook, Sega has added in two unreleased games. Sadly, neither of them are Starfox 2 levels of hype. Darius is a respectable port of Taito's side-scrolling blaster. And Tetris is an okay rendition of the Russian block stacker that you'll play once and then go - right, back to Columns.
All in all, this is a solid catalogue of titles, though there are some things that feel AWOL. I missed having the remaining two titles in both the Golden Axe and Streets of Rage franchises. Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles and The Revenge of Shinobi would have been nice, too, but I do understand that licensing issues prevented that. Honestly, it's hard not to look over at the 52 game catalogue in 2018's Sega Mega Drive Collection (PS4, Xbox One, PC) and feel a tiny bit miffed.
Be that as it may, for the most part the Mega Drive Mini achieves what it sets out to do, and at a reasonable price-point. Sega has clearly done some homework on the shortcomings of Nintendo and Sony's minis, and the end result is something an avid retroholic would be proud to own. My own fears of this being a repeat of the last Mega Drive reissue I played in 2018 (with audio that sounded like a waterlogged CB Radio) were unfounded. Like a true Sega production, this has it's Sonics sorted (though not all of them are in a row). This mini console doesn't leap beyond Nintendo's efforts but I can confirm that it runs Golden Rings around its own clone competitors.