Retro consoles are bittersweet little gadgets. They pack a ton of nostalgia, must-have-it miniature console design, and properly licensed software into a mostly affordable package that will, inevitably, mostly go unused sitting on your shelf. That’s because they are often cumbersome to play, and as gadgets teetering close to the edge of becoming cash grabs, they’re not really designed to be more robust than the emulator solution a teenager could hack together on a cheap laptop.
The Sega Genesis Mini, on the other hand, is a great example of how a company can do its best to avoid those pitfalls. Sega brought the device, slated to start shipping in September for $79.99, to E3 this year, and I got to have some hands-on time with it at the company’s show floor booth. I came away impressed, especially for a device that will be cheaper at launch than competing official retro consoles.
It’s Sega’s first official retro console after licensing its name out to third-party manufacturers like AtGames, and the bump in quality shows. The cartridge slot actually opens and closes, while the reset and on / off buttons are fully mechanical and work as originally intended on the full-size counterpart. Sega is also going with standard USB controller ports, which is a plus when you consider the price of Nintendo’s proprietary ones. You also get two standard three-button Genesis controllers that, while gigantic to hold, do bring back some fond memories, before ergonomics were even the faintest glint in the eye of console makers.
As far as feature set goes, the Genesis Mini is about as robust as you can ask for. It comes with 42 games, including classics like Sonic The Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim, and Contra. That’s more than twice the size of the library of competing retro consoles. The full list even includes some fan favorites, like Gunstar Heroes, Ecco the Dolphin, and Streets of Rage 2.
The Genesis Mini also has a robust save state system and the option to boot yourself back to the menu using the controller instead of the reset button on the console, a feature inexplicably missing from both Nintendo’s retro consoles and from Sony’s somewhat phoned-in PlayStation Classic.
The interface is also quite nice. Each title retains the original box art, a short description of the game translated from Japanese by Sega’s localization experts, and even original genre and age rating icons from back when the ESRB did not exist and Sega was self-regulating its content library to help stave off any overzealous legislation. There’s robust language options, and switching the game to Japanese on the US Genesis Mini will even unlock the Japanese versions of those titles, Sega confirmed to The Verge.
As for how well the games hold up, that probably depends on your affinity for Genesis classics, whether you were a Nintendo fan when you were younger, and how eager you are to play more punishingly difficult games under the constraints of harder-to-use controllers. I did find that Earthworm Jim was a blast to sink back into, and playing Sonic with a proper controller like I did as an elementary school kid was a fun trip. Like with other retro devices, I can’t say for sure that I’d both leave this plugged in all the time and turn it on more than a few times a year. But for those who’ve been waiting for a proper Genesis Mini to hit the market, Sega’s official version seems to hit all the high notes.