Hands on: Sega Genesis Mini review

A nostalgia trip for the scrappy Sonic kids

What is a hands on review?
Image credit: TechRadar

Early Verdict

The Sega Genesis Mini is a well-done retro console with 42 iconic and strange games, which is worth the price of admission to relive all the 16-bit glory days that haven't been covered by the SNES Classic.

For

  • Broad selection of games
  • Accurate controller

Against

  • Shame that only Japan gets 6-button controllers in-box
  • Some notable games left out
  • How good are Genesis games, anyway?

You know the drill by now: adorably-shrunk retro mini console comes out, fans fawn over their memories, then they go and buy it. That was the case for the NES Classic Mini and SNES Classic Mini - but now, the underdogs have their own system: the Sega Genesis Mini.

Like the prior Nintendo systems and less well-received PlayStation Classic, the Sega Genesis Mini (called the Sega Mega Drive Mini outside the US) is a trip back in time - but for all the kids who grew up on the other side of the 16-bit tracks. 

There’s a certain dogged pride that comes from growing up a Sega kid, knowing you’ve missed out on undeniable classics that landed on the Nintendo systems but still talking trash because, darnit, your parents paid a lot for that Sega console, and you’re going to find games just as good, even if it takes you all summer to rent every title on your local video store's shelves. 

Those are the feelings that come from beholding these retro consoles, and the Sega Genesis Mini is sure to evoke some formative memories with its pitch-perfect (if bite-sized) imitation of the venerable console.

But does the $79.99 (£69.99/€79.99/AU$139.95) retro hardware hold up? Does it accurately replicate the classic Sega Genesis experience? And do we even care all these years later? Let’s find out.

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design

At E3 2019, Sega showed off the Genesis Mini in a small case and behind it, a comically huge original Genesis controller, which is nearly impossible to be played by one person. The joke: this old tech is far more full of plastic and air than the silicon-crammed gamepads of today. 

And yet, it doesn’t matter: the Mini console is a retro experience, and its hardware hasn’t been updated to rival modern systems. 

The Sega Genesis Mini looks like its namesake alright - specifically, the first version of the Sega Genesis console that looked like a big black rectangle. One point: it’s the Sega Genesis Mini in the US, but in other markets, it will be sold as the Sega Mega Drive Mini (the console was renamed when it was sold in America). The changes are mostly cosmetic anyway - a label here, a color there.

The Mini console itself has two USB ports in front for the included controllers, and power and HDMI ports in back. Like prior tiny retro consoles, you can’t slot in cartridges from the original systems and play them - they simply won’t fit, and there aren’t any pin connections there anyway (we assume).

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

(Image credit: TechRadar)

There are, however, little cartridge gates as if you could slot in game paks - and lucky for press, Sega handed out tiny matching cartridges that fit in just right. These aren’t intended for mass release, sadly...unless there’s a popular outcry.

The Mini comes with two USB-connecting controllers, and each is a dead ringer for the original three-button crescent gamepads that launched with the original Genesis. The Japanese version will get a pair of the six-button gamepads that were originally available later in the Genesis’ lifespan (largely for fighting games). You can buy one yourself in August before the Mini comes out: retro controller company Metrobit is releasing one for $20.

Don’t feel shortchanged: every game in the collection can be played with the original controllers. But if you want that smaller 6-button gamepad, we totally understand. 

Performance

Sega Genesis Mini games list

Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic Spinball
Fantasy Zone
Puyo Puyo 2
Shining Force
Ecco the Dolphin
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Altered Beast
Castle of Illusion
World of Illusion
Thunder Force III
Shinobi III
Landstalker
Contra Hard Corps
Earthworm Jim
Streets of Rage 2
Alex Kidd
Alisia Dragoon
Virtua Fighter 2
Columns
Dynamite Headdy
Strider
Light Crusader
Kid Chameleon
Monster World 4
Eternal Champions
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Castlevania: Bloodlines
Powerball
Gunstar Heroes
Comix Zone
Wonder Boy in Monster World
Golden Axe
Vectorman
Rent-a-Hero
Space Harrier II
Madou Monogatari Ichi
Comix Zone
Beyond Oasis
Alisia Dragoon
Darius
Tetris

The Sega Genesis Mini will pack 42 games in its tiny chassis - including two, Darius and Tetris, that were never released on the console (and several are making their debut outside Japan). We don’t know if you can add more games to the console, but we doubt it, since neither Nintendo nor PlayStation allowed this feature.

The list spans plenty of genres, from action-platformer to adventure to RPG to puzzle. True, you could some of these elsewhere...but others are only preserved on this console-collection. Monster World 4, for example, was on the Wii Shop - but that shut down back in January of this year. 

After the SNES and NES Mini, by the time I fire up the Sega Genesis Mini, I know pretty much what I’m going to see: old games running out of a tiny, portable console. It works, and the gameplay in each is pretty much how I remember. 

That’s still an achievement, of course, and after a minute, my cynicism wears off. I’m back in front of my 20-inch CRT TV, sitting in my Sonic the Hedgehog pajamas whiling away a Saturday morning. The controller feels less light (compared to modern gamepads) and more right: fewer buttons for simpler games.

Games media has belabored the list of Best SNES Games to a relative consensus, but the Genesis - which came in a dogged second to Nintendo’s console during the 16-bit era - has a less canonized hierarchy of top games. 

That leaves the door open to some truly eccentric favorites in the Sega Genesis Mini’s library. Most of the console’s iconic games are here, like Sonic the Hedgehog (1 and 2, but not 3 or Sonic & Knuckles), Ecco the Dolphin, Shining Force, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Comix Zone, Space Harrier 2, Street Fighter 2, and Phantasy Star 4. 

But there’s also weird and lovely favorites like Toejam and Earl, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Kid Chameleon, and even Sonic Spinball. Heck, they’ve even got a title I never thought I’d see anyone play again: Light Crusader, an isometric dark fantasy dungeon delve. Little idiosyncratic gems unearthed from our memories.

The interface and ur-controls are clean enough: there are save slots and save states, while holding the Start button for a handful of seconds brings you back to the game catalog. It’s the little touches that make rooting around the Sega Genesis Mini a minor delight, like flipping the games library to show only their spines as if you’ve lined them up on a shelf. Prepare for a nostalgic jolt when seeing each title just the way it looked in its original plastic and paper boxes.

Early verdict

Like the earlier retro consoles, the Sega Genesis Mini is a singular device: pay a toll and fall backwards in time. Its cost isn’t prohibitive, at less than $2 per game, and the build quality seems excellent - with the same hefty black plastic found in the original controller and console, in fact. 

The game catalog might not have the same concentrated excellence as the SNES Classic, but with twice the library size, the Sega Genesis Mini has more space to fit in odd titles you might only remember picking up once or twice from the Blockbuster shelves. There are some notable omissions like After Burner 2, Herzog Zwei, Battletoads, ClayFighter, Desert Strike, Disney’s Aladdin, Double Dragon, NHL ‘94, Super Smash TV...you get the picture.

But it’s still an enjoyable time capsule, and one you’ve probably already decided whether to pick up when it comes out on September 19, 2019 if the games library is satisfactory. If you doubted that Sega would treat its classic console with care, doubt no longer. If you want to walk down memory lane with the scrappy Genesis library, the Mini console is worth it.

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What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.