Sega may have uncovered the cheapest form of time-travel there is with the Genesis Mini. Take one look at its box and you’re suddenly yanked by the neck to another place entirely (1991, for most); a place where Pogs are still cool and everyone has a Tamagotchi they’ve forgotten to feed. With the exception of some modern tweaks, you’d almost believe that your old Genesis has been dredged up from someone’s cupboard after decades of neglect. And you know the best part? After our Sega Genesis Mini review, we can safely say it’s everything you’d hope for, rose-tinted goggles or not: this is comfortably one of the best retro game consoles out there.
With a decade of games to choose from, deciding which beloved titles make the cut for a mini console is tricky. Luckily for Sega fans, the Genesis Mini’s selection is a winner. The system features 42 games drawn from every era of Genesis history, and all of them are pre-downloaded so you can jump right in. Although you won’t be surprised by many of the classics on that list (repeat offenders Sonic the Hedgehog, Ecco the Dolphin, and Golden Axe are back once again), some unusual choices like Earthworm Jim, Road Rash 2, and Castle of Illusion are featured as well. This gives the Mini’s library a vibrant, eclectic feel.
It’s not a sensation that carries across to the hardware though, and that’s no bad thing. The controllers are exactly as you remember them, while the unit itself is the spitting image of a Genesis (only smaller, obviously). There’s even a faux cartridge slot you can open and blow into to clear any ‘dust’. Did that ever work? I’ve got no idea, but seeing it back is a cool touch, even if it’s only decorative.
Fortunately, its connections aren’t as old-school. This model comes with an HDMI port as the standard output, and the controllers are powered by USB. Unlike the PlayStation Classic, with its painfully short controller cables, the Genesis Mini offers 6ft+ of length, so you’re not perched uncomfortably close to your TV. When you hold them for the first time, they feel and respond just like the OG versions of the original controller, for better or worse, and they give games that slightly unforgiving edge.
Sadly, that’s not a net positive. It serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come since the early 90s where controller design is concerned. Compared to modern equivalents, the Mini’s casing and buttons seem too light, loose, and spongy. For example, its d-pad is over-responsive in the menu – I often overshot the game I aimed to select. Similarly, its shape and the position of everything is slightly odd in retrospect.
Fortunately, none of this is an issue in-game. Once you’re playing, these criticisms fall away; the Genesis Mini’s handset worked like a charm whenever I needed it to. And it’s hard not to be won over when the games are treated with so much care and reverence. Each one features a small informative blurb, so browsing the library is like wandering through a museum exhibit.
Something else you won’t have seen before is the menu system. This gives you a centralised library from which to choose your game, and it can be organized in pretty nifty ways. You can sort it by release date, genre, alphabetically, and by the number of players who can get involved. It’s a straightforward system that’s easy to navigate. It’s era-appropriate in terms of font and palette, while the simple-but-effective block layout makes it easy to see what’s available at a glance (as a cool aside, you can hit B to see every game arranged as if they’re Genesis box spines).
Oh, and that new menu? It’s made even better due to original music by legendary composer Yuzo Koshiro, the man behind the soundtracks of ActRaiser, Streets of Rage, and countless more. It’s joyously ’90s. As Koshiro pointed out on Twitter, he “programmed the music dedicated to YM2612 sound chip playing authentic Genesis/MegaDrive sound with many soundbanks chosen from actual games in the menu”. It’s these little touches that make the Mini so endearing – modern, yet wonderfully evocative of a time and place.
The packaging is an ode to the original as well. It’s almost identical, right down to that black-grey hatch pattern and Sonic artwork. It’s all so ’90s I can practically see the hair curtains and hear those dial-up internet tones.
The Mini plays just as good as it looks. This is a smooth ride down memory lane without any bugs, hiccups, or issues to be found. Whether we were playing Streets of Rage 2 or bouncing back to the menu mid-action, it didn’t so much as flinch.
Actual games on the Mini won’t fill your screen thanks to the low aspect ratio – a feature common to most retro consoles. To get around this, Sega have given you a choice of two wallpaper backgrounds or the bog-standard black bars on either side. If you’d prefer, you can also stretch the game so it fits the entire screen.
What’s more, its games still hold up almost 30 years later because of their 16-bit visuals and 2D gameplay. They’re more unforgiving than we’re used to these days, yes, but many are held up as all-time greats for a reason. Being able to save and load progress on the fly only serves to make them more enjoyable. Even though it’s a pain to bring those options up (you have to hold the start button down for a few seconds before saving, loading, or returning to the menu), it’s not a huge issue.
And let’s be honest – revisiting old favorites will smooth over any frustrations. The Genesis Mini is home to some incredible games that haven’t lost their charm, and I spent the better part of a morning playing through the library and grinning like an idiot. Streets of Rage 2 remains a masterclass of 2D action that’s every bit as fun now as it was in 1992. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is oozing with character, and it presents a charming alternative to traditional attacks by allowing you to collect and throw apples at enemies. Street Fighter 2 is every bit as great as you remember, while Earthworm Jim is oddly charming with its novel and bizarre gameplay. Basically, they all hold up despite being very long in the tooth.
Sure, other games haven’t aged quite as well. Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle is bananas thanks to a world where people who lose rock, paper, scissors are full-on crushed to death under a ton weight. Meanwhile, Toejam and Earl is trying far too hard to be ‘edgy’ (“Toejam is a weiner”, apparently), and if we’re being frank it didn’t make much sense to begin with. But they’re the exception rather than the rule.
Still, even with games that are now showing their age, the Sega Genesis Mini gets away with it because it’s a love-letter to the past. It’s a system that’s been painstakingly recreated almost exactly as it was, only better. The hours of enjoyment you’ll get from it will vary depending on your history with Sega, of course, but it’s easy to appreciate even if you’re coming in fresh.