‘SEGA Genesis Mini’ Hardware Review – How Does It Stack Up Against ‘SEGA Forever’?

I know what you’re thinking, friends. What the heck does the SEGA Genesis Mini have to do with mobile gaming? Sure, the console fits in your pocket, but without a screen to call its own, it’s not exactly something you’re going to be playing on the road. That’s certainly true, but I think many of us mobile gamers spend some time playing on our TVs in some form or another, and our collective obsession with all things small makes us quite weak to these adorable miniature consoles. Plus, we already have a way to play many SEGA Genesis classics on our mobile devices thanks to SEGA’s own SEGA Forever releases. I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering what exactly is the best way to play SEGA Genesis games these days, and while I’m not going to do a comprehensive comparison of all the ways you can do that, I thought it might be nice to see how SEGA’s newest stacks up against its last mobile push.

Before we get into the comparisons, I’d like to talk a little about the SEGA Genesis Mini console itself. It’s frankly an incredible example of this kind of product, and may well be my favorite of the many released so far. The main unit is perfectly detailed, with all kinds of things that don’t need to be there but are. You can’t plug headphones into this mini Genesis, but you can still play with the headphone volume slider. There are no cartridges needed to play the games, but you can still play with the flaps on the cartridge slot. The ports on the machine are different, naturally. You’ve got an HDMI output, USB ports for the two included controllers, and naturally a place to stick the power cable. All of the needed cables are included, and the USB power cord comes with an AC adapter plug. We haven’t even powered this thing on and it’s already passing the PlayStation Mini.

The controllers have been a major point of contention thanks to the Western SEGA branches opting for the original three-button controller instead of the six-button pad. I will say that the controllers themselves feel perfect. I had such a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I held one of those kidney bean-shaped beauties in my hands for the first time in literal decades. The buttons and directional pad feel high-quality, perhaps even more so than the original controllers. The cables are nice and long so you can play far away from where you’ve set the main unit, too. But yes, in going with these controllers over the later six-button pads, a choice was made to prioritize nostalgia over playability, and there are a few games where it feels like the wrong choice was made. You can buy the six-button controller separately through Retro-Bit, but I’m not sure how many people want to stack an extra $40 cost on top to get a couple of controllers just to play the Genesis Street Fighter 2 properly with a friend.

Moving over to the software side of things, I have to say I was mostly impressed but still have a few complaints. The games all run really well, probably better than they have in any other recent SEGA Genesis collection. There’s a slight audio delay but I doubt most people will even pick up on it, let alone be annoyed by it. Certain games also have a slight issue with how they’re displayed due to the resolutions used, but again I feel most people won’t notice it. In terms of options, there are a couple of different display methods you can choose from, and you can apply a scanline filter to either of them if you like. It’s not a great filter, though. It kind of overdoes it the way that many such options tend to, and it doesn’t feel authentic at all. That’s a shame because the pixel-perfect visuals can look really chunky on an HD display.

One fantastic feature is the ability to switch languages, which will bring up the appropriate region’s version of the games where available. Sometimes this completely transforms a game, such as turning Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine back into Puyo Puyo when you switch the language to Japanese. Then there are cases where the difficulty changed from region to region, such as with Contra Hard Corps. And sometimes, it’ll just remove a bit of the old self-censoring that happened so often back in the 1990s. The entire UI will change when you switch languages, transforming your very Genesis-like screen into a colorful Mega Drive UI at the flick of an option. Very cool.

You can also save your state at any time in one of four slots per game. You can bring up the menu by hitting the Reset button on the console, or by holding the Start button on the controller for a few seconds. Cheers for giving us a way to do that without having the console near us, SEGA. One bad point is that if you want to change any of the visual options, you need to exit out of the game completely and go back to the main menu. It’s a little extra step that wasn’t there in Nintendo’s mini consoles, and it’s kind of annoying when you just want to see how the filter looks in a particular scene.

The make or break on these machines, I find, comes from the game selection. And in this regard, SEGA absolutely knocked it out of the park. The 42-game selection doesn’t include every game you’d ever want, and there are certainly a few notable titles missing here for what I’m sure are good reasons. It also focuses on breadth more than depth, so if you were hoping to run through the Genesis Phantasy Star trilogy, you’re going to be out of luck. But as a cross-section of the games that made the Genesis what it was, this bunch hits a lot of highlights. The sheer quantity certainly helps here, allowing SEGA to include, say, five side-scrolling platformers without worrying that other genres will suffer for it. There are a few lesser-known titles in the mix that should be nice discoveries for players only familiar with the bigger hits, too.

The biggest absences, in my opinion, are from sports games and racing games, both very popular genres on the system that are barely represented here. I understand why, as those represent some of the trickier licensing snags of the era. I also understand why the company likely stayed away from more mature titles like Mortal Kombat. But it does mean that the selection isn’t perfectly representative of the system as a whole. And yes, it sucks that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 isn’t here. I’m pretty sure I know why it isn’t here, and I know there isn’t much SEGA can do about it, but that doesn’t make its absence any less noticeable. That said, if you look at what is here rather than what isn’t and compare it to other mini consoles, the SEGA Genesis Mini is the clear king of the hill for the moment.

All in all, it’s a great little mini console and incredibly easy to recommend to anyone who likes these little nostalgia machines. But how does it compare to SEGA’s efforts to twang the strings of days gone by in the mobile market? Well, let me say before taking one step further: of course the Genesis Mini is better than playing the SEGA Forever games on your mobile device. But surprisingly, it’s not a flawless victory. There are some things I like better about SEGA Forever, and I’m going to go through them here.

First of all, the Genesis Mini does not have a rewind feature the way the SEGA Forever games and the rival Super NES Classic Mini do. Sure, it’s not really that important, but it’s a nice feature to have given how ridiculously tough some of these games are. Don’t think of it so much as a way to cheat but rather as a means of cutting down how many save states worry-warts are going to be making. The SEGA Forever games also include more video options, though the scanlines aren’t great here either. Region options are sometimes available, but only on certain games. That said, you can access these options at any time without exiting the game in the SEGA Forever versions, the lack of which capability being a weak point of the Genesis Mini in my opinion.

As for the game collection, I think taken as a whole the Genesis Mini is indeed better. Its 42 games handily win in a battle of numbers, and the inclusion of third-party titles makes for a more varied and enjoyable line-up all around. But SEGA Forever has a few points in its favor here, too. It has all three games in the Golden Axe, Phantasy Star, and Shining series instead of just one each. It has the first Streets of Rage in addition to the sequel. It also has some off-the-wall cuts like Decap Attack, Ristar, and Eswat. And if a game calls for six buttons, it can make those extra buttons appear without any sweat. The emulation quality isn’t anywhere near M2’s work on the Genesis Mini, but after all the work that went into improving the SEGA Forever emulator over the years, it’s certainly playable. And the MFi support means you can play with the controller of your choice as well.

Then there’s the matter of the mobile Sonic and Sonic 2, both remade from the ground-up by Christian Whitehead and his team. Are they Genesis-accurate? No, but I think it’s hard to argue which versions are better in those particular cases. It’s surprisingly tough going back to Sonic 1 without a spin-dash after so many versions have retroactively added it in. I don’t say any of this to decry the Genesis Mini. It’s an amazing machine and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s the hottest-selling piece of gaming gear this Christmas season in North America and Europe. But there are still reasons to play the SEGA Forever selection even in the face of such an impressive new product.

I’d encourage anyone who walked away from SEGA Forever‘s rather poor launch to revisit some of the Genesis games it brought to mobile. I don’t think we’re getting any further games added, but the strides made in improving the emulator ended up in a pretty solid way to play an enjoyable, sometimes off-beat selection of Genesis classics. I was one of SEGA Forever‘s harshest critics early on, so believe me when I say that the Genesis end of things really did come around in the end. So if you have a great time playing Phantasy Star 4 or Shining Force on your spiffy new SEGA Genesis Mini, you can dig deeper into those franchises by swinging around to the App Store and exploring the SEGA Forever take on some of the other games.

Well, let’s try to sum all of this up. The SEGA Genesis Mini is an awesome blast of nostalgia. SEGA has put in a better effort than I ever would have imagined, and the result frankly puts the competition to shame to varying degrees. Would that the battle of SEGA versus Sony had gone this way back in the day. The choice of controller is a bit of a bummer, particularly with the included fighting games, but it’s hard to scrounge up many complaints outside of that. The selection of games is excellent, with only a few duds that at least have some historical significance backing their inclusion. I certainly encourage anyone with any love for SEGA or this particular era of gaming to buy one of these mega-wonders and indulge in some fantastic video games from yesteryear. The debate may rage on as to which side was best back in the 1990s, but at least when it comes to these mini-consoles, Genesis does what… well, you know the rest.

SEGA Genesis Mini Score: 4.5/5


A SEGA Genesis unit was provided by SEGA of America for the purposes of this review.