It’s been three years since the breakout success of Nintendo’s tiny NES Classic, but the miniature console wars are finally heating up. First, Nintendo followed up with the slightly improved SNES Classic, and then Sony jumped in with the somewhat disappointing PlayStation Classic. Now, it’s Sega’s turn. And while the company is late to the party, Sega — unlike Sony — seems to have learned from its predecessors. The Genesis Mini is shaping up to be the best retro console to date.
You probably already know the basics. The Genesis Mini looks just like, well, a mini Genesis, to the point that it seems more like a toy than a console. (Sega says it’s 55 percent smaller than the original Genesis.) It costs $79.99, connects to your TV via an included HDMI cable, comes with two three-button USB controllers that are solid replicas of the original Genesis gamepads, and features 42 built-in games. That puts it at the same price point as the SNES Classic and a bit cheaper than the PlayStation Classic’s $99.99 price tag. For that money, you get around twice as many included games as the other mini-systems.
Really, the game library is the highlight of the Genesis Mini. The hardware is mostly what you’d expect: it’s cute and small and solid in an unremarkable way. The library is not only huge, but it covers a lot of ground. For reference, here’s the full list:
Some of those are obvious inclusions. Of course you’re going to get Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin in a retro Sega package, and it would feel like something was missing without Gunstar Heroes and Streets of Rage 2. Comix Zone is here because, well, it always is for some reason. Other inclusions are more surprising: third-party titles like Castle of Illusion or Castlevania: Bloodlines and the not-especially-memorable fighter Eternal Champions.
What’s great about the lineup, though, is how it spans many different genres and playstyles. In particular, there are several excellent multiplayer games — Streets of Rage 2 is still a lot of fun with a friend — alongside titles like Phantasy Star IV that you can play for hours alone. The package is also rounded out with unexpected games that never actually released on the Genesis, including Tetris and the 1987 arcade shooter Darius. They’re not quite as cool as the addition of the unreleased Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic, but they’re still welcome add-ons.
Not only are the games themselves great, but the conversions are about as perfect as you can get. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. The porting for all of the games was handled by M2, a studio that’s made a name for itself with pitch-perfect translations of classic Sega titles, including the recently released Virtua Racing on the Switch. As with previous mini-consoles, you have a variety of display options, letting you render the games in the original 4:3, stretch out to 16:9, or add on a filter to replicate a CRT TV.
Aside from that, what’s most remarkable about the Genesis Mini is the attention to detail. The PlayStation Classic felt disappointing mostly because it was a step back from Nintendo’s offerings in a lot of ways. It still had no home button, and it didn’t add any new quality of life features. Sega not only nails the basics, but it has made some welcome and notable changes. Hold the start button, and you can return to the system’s main menu, instead of having to get up and hit the reset button on the console itself. You can also display the sizable library as if the games were on a bookshelf, browsing the spines. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s surprisingly nostalgic.
And then there’s perhaps my favorite feature: the menu music is a kickass new song from legendary Streets of Rage composer Yuzo Koshiro. According to Sega, he made the track using a YM2612 sound chip from the original Genesis. All of these elements — the home button, the huge library, the music — combine to make a product that actually improves on what Nintendo has done in many ways.
At this point, you probably already know if a mini-console is right for you. For many people, they’re little more than cute distractions that end up on a shelf after just a few play sessions. But for many other players, these machines are accessible and affordable tools for exploring classic games, and the Genesis Mini is a great showcase for that.
The Sega Genesis Mini launches on September 19th.