Mini consoles packed with games isn't a new concept, after all, the concept has been around for decades, although piracy has often been involved. However, since Nintendo showed that releasing classic consoles anew could be a potential success (and proved themselves right with the release of both NES and Super Nintendo mini consoles) all console manufacturers worthy of the 'classic' branding have delivered the same thing. Consequently, over the course of the last couple of years, we have been spoiled with Nintendo's offerings, and, among others, the C64 Mini, Atari Flashback 8, Playstation Classic, and SNK Neo Geo Mini.
But as you can see, something is missing. The list doesn't feel complete without the beloved Sega Mega Drive - probably the retro console that many of us have the fondest memories and stories associated with and a wonderful gadget to have in one's home. It was the console that created the console wars and that broke Nintendo's dominance of the gaming market in the early 1990s, opening the market up for Sony and later also Microsoft.
In addition, it was with the Mega Drive that Sega opened up games as an entertainment form for the older crowd. Their titles were more arcade-inspired, they were harder and they were cooler than what Nintendo had to offer, and by allowing games like Mortal Kombat to release uncensored, Sega cemented its Mega Drive as the console to buy if you wanted to be just a little bit cooler. And who didn't want to be cool back then?
Just take a phenomenon such as Nintendo's lovable plumber Mario - he literally didn't have a chance against Sonic the Hedgehog and his crazy adventures involving pumping beats, industrial levels and snowboards. According to one report, more children in the mid-90s knew about Sonic the Hedgehog than even Mickey Mouse. Nothing could stop Sega's path towards world domination other than possibly Sega itself, even if it would take a series of horribly stupid and clumsy mistakes to stop this runaway train of success.
To make a long story short, these horribly stupid and clumsy mistakes are exactly what Sega ended up making. After some amazingly good Mega Drive years, it all went to hell fairly quickly and today Sega is probably best known as the publisher of strategy games on PC and for the sad three-dimensional Sonic games that have plagued the gaming world for two decades.
But the good times have returned as the Mega Drive stands out as a fantastic piece of hardware that a lot of us still play even to this day. With world-class games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Phantasy Star IV, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage 2, Castle of Illusion, Gunstar Heroes and Wonder Boy in Monster World, it's gaming history that few other consoles will ever be able to match.
However, there is one more thing other than being excellent that all these aforementioned games have in common and that is that all of them are included in the Mega Drive Mini which will be released on October 4. An almost ridiculously superior piece of retro hardware with 42 built-in games is waiting. Exactly twice as many as the Super Nintendo Classic Mini - which is probably no coincidence. Instead of just releasing the same games the gaming giant did with the recent Mega Drive collections, Sega has actually bothered to find out what fans actually want. Therefore, besides Sega's finest moments, we can also find true classic titles and relatively unusual third-party classics like Probotector (European name for Contra: Hard Corps), World of Illusion, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Ghouls 'n Ghosts and Mega Man: The Wily Wars as well as versions of Darius and Tetris that have never been available before.
No matter how we look at this thing, it has a range that far exceeds what the other mini-consoles have had to offer, including the various officially licensed Mega Drive consoles that third-party manufacturers have sold over the years. Just like with Nintendo's quality stuff, it even offers a lovely "out-of-the-box experience" with a tiny and gorgeous Mega Drive. Two controllers are included, which are inspired by the old original variants with the three buttons, however, the console does support six-button variants via USB, if you want to upgrade.
The reason you might want to upgrade is that among the lineup of games you'll find titles that basically require six buttons, with Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition being the most obvious example. Not being able to use certain attacks without having to change the button set with the Start button does not make it very enjoyable for those who actually want to play properly. There is really nothing wrong with the included controllers and we understand if you want to recreate the original Mega Drive, but this is a minus for us.
Getting started with the Mega Drive Mini is easy. It has a Power switch that works like in the good old days (when patches and microtransactions were something people hadn't even heard of), where the Reset button has a menu function, which unlike Nintendo devices you can also access from the handset by holding the Start button for a few seconds. The headphone volume control can be flipped but is not connected to anything, more-so just a fun addition. The cartridge slot is also accessible but doesn't have any functionality. In Japan, however, you can buy a tiny 32X and Mega-CD and place the additions onto your console for decorative purpose.
When we started the unit, we got to choose our preferred language before being sent straight to the menu of games, accompanied by nice chiptune music (both newly written and classic tunes). There are easily accessible menus for those who want to see the game menu as a bookcase with spines rather than front covers, as well as various sorting functions. If you change your language, you will see the new region's game cover. You can also choose to fill the entire screen or play in classic 4:3, as well as with a CRT filter that's fun to test once and then never touch again.
Of course, 42 games are a lot and we could easily find 20 games we had each put at least an hour into since we got the Mega Drive Mini, most of which are ones we will play even more than that. This device is so small and fancy that, unlike Nintendo's counterparts, it won't be removed from beneath our TV as we plan on keeping it there for when the urge for retro strikes (in our case, that's quite often). The individual game that we personally are the most pleased with is Mega Man: The Wily Wars, which is reminiscent of Super Mario All-Stars. That is, it's a complete 16-bit remake of the first games in the series, which, incidentally, are the best ones, at least according to us.
Sure, the controls never get quite as fast on a modern flat screen as on old CRT TV's, but the feeling remains and it's a wonderful piece of gaming history. We do, however, want to highlight Castlevania: Bloodlines, which is probably the most forgotten adventure in the series, but not the worst in any way. On the contrary, it really holds up and is reminiscent of a greatly improved version of the very first game in the series. While on the topic of Konami, we also want to promote Probotector, also a forgotten title, but a true gem. We also appreciate the short presentations available for each game.
So is the range of games perfect? No, of course not, how can it ever be when there were so many more titles released for Mega Drive than the 42 included? There is always that someone who holds disasters like James Pond or Wayne's World as their favourites. Also included is Altered Beast which was for Mega Drive what Ice Climber was for NES, which is probably the reason for its inclusion. But where Ice Climber was actually incredibly fun (and still is today), Altered Beast was exceptionally bad (and is even worse today).
Something that helped define Mega Drive back in the day was the superb sports games, which here are completely absent. Sega should have made a serious attempt to get NHL 94 for the console and if that didn't work for licensing reasons - at least Mutant League Hockey. Furthermore, we miss NBA Jam, Pete Sampras Tennis, Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2. Also, it would have been nice to see classics like Robocop vs Terminator, Mortal Kombat (which had the blood and violence that was missing in the Super Nintendo version), Aladdin, Ghostbusters and Rocket Knight Adventures.
The most striking thing is that Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is missing. Several reasons have been mentioned for this, but none of them come officially from Sega. However, it seems to be related to the licensing of music, where Michael Jackson is said to have been involved. Whatever the case, it is a shame that it's not included, but on the other hand, both the first Sonic and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 are included, which many would consider better games.
With all of this said, however, our grumbles feel like minor complaints. People will always want more and the number of games is, as already stated, double that of what Nintendo and Sony offer with their own respective mini consoles. And to top it all off, the mini console offers a decent selection of games that are almost perfectly emulated by the developer M2 (which has solid experience of the retro market). In the end, it doesn't matter how we approach it, the Mega Drive Mini is the best mini-console so far and you really need this little black plastic treasure if you're searching for retro gaming gold. This is exactly how we want to remember Sega.
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