The Sega Genesis Mini is a diminutive version of the classic console, but the controllers are full-sized and authentic enough. The game library, while not exhaustive, is a particularly well-curated survey. What’s unique about the Mini, however, is that for once Sega itself is handling production duties instead of outsourcing to the familiar bargain bin outfit, AtGames.
Saga has created what is the best iteration of a miniature console to date. The $79.99 Sega Genesis Mini nails all of the basics, with great, adorable hardware and a varied selection of classic games. But it also goes a step further, with an attention to detail that makes it more than just a fun plastic box: it’s a celebration of the most important years of Sega’s long history.
At a glance, the Genesis Mini looks just like its competitors: a shrunken version of a console that came out decades ago. It’s plastic and toy-like, and Sega says it’s 55 percent the size of the original console. It weighs next to nothing. The top features the familiar “16 BIT” logo in raised silver letters, along with the premature “high definition graphics” boast printed right on the casing.
Functionally, the Genesis Mini is dead simple. There are only two ports on the back, one for power, one for HDMI. You can plug it in and start playing immediately, without the constant need for online updates that plague most modern devices. It’s refreshing, as is the pleasingly straightforward controller. Like the console itself, the three-button gamepad feels authentic. It’s a big plastic shell, with a solid D-pad and comically huge face buttons. It’s so simple that it’s a nice break from modern gamepads; there’s no transforming your hand into a claw to hit multiple buttons simultaneously. The only real downside is that the controller is wired, and it has a relatively short six-foot-long wire.
Software-wise, the Genesis Mini includes most of the expected features. Each game has multiple save files, so you can hop in and out of games easily, bypassing the often restrictive nature of retro game saves. You can display games in widescreen or standard view, with multiple wallpaper options to fill in the gaps, and titles can be organized by a range of factors like release date or number of players supported. You can even flip the box art around and view games by their spine, as if they were on a bookshelf.
The most important part of the device is the game library itself. Since they come preloaded and there’s no way to change or update them outside of hacking, the library is crucial. The Sega Genesis Mini features 42 different games, a big jump from Nintendo and Sony’s offerings, and they do an amazing job of showcasing the console’s eclectic history. There are the obvious inclusions, like the first two Sonic the Hedgehog games and Sega mainstays Columns, Golden Axe, and Ecco the Dolphin. But there are also some great third-party titles, including Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps. The Genesis Mini also includes less-heralded but no less important — Sega titles like the Mickey Mouse adventure Castle of Illusion and its sequel, alongside ambitious oddities like the fantasy adventure game Beyond Oasis.
The games play just like you remember them, thanks to the technical handiwork of retro game studio M2, which has a storied history of porting classic Sega titles. What’s fascinating is how the games not only span play styles and genres, but also history. If you play 1989’s Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, one of the earliest Genesis games, and then explore the colorful adventure of Monster World IV, which came out five years later, it’s hard to believe they were developed for the same hardware. You can follow the trajectory of Genesis games from souped up 8-bit games to experiences that were really pushing the limits of what the console was capable of.
For anyone looking to pick up the Genesis Mini is how long all of those appealing elements will keep you interested. Plug-and-play retro consoles are a great idea on the surface, a simple and inexpensive way of exploring classic games on a modern TV, without the hassle that comes from dealing with old hardware or cartridges.