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The Sega Genesis Mini absolutely defines what these mini consoles are all about

The best mini console to date.

sega genesis mini review
Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

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It seems like a lifetime ago, Sega’s mantra was “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”. While that embodies just about everything toxic about console fanboyism, it also is pretty on point with the attitudes that the two console makers had at the time. Sega was willing to push the limits and be the edgier console whereas Super Nintendo was visibly more of the family console. Nintendo clearly won the console wars but Sega’s Genesis Mini is the one that takes the W in the mini console conversation.

Yes, the Sega Genesis Mini sets the bar for what to expect from a mini console. Sure, it has two controllers and an actual power adapter, which puts it on par with the SNES Classic. The real star of the show is that the retro console actually doubles up what Nintendo did by loading the console with 42 games, in contrast to the SNES Classic’s 21. While I can’t snub my nose at the games on the SNES Classic, the Sega Genesis Mini really has something for everyone.

After getting to spend nearly a week with the Genesis Mini, I can say that it was one of the first times in ages where I felt true nostalgia

There’s something about playing through a game you’ve completed over 20 times on the SNES Classic’s Final Fantasy VI that differs from playing a JRPG that you only briefly got to fool around with a little before accidentally deleting your brother’s end-game save data with Phantasy Star IV.

As I’ve said before, the Genesis was the white whale of my childhood, the forbidden fruit just out of my fingertips. However, the Genesis Mini win is in value and function.

It’s kind of unfair to put a price on nostalgia

sega genesis mini review

Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

If I were to put the SNES Classic and the Genesis Mini side-by-side and rattle off features, everything would initially seem to break even.

My first argument in the case of the Genesis Mini would be the general aesthetic. The whole thing feels and sounds so ’90s Sega that I expect my half-brother to show up and threaten to beat me up for enjoying it. While SNES Classic does feel streamlined to a point that you could see it work on the Switch, the Genesis Mini is apologetically obtuse and defiant to the norm. The menu theme is even composed by Yuzo Koshiro. You might not know his name, but I promise you’ve heard his works which range from Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, ActRaiser, and Ys to Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. He’s a legend.

All the games available on the Sega Genesis Mini

Really quick, before I jump into talking about the games, here’s a refresher of what is on the Sega Genesis Mini (get ready to scroll):

  • Ecco the Dolphin
  • Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Space Harrier 2
  • Shining Force
  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Toe Jam & Earl
  • Comix Zone
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Altered Beast
  • Gunstar Heroes
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2
  • Earthworm Jim
  • Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
  • World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
  • Thunder Force III
  • Super Fantasy Zone
  • Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
  • Streets of Rage 2
  • Contra Hard Corps
  • Landstalker
  • Mega Man: The Wily Wars
  • Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
  • Sonic Spinball
  • Phantasy Star IV
  • Beyond Oasis
  • Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
  • Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
  • Golden Axe
  • Vectorman
  • Wonder Boy in Monster World
  • Tetris
  • Darius
  • Virtua Fighter 2
  • Alisia Dragoon
  • Monster World IV
  • Kid Chameleon
  • Road Rash II
  • Eternal Champions
  • Columns
  • Dynamite Headdy
  • Strider
  • Light Crusader

Yeah, that’s a lot and there’s a neat little trick to make these games even more interesting. The Sega Genesis Mini has multiple identities for the different regions you can select.

Different strokes for different folks (or regions)

sega genesis mini review

Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

The Genesis Mini keeps different versions of the game software on the system to coincide with the region selected. Also, as a nifty thing to point out, the menu and box art can change a bit too. You may wonder why playing a different region of a game matters at all.

Well, that’s because console games used to have different difficulties and features based on if they were the US version, Japanese version, UK version or others. Unlike the SNES Classic, you don’t need to go and download the other ROM version, it’s on the console already. Dynamite Heady, for example, is more difficult with the Japanese region selection while Contra Hard Corps is easier. To this day, the US version of Contra Hard Corps is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, to play it in the original and more forgiving Japanese version is a treat.

The last thing I absolutely love about the Genesis Mini is just the detail that the system and console have. The controllers have the same unique feel and weight as their originals, which is nice. The console has that weird-ass volume slider that I have never seen used in the 36 years I’ve been on this Earth and the Sega CD port remains underneath the system. It’s everything you’ve come to expect from these mini consoles and more. Well, almost…

A small, but significant, misstep

controllers of the mini

Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

The Genesis Mini includes games that are not only rare (Castlevania: Bloodlines and Contra Hard Corps) or exclusives (Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Darius and Tetris) and that’s cool.

What isn’t cool is that there are games like Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition or Eternal Champions on the system, yet there are only two 3-button controllers instead of the near-mandatory 8-button that showed up later in the Genesis’ life. For anyone excited to play Street Fighter II: Special Champion Editionthe issue is glaring.

You have to use the start button to switch from kicks to punches. It doesn’t do the game justice as this was one of the first fighters that actually made active use of combos and it’s mental gymnastics to make it work here. You can buy the controllers from third-party retailers, but it feels like I’m a little cheated by having to do that to enjoy games on the system.

Another smaller, but notable, issue is that the NA/PAL, Japan and Korean version of the Mini actually have different games. I actually like MUSHA, Langrisser II and Alien Soldier but they aren’t part of the NA/PAL collection. I understand that different locations can feature different games that did better in their respective markets, but I would have loved to get my hands on those games without having to run emulators or checking to see if my Wii Virtual Console still has them downloaded.  Then again, having 42 games to play isn’t all that shabby. I’m nitpicking at this point.

Overall, I love just about everything about the retro Genesis. It’s a chance for me to own a console I’ve never owned before. It’s a chance for me to enjoy games I just got a taste of in my childhood and a way to share these games and experiences with my family. My 11-year old son commented on how the games on this mini-console just looked awesome. For the most part, he’s right. The Sega Genesis Mini hits all the checkboxes to be the absolute best in mini consoles, that is until we see what the TurboGrafx Mini looks like in March of 2020.

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Longtime games journalist and Florida resident. I'm a Guinness World Record holder, wordsmith extraordinaire, MOBA fan, devoted dad and husband. I'm here to spread the gospel of video games.

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