The 90s wasn’t just a golden age of gaming, it was my golden age. Without a console to call my own, my vision of gaming was almost wholly built on the magazines of the age, with Mean Machines and C+VG giving me a window to a world of leaping plumbers and blue Erinaceidae that utterly transfixed my teenage self. My friend’s homes were host to these characters long before mine was, but after years of pleading my mum gave in and a Mega Drive 2 with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 finally marked my fourteenth birthday. That’s where the true beginning of a life-long fascination with games and gaming began.
This sort of nostalgia for our gaming past is pure catnip to the slightly less-young gamer, and much like me, Sega are pretty late to the party. Nintendo, as is their way, perfected the micro-console with their NES mini (as far as shrunken versions of defunct hardware can be cutting edge), and everything else that came before or since has been left in their wake. Sadly for those 8-bit fans out there, Sega have completely bypassed their own Master System and jumped straight to the Mega Drive – or Genesis if you live over there – ready to duke it out all over again with Nintendo’s SNES Mini. It’s just like the 90s, but you’re bigger and the consoles are tinier.
Tucked away in the authentic-looking packaging is a near-perfect rendition of the Model 1 Mega Drive, only it’s 55% of the original’s size. The power button works, as does the reset, though it has lost the 3.5mm headphone socket which means the volume slider is just for show. At the front there’s two standard USB sockets for the controllers while round the back there’s a micro-USB socket for power and an HDMI out so you can see what’s going on. That’s really all there is to it. As with its rival mini consoles, the Mega Drive Mini weighs next to nothing; in fact it’s so light that the included HDMI cable was bent in such a way that the console was floating in the air when I first set it up. Luckily it did eventually descend to earth.
Alongside the console there are two perfect renditions of the three button Mega Drive controller, though they sport they USB connector rather than the Atari joystick plug of the original. They feel pretty close to how you remember, with the slightly spongy D-pad and oversized face buttons doing a great job of taking you back to a simpler time. Those USB connectors mean that you can plug them into your PC too which is a nice bonus, even if they don’t have the versatility of many other controllers.
Once you turn the tiny tech treat on you’re presented with the Mega Drive Mini’s front end, which pulls together all of the 42 included games and allows you to order them in a number of different ways. Whether alphabetically or by date of release, you’ve got the original artwork there to start firing those nostalgic endorphins straight to the bit of your brain that likes old things, and you can launch into any of them from here.
A fantastic amount of attention has been given to the front end, and that includes the ability to shift between the different regional versions of each game by changing the system language. Switching regions changes the box art for each game – the Japanese game boxes are a thing of beauty – but it also fires up the original localised ROM for that game, some of which like Dynamite Headdy offer different artwork, and a reduced difficulty over the NTSC and PAL versions. Admittedly they are often minute changes, but it’s amazing to have access to them all within a few button presses.
That attention to detail carries over to the funky menu music, which sounds like it’s been dragged straight out of a Mega Drive game. It’s actually a brand new original piece from Yuzo Koshiro, the iconic composer of games such as Streets of Rage and Revenge of Shinobi, which he created using the Mega Drive’s YM2612 sound chip. Given the number of games you have to choose from, it’s something the indecisive can enjoy listening to for a good while.
The 42 games – which include previously unreleased versions of Tetris and Darius – makes the Mega Drive Mini the current champion of the micro console world, and though the upcoming PC Engine Mini is going to beat it out for sheer numbers, you’d be hard pressed to find a better collection of games to represent a console generation than the ones found here. The ports have been handled by M2 as well, which means they’re far closer than some of the cheaper multi-game Mega Drive consoles that have been on the market before.
Which title you choose first is likely to be a deeply personal choice, but for me it was Streets of Rage 2; a game that I spent countless hours on as a small person. Playing it again via the Mega Drive Mini didn’t disappoint, and I was immediately swept back up in the classic action and its amazing soundtrack. From there I jumped to the shoulder-barging thumps of Golden Axe, through the distinct ringing of Sonic 2’s collectibles and on to the uber-weird alien funk of Toejam and Earl. It’s like a tiny box containing my childhood, and it’s absolutely brilliant.
This being the future you gain a few very welcome additions, including multiple save states for every game. Holding the Start button for a few seconds takes you back into the console overlay, and from here you can access the saves and head back to the main menu, meaning you don’t have to go anywhere near the reset button on the console itself. That said, with the relatively short six-foot-long controller cables there’s plenty of chance you’re going to be sat on the floor in front of your TV anyway. Don’t worry, it just adds to the authenticity, even if you can’t cross your legs for longer than five minutes now.
Some of the games definitely aren’t as good as your rose-tinted memory vaguely remembers though, and there are some here that’ll be played for a matter of minutes before you turn them off again. The Mega Drive port of Virtua Fighter 2 was quite an achievement back in the day, but with the benefit of hindsight is both a long, long way away from the stellar arcade and Saturn versions, but is also pretty far away from being an enjoyable game too.
Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition was my first love when it comes to fighting games, but without a six button pad (available separately) it’s basically unplayable, requiring you to press the Start button to switch between punches and kicks, which has the added effect of preventing you from pausing the game. At least if you stick it in two player mode you’ll both be equally stymied, but it goes to show just how forward thinking Nintendo were with the SNES controller.