Introduction – Back to the Past
It’s Christmas 1994. I’m eight years old, and I just opened what my mom told me was “the big one,” the present to end all presents. Shearing through the wrapping paper, hoping it was the thing I’d been talking about all year.
It was a box for an NSA water filter.
I still remember the intense crestfallen disappointment to this day. “Thanks,” I said, and tried to act polite and open it up. But inside that box lay one of my earliest gaming obsessions. Like a trickster, my mom had hidden a prize inside that boring old appliance box. Inside was the SEGA Genesis.
The surprise was instantaneous, and so were the hoots (I re-watched our old family VHS tape to try and recapture that feeling…and typing it in words would just be all capital YES!’s over and over) of jubilation and total glee.
I finally had one. I finally had my own SEGA Genesis. It came with Sonic 2, the Genesis GOAT, and ECCO: The Tides of Time, a maddening yet fascinating game about a telekinetic/psychic dolphin battling nefarious sea creatures.
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Back then, you either had a Nintendo or a Genesis. It was like yin and yang, fire and water. Nobody had both, and it was a real treat going to your bud’s house that had the system you didn’t. It was a little like going behind enemy lines, somewhat betraying that shiny console you had at home, collecting intel from the other side. That might be a bit dramatic, but brand loyalty was as fierce back then as it is today, especially when you were a budding nerd growing up with 16-bit classics.
The times were interesting, to say the least, and the Genesis is a definitive 90’s product.
I remember the ads would play incessantly on TV and drive your parents batshit crazy; there was talk of bits, blast processing, and the infamous Genesis does what NINTENDON’T! I remember going to rent video games just about everywhere–back then even grocery stores like Albertson’s would rent games–and being excited to try out something new.
And holy hell do I remember the abject frustration of having to figure out games like Toe Jam and Earl or Beavis and Butthead on my own.
The SEGA Genesis Mini brings all of this back in a tsunami tidal wave of nostalgia. It hits you pretty hard, especially when you fire up Comix Zone (a game that I tried so, so so hard to beat) and jam out to the rocking tunes of Sonic 2’s Casino Night Zone. Earthworm Jim instantly transported me to those days where my buds and I would obsess over finding new tricks after jumping on the trampoline for what seemed like eons, right before it got dark, and we all had to go home.
The endless tournaments of Street Fighter II (Dhalsim remains a total cheap fighter to this day) where everyone frantically mashed buttons and tried to pretend they knew what they were doing. And those old late-night weekend sessions of Streets of Rage 2 as we battled it out against teeming waves of buff baddies.
The Genesis Mini also brings back the old familiar rage associated with retro gaming, the kind of annoying cheap tricks that geeks like the Angry Video Game Nerd have exhaustively chronicled through 14 years of cursing.
The Ghouls n’ Ghosts kind of rage where one mistake costs you all your level progress, the incredibly unfair and ridiculous Toe Jam and Earl random spontaneity that pretty much wipes out your near-perfect run of luck in just seconds. Games like The Lawnmower Man, which totally blew me away as a kid with its 3D-esque sequences, aggravated me to no end in the later levels.
That old-school feeling blasts right through you not unlike the blast processing that propelled those 16-bit games of yore.
It’s not really a trip down memory lane, but more like resurrecting the old haunt that was your childhood room where you sat, face illuminated by the blueish glow of a CRT screen as you held your breath and tried with all your might to kill that last boss. And the heart-pounding joy when you finally, against all odds, beat the game.
If you grew up with a Genesis, all of these feelings and memories pretty much wash over you when you fire up the Mini. But that’s the point, isn’t it? To re-sell your nostalgia in a nice convenient package? Of course. And SEGA does an incredible job of it.
The best part about the SEGA Genesis Mini is the games. Hands down. There are some real gems included here (and some clunkers, sure, but the good ones outweigh the bad). The Mini packs 40 games (double that of the SNES and PlayStation Mini) that ensure there’s something for everyone, but there’s sure a lot of meaty long-winded RPGs in here, so if that’s your thing you’ll love this system.
As a kid, I didn’t own a lot of Genesis games. It didn’t help I had to share the Genesis with my sister’s husband, who was obsessed with the Genesis’ massive library of sports games (I will say Madden ’94 is a favorite of mine, though). My primary access to trying new games was either at a friend’s or renting them from Blockbuster.
So a lot of the Genesis Mini’s games are 100% new to me, and playing them is like opening up an old time capsule full of generous gifts your past self left for you. I never played games like Landstalker, for instance, which is pretty damn good. The platforming can be a bit wonky, but I like the overall mechanics and the isometric view.
Playing through these games was like time-traveling to another age, but also discovering relics that I didn’t really know were there. It’s a pretty interesting feeling to dig up interactive treasure like this, especially now with the resurgence of retro games on YouTube and Twitch.
It’s also worth noting that nearly all of these games are experiences you can sink quite a bit of time into. They’re pretty meaty, and there’s an eclectic mix of one-player and two-player favorites to keep everyone happy.
The emulation is pretty good too. I didn’t have any horrible stutters or lag issues that interrupted gameplay. Everything was silky smooth and reflected the genuine Genesis experience.
Here’s a list of some of the most notable games on the SEGA Genesis Mini:
It’s kind of like a bullet-hell meets sidescroller, set in a fantasy wrapper. The game is pretty satisfying and has you destroying tons of enemies on the screen, and you can swap out your different dragon avatars to help you in battle. Pretty interesting action platformer gameplay mechanics that hearken back to the days where you just annihilate everything your path, and the visuals are peak Genesis.
It gets pretty tough later on and is definitely worth a shot.
A nifty top-down hack-and-slash RPG game that fully exhibits this experimental time period in gaming. It’s clunky and awkward, but it has a visual style and a kind of enamoring gameplay that reminds me of Aladdin on Genesis. In fact, it’s a lot like Zelda too… just more visually appealing and less responsive, if that makes sense.
It’s not amazing, but it’s not bad either, and definitely should be a game you try. It’s also a game you could spend a lot of time in.
A MUST PLAY on the Genesis Mini. Classic hard-as-nails platforming action with some nice fresh twists for the franchise, including the spear-toting Eric Lecarde. The game will take you to all sorts of awesome locations that show off the Genesis’ power, complete with the wave reflection level and hulking bossfights.
It’s not the best Castlevania, but it’s far from the worst and has some of the best visuals in the series.
Ever wanted to play a comic book? This is one I owned growing up, and boy did it frustrate me. It’s a damn cool game with one of the best visual styles on the platform, but it’s also hard as nails and extremely unforgiving. It’s basically a sidescrolling beat-em-up slash platformer with very good hit detection and awesome combos.
Thankfully now we have save states… or else I’d probably never get very far in it.
Contra Hard Corps
This one’s another hard-as-nails retro hit, and perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Contra great: over-the-top action, chaotic gunfights, insane bosses, and a distinct thrilling challenge that puts your old-school skills to the test.
Definitely play it with two players.
This one shouldn’t need any introduction. Earthworm Jim is one of the weirdest platformers in existence and still stands up today as a good representative of those weird days of 1990s gaming. It’s really hard, awkward, janky, and will generally frustrate you if you’re not used to the rather clumsy controls.
But it’s still one of the most iconic games ever made, and it’s definitely worth a playthrough.
Ecco The Dolphin
A remarkably simple game with some of the most beautiful graphics and visuals of the era. You play as a dolphin who uncovers mysterious forces at play under the ocean, and you have to solve all sorts of puzzles without losing your way. It’s a game about exploration and has an atmosphere that’s all its own.
The momentum physics of Ecco’s swimming and jumping are tremendously satisfying, and you constantly find yourself cruising through the waters and flying up to do some somersaults and elaborate spins.
Ghouls n’ Ghosts
A 16-bit sequel to Ghosts n Goblins that’s much more forgiving than its NES counterpart, but it’ll still piss you off. Playing this reminds me of the kinds of games we had as kids, the ones that, to borrow from AVGN, turned you into tigers when NES fever set in. It’s a really good game, but a really tough game based on chance, skill, and clunky platforming jumps.
Definitely give it a shot.
This one’s tons of fun. It’s a stylish shoot-em-up in the vein of Contra, but with a lot more style. Developed by Treasure, the game is colorful, chaotic, and a great way to pass the time with a friend in tow.
You can customize your loadout for each mission to add some replayability, and everything is optimized to make it just hard enough while being quite fair. Lots of experimentation and teamwork is needed to progress, but it’s an all-around great romp.
This is another one I never played before. It’s a pretty long-winded RPG with an isometric style, combining hack-and-slash action with an inventory-based system, exploration, and platforming aspects.
The isometric view makes combat a bit frustrating–you’re locked to a four-way grid–but it’s refreshingly enjoyable. Definitely something that paved the way for more modern games. It’s grindy, and has a wacky storyline set in a fantasy world, but I recommend it nonetheless.
Another isometric hack-and-slash RPG, but it’s more fantasy-based and more serious. And a lot more janky and time-consuming. It marries puzzles with platforming and encourages experimentation in combat to boot.
The view and combat system can be maddening at times–you can’t attack diagonally so you’re always trying to orient yourself properly–but it’s another surprisingly deep retro game that I missed out on. It lacks the immediate fun of something like Sonic 2, but it should be on your radar nonetheless.
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
This is basically a collection that packs in the first three Mega Man games. I will admit that playing Mega Man with a Genesis controller just feels super weird, but for the most part the games are intact–frustration and all.
Definitely a must-play for anyone who grew up with these games… but be forewarned, you’re going to get angry.
Phantasy Star IV
A classic turn-based RPG set in the Genesis’ landmark series (it’s basically the platform’s version of Final Fantasy). A little rough around the edges, but tells an interesting story with high sci-fantasy lore intermingled with original themes, and the RPG mechanics are top-notch.
It’s another game you can put some serious time into, and it has a nifty anime style to boot.
ANOTHER RPG. Noticing a trend? This one is amazing. It’s basically Final Fantasy Tactics before FFT existed, and you really, really need to check it out. You build up a squad, spread them out on a tactical grid, level them up and equip them with gear, and just overall wreak havoc on fields of baddies.
Tactical strategy is key, and this one is a game you can really sink your teeth into. Don’t sleep on it.
This one isn’t nearly as good as its NES forebears, but it’s definitely a lot easier. The controls are clunky, but the environments are beautiful, ditto for the graphics. It’s worth a whirl, but you’ll have to get acclimated to the funky mechanics and movement schemes–they’re not nearly as responsive as the previous games.
Sonic the Hedgehog
This one doesn’t need any real introduction. The Blue Blur’s debut on the Genesis was basically akin to Mario Bros. on the NES, bringing a colorful style and an emphasis on goin’ faaaaaaaaaast. It’s a simple game that’s tons of fun, filled to the brim with secrets, boss battles, and the birth of an iconic (albeit troubled) franchise that’d define SEGA’s gaming business for decades to come.
The best game on the SEGA Genesis, hands down. It’s a must-play for anyone and everyone. Seriously, if you haven’t played Sonic 2, it should be the first game you fire up on the Mini. The inclusion of two player was a huge deal back in the day, and my friends and I would always take turns being Sonic (Tails was pretty cool, but Sonic was always top hog)
There’s so many iconic levels with rockin’ tunes (my favorite is the Casino Night Zone, and I still have flashbacks to drowning in the Chemical Plant Zone), weird bosses, clever and unique maps… and a new dimension of play with the power ups. It’s not all about going fast and collecting rings–it’s about finding little tricks and hidden goodies along the way.
Like Mario 3, Sonic 2 is a timeless game you can pretty much play at any time, anywhere.
This one is a bit more obscure. It’s Sonic, but only pinball. Instead of platforming around and battling bosses with speed and well-timed jumps, you’re using luck and coordination to blast Dr. Robotnik’s on-screen baddies. The visual style is pretty dark and weird and has you on Eggman’s turf this time; everything has a cast-out rotten feel to it, metal is rusted, there’s slime and ooze and acid everywhere. Just a memorable experience for anyone who grew up with Sonic.
It’s not for everyone, and there’s a big of jank to it, but I grew up with it, so Sonic Spinball has a fond place in my heart.
Street Fighter II
Everyone on planet Earth knows about this game. Back in the day, you had two choices: Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Of course, MK was cooler with all the blood and fatalities, but Street Fighter had a tremendous appeal, and anyone could jump right in. If you had SFII, you were the man, and everyone wanted to stay the night at your place.
To this day, I still hate Chun-Li’s infinite kick combo (it’s given me PTSD), and Dhalsim is a total cheapskate. It’s really awkward to play with a three-button controller, though, and much more fun on the SNES’s four-button pad.
Streets of Rage 2
Beat-em-ups at their best. This game is addictive with two players and really brings that authentic arcade feel right to your living room. It’s really one of those games that’s stood up the test of time for generations and remains a hallmark of what brawlers should be, hearkening back to Double Dragon days of yore (my favorite is still Maximum Carnage).
Grab a friend and a pizza and get crackin’ some skulls.
It’s like Shinobi if it were set in a cyberpunk universe of Russian mechs and dystopian tech. The animations aren’t tremendously smooth, but its satisfying hack-and-slash platforming brings something to the table. It’s more of a game you play to see how far you can get, an experience where you push yourself.
Strider gets pretty damn tough the farther you go and represents a big challenge for would-be retro masochists.
Toe Jam and Earl
This one’s super iconic, but it hasn’t aged well at all. It’s one of the most confusing, dumbfounding, and frustrating games on the Genesis library… yet it has a strong magnetic appeal all the same.
It’s a two-player romp where you work together to collect, survive, and explore. You basically wander around a series of maps in a top-down isometric view collecting ship parts so you can get back to planet Funkotron. There are tons of hilarious enemies on the map, including boogie men, lawnmower dudes, bees, and hula girls. Everything’s out to get you–very rarely do you find anyone nice.
But there’s some magic here. Magic that could only happen in the 1990s, a kind of timeless style that’s frozen in time
This one has a really, really neat storyline straight out of a comic book, complete with awesome pre-rendered 3D visuals and innovative shoot-em-up platforming. You’re a weird kind of “orbot” that’s designed to clean up sludge, but you’re special: you can shoot blasts of energy out of your hands.
I love how the game transforms over time. At one level, you’re platforming and shooting everything, and another you’re formed into a train-tank to blast a huge hullking boss while riding a rail. This one is a nice winding story that gets better the longer you play.
One game I really wish the Genesis Mini had? Rocket Knight Adventures. I adored that game and still remember the old advertisements with the opossum.
I’d also love to see the Splatterhouse games on here. They’re shocking, macabre, and brutal… but that’s why they’re so awesome. And where’s Maximum Carnage?? Or maybe even Primal RAGE?
Controller Quality and Features
The Genesis Mini comes with two pretty decent USB controllers, but sadly I couldn’t get them to work well with the SEGA collection on PC. Oddly enough, I was able to play Switch games with the controller.
The controllers themselves are the three-button ones, not the awesome six-button handsets, so get used to smacking buttons left and right. They’re of decent quality, but the D-pads feel a bit wonky. Not broken or bad, just…sort of off. Then again, it’s been a long, long time since I’ve actually held a Genesis controller.
Controller length comparison:
- SEGA Genesis Mini – 6 feet 4 inches (76 inches)
- PlayStation Mini – 4 feet 5 inches (53 inches)
- SNES Mini – 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches)
The controllers are nice and long, which is great. One of my biggest complaints with these mini retro systems is their laughable controller cord length. The Genesis Mini clocks in at an awesome 76 inches, giving you plenty of room to stretch the cords out and give space between you and your TV.
Another small but welcome feature is that the console knows which game you were last playing. So if you were playing, say, Sonic Spinball (you should be playing that) before you turned off the console, that game will be highlighted when you boot the system back up.
One of the coolest features of the Genesis Mini is being able to access the system’s main menu by holding the start button. This lets you quickly save or load a save state (a great feature for noobs like myself who forgot their old-school skills), reset a game, or go back to the main menu, all without having to manually hit the reset button the system itself.
I love save states and find these little cheat mechanics a great way to replay some of these titles. I’m far from my expert days of platforming, and I need a nice little handicap at my old age. Maybe sometime I’ll get around to beating Vectorman.
The SEGA Genesis Mini is one of the finest micro-consoles on the market. It’s easy plug-and-play interface makes time traveling to our nostalgia 1990s childhoods a breeze, and the game selection is pretty damn good. There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a die-hard RPG fanatic who loves Shining Force, a bullet-hell aficionado, a vampire hunter in Castlevia Bloodlines, or a Sonic 2 superfan like myself.
The mix of one- and two-player games is a nice touch, and I can see myself blasting through more Streets of Rage 2 with my buds.
The save state feature is tremendously helpful and lets you save up to four files per game. It comes in handy when you’re playing tough-as-nails platformers like Strider or Comix Zone.
The Genesis Mini is a must-have for anyone who grew up with the system, and makes for a great gift for a friend or a loved one that’s sure to put a smile on their face. At just $50, it’s a great value proposition for the quantity and quality of games offered, especially with the breadth of experience it offers–and you can even detach the Genesis controllers and use them on other platforms.
- Great selection with 40 games
- Tons of RPGs
- Controller length
- Save States
- Flawless emulation
- Easy main menu access while in-game
- Enamoring and super cute case that looks just like an old-school SEGA Genesis
- Controllers are semi-janky
- Missing some big Genesis hits
- No rewind functionality
- Miniature SEGA Genesis replica
- Includes 40 legendary games
- Plug and play ready
- SEGA Genesis Mini Console & 2 wired controllers
- 40 games- Power cable & USB adapter
- HDMI cable
SEGA Genesis Mini Games
- 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
- Earthworm Jim
- Castle of Illusion
- Shinobi III
- Contra: Hard Corps
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- World of Illusion
- Thunder Force III
- Super Fantasy Zone
- Streets of Rage 2
- Beyond Oasis
- Ghouls n’ Ghosts
- Alex Kidd
- Golden Axe
- Phantasy Star IV
- Street Fighter 2
- Mega Man: The Wily Wars
- Sonic Spinball
- Wonderboy in Monster World
- Virtua Fighter 2
- Alisia Dragoon
- Dynamite Headdy
- Kid Chameleon
- Light Crusader
- Monster World IV
- Eternal Champions
- Road Rash II