Sega Genesis Mini review: A wistful 16-bit trip back to simpler times

Sega has managed to condense decades of nostalgia into a tidy package well worthy of a place under your TV. This is the Sega Genesis Mini.

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The Sega Genesis Mini (or Sega Mega Drive Mini for those of us outside the U.S.) is the latest in a surge of attempts to bank on millennial nostalgia, particularly those who grew up in the late 80s or 90s. The original Sega Genesis launched in 1988, and became a wildly successful home console that helped mainstream the industry.

The Genesis wasn't a huge success story in its homeland of Japan, faced with intense competition from Nintendo, but it found solid success in the West. Personally, it was my preferred console of choice of its era, if for no reason other than the games were, for some reason, cheaper than its Nintendo-branded counterparts.

The Genesis Mini seeks to recreate the original console, complete with faux buttons, recreated wired controllers, and a pretend cartridge door. No need to blow into this one.

Powered entirely by USB, the Sega Genesis Mini is a wonderful little device that will make for an awesome gift for that nostalgic 90s kid in your life, or for those who want new generations to experience the 16-bit greatness of the past.

What you'll love about the Sega Genesis Mini

Sega has lovingly reconstructed its classic first-generation Sega Genesis, down to every nostalgic detail. The volume slider for headphone audio, the reset button, power switch, and even the cartridge dock are all present, albeit joined by a couple of new additions, namely the HDMI and USB ports. The Genesis Mini is a simple plug-and-play device, and can be powered using any standard USB A/C connection. I was even able to power it from my laptop, without using the bundled plug. RF antenna switches be damned.

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CategorySega Genesis Mini
Size9.8 x 3.9 x 11.8 inches
Weight2 pounds
Launch dateSeptember 19, 2019
Game library40 games total
In the boxUSB power, HDMI cable, two controllers, Genesis Mini unit

There have been a few Sega Genesis Mini-like devices over the years, as Sega has been quite eager to license out its brand and games for devices like this. However, a lot of them often have issues with sound and emulation, frequently using established third-party software which you can ultimately get for free online (albeit with dubious legality). The Genesis Mini is from Sega itself, and doesn't have any issues whatsoever when it comes to perfectly recreating those old-school memories, albeit with added features like save states for times when you have to step away. I noticed that even in-game bugs like the strange sprite shredding that can occur in Gunstar Heroes returns for the Genesis Mini, for better or worse.

The library is broad and diverse, ensuring that there'll be at least a few games for fans of all genres. It's a bit annoying that Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles are missing, but Sonic 1 and 2 offer many hours of blue hedgehog fun regardless. Titles like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage represent the golden era of beat 'em ups, while Dynamite Headdy and Earthworm Jim remind us that truly great platformers aren't all that common these days. Sega also threw in some titles like Tetris and Columns for puzzle fans, alongside notoriously-tough Disney classics like Castle and World of Illusion. You can see the full game list over here.

The controllers also incorporate the same faithful reconstruction, down to the chunky, thumb-busting directional pad of yore. Some form of wirelessness (or even longer cables) would have been nice for the sake of modernity, but the fact Sega bundled two controllers at least ensures you'll be able to destroy your younger siblings in Street Fighter all over again.

The Genesis Mini nails all the basics very well, with fast set-up, perfect game emulation, and a decent selection of titles. There are a few small refinements that could have pushed the quality to the next level, though, without impacting the overall price.

What you'll dislike about the Sega Genesis Mini

Classic CRT TV aspect ratios create this awkward box when viewed on a modern 16:9 TV set, typically just blank black space if you're watching some old school TV shows on Netflix or something. The Sega Genesis instead produces this strange, ugly background that looks as though it was pulled down from a clip art website. It would've been nice if they'd have given us a range of background options to choose from.

Sega also made a cardinal product design mistake by making this thing lighter than a feather. Sure, that's great if you're designing something for your pocket or backpack, but the inflexible plastic cables on the HDMI lead and the controllers will pull the Genesis Mini all over the place, stopping it from sitting still. A bit of added weight would have been nice here.

Ultimately, there's very little to complain about over-all. Sega has put together a solid product that is well-priced, feature-filled, and fun-sized.

Should you buy the Sega Genesis Mini?

The Sega Genesis Mini is a fun reminder of a time when Sega still made video game consoles, complete with all of that fuzzy, 80s-90s nostalgic joy. I would have liked to have seen more of Sega's own games on the box, especially for titles that have various sequels omitted in the full package, but the selection on offer is still a bigger trip down memory lane than most people my age will probably have time for.

The Genesis Mini isn't going to replace your modern home console, but it'll make for a great gift as we approach the 2019 holiday season, either for a fellow 90s kid, a youngster willing to play a timeless classic, or even for yourself, if you want to remember the good ol' days. A lot of these games are available already on Steam for PC or Xbox One, but there's just something magical about getting your hands on those primitive, joystick-less d-pad controllers once again. And that's what nostalgia is all about.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!