Tiny retro game systems were popular for a short while. With its small NES, Nintendo started the craze. Soon after, others like Sega and PlayStation followed suit. Of fact, the notion of plug-and-play consoles wasn’t entirely novel, but Nintendo transformed the idea from an inexpensive impulse buy to a prized collector’s item by combining a fantastic game selection with high-quality hardware. The euphoria surrounding the tiny consoles appears to have largely subsided, as with all fads, unless you ask Sega. To continue the trend, the firm has introduced two new products. Both are marginally more specialised than their forerunners, but they also demonstrate why these tiny plastic boxes can be so entertaining.
The Genesis Mini 2, as its name suggests, is the immediate follow-up to the fantastic Genesis Mini from 2019. Thankfully, the console this time around comes with a six-button gamepad in the package and is based on the second-generation Genesis that has been updated and has a somewhat sleeker style. It is a straightforward plug-and-play device, much like the original: attach the HDMI cable, plug in the power, and you’re ready to go. There aren’t many settings to fiddle with, and it doesn’t connect to the internet.
The variety of games on the new smartphone is a significant change. There were 40 games included on the original Genesis Mini, most of them were hits. That entails a lot of Streets of Rage, Virtua Fighter 2, Comix Zone, and Sonic the Hedgehog. They tended to be the kinds of releases that are included in other Sega compilations. In contrast, the Genesis Mini 2 has a bigger selection as well as 60 additional titles.
This is due to the fact that the system also comes with 12 Sega CD games and a few “extra” games in addition to a tonne of Genesis games.
These include titles that were never launched at all, such the action game Devi & Pii, as well as ones that were never released at all, like the train-driving sim Super Locomotive. It’s comparable to how Nintendo spiced up the SNES Classic by including the unreleased Star Fox 2.
The end product is a unique blend of time-honored classics and historical oddities. The fundamental games do a good job of holding up. Even decades after their initial releases, Sonic CD, Streets of Rage 3, and Phantasy Star II are all still fantastic games. Some even feature more contemporary elements; for example, Phantasy Star gives you the option of playing in “easy” mode when you first boot it up. (This is in addition to quality-of-life improvements at the console level, such multiple save spaces and the ability to pause anytime using the menu button.)
The Astro City Mini V comes next. The original Astro City Mini, which was a celebration of the company’s arcade beginnings, was released by Sega last year. It was a little arcade cabinet with six clacky buttons, a great joystick, and nothing else. The built-in 4.6-inch LCD screen of the City Mini V is vertical instead of horizontal, which is a significant change from the original City Mini in terms of hardware. As a result, the new device is limited to arcade games that are vertically oriented. In spite of being more expensive, it actually features less featured titles than the original. (The original Astro City Mini costs $129.99 and comes with 37 games; the V costs $159.99 and features 23 games.)
That may sound like a regression, and for some users, it very certainly will be. But the Astro City Mini V is made to cater to a very particular kind of retro gaming enthusiasts: those who enjoy shmups. The machine is essentially a well chosen playlist of fantastic shoot ’em ups in a variety of genres and tones. Many of them were previously only available in Japanese arcades, including two of my personal favourites: Kingdom Grand Prix, a fantasy shooter that somehow also functions as a racing game, and Armed Police Batrider, in which you battle through a crime-ridden Manhattan on a hoverbike in the distant future of 2014.
Compared to their predecessors, both of these Sega gadgets are more specialised. While Sega has issued a warning that it is producing fewer Genesis Mini 2s than it did with the original, the Astro City Mini V is virtually totally devoted to one genre. But these systems’ future may very well lie in their specialised emphasis. With the exception of the occasional vintage portable, both Sony and Nintendo have essentially transitioned to providing retro games through subscription services, leaving a huge opportunity for Sega, a business with a lot more history to mine with hypothetical future tiny systems.
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