Love them or loathe them, flash cartridges are here to stay. From their early origins as a basic means of loading up ROMs on authentic hardware, we've seen these often misunderstood products grow in both scope and stature – and Terraonion's Mega SD could perhaps be considered the zenith of the concept.
On the surface, it may look like any other flash cart you've seen (although it's based on the Virtua Racing cartridge shell, rather than the standard one), but in reality, the Mega SD is a lot more interesting – because it's not just giving you a means of playing ROMs on your dusty old Mega Drive / Genesis, but actually replicates the performance of a Mega CD via FPGA technology. Who needs the Mega Drive Mini, right?
Now, this isn't the first time that Terraonion has performed this 'optical disc emulation' party trick; it's the company responsible for the Super SD System 3 expansion module, which bolts onto the back of a PC Engine / TurboGrafx-16 system and plays CD-ROM titles. However, while the premise (and the tech) is very much the same, the Mega SD feels that little bit more impressive due to the fact that the Mega CD itself was more than a simple means of adding storage space and improved audio; it boasted its own Motorola 68000 CPU (clocked 5 MHz faster than the one inside the Mega Drive itself), 6 MBit of RAM, was capable of displaying crude FMV and could scale and rotate both sprites and backgrounds – something that gave it a degree of parity with the Mode 7-packing SNES. In short, it was a much more robust enhancement to the base system, and the fact that Terraonion has managed to replicate it on a hardware level is remarkable (well, it certainly feels that way if you're old enough to remember how futuristic the Mega CD felt back in the early '90s).
The Mega SD has a pretty slick UI, especially when compared to other flash carts on the market. You can tinker with a wide range of settings and load both ROMs and CD images with ease – these are stored on a Micro SD card which slots into the side of the cartridge itself. You'll need to supply a BIOS file to run CD titles (and the BIOS has to match the region of the game you're booting up) and it's possible to assign multiple BIOS files to cover each territory.
Pushing up and start on your pad, you can summon an in-game menu which allows you to return to the Mega SD's main menu, enable cheat codes and save (or load) states; a whopping eight different save slots are available. The Mega SD simulates what a real-world Mega CD system would do when it comes to internal storage; it has both internal memory (which was included on the Mega CD via a battery back-up save system) and the option to save to a 'virtual' RAM cartridge. These, in reality, were cartridges that plugged into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot and gave players additional storage space (for some titles, like Shining Force CD, owning one of these was a requirement as progress from the game's opening chapters could only be carried over by using the backup RAM cart as the internal memory wasn't large enough).
The Mega SD is so clever that it even allows for disc-swapping – a process that was required for some of the larger Mega CD releases, like Night Trap, which recently saw release on Switch. A hardware button on the side of the cartridge allows you to swap discs (assuming the files are in the correct place on the SD card) but if you're too lazy to get up from your seat, the process can be done via the 'up + start' in-game menu as well.
Given that CD games in the '90s were fighting against the constraints of the hardware and memory standards of that period, it's no surprise that many Mega CD games exhibit lengthy load times as the data is spooled from the single-speed drive to the console's RAM. The Mega SD, being a solid-state device, isn't subject to these limitations and as a result, drastically speeds up the loading time on many titles. There are, however, some games which are programmed to factor in 'seek' times from a real disc, and removing load times would actually result in audio being out of sync with the visuals (usually during cutscenes). Thankfully, the Mega CD's firmware actually has a list of titles which do this, so you shouldn't notice any issues, assuming you keep the cart's firmware up to date.
While support for Mega CD titles is the headline feature here, it's worth noting that – as well as playing Mega Drive titles (including Virtua Racing, which has proven to be a no-go for previous flash carts due to the inclusion of Sega's custom SVP chip) – you can also play Sega Master System games on this device, as well as leverage the improved FM sound module that was only released in Japan. Sadly, save state support is not possible when playing these 8-bit releases, and support for Master System is limited to those models of the Mega Drive which come with the Master System hardware built-in; certain revisions (including the portable Nomad) lack this and therefore will not play Master System ROMs without internal modification. 32X games can also be loaded via the Mega SD, but you'll need the 32X module itself in order to do so – and, like with the Master System, there's no support for in-game save states. In fact, with the Mega SD connected to your base console via the 32X, you cannot load Mega CD or Master System ROMs – this is down to the way in which the two pieces of hardware 'talk' to one another. That means the few 32X CD-ROM titles available will not work on this device, but that's no massive loss as they're nothing to write home about.
Oh, and while we're here, it's also worth noting that the Mega SD will not function if your Mega Drive is already connected to a Mega CD, as this causes some kind of hardware-level confusion to occur. This might not sound like a big problem – especially if you're buying one of these cartridges to either avoid investing in a (now quite collectable and expensive) Mega CD unit, or to replace a unit that has failed – but it has serious ramifications for those lucky enough to own either a JVC Wondermega or Sega Multi-Mega / CDX. As these systems are all-in-one variants which fuse the Mega Drive and Mega CD together, you can only boot Mega Drive and Master System ROMs on them via the Mega SD.
One of the coolest features included on the Mega SD is what Terronion is calling "Mega Drive Plus" titles. Those of you who regularly read Nintendo Life will be aware that there's a trend for updating SNES titles with CD-quality audio tracks which can be loaded up either via emulation or using a flash cart with the correct tech inside. Mega Drive Plus is essentially the same thing; the game ROM is loaded as normal but the music is CD-quality stuff, which is naturally a big improvement over the Mega Drive's built-in audio. The catch here is that there aren't many of these specially-modified titles available as yet, but the stunning version of Streets of Rage 2 – complete with a reimagined variant of Yuzo Koshiro's sublime soundtrack – shows how much potential there is for future releases.
It's worth touching a little more on compatibility here. The unit works fine on original Sega hardware, and will even run on a Nomad (although an internal mod is required to ensure that you get CD audio). Clones are more hit-and-miss; the unit refused to work on our Columbus Circle 16Bit Pocket MD, and if you own any other variant, you might want to check online before ordering. Perhaps the best platform to use the cart with is the Analogue Mega Sg, which delivers amazing visual clarity and a whole host of other features.
(Model 1 or 2)
(requires 32X unit)
(needs mod for audio)
|Yes||No||Yes (needs mod)|
(needs mod for audio)
+ Mega CD
|Requires Mega CD to be removed||Yes||No
(requires 32X unit)
(Requires Mega CD to be removed)
(no region patch available)
|Yes||No (32X must be removed)|
|Mega Drive + Mega CD
(Requires Mega CD to be removed)
(no region patch available)
|Yes||No (32X must be removed)|
+ MSDEXP adapter
(requires Mega SD to be in cart port)
|Yes (and 32X CD games)||No
(requires Mega SD to be in cart port)
|Multi-Mega / CDX||No||Yes||No
(requires 32X unit)
|Multi-Mega / CDX + 32X||No||Yes||Yes||No (32X must be removed)|
|Analogue Mega Sg||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Columbus Circle 16Bit Pocket MD||No||No||No||No|
All in all, the Mega SD is a remarkable feat of engineering; it takes a bulky optical drive and condenses it into a sleek and elegant cartridge, opening up the Mega CD library without the need to drop untold amounts of cash into picking up titles like Shining Force CD, Snatcher and Lunar on the secondary market.
It also overcomes the issue of failing Mega CD units; disc-based systems aren't as resilient as cartridge-based ones, and it's a matter of when – not if – your own system gives up the ghost. The counterpoint here is that the Mega SD is quite expensive, retailing for €232.00. Now, if you add up the cost of a Mega CD unit and a handful of the best games for the format, you'll blast past that figure effortlessly – but in an age where many people are content with emulating such systems on their smartphone, this is clearly a product aimed at a very specific sector of the market – and that sector will absolutely love it to pieces.
Thanks to Terraonion for supplying the unit used in this review.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Sun 15th September, 2019.
lol @ the affiliate link
No thank you i will stick with my hardware based Megaretron HD and real Genesis/aftermarket multicart games. As my Megaretron HD only cost $42 total at Walmart and 200+ in 1 multicarts with battery saves are only around $30.
That looks awesome indeed, though I may stick to the Mega Everdrive as it is half the price
$258 USD?!! Yeah uh no. They can keep it. Good luck selling that thing....
The only people who will own one of these are hardcore collectors and people who receive free ones to review
The issue I always have with these devices is that you still need to pirate the roms or spend a lot of money on a device to dump your own original cartridges - and such devices are hard to come by even if you are willing to spend that money on top of this device.
Not interested with SEGA machines....
Still interested with Nintendo machines.
inb4 comments moaning about ROMs
@Anti-Matter Why so?
@Anti-Matter What about Sega games on Nintendo hardware? Is that ok?
When i saw the game lists from SEGA machines, especially from older eras (Genesis, SEGA Saturn, Dreamcast), None of them were impressed me. The game choices were too much dominated by shooters, JRPG with less appealing impression, too much action games, something completely different with Nintendo machines.
SEGA had tried too be edgy by provided more mature games but Nintendo had provided more appealing games from kids until adults.
The game library from SEGA is appealing for typical hardcore / mainstream adult male gamers, but for me as an Anti-Mainstream and Kiddie gamer, the game library from SEGA will never appealing me since i DO NOT play or have any interest with kind of games like that.
What games i'm looking for ?
Something Cute, Colorful, Kiddie, Unique, Quirky, Whimsical, Cartoonish, Chibi looking, Less actions, Designing oriented, Girlie, Out of the Box, No rated M, Not so popular, and still many criterias i cannot explain all.
I oftenly looking for the games that i have never heard or knew before, especially out of the Direct, i found them oftenly from playasia preorder, i saw some games that i have never knew before and some of them are Not popular titles, not the games that mainstream gamers looking for such as Link's Awakening, Astral Chain, Zelda BOTW, Daemon x Machina, etc.
Why did i look for the Unpopular games?
Because some of them somehow impressed me from the First impression when i have figured it out from their trailer or the screenshots and recognized the genre. Will they become GOTY ? Definetely not and i don't care since i'm looking for games that really matched with my criteria since from first impression, not looking for popular games that played by million peoples.
Am i looking for popular games ?
Depend on the titles.
There are some games i played such as Pokemon games (X/Y, Sun/Moon, ORAS, etc), Animal Crossing New Leaf, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, etc. But, i still have tendency to play more with not so popular games than the popular one.
Popularity is kinda ambiguous. Sometimes there are popular things but only certain peoples like, other peoples never consider any of them. I have interest with those different popular things, oftenly it called niche things by mainstream peoples. That's fine for me, i don't care with their judgement.
The only SEGA games i have played just only Puyo Puyo Tetris Switch and MaiMai Arcade.
Even for MaiMai Arcade, i still have a lot of songs i don't like due too edgy, too mature (Toho Project songs with bloody lyrics such as sweet little sister, SEGA fanservice games with stripper looking girls as the cover, SEGA rated M games). I only play certain songs from MaiMai Arcade since my biggest hype on Dance Dance Revolution by Konami with more appealing songs than SEGA.
Other SEGA games i will consider are Olympic 2020 , Mario & Sonic at Tokyo 2020 Olympic games & Two Points Hospital. Just only those games.
Oh, forgot. I have considered Billy the Hatcher Gamecube on my shopping list and i will try to get that game when i have right time to buy since that game now is very hard to find on Ebay (The USA version since i play Gamecube games from my Wii USA)
In an alternate timeline I’d be buying one of these with a Mega SG and a 32X for Christmas.
Oh and an 8Bitdo pad. Clear £700 easily. Bargain.
Just recently got one and I had to say trying Sega CD games on it is awesome. Works just like the real deal, my only problem is that although the Sega CD games work on a Sega Genesis Model 3, the Nomad, and clone systems there are no CD audios playing on those so unless you can hack those for the audio part it's just a bummer. It works great on a Sega Genesis Model 1 & 2, and the Mega Sg.
If you want to use the hypothetical 32X on your Mega SG, you will also need to spend another $100+ on a DAC (digital to analog converter) and also some modified A/V cables.
They don't make it cheap!
Oh yeah good point! I’d totally forgot about that.
“Kids, Christmas is cancelled”
Anyone have any feedback on how well the save states work for regular Megadrive games? I’ve got an old EverDrive and the save states are basically useless (I like to be able to save my progress and turn the machine off, rather than use them to brute force my way through a game). On the EverDrive they 99% of the time lock up or garble the screen when restoring a save. If this can do better I’ll definitely look at saving up for one.
@BulkSlash I've not had chance to test that element but I've read that you can transfer save states pretty easily on this.
@Damo Thanks Damo, I think I’m going to have to get one. 😉
@Anti-Matter Never change man, you're awesome.
Oh man... All that black plastic, reminiscent of the 90s "T2" era...that's what SEGA was all about back in those days. Cyber razor cut anyone? 😉
It'll only appeal mainly to those who grew up with Sega the first time round and who'll totally get that nostalgia hit. So far I'm happy with playing Sonic The Hedgehog 3D 1 & 2 and Streets of Rage II on my 3DSXL so far. Any other titles that i wish were available would be NHL Hockey 94, Sonic & Knuckles and Road Rage, but I'm in no rush. In the meantime I'll just fire up my Mega Drive theme hehe😎
It’s on the wishlist. As long as I’ve got OG hardware I don’t quite feel the pressure to jump all in on these projects as awesome as they may be
Pretty sweet. Sadly, I just picked up a pricey flash cart early this year for my Analogue and can't justify another purchase, but what a gizmo. Most of my games are in storage, they take up loads of shelf space, so I rely on flash carts to easily play my existing libraries easily and to reduce wear and tear on the originals. As retro enthusiasts accumulate more and more collections of not just carts but the hardware, not having to plug in the CD attachment and dust of our discs is a kindness. If you don't like flash carts, yelling at them won't do much good, but if you want a legit way to easily play vast cart libraries you actually own, they're a gamesaver
I'm pretty tempted, but wow that price! I'd be a lot more tempted if I didn't have a nicely restored and properly working Sega CD along with a decent little library of games for it, but at the moment I'm pretty content to stick with original hardware... oh wait, this thing works on the Mega SG doesn't it? Well bleep.
@Anti-Matter so you don't even like most of Nintendo's games huh?
@Anti-Matter Don't worry. I was a fanboy too.
Until I made enough money so I could buy multiple consoles and realized all of them have great exclusives. One day you will also be able to do that.
I don't need to experience with every Exclusives from each consoles.
I play the games very differently, unlike typical mainstream adult male gamers.
I don't play what is usually mainstream gamers play.
I play a lot of niches, unpopular games, hidden gems, quirky games, the games that mainstream gamers will never think about.
Mainstream gamers will think about Zelda, Castlevania, Sonic, Megaman, Monster Hunter, FIFA, NBA, PES , Fortnite, etc.
But me as Anti-Mainstream gamer will think about Cooking Mama, Dance Dance Revolution, Para Para Paradise, K-1World GP, Tomodachi Life, Miitopia, ARMS, LABO, Style Savvy, Other Fashion games, AKB48 + Me, The Sims, Portal Knights, Youtuber Life OMG edition, Yonder the Cloud Catcher Chronicles, etc.
Can you see if my gaming references are mostly totally opposite with mainstream gamers ?
Actually, i found tons of niche games from handhelds (NDS, 3DS, Switch).
Let's say some NDS games l played such as Cooking Mama games, Kurikin Nano Island Story, Kirei Zukin Seikatsu 2, Minna no Convenni, Minna no Suizokukan, Minna no Doubutsuen, Imagine Resort Owner, Animal Boxing, MySims Agents, MySims Party, etc.
3DS niche games i played such as Style Savvy Fashion Forward, Disney Magical World 2, Dillon's Dead Heat Breakers, AKB48 + Me, Yokai Watch Blasters White Dog Squad, Metroid Prime Federation Force, Miitopia, Tomodachi Life, etc.
I have interest with a few mainstream franchises too such as Mario, Pokemon, Disney, Doraemon, Animal Crossing New Leaf, but i'm not a fan of Zelda, Splatoon, Smash Bros, Metroid (I only played Federation Force as exceptional), Star Fox, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Monster Hunter, Xenoblade, Angry Bird, Fortnite, Plant vs Zombie, Tekken, Spiderman, Marvel Heroes, Transformer, etc (too many)
My PS4 Slim White is all about my Holy Trinity : Dragon Quest Builders 2, The Sims 4 & Portal Knights. My PS4 games library (newest update) will likely Double dip games from Switch version.
I have PS2 too and my PS2 games are dominated by Konami's Rhythm games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Para Para Paradise, Guitar Freaks & Drummania, Beatmania IIDX, Pop'n Music, Keyboard Mania.
Also, kickboxing games K-1, Monster Farm 4, Bomberman Battles, Bomberman Land 3, etc
Can we have any thread without this guy listing games he’s into? If you’re not interested in Sega games don’t post on an article about Sega games.
Price is too high for me. It makes more sense for me to invest in the new Analogue system to hedge my bet on aging electronics and play original carts.
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