Image: Playmaji

Polymega maker Playmaji has just revealed the most dramatic shift in the history of its retro-focused modular system: a downloadable application which will allow players to get the (almost) same experience using other devices – including computers, phones and tablets.

This app will allow Playmaji to leverage its slick UI, powerful emulators and robust game database without expecting users to shell out for expensive hardware – hardware which the company has historically struggled to get into the hands of its customers. For those who are lucky enough to already own a Polymega, it brings with it the ability to back-up your collection in the cloud and share your progress across different devices.

There's a lot to digest here – not just the new app, but also new hardware in the form of a new console and a brand-new controller. We'll unpack it all here, with the aid of Playmaji CEO and co-founder Bryan Bernal.

The Polymega App

Image: Playmaji

The Polymega App will function exactly like the base Polymega console, allowing you to play a wide range of retro classics on vintage platforms like the NES, SNES, Mega Drive, PlayStation, Saturn, PC Engine and Neo Geo CD – but from a wide range of devices, many of which you'll already have in your home.

You'll be able to use any standard disc drive to play, install, and manage legacy games from your original physical media, using your PC.

The app will be free to use, and you'll be able to use your existing PS4, PS5, or Xbox controller to play – no controller mapping will be necessary, either. The app will also support all of the pads the Polymega currently allows you to use – such as Retro-Bit's line of reproduction USB controllers.

Polymega XL Subscription

Image: Playmaji

So, if the Polymega App is free, how is Playmaji hoping to make a profit? An online subscription, of course. With the Polymega XL sub, you'll be able to unlock cheat codes, display options, patches, audio player functionality and "many other premium features" – as well as cloud access to your entire library across multiple devices. It's interesting to note that some of those listed features are included as standard on the base Polymega console, which at least gives some incentive to own the original hardware.

"The system is no longer the only way to get the Polymega experience," Playmaji's Bryan Bernal tells us. "However, the free app experience is a significantly reduced version of what Polymega console owners receive out of the box. In order to get the full experience, a subscription to Polymega XL is required."

Polymega XL will leverage cloud technology in order to function, so no emulators, BIOS files or other assets will be downloaded to the user's device. "Cloud Gaming has been on our minds alot for the last few years though – you may remember we previously announced our intent to support streaming services – and we believe there's a great opportunity to enhance the classic gaming experience in ways that aren't possible otherwise using this tech," explains Bernal. "Features like online multiplayer for every game, cloud game streaming, cross-device play, and more are all on the table now with Polymega XL whereas that would be a much more difficult task without the involvement of Cloud Services. We have various other things we are discussing with partners as well."

Polymega XL will have a low-cost monthly tier that unlocks most of the premium features that Polymega hardware owners get out of the box

Given how fussy some people are about things like input latency when it comes to cloud gaming, surely basing your subscription service around this technology is asking for trouble? Not so, says Bernal, who seems confident that Playmaji has cracked it. "There are some new proprietary techniques we've come up with to decrease input latency when playing from the Cloud, also with regard to minimizing data usage, both of which are common objections to Cloud Gaming in general. We'll have a full rundown of these techniques later on, but the experience is roughly equal to playing over a standard USB input connection on any device you're streaming to. [The] Polymega App plays games natively of course as well, so it's really up to you how you want to play, and it's just down to the type of devices you're intending to play on that will determine when streaming is the correct course of action for your play experience. It's pretty cool to play Guardian Heroes for Sega Saturn on my phone via Polymega!"

Given that retro game emulation is so prevalent on computers and Android-based platforms already, is it perhaps naive to expect people to pay for an online sub to access features which can be easily obtained for free? "We've never really thought about marketing our products to hardcore emulation enthusiasts," replies Bernal. "But, Polymega app is free, so we expect a good amount of players who might be curious to try out Polymega's free tier even if they're not used to paying for anything, and that's totally cool with us."

"The way to think about Polymega XL is more akin to Discord Nitro or Xbox Live than an online subscription for content," he adds. "Polymega XL will have a low-cost monthly tier that unlocks most of the premium features that Polymega hardware owners get out of the box, and theres a higher tier that offers more cloud storage and Cloud Gaming features like Online Multiplayer, and Cloud Streaming to any device, and some other new things we're working on."

Polymega Remix

Image: Playmaji

For those people who don't have a disc drive on their PC or want to play and install cartridge games (an important part of the experience), Playmaji is producing a cut-down version of the base system called the Polymega Remix.

It has a disc drive and looks and works just like the standard Polymega – so you can use the Polymega Element Modules to access the libraries of cartridge-based systems, and use original controllers – but it connects to your computer via USB; there's no internal processing power, and all of the heavy-lifting is handled by your computer. There's no launch date for the Remix yet, but we do know that it will cost $149 USD.

Polymega Remix is purpose-built for use with Polymega App and comes in at a significantly reduced price verses [the] Polymega Base Unit

It's tempting to assume that the Polymega App and XL sub indicate that Playmaji is shifting away from the hardware innovations that made it the Polymega such an appealing prospect when it was first announced, but Bernal feels the Polymega Remix proves this isn't the case. "Polymega Remix is purpose-built for use with Polymega App and comes in at a significantly reduced price verses [the] Polymega Base Unit. Plus, we've designed this hardware to be highly resilient against supply chain issues, so we think it will be much easier to obtain than the Polymega Base Unit at this time."

Bernal insists that Playmaji will keep innovating in the hardware space, too. "We'll continue to release new modules, controllers, and accessories that enhance the experience for both devices in the future and I'd say that the intent is for Polymega App and Polymega Remix to be just another way for people to play Polymega without the need for redundant hardware if you already have a PC, Macbook, HTPC, Steam Deck and so. You'll be able to play Polymega on all those devices, and maybe even on other consoles in the future."

The Polymega 2nd Gen Controller

Image: Playmaji

The Polymega controller was one of the biggest issues we had with the system when we reviewed it a while back, and that's another point Playmaji is keen to remedy.

It is producing a new 2nd Generation Polymega Universal Wireless Controller which looks a lot like the PS4 pad. Blessed with a lower latency 2.4Ghz connection, better battery life and compatibility with Android for cross-platform use with Polymega App on other devices, this is the pad that will ship with all new Polymega deliveries in 2023.

What Does This Mean To Existing Polymega Owners?

So, if you're an existing Polymega customer, what does all of this mean for you? Everyone who has purchased something from the Polymega website will gain access to the Polymega App's Closed Beta Test (which will be for Windows 10+ users only), which is expected to launch this March. In addition to this, every customer with an outstanding Polymega Base Unit order made prior to December 31st, 2022 will be given 12 months access to Polymega XL.

Anyone who has purchased a Base Unit or Deluxe Bundle prior to December 31st, 2022 will get access to the Closed Beta, exclusive access to Polymega XL-enhanced features during Beta Test Period and a 1 year free upgrade to premium Polymega XL tier starting from the close of the Beta Test, which will enable them to share their collection and games to their Polymega system when it eventually arrives (Playmaji is still playing catch-up as far as orders are concerned).

If you've purchased your Polymega from another retailer, then you'll get access to the Polymega App Closed Beta and free tier functionality until release.

Image: Playmaji

It's easy to be slightly cynical here and point out that, as Playmaji has struggled to get its Polymega system into the hands of those who have ordered it, a shift to a platform-agnostic approach means it can still leverage its powerful software and database, but remove the reliance on producing its own hardware – and tie it all together with an online sub.

However, judging from what Bernal is saying, the firm is still clearly focused on making the Polymega base system its primary access point, and many will see the benefit of being able to back-up their library away from their base unit and share it across more than one device – this approach also future-proofs the Polymega ecosystem, allowing users to transfer their games between consoles.

What do you make of this shift from Playmaji? Are you pleased that the Polymega experience is coming to a wider range of platforms, or do you feel the company should have focused on its base system instead? Let us know with a comment.