The Sega Genesis / Mega Drive Mini is pretty special – as you'll know if you've already consulted our exhaustive review. Packed full of retro goodness and blessed with a lineup that contains some of the system's most desirable titles, it's proof that Sega is finally taking the 'micro-console' approach seriously, after years of allowing manufacturing partner AtGames to sully its good name.
However, just as was the case with the SNES and NES Classic Editions, the western version of the Mega Drive Mini is only one part of the story. In Japan, the machine has different packaging and a different lineup of games which better reflect the tastes of players in that region – as well as vastly superior controllers.
But should you consider importing this version over the more easily-obtainable western editions? Let's find out...
Mega Drive Mini Japanese Version: The Hardware
While the North American and European versions of the console come with the iconic 3-button controller that shipped alongside the original machine in its early years, the Japanese edition has the much-improved 6-button pad in the box, which is based on the pad which launched around the same time that Street Fighter II arrived on the machine to much fanfare.
The pad is smaller and more comfortable to use, and that 6-button layout – with all of the buttons on the face of the pad – is absolutely perfect for Capcom's famous one-on-one brawler. We still can't fathom why Sega decided to ship the 3-button variant in the west, especially as it makes Street Fighter II a real pain in the arse to play (you have to use the Start button to toggle between punches and kicks – and it's as bad as it sounds in practice).
Having said that, the pad that ships with the Japanese Mega Drive Mini isn't quite as nice as the original 6-button controller from back in the day; it feels lighter and cheaper, and the buttons don't feel as nice to press. We'd argue that Retro-Bit's recently-released (and officially licenced) pads are a much better bet, but the controller is still nice enough to use and that rolling D-Pad is a dream. Oh, and the controller's 'Mode' button – located on the top-right edge – can be used to drop back to the console's main menu, which is another huge advantage over the western edition.
Currently exclusive to Japan is the Mega Drive Mini Tower pack, which is basically a hunk of additional plastic which bolts onto your micro-console and makes it look like a fully-stacked setup from the '90s. The pack includes a Mega CD, 32X, Sonic & Knuckles pass-through cart and Sonic cart. While this is purely a cosmetic addition, it does look really, really cool. You also get a poster and booklet which shows the technical drawings for the various Mega Drive hardware.
Mega Drive Mini Japanese Version: The Games
Unlike the western versions of the console, the Japanese iteration of the Mega Drive Mini comes with a slightly different selection of titles. There's some crossover here, but there are also a few Japanese exclusives.
Toggling the language in the settings menu reveals that, like the western console, the Japanese Mega Drive Mini has ROMs from multiple regions and alters the text accordingly. It's worth noting that text-heavy games that aren't present on the western model have still have Japanese text, so you won't be able to play them unless you can read Japanese (the exception here is Assault Suits Leynos, which is exclusive to the Japanese version but has the English version, Target Earth, included).
However, titles that are present on both the Japanese and western consoles will display in your language of choice – so owners of the Japanese model can play games like Beyond Oasis and Phantasy Star IV without language issues.
- Dyna Brothers 2 (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Lord Monarch (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Madou Monogatari I (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Party Quiz Mega Q (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Rent A Hero (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- The Hybrid Front (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Yu Yu Hakusho Makyo Toitsusen (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Assault Suits Leynos / Target Earth (region exclusive, Japanese / English text)
- Game no Kanzume Otokoyou - a Japan-only Sega Channel compilation featuring the following twelve games: 16t, Flicky, Putter Golf, Hyper Marbles, Shi no Meikyuu, Medal City, Paddle Fighter, Ikasuze! Koi no Doki Doki, Penguin Land MD, Pyramid Magic, Robot Battler, Teddy Boy Blues and Aworg (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- Langrisser II (region exclusive, Japanese text)
- MUSHA Aleste (region exclusive, Japanese / English text)
- Wrestleball / Powerball (region exclusive)
- Puyo Puyo 2 (region exclusive)
- Puzzle & Action: Tant-R (region exclusive)
- Slap Fight MD (region exclusive)
- Snow Bros. (region exclusive)
- The Revenge of Shinobi / The Super Shinobi (region exclusive)
- Alisia Dragoon
- Beyond Oasis / The Story of Thor: A Successor of the Light
- Castlevania: Bloodlines / Vampire Killer
- Comix Zone
- Contra: Hard Corps
- Dynamite Headdy
- Ghouls 'n Ghosts / Daimakaimura
- Golden Axe
- Gunstar Heroes
- Mega Man: The Wily Wars / Rockman: Mega World
- Monster World IV
- Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
- Road Rash II
- Shining Force
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- Space Harrier II
- Street Fighter II Dash Plus: Champion Edition
- Streets of Rage II / Bare Knuckle II
- Super Fantasy Zone
- Thunder Force III
- World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
It's worth noting that there's also an Asian version of the system with a slightly different selection of games and some neat exclusives, including Alien Soldier and Shining Force II.
Mega Drive Mini Japanese Version: The Verdict
Just like Nintendo did with the regional variants of its Classic Edition systems, Sega has mixed things up by putting different games on the Japanese (and Asian) versions of the Mega Drive Mini. However, it has gone one step further by including a much better controller with these versions of the system, and that's a big reason to pick them over the western editions.
Still, while some of the included titles have localised language support, there are some games that cannot be played in English, which naturally limits their appeal to those outside of Japan. Completionists will want to own all of the possible variants, and given that the Tower of Power currently isn't available at retail in the west, there are a lot of solid reasons to import this gorgeous little system.
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Wed 25th September, 2019.
Interesting that they get World of Illusion, but not Castle of Illusion.
Also, Target Earth is such a great game, disappointed we didn't get it over here.
I can’t believe Shining Force II is only on the Asia version. All time great game, and tempts me to consider importing this version...
... I need those games (I love Slap Fight MD!) back in my life so its a yes from me , dawg.
@XiaoShao Yeah, omission of SFII in the western mini is a bummer. It is included in the Genesis Classics package for Switch. I picked up that collection a few months ago...the rpgs play pretty well, but the sonic games I found to be unplayable due to lag
I'm very interested in Madou Monogatari I, so I do want the JP version of the MD Mini.
If there are any Puyo Puyo fans out there, Madou Monogatari stars Arle Nadja as she explores a magical tower, in old-school first-person dungeon crawler style. The Puyo blobs are the early-game slime random encounters typical of Japanese-made RPGs, and the other characters such as Suketoudara and Draco Centauros appear as random encounters too. It's pretty cool.
Target Earth is a poor man's Cybernator. I'd much rather have MUSHA or Slap Fight MD.
I'm not a fan of these mini clone consoles. I have the Sega Classics Collection on Switch, that's good enough for me.
@RushDawg I mean, they're 2 different games, so to each their own
@XiaoShao I honestly came down here to the comments to voice the same thing. How could Shining Force 2 be left out of ANY of the versions?! Dare I say, that’s the game that made me appreciate fire emblem. In fact, I play Fire Emblem to scratch my Shining Force 2 itch. Oooohhh I expect a lot of backlash for that comment but it’s not my fault I grew up in America where the only type of game of that kind at the time was Shining Force 2. Not saying it’s better, just saying it’s a perfected formula right there in Shining Force 2. Thankfully I have my Sega classics game on Switch!
We do have 8Bit making Genesis/Mega Drive/Saturn 6-button style controllers so am not worried if I want to play a fighting game.
Better to buy the westerns edition and a retrobit
Honestly I much prefer the 3 button Genesis controller. The problem with the 6 button Genesis controller is how the other 3 buttons are useless for about 99% of the Genesis library, and the controller is notably smaller and less comfortable to hold. That and I always thought the 6 button controllers felt cheaper.
Pricey but very cool looking that tower of power...very tempting.
I would buy the japanese Version just for Madou Monogatari I alone.
Tower of power - I assume this is sold separately, and so could be imported and attached to the western mini?
I actually prefer the 3 button pad as this was the variant I used back in the day, and a large part of enjoying these products is the nostalgia element. I won’t be playing street fighter 2 much as I already have hyper fighting on the SNES mini and arcade port on my xbox360 so this doesn’t bother me.
So for me I’ll be sticking with the western release for now.
@JayJ totally agree
I didn’t even know about the 6 button controller and I was a early mega drive adopter.
Ended up with sf2 on Snes and became a 6 button warrior
I'd say no: you don't NEED to import this useless hunk of plastic, but at the same time, I can understand the sentimental value of something like this for long-time Sega fans, or people who actually had or still have the actual tower contraption in their homes.
As for those supposedly superior 6-button controller: first the article goes on to mention how cheap it feels, how the buttons aren't all that good and how much better the officially licensed Retro-Bit controllers are, and then at the end of the article, the Japanese controllers are somehow magically transformed into "better than the EU and US version" ones...
Well, I beg to differ. And for those two or three games included in the total amount of 40 on the EU and US versions of the Mini console, it might not even be worth the trouble of getting an extra, 6 button controller, but even if you do, I'd still go with the Retro-Bit.
The AVGN would have an absolute field day seeing that Tower of Power. Still, at least it’s not the Jaguar CD, which looks like a toilet.
The Yu Yu Hakusho game seems interesting. And it would have been nice to have Revenge of Shinobi and Musha on ours as well. But I’m satisfied with our lineup. Strider, Earthworm Jim, Shinobi III, original Sonic etc. Sega is wrong for putting Sonic Spinball and Virtua Fighter 2 on here though.
I wanna get the Japenese version mostly for the 6 button pad, myself.
@shonenjump86 Honestly, it's hard for me to play any version of Earthworm Jim other then Special Edition, which was on the Sega CD and PC, it's the version I grew up playing and find it hard playing the regular versions
@ChromaticDracula Good point, Shining Force was my introduction to Strategy RPGs as well!
100% the best looking model. if it wasn't for play asia's steep shipping fees i would do it.
I preordered my Mega Drive Mini direct from Amazon JP with my US credit card. It arrived last Saturday and I've been enjoying it at home quite a bit! My main reasons for choosing the Japan version over the US Genesis version were the JPN exclusives like Assault Suit Leynos, MUSHA, and Revenge of Shinobi. Although, oddly enough I've played more Road Rash 2 than anything else!
The 6-button controllers are neat but I haven't played SFII yet and so haven't even used that upper row of buttons.
The console's default display language is Japanese, but switch it to English and it shows the US versions of the game cases in the library screen as well as letting you play US versions of each game (i.e. play Target Earth instead of Leynos). That feature was really a classy inclusion by Sega and M2.
Overall, super happy with this purchase!
@Doktor-Mandrake never played that version, but would love to as I always hear it’s the best edition. I know it has an extra stage.
I bought the retro bit 6-button, excellent controller with 10’ cord. Just waiting to see if a mod comes out to solve any issues with regional exclusives!
I mean I have the entire library ready to go onto it once I get mine so not really worth it. Plus people will be able to dump the regional OS sets so we can flash them as well too if we want. Only need one of them to do all that.
Wow a lot prefer the 3 button controller? I was always hogging the 6 button controller it always felt better in the hands than the chunky older brother. I remember when they released the new controller we replaced the whole console to get a hold of them. Good times..
And who really wants that useless tower of power. What are you gonna do with it? Stare at it? May as well just invest in original ones even if they don’t work as all your getting is a display item anyway. Rant over from confused person.
Well, one thing I just realised recently is that both the Japanese and American Minis will let you switch to languages that will let you see the Japanese, American and UK/European menu designs and box arts (plus I think the slight variations of games across all these regoins too, and possibly a few more), but the UK version will only let you see the UK/European and Japanese menu designs and box arts (and not be able to play the American versions of most of the games either). So, annoyingly, while I actually like the physical UK Mega Drive design the most, I'm a bit bummed we don't get the extra American versions of menus and games. But, if someone eventually allows me to EASILY had the machine then that shouldn't be a major issue going forward, so long as said hack is done as well as on the NES/SNES Mini and once applied you basically can't even tell it's ever been hacked apart from there being many more games and a couple of actually improved shortcut commands for getting back the menu quicker and stuff like that.
"We still can't fathom why Sega decided to ship the 3-button variant in the west"
Then you're REALLY not thinking about what these Mini consoles are supposed to represent properly.
It's just like when people ask why they don't have the option to go online and download more games--meaning you'd have to set up accounts, input credit card details, probably have EULAs, maybe even DRM, and random firmware updates/patches, worry about viruses, etc--totally missing the point of these simple, no fuss or hassle, all-in-one, pure-joy-of-your-childhood retro systems entirely.
These Mini systems are supposed to be about as pure as gaming was back in the day, without all the modern crap that, while adding more options and features, just makes everything sooo convoluted and frustrating at times, and that includes mimicking the actual original hardware and controllers just as the vast majority of us fondly remember them from our childhoods. And, yes, the 6-button pad is clearly better, but the 3-button one is still brilliant and does still work with every single game in these, and that's the one almost all of us grew up with, so it just makes sense for it to be the one packed in as that's the one that wets our nostalgia glands the most.
I'm not quite sure how you don't get that.
And if you really must just have that 6-button pad then go out and buy it separately just like you had to back in the day too--how much more authentic could it get!
PS. Personally, though I 100% would have made that little mini cartridge port actually work and let people buy additional mini game compilations going forward, with say 10-20 retro games in each compilation or something like that, as well as giving them modern devs the ability to actually release brand new games for the system today too. Now THAT would have been a way to offer more that's still totally in-fitting with what these retro Mini systems are supposed to be all about imo.
Interesting question. maybe I missed it somewhere but if I buy a Genesis mini edition in the United States and then by the tower of power setup from play Asia will it still fit?
Don't buy the Mega Drive. YOU SHOULD BUY THE SEGA SATURN!
I don't like these mini consoles as a general rule of thumb because I would prefer these collections of games on modern consoles instead - and in fact we have gotten many of these games on Switch already from Sega.
But I have to say the choice of a better controller in Asia is really weird. Even I had the 6 button controller with my Genesis in the US, so it's not like it was some obscure thing in the west.
I wouldn't be playing SF2 on the MD anyway. So many superior versions around, notably on the SNES Mini and the Switch Anniversary Collection. I'll stick with the western version... once it drops in price. Too many other games to play to justify paying maximum retail these days!
I say the asian version is the best. But i wonder why having exclusives in the first place. Pretty sure all games from all regions could fit in one system that could have worldwide release. Would people actually not buy the thing if they found out there is a completely japanese game they cannot understand?
Wrestleball doesn't play as Powerball when the MD Mini is set to English. It stays as Wrestleball. It's also worth mentioning, that two of the games in Game no Kanzume Otokoyou , Flicky and Fatal Labyrinth play in English with the MD Mini's language set to English.
What's the point in starting a paragraph with "I mean" or "Kinda"? LOL
@impurekind So you don't find it at all odd that one of the most popular games included with the machine is borderline unplayable with the pad it ships with? Yes, nostalgia is a big factor here but I'm sure most hardcore MD fans know of the 6 button controller and it seems silly to me to think it would make sense to not bundle the better, more "complete" pad with this, especially when SF2 really does need it.
Is the original 6-button controller smaller than the original 3-buttton controller or just this new version?
@Damo Not "odd".
I find the hardware choice spot on for what these Mini systems are supposed to be--a return to the original as I remember it from my childhood--and I find the inclusion of SF2 simply Sega showing respect for its customers by giving us one of the very best games for the system as part of the 42 included titles, which most people would have absolutely raged about if it weren't included, even with the Mega Drive with only the 3-button pad included.
Sure, I would like to be able to play SF2 with a 6-button pad, but including those instead of the 3-button pads simply is not the Mega Drive as I recall it from my childhood--regardless of the fact that some people went out and additionally bought the 6-button pad later down the line (which they can still do here if they really want)--and that's basically what these systems are supposed to represent.
Think of it like this (to take things to a slight extreme): Would it at all look or feel right if Nintendo's NES Mini had in fact been the arguably improved NES-101 top-loader model with the also [ergonomically] superior bone controller? No, because that's just not the NES or the NES controller from the good old days--but it technically is.
Well, this is not a Mega Drive to me (as cool as it is that the 6-button pads are included):
This is a Mega Drive to me (and if I want to buy a 6-button pad for really the 1-2 games that "need" it then I can, just like some people did back in the good old days):
Now, if Sega decides to release a Mega Drive Mini 2 with the 6-buttons pads included, and a few of the games we really would have like to see this time around but didn't get (TMNT, NHL '94, Ristar, Aladdin, Mortal Kombat II, etc), well that would be cool (because that particular model I don't really have a particularly strong childhood memory of, and it including the 6-button pads while being that alternative model would be kinda neat imo)
I love the Japanese model more it just looks better than the western model but it's a pass with some heavy japanese rpg games that cant be translated . Also don't forget about import fee's they can be a nasty surprise. Great review though very well done.
@impurekind The ‘dog bone’ controller thing isn’t really a fair comparison as that was a complete revision, including the console itself - the 6 button pad was released during the lifespan of the MK1 MD. I take your point about bundling it with the pad people remember, but it makes zero sense (in my eyes) to then include SF2. And if the Japanese version has the 6 button pad, Sega is clearly confused about what to include!
@shonenjump86 Yup extra stage, also more frames in the animations and more idle animations from what I recall, and cheats where you can give him an Afro and stuff like that
The XBLA "remastered" version of EWJ also had its own exclusive stage as well, though everything else about that version was considerbly worse then previous versions of the game
Defintely worth checking out the Special Edition if you can, I had trouble getting the PC version to work on a modern system but if you're comfortable with emulation, the Sega CD version emulates just fine.
I adore Earthworm Jim, what a fantastic game it was.. I'm just super sad that the new one is going to be Intellivision console exclusive.. Hopefully just a timed exclusive
@Damo Like I was basically trying to say, it's the inclusion of SF2 that should be thought of as a loving nod to fans (as in Sega trying to get as many of the most beloved and best games in the limited 42 game list as possible) rather than the non-inclusion of the 6-button pads as there being something missing.
Yeah, the Japanese version confuses me too in terms of what Sega was/is thinking. Did Sega maybe release an official version of the Mega Drive with the 6-button controller at some point in Japan, which basically became the standard box version that everyone associated with the Mega Drive once it was released, and that's what it's going with because it's both the one everyone remembers and also happens to include the 6-button pad? Did Sega ever release an official Mega Drive version with the 6-button controller included here in the UK (although I know it's definitely not the one most people think of when they think of Mega Drive if they did)?
Because, remember, almost everything about these Minis is taking us back to the past, hitting us right in the nostalgia sweet spot, even so far as the boxes for the systems being very close replicas of the boxes the systems came in at the time too, with almost exactly the same imagery and all.
But maybe Sega just thinks about Japan slightly differently to other territories or something--it clearly does (different included games, 6-button controllers included, Mega CD/32X tower add-ons and mini carts, etc).
By the way this whole rosey nostalgia thing is also the exact same reason why I absolutely do not want them to include all the convoluted crap of letting us add more digital games via some kind of online account and store that requires inputting our personal details, adding credit card info, joining some online service, downloading patches and updates, having EULA and DRM, etc, which some people are asking for (the adding new games part) who clearly don't know what the entire point of these systems is. If we're going to be allowed to add more games then it should be via new physical Mini single or compilation carts imo; that totally makes sense here and would just be very cool.
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