Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

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

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

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

Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

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.

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.