Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Nintendo may have temporarily hit the brakes on its own 'Classic Edition' series, but Sega has gamely soldiered on, following up its Mega Drive / Genesis Mini with the Astro City Mini, Astro City Mini V, Game Gear Micro and, this year, the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2. There's clearly plenty of money to be made recycling classic games via physical hardware, and this sequel system offers something fairly unique: Mega / Sega CD titles, some of which are being re-released for the first time ever.

Once again, Sega has partnered with emulation expert M2 on this product; that means you're getting top-class emulation and a host of subtle (but welcome) tweaks – as well as games which have previously never been released.

But is it worth your money if you already have the original Mega Drive / Genesis Mini, which – let's face it – has most of the Mega Drive / Genesis' best games already? And that's before we even mention the fact that it's more expensive than last year's model, despite having only one controller..

Let's find out...

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - The Hardware

Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

As the name suggests, the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2 is based on the revised version of Sega's original 16-bit console, released in 1993. Smaller and cheaper – but lacking the 3.5mm headphone socket – this design is hardly what you'd call ugly, but it's fair to say that the Mk1 edition holds stronger memories for those old enough to have lived through this particular era in gaming. Still, it wouldn't have made much sense for Sega to simply release another Mk1 Mega Drive / Genesis Mini, so here we are.

The unit isn't all that different in terms of footprint when compared to the first Mega Drive / Genesis Mini. It has the same cartridge slot design (which actually opens, so you can slot in the optional dummy carts, just like before) and boasts two USB-A ports on the front; a Micro USB socket (for power) and a full-size HDMI port are found on the back. It's a shame Sega didn't opt for the more modern USB-C connection for power, which is now competitively widespread, but that's a minor grumble.

The power switch and reset button are located on the top, and eagle-eyed fans will instantly spot that something's not quite right here; Sega has decided to use the Japanese design across all three regional variants of the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2, so there's a power switch (not a button) and no grille in between – and that means no red power LED to indicate when the system is powered up, which can cause some confusion.

While Sega included two controllers with the first Mega Drive / Genesis Mini, there's only one in the box this time around. That's the bad news – the good news is that the pad is based on the six-button controller that was released around the same time as Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, and it's larger than the six-button controllers that shipped with the Japanese version of the original Mega Drive / Genesis Mini (the North American and European versions came with the larger, 3-button pad).

It's arguably the best controller for the console; it's just a shame that you'll need to invest in a second one if you want to play two-player titles (Retro-Bit's officially-licenced Sega pads work fine with the console, in case you were wondering). Oh, and as was the case with the previous model, there's no AC adapter in the box (just the USB cable), so you'll need to source your own.

Latency is always a hot topic when it comes to emulation-based machines, and while the input lag on the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2 isn't going to impress those who are used to the MiSTer or Analogue's FPGA-based options, it feels like it's well in line with what we've come to expect from these 'classic edition' micro-consoles.

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - The UI

The Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2's user interface isn't a million miles away from the one that graced its predecessor; it presents you with a visual library of titles (you can view them front-on or spine-on), alongside modern-day comforts such as save states and the like. Several language options are present, too; switching to Japanese changes not only the look of the UI but also reverts to the Japanese region cover artwork, which is a nice touch (the game selection remains identical, however – you don't get the Japanese exclusives which appear on that region's Mega Drive Mini 2, sadly).

There are different wallpaper options when you're playing (because the games are presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, you'll have two large spaces on either side – you can choose to have these blank or fill them in with wallpaper). You can also choose to stretch the image to fill your 16:9 TV if you happen to be a complete maniac. We'd also advise against using the CRT filter; it doesn't produce perfectly even scanlines and makes the image look muddy and dark.

The menu is accompanied by new music composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro which effectively forms a medley, pulling in and remixing tunes from many of the games included on the device. Speaking of audio, it's possible to switch between Mk1 or Mk2 audio in the settings; the Mega Drive / Genesis 2 had slightly different sound hardware, you see.

If there's one big complaint we could level against the UI, it's the fact that it takes quite a lot of time to load when you're navigating around or moving in and out of games; dropping back to the game library screen can sometimes incur a wait of 3 or 4 seconds. It's not a deal-breaker, but it makes the experience feel a little sluggish.

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - The Software

Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2
Yes, the cartridge slot works - but it's for cosmetic purposes only — Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The headline news here is that Sega / Mega CD games are included with the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2, which is quite a boon when you consider that Sega has been notoriously reluctant to reissue many of the games for this particular hardware add-on.

Before we get to those, let's look at the cartridge titles included here. Taking into account the fact that the original Mega Drive / Genesis Mini boasted some of the format's most famous releases, it would be understandable if Sega was struggling to pack this sequel with must-have titles – but thankfully, the Mega Drive isn't short of amazing games, and there are plenty of solid-gold bangers present – alongside some surprisingly deep cuts.

On the plus side, titles like Rainbow Island EXTRA, Elemental Master, Revenge of Shinobi, Alien Soldier, Shining Force II, Thunder Force IV, Warsong, Herzog Zwei and Soleil are some of the best on the console, and if one were to purchase the original cartridge versions of these games, you'd been spending hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on the secondary market. That makes the console's £105 / $99 price tag seem slightly more reasonable.

Furthermore, Sega and M2 have tinkered with some of the other, more common titles. Phantasy Star II boasts adjustable movement speed and a new 'easy' mode, while Truxton / Tatsujin allows you to play the music at the same speed as the arcade original (the story goes that when Sega ported Toaplan's game to the Mega Drive, it based it on the slower, PAL spec, so the music ran slower). OutRun, on the other hand, has new music tracks, while Thunder Force IV has an optional 'high speed' mode. These are hardly groundbreaking improvements, but it's nice to see Sega and M2 putting effort into enhancing select titles. Sega has also taken this chance to remove a troublesome character from the Japanese version of Streets of Rage 3, which is playable here by switching the system language to Japanese.

Picking a perfect list of games is impossible, so it was inevitable that there would be some duff selections here. ClayFighter might have its fans, but this Street Fighter parody is hardly a 'classic' title. Likewise, the domestic port of OutRunners is terrible – so terrible, in fact, that Sega chose not to release it in North America back in the '90s, so Data East handled publishing duties instead. We also can't imagine there are many hardcore fans of the Mega Drive ports of Gain Ground, Fatal Fury 2 or Viewpoint; you can't fault Sega for at least trying to give us some new content, but surely there were better options?

In terms of CD releases, Shining Force CD, Silpheed, Sonic CD (yes, you can select from either the NA or EU/Japanese music), Robo Aleste / Dennin Aleste and Final Fight CD are effortlessly some of the best Sega CD titles and are a joy to play - but even here, Sega has made some questionable choices when it comes to game selection. Mega CD Japan exclusive Night Striker – based on Taito's sprite-scaling coin-op – is also an odd choice, given the many available alternatives; it's very rough-looking and is unlikely to hold your attention for long. We also argue that FMV offering Sewer Shark is largely superfluous; the historically significant (and one-time controversial) Night Trap would have sufficed.

It might seem churlish to pick fault here, but there are far better CD titles that could have made the cut. The Japanese version of the Mega Drive Mini 2 has both Lunar and Lunar: Eternal Blue – both of which received North American releases back in the day. Of course, there's a very good chance that Sega wasn't able to obtain permission to use those localisations in the western version of the console because Working Designs, the company behind the '90s translations, has long since gone out of business, but it still smarts that two of the system's best JRPGs are absent here.

Likewise, it's almost a crime that Konami's Snatcher isn't included – it's perhaps the Sega CD's best game and remains the sole English localisation. Again, we're happy to concede that this might have been beyond Sega's control – Konami and Snatcher creator Hideo Kojima parted ways quite acrimoniously a few years ago, so the company might not want to celebrate one of his most iconic non-Metal Gear titles by giving it a re-release, even if fans have been clamouring for it for what feels like forever. We'd also like to have seen the amazing Keio Flying Squadron on here, too.

Outside of the standard cartridge and CD releases, Sega has also included some bonus titles which are new to this product. Devi & Pii is a curious Breakout-style puzzler from 1992 which was overseen by Sonic 3's Takashi Iizuka and is being released for the first time ever on the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2. Likewise, Mindware's canned Star Mobile gets its first airing here; the aim is to drop stars onto a set of scales, ensuring they remain balanced.

Fantasy Zone is an all-new conversion of the original arcade game, ported by the same team which ported Darius on the first Mega Drive Genesis Mini. Keeping with the same theme, Space Harrier and Space Harrier II are included, but these are modern ports which benefit from smoother sprite scaling (Space Harrier II was a launch title for the Mega Drive, and had notoriously rough scaling). The extra effort is certainly noticeable; the scaling is vastly improved.

Finally, we have 1984's maze-game Spatter, 1982's Super Locomotive and VS Puyo Puyo Sun; this latter title is a two-player-exclusive interpretation of the third Puyo Puyo title which has slightly different gameplay rules. While none of these is in the same ballpark as Star Fox 2 – which made its debut on the SNES Classic Edition – they're nice to have all the same.

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - Complete Game List

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - Complete Game List (NA / EU)

Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - Japanese Version

While the North American and European Mega Drive Mini 2 consoles share the same game list and overall design (the NA unit has grey buttons, the European one has red), the Japanese iteration of the unit is actually quite different – in both physical appearance and the games that come pre-loaded.

For example, the logo on the case is entirely different, and the buttons are grey (power) and blue (reset). Furthermore, the cartridge slot has coloured flaps. The Japanese model looks much more appealing than its western siblings if you ask us.

It's possible to toggle between the Japanese and western versions of several games, too. Switching the language to English gives you the same 'Genesis Mini 2' UI that the North American version ships with, but certain games (despite having English summaries) remain in Japanese. It's worth noting that, although it is playable in its censored state on the western Mega Drive Mini 2, the aforementioned Bare Knuckle 3 is not included on the Japanese console.

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - Complete Game List (Japan)

  • After Burner 2
  • Alien Soldier
  • Bonanza Bros
  • Chelnov
  • Columns 3
  • Crusader of Centy
  • Devi to Pi
  • Fatal Fury 2
  • Fantasy Zone
  • Gain Ground
  • Granada
  • Harimanada
  • Honou no Toukyuuji: Dodge Danpei
  • Magical Taruruto-kun
  • Majandojo
  • Megapanel
  • Midnight Resistance
  • Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
  • Out Run
  • Party Quiz Mega Q 2022
  • Party Quiz Sega Q
  • Phantasy Star II
  • Populous
  • Puyo Puyo Sun
  • Puzzle & Action Ichidant-R
  • Ranger X
  • Shining in the Darkness
  • Sorcerian
  • Space Harrier 2
  • Spatter
  • Splatterhouse 2
  • Star Cruiser
  • Star Mobile
  • Super Locomotive
  • Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
  • Tatsujin
  • Thunder Force IV
  • Tougi Ou: King Colossus
  • Viewpoint
  • Virtua Racing
  • Captain Tsubasa (Sega CD)
  • Ecco the Dolphin CD (Sega CD)
  • Final Fight CD (Sega CD)
  • Lunar: Eternal Blue (Sega CD)
  • Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD)
  • Mahou no Shoujo: Silky Lip (Sega CD)
  • Mansion of Hidden Souls (Sega CD)
  • Night Striker (Sega CD)
  • Night Trap (Sega CD)
  • The Ninja Warriors (Sega CD)
  • Popful Mail (Sega CD)
  • Robo Aleste (Sega CD)
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms III (Sega CD)
  • Shin Megami Tensei (Sega CD)
  • Shining Force CD (Sega CD)
  • Silpheed (Sega CD)
  • Sonic CD (Sega CD)
  • StarBlade (Sega CD)
  • Tenka Fubu: Eiyutachi no Houkou (Sega CD)
  • Wondermega Collection (Sega CD)

Mega Drive Mini 2 Review - The Verdict

Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

There's no denying that you're getting an awful lot of bang for your buck with the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2. 60 titles is more than double what was included on both the NES and SNES Classic Editions, and a big leap over the 42 that were pre-installed on the original Mega Drive / Genesis Mini.

Balancing this out is the fact that there are a handful of games here that will keep you entertained for minutes rather than hours; Sega has had to scrape the bottom of the barrel a little; OutRunners, Gain Ground and Sewer Shark are hardly classics, and there are several CD games which are notable in their absence. It's also impossible to ignore the price hike for this second system and the fact that it comes with just one (admittedly superior) controller, rather than two.

Still, on the plus side, Sega and M2 have put the hours in to create some truly unique features; the fact that games like Phantasy Star II and Thunder Force IV have been tweaked and tinkered with to improve them is commendable, and new ports for the likes of Fantasy Zone and Space Harrier are a blessing for Sega fans. If you consider yourself to be part of that fraternity, then there's little chance you're going to be disappointed with the Mega Drive / Genesis Mini 2 – but, for more casual players, it might be a harder sell than the previous model.

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Thanks to Sega for supplying the unit used in this review.