Tag Archives: sega genesis

The Genesis Mini Makes Up For Years Of Crappy Sega Clones

Photo: Chris Kohler (Kotaku)

Sega did mini consoles before mini consoles were cool. For well over a decade you’ve been able to buy plug-and-play Sega machines filled with Genesis classics. Of course, they all pretty much sucked, full of emulation problems and mediocre games. But the Genesis Mini is almost here, and it’s ready to restore Sega’s good name in the field of tiny retro consoles.

Releasing on September 19 for $80, the Genesis Mini is a first-party Sega product, not a licensed offshoot like all the rest. I’ve had one for a few days now, and it’s excellent so far. The software is done by M2, a group of emulation experts obsessed with quality and accuracy. The device’s 42 games are a selection of some of the best games that Sega’s 16-bit console had to offer.

The game selection was the real sticking point with 2017’s Genesis Flashback HD, the last tiny Genesis on store shelves. The emulation was OK, and the hardware was fine, but the game selection could hardly have been said to be the cream of the crop. There was a lot of B-tier stuff on there. Sure, it had Sonic the Hedgehog, but where was Gunstar Heroes, Castlevania: Bloodlines, or Streets of Rage 2?

Screenshot: Kotaku (Sega)

Well, here they are on the Genesis Mini. While it is the nature of these tiny consoles that someone will always be able to quibble about this game or that one being missing, the list here is quite strong. Pick a game, any game, and you’re unlikely to come away disappointed. Yes, the emulation’s great, but more importantly so are the things being emulated.

What makes the Genesis Mini appealing beyond the game selection is that it’s so much fun to play around with. In its quest to replicate the exact look of the original console, Sega even replicated the volume control knob, the cartridge port, and the expansion slot on the bottom. You can push the volume control up and down, stick your finger into the cartridge slot to move the spring-loaded flaps, and take the expansion port cover on and off. None of these things actually do anything. They’re just little interactive bits on a toy. But they make the hardware itself that much more fun.

You gotta give them credit for going out and licensing Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse for this thing.
Screenshot: Kotaku (Sega)

Plug the Genesis Mini in, and you’ll probably end up poking around all the menus before you play a game. Unlike the Flashback HD’s unintuitive and clunky menu screen, the Mini’s interface is smooth and enjoyable to mess with. You can sort the games by release date, alphabetically, number of players, or genre. You can view the front of the box art or line the games up by their spine art.

You can also pop into the settings menu and change the system language, which is more interesting than you might think. Change it to Japanese and the whole menu changes to the Japanese Mega Drive. The box arts switch to the Japanese versions, and even the game versions change. Switch to European languages and you’ll see the same thing; the PAL region Mega Drive aesthetic and European versions of the games.

Screenshot: Kotaku (Sega)

While most games only had minor differences between regions, that isn’t always the case. Play the Japanese version of Contra: Hard Corps, and you’ll get a three-bar life meter and unlimited continues, unlike the U.S. version’s one-hit kills and limited retries.

Even if you don’t want to play games from around the world, it’s fun to see what changes when you switch regions in the Genesis Mini’s setting. Did you know Beyond Oasis had a French-language version called La Légende de Thor? I didn’t, but I’m impressed that Sega and M2 dove so deeply into the archives to find and include it. It’s not just a bundle of ROMs; there’s a sense that this is something that was deeply curated by experts. Every little detail of the Genesis Mini feels like it was obsessed over; it’s the quality revival that the Genesis has always deserved.

Source: Kotaku.com

Mega SG Is An Amazing HDMI Sega Genesis For The Hardcore Retro Nerd

The Mega SG.
Photo: Chris Kohler (Kotaku)

The Sega Genesis has had by far the longest shelf life of any of the 16-bit systems. You could buy Sega’s final “Genesis 3″ model in stores until the early 2000s, and just a few years later, the AtGames released licensed plug-and-play machines, some with Genesis cartridge slots. For the last 30 years, you’d likely be able to find a Genesis-compatible console on a store shelf. So do you need one that costs $190? Maybe you do.

The hardware maker Analogue has just released its latest high-end, high-definition, high-priced retro console, the Mega SG. Like its earlier NES- and SNES-compatible machines, the Mega SG is a cartridge-based, HDMI-enabled Sega Genesis clone that aims for nothing less than perfection, which means running games exactly as they would on the original, or as close to exact as is possible.

Its method for accomplishing this is the reason for its premium price tag and also is what makes the Mega SG different from nearly every other retro console on the market. Instead of a cheap computer running a software emulator, Analogue’s systems use a device called a “field-programmable gate array,” or FPGA. This means that the Mega SG recreates the designs of the chips on the original Genesis board. It’s not a computer running an emulator that lets it interpret ROM files. For all intents and purposes, it is a Genesis.

Sonic The Hedgehog running on the Mega SG using default settings.
Screenshot: Kotaku

That results in near-total, near-perfect compatibility with any Genesis-compatible cartridge or device you throw at the Mega SG. I tried everything I could think of from of my collection, and it handled everything, no sweat. That includes American Genesis cartridges, of course, but also Japanese imports, European PAL games, modern releases like Pier Solar, unlicensed games, unlicensed religious games, weird 4-in-1 bootlegs from Taiwan that require you to press the “Reset” button to swap between the games… everything.

Compare this to the $80 Sega Genesis Flashback HD. Besides the fact that its emulation is imperfect, it doesn’t have very high compatibility with cartridges outside of Sega’s own standard licensed products. If you want something that runs original cartridges and uses original controllers, and you don’t mind paying over $200 after shipping for the privilege, this system is the way to do it.

Street Fighter II for the Sega Master System running on the Mega SG. (Yes, that’s actually a Master System game!)
Screenshot: Kotaku

An adapter included in the box lets the system play 8-bit Sega Master System cartridges (though not the smaller, credit card-sized card games). Again, I threw some wacky stuff at it, like the Brazilian version of Street Fighter II released in 1997, and the Mega SG handled them with aplomb. More adapters, to be sold for $10 each when they are released later this year, will let you plug in Master System cards, Game Gear games, and games from Sega’s Japanese SG-1000 and SG-3000 systems.

It was often the case that games I inserted didn’t work on the first try, giving me a glitchy error screen. In all cases, this meant that the cartridge had to be cleaned. I used a lot of Q-Tips and a lot of rubbing alcohol that day. The place smelled like I was giving out free flu shots. All of the Analogue devices are pretty fastidious about wanting the carts you put inside them to be clean as a whistle before they work, so keep that in mind.

Just one of the Mega SG’s many, many options menu screens.
Screenshot: Kotaku

Turn on the Mega SG and you’ll get a great-looking picture and sound, but if you want to tweak any of that stuff, you can dive into the panoply of different sliders and checkboxes in its menu to fully customize the experience. Want to turn on different shaders to smooth out the pixels, or customize the faux CRT filters until the image looks exactly like the Trinitrons of your youth? Go nuts. You can even select from different waveforms to use for the Genesis’ FM sound output, which will change the timbre of the music.

There are some limitations. While you can hook up a Sega CD to the unit, you can’t use that other Genesis add-on, the 32X. The reason for this is that the 32X uses analog video mixing, and the Mega SG only supports HDMI. That’s also something to bear in mind if you were considering hooking this up to an analog television set, because out of the box, you can’t. You also can’t use light guns, but that’s because vintage light guns don’t work with HDTVs. So, abandon those dreams of breaking out your old Sega Menacer.

Mega SG even includes a brand new game pre-loaded into its firmware: Ultracore, a Genesis game developed, but never before released, by DICE.
Screenshot: Kotaku

Also, the Mega SG doesn’t run ROM files. You know, those things you download off the Inter… uh, I mean, copy legally from the cartridges you already own? Out of the box, the system will only play actual cartridges, although if you own an Everdrive flash cart for the Genesis, that’ll work just fine, too. That said, Analogue’s previous machines have gotten unofficial “jailbreak” firmware very shortly after their releases that allows you to dump cartridges and run ROMs, so it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to bust this open and do more with it soon enough.

The 8Bitdo M30 wireless controller.
Photo: Chris Kohler (Kotaku)

While the Mega SG includes the aforementioned Master System adapter, an HDMI cable, and a USB power cable, it does not include a controller. You can use any Genesis-compatible pad, but if you want your controller to be as slick and fancy as your console, Analogue recommends you grab the 8Bitdo M30 wireless controller. (It sent one along with our review unit, and it’s quite nice.)

With all of my talk about FPGAs and hardware perfection, don’t think I believe that software emulation is bad, or inferior. It’s not! It’s a perfectly valid way of preserving and playing old games. It also costs zero dollars to get an emulator up and running on your existing device. From there, the more impressive options scale up in terms of price, complexity, and accuracy until you get to the Mega SG on the far opposite end of the scale. Yes, it’s for hardcore retrophiles, but it’s also such a beautiful, elegant solution that playing it might turn you into one.

Source: Kotaku.com

ToeJam & Earl: Back In The Groove Is A Well-Timed Throwback

Screenshot: Kotaku (ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove)

Rejoice! There’s a new ToeJam & Earl game out and it’s not garbage.

Kickstarted back in 2015, ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is a soft reboot of the original game that debuted on the Sega Genesis back in 1991. It’s out now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch, and it’s entirely decent. Even better: It’s a real, honest-to-god ToeJam & Earl game. That means you play as one of the two titular aliens, or one of their friends, as they try to find all their spaceships, which crash-landed on Earth, so they can get back to their homeworld of Funkotron. There are some modern tweaks and additions in the way of items and enemies, but otherwise it simply goes back and mines what made the original so beloved.

I’ve never wanted to hug anyone more in my life.
Screenshot: Kotaku (ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove)

And you know what? That’s fine. ToeJam & Earl fans have waited almost three decades for this, and Back in the Groove does a perfectly admirable job of hitting all of the same old beats. Like the original, it’s a roguelike. The items you pick up will be different each time you play, and once you die, the game’s over. While you can play on the largely pre-baked “normal” map, you’ll quickly unlock random runs that continually change up each playthrough’s 25 levels and what appears on them. Beating the game unlocks new special items that can appear in the collectable presents you find on a run, as well as extra characters, each with unique stats like better speed or higher health.

Four slots on the nine-character roster are taken up just by the original and new forms of ToeJam and Earl, changing up the pants they wear and their special abilities. Old-school Earl, for example, can eat anything without getting sick, while modern Earl gets discounts on sushi and root beer at food stands. At this point, anyone reading who isn’t familiar with the series probably has a lot of questions, like why is ToeJam made of pull-and-peel Twizzlers, and also, what do you actually do in this game?

Back in the Groove uses 2D sprites placed over top a 3D world.
Screenshot: Kotaku (ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove)

Finding the broken pieces of your spaceship mostly involves walking around small islands hovering in space, searching for the part, and then hopping on an elevator to get to the next level. Between these objectives are Earthlings which can range from little devils that poke you with forks to rent-a-cops looking to run you over on their Segways. To fend them off, ToeJam and Earl collect and open presents, which have surprises inside like spring-loaded sneakers or super-sneezing dust that can be used to get around the earthlings or send them to a better place.

Despite being a messy mashup of platforming, puzzles, and collect-a-thoning that leans heavily on nostalgia for the original, playing a new ToeJam & Earl has been surprisingly rejuvenating. It’s humorful without throwing it in your face or being cringy, and the fact that the game feels so aggressively anti-optimization makes it easy to sit back, explore, and just slowly trawl across each map at your own pace. Unlocking new stuff by winning is fun, but honestly it’s enough just to hang out in a alien, acid-jazz-infused dimension.

A lot of the fun of Back in the Groove comes from discovering what new items and enemies will do, like this one which throws you off the map and down to the previous level.
Screenshot: Kotaku (ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove)

Back in the Groove, like its predecessor, is much more than just the sum of its parts, though. The funky bass guitar riffs, the bright colors, and ToeJam and Earl’s chill-as-fuck attitudes imbue the entire surreal pastiche with a warmth and goofy weirdness that makes it easy to have fun with, even if it doesn’t quite inspire the same amount of love as the original. Back in the Groove looks great, especially when being held two feet from my face on the Switch’s small display, but the rhythm of the gameplay feels a bit off, and the animations are more rigid than the smooth, free-flowing cadence of the original.

It still reconjures the magic, though—especially on co-op. While it can be played with up to four people online, I recommend duos on the couch, like in the old days. The game works—although I still wish I could unlock a secret portal to the first game every time I’m blazing over the squiggly neon hills of the Hyper Funk Zone.

Source: Kotaku.com

Herzog Zwei Is The Best Real-Time Strategy Game You Never Played

I was always a fan of the Risk board game as a kid, and Herzog Zwei was kind of like Risk if you infused real time action, mechas, and intense futuristic tank battles. An obscure gem for the Sega Genesis, it released in 1990 from Technosoft and happens to be one of the best strategy mecha games ever developed.

Cited as an inspiration for games like Warcraft, Starcraft, Dune II, Command & Conquer and even Brutal Legend, Herzog Zwei was a surprisingly deep experience for its time with its streamlined controls and numerous tactical possibilities. I used to play this game for days on end because it was so much fun. At the same time, it wasn’t mindless entertainment, but the kind that required strategic precision and a whole lot of careful planning.

Vulkan

The battles of Herzog Zwei take place in the Aria Republic, a fictional country that was enslaved by the dictator, Herzog Eins. An opposing leader, Ludwig, leads the rebellion in a fight against the “war machines of General Balsaga.” Normally, I’m really big on story as I feel a fight with characters you care about gives battles more meaning. But with Herzog Zwei, I let my imagination fill in the empty spaces. Basically, it boils down to two commanders fighting each other across eight battlefields.

As high commander, you control a mecha that has three forms; a mecha infantry soldier that can attack enemy units; a jet that is useful for flying over the entire map and conduct reconnaissance; and transport mode which allows players to treat any of their units like cargo and take them where they need. This means that you’re not just some distant deity directing your units from afar, but you’re actually thrust into the thick of it. Both regular units as well as the enemy’s high commander are susceptible to your gunfire, and vice versa, and it’s that mix of real time strategy and shooter action which makes Herzog Zwei’s battles so compelling. Death results in your explosion and a respawn back at your main base. You have to refuel and start anew, causing a little more chaos for your foes as you advance your own forces.

There are eight different types of units you can build that cover everything from support units to attack tanks. They each have meters like a damage gauge, energy (fuel), and gun level (ammo) that need to be maintained with a supply truck. The most important defensive unit is the powerful stationary cannon, the GMR-34A which also has missiles and are deadly for the opposing commander. I’d surround my base with the GMRs, have some TAX-52 tanks to provide additional shielding and prevent the enemy commander from carrying out a sneak attack. Since the GMR cannons were so expensive, I had to deploy infantry to acquire every outpost I could get my hands on. The more of those smaller bases you have under your control, the more production resources increase, allowing you to purchase additional weapons (the cap is fifty units per side).

Instead of directly controlling these units, you program them with a set of simple commands that range from the BDF-1SD that keeps your unit stationary and in guard mode, to the AF-001A that causes the chosen unit to patrol the area. The command I used the most was the BA001C which meant unleashing a full on assault on the enemy base.

If it seems like I’m geeking out on the details, it’s because I cherished the tactical nuances of the game.

I didn’t actually have Herzog Zwei growing up. A friend of mine did and I’d go to his house, stay over the weekend, and play against him and his brother. They were much better than I, but I couldn’t stop competing. Herzog Zwei’s split screen combat is really where the game shines. When I finally got my own Genesis, they let me borrow the game and I went through all eight campaigns at their four difficulty settings, playing anyone who was willing.

Obviously, a human opponent is a completely different beast from the AI. Since enemies have a direct avatar in the mecha commander, it made battles more persona. We’d often spend time hunting each other down rather than focusing on the battle between our units. Since it was split-screen, you could look over and see what they were planning and where they were. There was a code of honor that we weren’t supposed to, but no matter who I was playing against, one side would, resulting in loud protestations of outrage. The best moments would be catching an enemy commander while they were in transport mode carrying valuable cargo. Blow them up then and they’d lose the unit they were carrying. Hearing them curse angrily as a result was part of the competitive joy of the experience.

Stadt

The eight battlefields switch up the gameplay with geographic differences. Some have canyons and lava pits that aren’t easy to cross and necessitate strategic planning in your deployment. The Strand is one of the most interesting as it’s a series of tiny islets you battle over, requiring the active use of water units. There’s so many combinations and ways to fights, your strategy has to be malleable. Do you go for the direct route, dropping off as many of your units as you can directly at the enemy headquarters? Or do you slowly invest in the minibases, which in turns equals more money to spend on units to overwhelm the opposition?

The music complements the war theme perfectly and the visuals depict futuristic warfare with a nice blend of grit and sleekness. Beating the game means you defeat the AI opponent on all eight battlefields on all four difficult levels. If you are victorious on the Republic’s side, you learn the rebellion’s commander, Ludwig, kills himself and is buried with “due respect.” If you beat the game as Ludwig, he creates a New Republic of Aria and implements a series of reforms that makes life better for its people. While emerging victorious in the campaign was a feat in itself, the proudest moments I had were beating friends in one-on-one matches.

This is one of those special games that those on the know cherish and I can’t recommend it enough for fans of RTS games. I saw a buddy at Tokyo Game Show two years ago and we bonded over memories of Herzog Zwei, expressing a mutual wish that the new Genesis/Mega Drive Mini might have the game and allow players to duel it out online. I don’t know if it’s a possibility but at the least, the battles would be epic.

Source: Kotaku.com