Analogue Mega SG Review: The Sega Genesis Reborn
I’m not much of a nostalgic gamer. I enjoy modern-but-retro-inspired games quite a bit (Hello. Do you have a moment to talk about Hollow Knight?) but I don’t often pine for the gaming experiences of my misspent youth. They’re usually better as memories.
For example, the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind I remember is lush, vivid, and creepy. I’ll always remember how it felt venturing into the perpetual storm surrounding the Red Mountain, and how amazed I was to see NPCs raise their arms to shield themselves from the swirling red ash. Experiencing Morrowind today wouldn’t be the same. It looks and feels dated. Reality can never match those wonderful memories.
So when the Analogue SG Mega arrived at my door I was skeptical. It’s a retro console of sorts. It runs original Sega Genesis cartridges using some impressive technical wizardry (more on that later) but at the end of the day it seemed like just another trip down memory lane—one I’d rather not take. Until I spent some time with it.
There is something delightfully transgressive about plugging a 1989 retro console into a 65-inch 4K TV. It’s even more delightful when Sonic the Hedgehog tears across the screen in full 1080p. The picture is sharp and colorful, vivid on a modern TV, and the audio is remarkable. Sonic’s iconic bells, whistles, and music were faithfully reproduced through modern speakers.
Like it’s sibling, the Super NT, the Mega SG is different from other self-contained retro consoles. Instead of coming bundled with controllers and 20+ games baked inside it like the NES Classic and SNES Classic, it’s designed to actually play old Sega Genesis cartridges with pristine accuracy. It’s less of a retro console and more of a revival.
[[[[image 8Bitdo controller]]]]
It’s also on the expensive side. Most retro consoles cost $100 or less. The Mega SG will run you $190 for the console and $25 per controller. Since controllers are not included, you’ll need at least one. Analogue partnered with 8Bitdo to make them, and they run $25 a piece from Amazon or Analogue. For an authentic Sega Genesis experience, you’re looking at $240. Which is within striking distance of what you’d pay for something like a refurbished Nintendo Switch.
As a gaming experience, this is a Sega Genesis in all but name. Almost. It plays exactly the way you remember it did. It’s quick, snappy, games are rendered faithfully—even the experience of slotting in a cartridge is nostalgic and satisfying. But there are some modern conveniences, too. The controller is wireless and connects using a little dongle you plug into the front of the console, and there’s a system menu for troubleshooting any issues you might have. You can tweak video and audio, or enter Game Genie-style cheat codes if you’re feeling frisky.
It eliminates all the problems you’d likely encounter if you tried to hook an original Genesis up to your TV. It gets out of your way and lets you play your original Sega game cartridges without any fuss, and it does that with some impressive technical design.
A Link to the Past
So, the Mega SG is not just a self-contained retro console, like the highly sought-after NES or SNES Classic systems, and it’s not an emulator like the Nintendo Virtual Console store on the Switch. It’s something else entirely.
When you play a game through an emulator on a console or PC (like DICE), you’re using a software suite that simulates a retro console’s hardware. Some emulators work well. Others are about as elegant as playing Jenga with oven mitts. They’re often awkward and janky, requiring a lot of time and care to load and play games properly. Some emulated games flat out won’t work and you’ll be tempted to seek out ROMs (game files) from less-than-reputable sources all over the internet.
[[[[image of Mega SG Colors]]]]
If you’re an enterprising sort, you can find dozens of video tutorials on how to create a retro game console using a Raspberry Pi and some DIY engineering. But these solutions present a problem: no matter how good your emulator is, it’s not the native environment the game was built for. It’s an approximation. It will never play exactly how it would off an original cartridge because the emulator software always stands between you and the game.
Analogue’s Mega SG does something different. It has an FPGA chip inside—a physical chip designed to become another type of hardware. It’s not emulating Sega games; it’s running them in their native environment. You’re playing the same Mortal Kombat that kids were playing (and hiding from their parents) in the early 1990’s. If emulators are MP3s, the Mega SG is classic vinyl.
The console is a solid piece of engineering. It’s well-made and does its job without fail. The games are what they were three decades ago, for better and worse. Some are charmingly quaint and others are frustratingly difficult in the ways only early console games can get away with.
If you played a lot of Sega games as a kid be prepared to have some memories shattered. No, those combos you pulled off in Mortal Kombat were not actually as impressive as you remember; Yes, Aladdin really was that hard.
Sure, most of these games aren’t going to be as great as we remember, but there’s something fun about searching the internet for an obscure cartridge you half remember playing once (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms III) getting it home, and finding it plays just as well as it did in your youth. It’s like taking home a historical artifact (a moment frozen in time) that you can explore precisely as others did in the ancient past.
Playing games like these reminded me how many Sega Genesis games I never played. Honestly, just search “Sega Games” on eBay and you’ll find a handful of probably-kinda-great games you never got around to playing during the 16-bit era.
I’m still averse to nostalgia, and I don’t want to retread all the hours I poured into Shining Force II as a kid, but after digging into Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I’m definitely interested in exploring more of the games I missed out on, and the Mega SG is the best way to do it.