I never owned a Sega Genesis growing up; we were a Nintendo family. I did have one friend for a short time that let me play his Genesis, and the memories are good, but it was not a significant part of my video gaming upbringing. I went from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) (along with PC gaming) at that time. But I certainly did get to experience plenty of gaming from that timeframe, so coming back and playing these games now sure is an interesting experience.
It first has to be said that the SNES is a technical masterpiece in comparison to the Genesis when it comes to graphics and sound. I can't help but compare the systems directly, since that's what I have and what I know. With that said, I noticed almost immediately how incredibly smooth games on the Genesis Mini play (assuming that this experience directly translates to what the experience on hardware was like, and I am assuming it does).
I was playing games like Streets of Rage 2, or Vectorman or Strider, and I was thinking not only how smooth and advanced for the time the animations were, but how quickly everything moves and dashes around, and without any slowdown. That nearly 3x frequency advantage on the Sega's microprocessor is quite evident in some titles.
At the same time, there are others that clearly could use some of that SNES Mode 7 magic; Road Rash II is a blast to play, but it runs at 10-15 frames per second; it's a little rough. It's still fun though! Space Harrier II, however, doesn't age quite as well in my opinion (though neither age that well I suppose).
I was also struck how inferior the sound chip is. Don't get me wrong; some Genesis games have quite memorable music. But others would have benefited so much from a little General MIDI instrument samples love. I also noticed cases where sound effects could not be heard, or sound effects sounded a bit 'under the music', though that was pretty much a sign of the times in the late '80s/early '90s.
One thing I found remarkable is, despite the official sprite size being larger in the SNES, certain games managed to overcome that limitation anyway, to make some really fantastic animation and motion effects. Vectorman looks amazing for a game of that era; I was also impressed with how Beyond Oasis looks, with smooth movements and animations throughout. While weaker in many ways, why Nintendo allowed Sega to keep the console with the faster CPU is a mystery for the ages (the SNES came out two years after the Sega Genesis!).Here's a list of the Forty-two games included:
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Contra: Hard Corps
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Ecco the Dolphin
Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Monster World IV
Phantasy Star IV
Road Rash II
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Sonic The Hedgehog
Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball
Space Harrier II
Street Fighter II': Special Champion Edition
Streets of Rage 2
Super Fantasy Zone
Thunder Force III
ToeJam & Earl
Virtua Fighter 2
Wonder Boy in Monster World
World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
The games in this mini console are generally quite good, or at least historically significant. I never really had a hankering for Altered Beast, but it was the original pack-in game before Sonic The Hedgehog was released, so its presence in this collection makes a lot of sense. It's also great that Sega went beyond their often-released games collections, and included some hard to license games from third parties, like Castlevania, Contra, and some Mickey Mouse games. These games are not only well known, but excellent, and in some ways (though not graphically) superior to their SNES counterparts.
The emulation is pretty much top-notch from what I can tell, and the controllers and hardware look and feel great. Finally, someone included controllers that don't require extension cords out of the box, at seven feet! While I wish they included the six-button controllers for Street Fighter II': Special Champion Edition, I totally understand the decision. Most games only use three buttons, and they were the controllers the systems came with, and most gamers would be familiar with them. Sega also made some nice touches, like a 'working' fake cartridge slot, a fake volume slider, and a bottom expansion slot that many fans of the very cool looking industrial design of the Sega Genesis will most certainly appreciate.
Morally, the Sega Genesis Mini can only be rated based on the included games. Sega marketed the system as being a bit more 'edgy' than Nintendo, and with games like Road Rash, where you punch other racers off of their bikes to get ahead, it was certainly that. There are one on one fighting games, lots of shooters (both action shooters like Gunstar Heroes and Contra and shoot 'em ups like Darius), RPGs like Phantasy Star and Shining Force where you can use magic and such. There are others where you can play as a lady in a skimpy outfit like Alisia Dragoon or Streets of Rage 2, or fight against lightly-dressed ladies. Castlevania and Ghouls 'n Ghosts (and perhaps others) features undead creatures and magic.
I would say that the Sega Genesis Mini is, while not quite up to Nintendo's levels of classic console re-releases, overall a job well done and worth getting. None of the games are 'Final Fantasy III' or 'Super Metroid' good, but there are plenty of quality classic games here, and the hardware is just right. If you would like a taste of the 'other side' of the 16-bit console wars, I highly recommend the Sega Genesis Mini - you can't go wrong. With that said, Sega has released enough software-based versions of the Sega collections that you may have many of these games in other formats. If that's the case, you have to decide how important original controllers and the plug and play experience is.