When gaming companies reflect on their history, it tends to be done in a heavily curated manner. Hop into Nintendo Switch Online’s library of Nintendo 64 games and you’ll largely find a collection of the console’s most popular hits along with a few hidden gems. What you usually won’t find, however, are a lot of the left-field oddities you played as a kid who had very little way of differentiating what was good and what was bad pre-internet. For instance, Sony’s PlayStation Classic features 20 iconic PS1 hits that are important to game history, but it doesn’t include Criticom, a terrible fighting game that I adored as a kid before finding out years later how much critics hated it.
That’s why I’m somewhat obsessed with the Sega Genesis Mini 2. The collectible retro console put Sega in a very strange place when it came to curating a marketable game lineup. The first Genesis Mini already included most of the console’s biggest hits, from Sonic the Hedgehog to Streets of Rage 2. With the cream of the crop accounted for, Sega needed to pull from a much deeper collection of games — titles that aren’t household names and have been ported dozens of times already.
The result is the absolute weirdest and most wonderful retro gaming project to date. The Sega Genesis Mini 2 is the perfect collector’s item for gamers who want a more accurate representation of the early 1990s: a Wild West era where the rules were loose and developers had seemingly limitless creative energy.
The Sega Genesis Mini 2 is accidentally something of a double throwback. Naturally, it’s a retro device that faithfully replicates the Genesis’ second model in everything but size. It’s a familiar black square that comes with a (non-functioning) cartridge slot, a power switch, and two controller ports. Pair that with a reproduction of the console’s unique controller, complete with six face buttons, and you’ve got a perfect hit of ’90s nostalgia.
Though the idea of a “mini” console is almost retro in and of itself at this point. The short-lived trend was hugely popular in the mid-to-late 2010s thanks to Nintendo’s NES and SNES reproductions. Those devices became instant holiday hits due to their cute size and excellent lineup of games, but the trend didn’t last long. You could only really pull it off once per console and there are only so many to choose from.
Sega has bucked that trend here by simply creating a second Genesis, which is admittedly a little redundant. Yes, the design is different here as the Genesis’ second iteration has a distinct look from its rectangular predecessor, but you are paying $100 for a variant. The mini console craze could have benefitted from some form of online integration that allowed companies to deliver more games digitally over time, and the decision against an online component makes Sega’s “B-sides” sales pitch a little harder to swallow here.
That aside, the Genesis Mini 2 is a charming reproduction that’ll look great in a display case next to similar devices. Its HDMI port makes it easy to plug and play, the controller’s subtle mode button adds an easy way to bring up the system’s home menu, and the small design makes it truly portable. My only disappointment is that it doesn’t come with a second controller, making multiplayer-focused games like Vs Puyo Puyo Sun a little less appealing out the box.
What really makes the Sega Genesis Mini 2 special is its eclectic game collection pulled from the Genesis, Sega CD, and beyond. It only includes a few repeat games from the previous Genesis Mini, but it mostly relies on deeper cuts to round out its 60 games. Some of those are still what you’d call greatest hits, from racing game OutRun to ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron. Others are lesser-known entries in popular franchises, like the often overlooked Sonic the Hedgehog CD.
Beyond those select games, the experience here is wildly unpredictable — and I utterly adore that. The most fun I’ve had with the system has come from loading up lesser-known Sega CD games I’d never heard of and experiencing something unlike anything I’ve ever played. Mansion of Hidden Souls is a bizarre adventure game that has players exploring a mansion full of talking butterflies in the first person. Sewer Shark, a full-motion video shooter that has players flying through sewers and blasting rats, is one of the weirdest video games I have ever played. Each game included is an absolute mystery box when it comes to genre and art style.
What makes the device especially appealing as a preservation project is its collection of previously unreleased games and arcade titles, some of which have never come to the West. Take Star Mobile, for instance. The puzzle game, which has players balancing a scale by stacking stars on it, was in development in the early ’90s, but was never actually released. This is the first time players can try the canceled Sega Mega Drive title, and that’s a significant move. Similarly, Devi & Pii is a lost game that revolves around players controlling two paddles on the top and bottom of the screen to bounce devils around. It’s significant as it was created by gaming legend Takashi Iizuka as a training project when he first joined Sega (he’d go on to become a key figure in the Sonic the Hedgehog series).
Are all of these lost and hidden games great? Oh, absolutely not. Many of them are downright incomprehensible due to unclear controls or in-game explanations. I wish Sega would have gone an extra mile here by including reproductions of games manuals to at least make complicated games like God-strategy game Populous easier to pick up.
High game quality isn’t exactly the point here, though. Rather, the Sega Genesis Mini 2 is more of a fascinating time capsule for game history buffs. It’s an honest look into the Genesis era that gives a clear view of the development landscape at the time. If you want a curated list of the best Sega games of all time, you can easily get that through services like Nintendo Switch Online. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find games like Warsong, Alien Soldier, or The Ooze — games that feel genuinely ahead of their time.
If you love video game history and cherish the messy parts of it as much as the celebrated ones, the Sega Genesis Mini 2 is the best “mini” console you can buy right now. It delivers a huge catalog of offbeat titles that are, at the very least, always interesting to fire up. When I browse games on it, I feel like that kid at Blockbuster again, renting games based on nothing but the cool cover art and loving them while being blissfully unaware of the critical consensus on them.