In the past couple of years Nintendo have successfully released miniaturised versions of both the NES and SNES. They’re little emulation boxes that come pre-loaded with games, shaped to resemble the original console. Aimed at the casual Nostalgic 30\40 something, you just plug them into your TV and start playing, with a minimum of fuss. Perfect for when you only have 30 minutes gaming time in your average evening.

The idea is catching on and a few other mini-machines have either been released or are on the way.

We recently saw a C64 mini, and at the risk of losing all my retro-gaming cred I wish I had more to say about it. I don’t think I’ve ever actually played on a real C64. From what I’ve heard the problems with this device are:

1: the keyboard doesn’t actually do anything
2: its missing some of the most popular games
3: the joystick sucks. Personally I think gamepads were more usable than those 80s joysticks anyway, but apparently this one is extra bad.

Also though, it was inevitable that Sega would want a piece of this market. So they have recently announced a miniature Megadrive\Genesis. Games onboard are unknown, but it’s due out this year.

Myself, I always saw Sega consoles as a step lesser than their competitors from Nintendo. The Megadrive wasn’t bad by any means, but it did have a more limited colour palette. Also, more subjectively, it didn’t have quite the same appeal. The SNES was colourful and earnest a bit dorky, yet utterly charming. The Megadrive was all black plastic and trying too hard to be cool.

I might feel that way because of Sonic the Hedgehog, which always struck me as a bit over-rated. The game presented raw speed as its key advantage over the competition, but that just meant half of each map shot past in a blur leaving me thinking “do I need to go back there?” Once you slowed down to walking pace, it was all a bit average.

Also I didn’t care for attempts to make a mascot with “attitude”. Nintendo’s unfashionable middle-aged plumber is sincerely likeable, while Sonic’s smirking face was too transparent an attempt to appeal to kids. As if he was meant to be one of us, charging off having fun and thumbing his nose at authority instead of doing his math homework.

That said I don’t actively dislike those games, they’re just not a match for Super Mario World. Meanwhile there are several Megadrive games that might tempt me to shell out. Shining Force, which I wrote about over on Just Games Retro, was a great tactical RPG. Castlevania: Bloodlines is my favourite instalment from the vampire-killing series’ 8 and 16 bit days, with some memorably atmospheric levels and a spear-wielding hero to complement the usual Whip Guy.

Then there’s Golden Axe, the classic scrolling beat ’em up. Rather than the usual setting of denim clad karate men fighting criminal gangs amongst urban neon and grime, this one went for Conan the Barbarian style fantasy. Top memories from Golden Axe include those huge hammer guys, and riding fire-breathing dragons. Also wasting your fully charged special magic attack on a single wimpy enemy, just before a boss fight starts.

One reason not to get the Megadrive mini will be, you can already get a bunch of the games on Steam (since they no longer make their own hardware, Sega are logically much more willing than Nintendo to release their retro games on other formats). That’s another easy and legal way to play, although with my setup not quite so conducive to playing from the living room sofa.

Anyway this isn’t as high personal priority for me as the Nintendo minis, but, I do in general applaud the push to make oldies more accessible to modern casual gamers. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues, and what else may be announced in the future. How about a tiny Atari ST? (cheers from back of room. Boos from Amiga owners).