Sega Mega Drive Mini – Top 5 Games

In a world before the Covid-19 pandemic (yep, I barely remember either) there was something of a retro videogame revival taking place. We’ve had the NES mini, and the SNES mini, cataloguing some of the most beloved releases to grace either platform. The Sega Mega-Drive Mini (Genesis mini in the US), released in 2019, aimed to do the same. Forty-Two titles came included, 13 of which were exclusive to the west. Sega division M2 handled the conversions, and the console itself, arriving at 55% the size of the original home classic, certainly looks the part. But what about the games?

Thankfully the choices are not as generic as expected heralding quite a few tasty surprises. Castlevania: Bloodlines, Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Contra: Hard Corps are among the rarer and desirable classics on offer, as well as a very welcome return of Road Rash II. Who knew Sega and EA even still talked?

On the downside, many of the titles are a case of same old, same old. Sega have been releasing various Genesis/Mega Drive collections since the PS2 era, with the latest edition only being made available on Switch last December. No less than 24 titles (57% no less) make a reappearance on the Mega Drive Mini. But no one can argue that regardless of how many times they are released, many of these titles were key to the Mega Drive being a success. From Alex Kidd to World of Illusion, The Mega Drive Mini certainly is worthy of our money and time. And so, in no particular order, here are my top five picks.

Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)
The inclusion of Castlevania: Bloodlines is certainly one of the best inclusions for many reasons. Firstly, it is the only Castlevania game for Sega’s platform, and was also exclusive at the time. Thankfully, the version included matches that of the recently released Castlevania: Anniversary Collection for PS4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch in that it is uncensored; its original 1994 release felt the wrath of the censors, much like Mortal Kombat did for the SNES. The end result is a traditional Castlevania adventure that is also among the most violent in the series.

Eternal Champions (1993)
Not an obvious choice for many I’m sure, but a pleasing one for me nonetheless. Sega’s answer to Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat was better than neither of them, but could easily be considered the cultists choice. Sega developed Eternal Champions for the Mega Drive, and not an arcade port like its more successful counterpart giants of the genre.

Its unique characters from different time zones, including caveman Slash, futuristic Muay Thai fighter R.A.X. Coswell and 1920’s mobster Larcen Tyler, are unlike any other fighting franchise. They certainly could not have had names that were any less memorable if they tried. Weapon-wielding, an Art of Fighting-style special move meter, even its own take on fatalities make Eternal Champions a unique, if a little clunky, fighting experience.

Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition (1993)
On the back of Capcom developing Street Fighter II: Turbo for the SNES, Sega made the wise choice of delaying their own version of Street Fighter II to improve its content. Originally intended as a port of the namesake arcade, this newly dubbed “Special” edition includes both ‘Champion’ and ‘Turbo’ modes, the former of which the SNES version never had. In addition, this was the first console port of the famous arcade fighting introduction sequence, which is noticeably absent from all SNES versions of Street Fighter II.

It’s incredible to think that a decision to originally stick with Nintendo as its home console base, then to come full circle and over-compensate for a rival console, would result in such a console-defining moment. Special Champion Edition became a revolutionary move for the Mega Drive, paving the way for production of the 6-button controller that would resolve the initial issue of toggling between punches and kicks with the 3-button pad start button. This inevitable shift is a decision that transformed a title that was originally unworkable to arguably having better control than its SNES counterpart. Depending on your taste in controllers of course.

Although it trumps the SNES Turbo title on feature inclusion alone, what of the action itself? Everything is intact, plus the additions of tournament modes and both ‘Champion’ and ‘Turbo’ modes give the Street Fighter II Turbo a run for its money. As ever though, the Mega Drive just isn’t up there when it comes to the sound quality. The slightly muffled tunes and voices let the side down just a tad. Nevertheless, this is the best fighter the Mega Drive ever had to offer until the arrival of its sequel, Super Street Fighter II.

Road Rash II (1993)
Although boasting an incredibly baron Wikipedia page, Road Rash II is easily one of the greatest racing games on the Mega Drive. The core elements of racing with dirty fighting tactics to take out your rivals makes for challenging-yet-brilliant entertainment. Use chains, clubs or even punch/kick your way through multiple obstacle-riddled tracks at breakneck speeds. Road Rash II is simply an insane amount of fun.

Childhood memories of Road Rash include unlocking several of the nitro bikes, such as the black nitro addition. It would often be too fast for any race with any collision catapulting your rider through the air, hilariously defying gravity, and still have enough time to gather your bike and win the race. Ah memories. Road Rash II also introduced the split screen 2 player mode, whether against CPU opponents or head to head, which is presumably what gave it the nod over the original’s inclusion.

Road Rash II is simply a riot of a racing game, and a very welcome surprise to the Mega Drive Mini.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars (1994)
A unique inclusion given it is its first ever rerelease, Mega Man: The Wily Wars is unique to me in that I’ve never had the pleasure. All the more reason for looking forward to it then, in this 16-bit take (a la Super Mario All Stars on SNES) of the first three NES Mega Man games.

Unlike Nintendo’s Mario compilation however, there is a story behind this Capcom collection; Dr Wily seeks to change the future by going back in time, to the first three adventures, to eliminate Mega Man. Once you’ve conquered the graphically-enhanced adventures, it’s on to an original stage, Wily Tower, for a final showdown.

Given its sporadic release back in 1995, particularly in the US, it’s no surprise that Wily Wars at one time sat at the £200+ mark on eBay and other gaming markets. Which in turn makes it all the more pleasing that it is included here.

How about you? Did you buy the Mega Drive Mini? What are you favourites?

The Console Wars: Aladdin Vs… Aladdin?

Forget the current resolution wars between PS4 and Xbox One. This intellectual property added fire to the already-brutal console wars fire of the 90’s. I remember having brutal teenage arguments with friends, unjustifiably defending my choice (SNES) even though I’d never played a second of the Mega Drive version at that time. I was a bit of a SNES fanboy. I won’t deny it.

Having since experienced both from start to finish, is there an actual definitive answer? Let’s see which one truly is the diamond in the rough. (Sorry not sorry).

Aladdin (SNES)

aladdinsnes1First of all, both versions of Aladdin for the SNES and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis were published and developed independently. The former by Capcom, due to its Disney licensing rights with Nintendo at the time. It is a simple, enjoyable although not-so-challenging 2D side-scrolling platformer. It does however boast some of the crispest visuals to ever appear on the platform, accompanied with a great, faithful soundtrack.

Although not the longest of games, every level plays out at pretty breakneck pace. As Aladdin you vault from posts in the ground and swing from those stuck out of walls, Prince of Persia-style. Capcom implemented the Super Mario method of bad guy disposal: jumping on them. Such disposals are integrated into the paths you take, creating an often seamless journey through the streets of Agrobah and beyond.

Capcom’s Aladdin was the first hit game of designer Shinji Mikami, of future Resident Evil/Vanquish/Evil Within fame. It is indeed the level design that is Aladdin’s greatest attribute. The traversing of obstacles flow effortlessly when negotiated with the desired precision. It’s a game to perfect as well as conquer, with the charm and essence of the movie all wrapped up in a nice few hours of entertainment.

Aladdin (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis)

The Sega version of Aladdin was published and developed by Sega and Virgin Games respectively. Sega’s licensing gave them something Capcom didn’t – Disney animators. Yes, Disney actually animated this game. So naturally, the character sprites looked ripped right out of the movie, and are superbly animated.

But not just the visuals were different; Aladdin was given a sword, and jumping on enemies just caused you harm – cue a more recent Prince of Persia homage with its basic swordplay. For those enemies further away, collected apples become an essential secondary attack, which adds an extra dimension to the very few boss fights.

RugridealaddinAfter the first couple of levels the fun factor soon transitions into massive frustration and annoyance. The learning curve steeply rises about halfway through. The ‘Rug Ride’ level was nearly as frustrating and life-sapping as the infamous Battletoads bike level.

Comparing the Genie levels of both editions, this one is just a mess in level design, and at times too difficult to be tolerable. Catching, holding and jumping between several balloons with instant death should you miss just feels so unnecessary. Who knew Robin Williams’ Genie was so malicious? Oh wait, he wasn’t, so why is he TRYING TO KILL ME?

Another soon-to-be-famous designer was responsible for this version: Dave Perry, of Earthworm Jim fame. You can definitely see the resemblances between the two. Unfortunately for Dave, I wasn’t a fan of Earthworm Jim mechanically either, despite both games’ success. It looks nice, though, I suppose.

References today

You have my view, but the debate still rages on between the two. As recently as February 2014, Polygon posted an interview with Shinji Mikami, who stated he preferred the animation of the Mega Drive version. He further complimented the game by saying he would have probably bought the Mega Drive version – if he hadn’t have made the SNES version of course.

Over on Twitter, someone declared their love for Aladdin on the Mega Drive to the @GAMEdigital handle, only for Game to re-tweet and add an image…..of the SNES version. It was later claiming it would be a ‘clearer’ image. Take that, Dave Perry.