Let’s face it- the contemporary gaming industry has a number of repugnant habits. From putting out unpolished games, relying on post-release patches to smooth out any inherent problems, to an insatiable appetite for gouging gamers with downloadable content, there’s a reason why many players prefer the halcyon days of retro gaming. But even that pursuit isn’t without its problems.
Emulation can feel ethically dodgy. Even if you own the original cartridges, securing the necessary ROMs can take you to some sketchy alcoves of the internet. Of course, (re)buying the original consoles (or even a $499.99 Analogue NT) is a possibility. But that route entails the purchase of actual cartridges, which can be an expensive endeavor. Beyond compilations, here’s the plug-and-play consoles, which offer an affordable, permissible, and standalone way to enjoy yesteryear’s efforts.
The downside is that these devices tend to cut corners. Instead of using original hardware, these machines shrink an entire console to a single chip. While that makes for a smaller physical footprint, the method leads to software incompatibilities. Not only to add-ons like the 32X and Power Base Converter usually fail to work, but there are number of carts like Ex-Mutants and Gargoyles which don’t run on these machines. Then there are the games that do run, but not without issues- usually in the form of flickering pixels and sound that might seem slightly off-key.
Unsurprisingly, those flaws are found in AT Games’s Genesis Classic Game Console, a plug-and-play unit that offers a collection of forty beloved SEGA games along with an equivalent amount of interactive filler. While the system’s functionality probably won’t appease finicky players looking for a pixel-perfect recreations of the sixteen-bit era, those seeking an affordable way to amuse younger gamers might appreciate the console. If you’ve ever been reluctant to let the family get their candy-crusted hands on your immaculately maintained PC or PlayStation 4, the system offers a solid solution.
Largely, setup is straightforward with only a few minor concerns. Open up the Classic Game Console’s cardboard housing and you’ll find the main unit, an AC power adaptor, a pair of wireless controllers, and a composite video cable housed within. With only two connections on the back of the console, connection to a TV and outlet is instinctive. While the RCA cables endow compatibility with older televisions, it’s a shame that there’s no HDMI option given the ubiquity of the standard. As it stands picture quality is decent, but pales in comparison to the clarity produced via the Wii U’s Virtual Console or the Sonic Mega Collection on PS2, when those consoles have a digital connection.
Another quibble is found in the two pack-in controllers, which require a small Philips head screwdriver to remove the casing on the back to insert a pair of AAA batteries that are used for powering the wireless devices. Although we were able to get at least 25 hours out of play from the pads, once each device’s red LED light began to fade, finding a tool to open the controller can be a momentum killer. Since the wireless capability forces players to have a line of sight between peripheral and console, we noticed that weak batteries tended to reduce the responsiveness of control, which can be devastating during a match of Mortal Kombat 3. On the upside, the Classic Game Console allows wired Genesis controllers to be plugged in- which is a nice feature for those seeking to eliminate the console’s persistent input lag and perhaps prefer a directional pad that not so loose.
Less contentious is the Genesis Classic Game Console’s selection of titles, which with games like the Shadow Dancer, Shinobi 3, Ristar, Decap Attack, a trio of Mortal Kombat and Golden Axe titles, as well as every Genesis-based Sonic games save for the third iteration, embodies some of the best efforts from SEGA and its third parties. Notable is the inclusion of role-playing games like Phantasy Star II and III, which can save progress to the console’s built-in flash memory. Sure, the omission of the Street of Rage trilogy is disheartening, but with plug-and-play’s mangling of each game’s treasured soundtrack, their absence might be for the better.
Overall, the quality of the emulation is acceptable. Most prominent is the inability to faithfully replicate the Yamaha YM2612 sound chip. In execution, that means music sounds off-key and tinny, lacking the robust bass of SEGA’s machine. Less frequent are graphical and gameplay glitches, meaning the majority of game are fully functional, with only slight aesthetic impediments. And while you can insert any Genesis cartridges you might own into the top port of the console, know that the game’s will be run through the emulator, meaning you’ll be facing the same blemishes.
Although the console’s main selection of forty title offers a commendable, if incomplete, anthology of SEGA gaming, the remaining forty efforts are pure filler. Most look and feel like Flash-based clones of better titles, provoking players to Cross the Road, Fight or Lose, or to Whack a Wolf. Save for a bit of juvenile humor in the provocatively named Mr. Balls or the candidly titled Yawning Triceratops, the lot is nothing more than a selection of curios that won’t hold attentions for some that a single play-through. Ideally, AT Games would have expanded the list of licensed games and left these stinkers on the cutting-room floor.
With a street price of $50, the Genesis Classic Game Console is best suited as a diversion device- designed to entertain the emerging generation gamers who you don’t trust handing your Blu-ray disks and newer, more fragile hardware. Except for the inclusion of the Mortal Kombat trilogy which might not be suitable for younger players, the console would make a decent introduction to gaming. Capable of revealing the virtues of the sixteen-bit era, the console might lack faultless emulation, but offers an economical diversion geared toward a specific demographic.