If you want to play some old Sega games, you have no shortage of options. You can get the Genesis Classics collection on PC and consoles. You can grab the classic hardware and physical games. Or maybe you could use a downloadable emulator. But in 2019, all of those options either come with compromises or require some extra steps. And those are problems that Analogue aimed to solve with its new Mega SG console.
Software emulation can often have a lot of issues with accuracy. And even if you get a set up working, unrelated updates to graphics drivers can potentially cause headaches. Playing on classic hardware is great — just not on modern displays. You can solve that by getting a CRT for old games or by getting something like the Open-Source Scan Converter (OSSC). But Analogue created an alternative that is arguably more convenient and affordable.
Analogue has done this before with the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo, and now it’s Sega’s turn.
What you’ll like
The design echoes original Sega hardware. You can get it with color accents that mimic the Japanese or European Mega Drive or the American Genesis. It also includes the official Genesis controller ports, so your old gamepads will work. But 8BitDo (a sister company of Analogue) sells the M30 controller that is a wireless update of the 6-button Genesis gamepad.
But this dedication to authenticity isn’t just for show — it’s at the heart of what Analogue is doing with its devices.
The Analogue Mega SG is capable of running Genesis and Mega Drive cartridges as well as Sega Master System with an included adapter. Analogue is also releasing adapters to play Mark III, Game Gear, Sega MyCard, SG1000/1000II, and SC-3000 games.
But it doesn’t run these games on a RetroPi and software emulator. Instead, it re-creates the actual hardware using field-programmable gate array (FPGA) chips. With an FPGA, Analogue engineer Kevin “Kevtris” Horton can essentially force a modern piece of silicon to behave exactly like Sega’s original hardware. And then Analogue adds HDMI video and a layer of customization to make Sega classics run well on modern displays.
The result is a console that feels both new and 30 years old.
I was a Nintendo fanboy growing up. I didn’t want to waste my limited birthday and Christmas gift requests on anything that wasn’t an NES and later a Super Nintendo game. The reason I’m bringing this up is because even I notice bad Genesis emulation — especially when it comes to sound.
My primary experience with Sega hardware as a kid was at my friend’s house. And yet, even I notice bad Genesis emulation. Even official Sega releases struggle to re-create tunes like Yuzo Kushiro’s music in Streets of Rage 2.
The Mega SG doesn’t have this problem. It plays every game I tested exactly like original hardware. It’s likely that people will eventually find games that do behave strangely — this happened with Analogue’s Super NT. But Analogue is usually excellent at quickly updating its firmware to address those problems. It has already done that with the Mega SG prior to its release.
Tons of options
The Mega SG may run games like original hardware, but it gives you a lot more control over how they display on your TV.
You can run the game at a number of resolutions and either the standard 60 frames per second or the PAL-friendly 50fps. The video options also include customizable aspect ratios and scaling. This enables you to fill as much of a modern screen as possible without severely distorting the image.
You can also add software scanlines that emulate the look of a CRT on a modern flatscreen. If you dive into the Advanced video options, you will find plenty of features to make scanlines and everything else look as accurate as possible. You can turn up the gamma, for example, to give the visuals that glowy CRT look even when scanlines are darkening the image. You will even find a dither-blending option, which tries to create transparencies out of pixelated water and shadows.
Mega SG’s options also include pixel interpolation, which is like an early version of anti-aliasing. And the option to use square pixels instead of the standard rectangular shape, which is great for certain higher-resolution Genesis games.
The point is that you don’t have to settle. Analogue gives you full control over, and you can fiddle and tinker until your games look however you want.
What you won’t like
No one-size-fits-all settings option
The problem with something like the Mega SG is that the abundant options might make you feel like nothing is ever perfect. This is especially true if you are jumping from one game to another.
Mega SG does have a handful of profiles that you can save and load. For example, you can set up a different visual profile for Genesis and Master System games. And on Genesis, you can adjust your width and height settings independently for 240-pixel-wide games and 320-pixel-wide games.
But you will probably still want to get into the options to adjust things on a game-by-game basis. Dither-blending is especially hit-or-miss. It’ll look great in one game, but it could smudge up the text in another game.
No 32X support, and it’s not going to fix your Sega CD
While the Mega SG is compatible with a ton of Sega hardware, it doesn’t work with 32X. That means you cannot plug a 32X game into the system even with an adapter, and you cannot connect an actual hardware 32X to the Mega SG. That could change in the future, but Analogue has not announced anything.
You can play Sega CD games, but you have to connect an actual retro Sega CD to do so. It’s excellent that it has this option, but it’s not going to solve your issues with the ancient Sega CD hardware. If you have a broken disc drive, that’s your problem. This isn’t an easy thing for Analogue to tackle, but it’s one that could use the company’s expertise.
Sega CD systems are among the oldest gaming devices with moving mechanical components. Trying to find a working one or servicing a broken unit is a frustrating experience. And the Mega SG doesn’t do anything to alleviate that.
The Mega SG is a premium solution to your retro-gaming problem. It solves some very specific annoyances that go along with trying to play old games. You can use your modern TV, you can play your physical games, and you can use your original gamepads. It also has no noticeable accuracy problems, which means that Genesis games will sound like they should.
And while the Mega SG isn’t for everybody, it’s more accessible than buying an expensive OSSC. And it’s more friendly to your square-footage than dedicating a corner of your home to an old CRT.
If you just want to dabble in gaming history, however, you’re probably still better off downloading an emulator on your PC. You aren’t the target market for an Analogue device.
But if you have a collection of classic Sega games, the Mega SG the easiest way to get them running reliably and accurately on a modern display.
The Analogue Mega SG is shipping now for $190. Analogue provided a sample unit to GamesBeat for the purpose of this review.