Sega announced this weekend that it’s prepping a new Mega Drive Mini to take advantage of the recent craze for retro hardware. The question of who is building it, however, is somewhat less clear — and that matters, given how the company handled its last micro console.
Last year, AT Games, a business partner of Sega’s and longtime manufacturer of Sega retro consoles announced its Sega Genesis Flashback. The “console” — I use the term loosely — was panned by virtually every single reviewer. Kotaku called it “hot garbage,” while Polygon concluded, “The sad thing about the Sega Genesis Flashback is that, while it may be enough to satisfy the under-the-tree urge in the absence of alternatives, every unit purchased represents a lost future customer for a good Genesis throwback console.” (emphasis original).
思い出の名作ゲームの数々が、これ1台で楽しめます！#セガフェス #メガドライブ #メガドライブ30周年https://t.co/HWj6NFL96y pic.twitter.com/0C9QH1l5Mr
— セガ公式アカウント (@SEGA_OFFICIAL) April 14, 2018
Sega’s Mega Drive Mini was announced without any hint of a manufacturer until ATGames announced it would be doing the manufacturing… only to delete the announcement shortly thereafter. Whether this means that the company jumped the gun on the announcement or somehow factually announced the wrong thing is unclear. The Mega Drive Mini is being launched to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the console, so hopefully Sega will put some effort behind it this time.
What is clear is that ATGames is going to have improve its game substantially if it wants to hit the quality bar Nintendo has been setting in this field. The NES Classic and SNES Classic may not be perfect, and plenty of people will prefer to roll their own emulator around something like a Raspberry Pi, but the games Nintendo ships work flawlessly out of the box. The ATGames Sega Genesis, in contrast, was hammered for poor wireless controllers, frame rate drops, audio issues (though this was still much improved from previous ATGames consoles), and mostly shipping a dumpster worth of games as opposed to focusing on a smaller number of high quality titles.
Sega, meanwhile, isn’t betting solely on newfound consumer appreciation for 1990s hardware. The company is also bringing a range of its games to the Switch, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star, and Thunder Force 4. Studio M2 is behind the work, which is good news given generally positive reactions to the company’s previous ports of 8-bit and 16-bit titles. Sega has also launched a new retro game push into smartphones, with a new Sega Forever app for iOS and Android. Polygon has the details there, for the curious.
On the whole, it’s not surprising to see Sega mining its back catalog for hits to bring to new platforms — the Switch is certainly popular and we can understand grabbing a few retro titles for quick game sessions or to introduce kids to the way we gamed when we were their age (cue: “My first monitor was actually a rock, and I was glad to get one! Rocks were expensive back then!”). But if Sega actually cares about this new console, it needs to put it the hands of a company that’ll do a better job than ATGames — or require its partner to build a console worth buying in the first place.