It’s a great time to be a nostalgic retro gamer with countless ways to replay all the 8 and 16-bit games you loved as a kid—assuming you are a Nintendo fan. The NES and SNES Classic Editions, as well as several third-party console clones that work with original carts, do a lovely job of putting retro Nintendo games on a modern TV, but things aren’t so rosy on the Sega side. Awful hardware has plagued nostalgia-starved Sega fans for years—but that all changes today. Analogue’s new Mega Sg doesn’t just do retro Sega gaming right—it does it almost flawlessly.
If you’ve ever had the chance to try out Analogue’s other console clones of the original NES or the Super Nintendo, or have just read our past reviews of either device, the Mega Sg won’t seem like it’s breaking new ground—but that’s definitely not a bad thing.
When cloning a classic console, there are a few approaches you can take. You can buy up loads of old hardware and simply transplant their guts into a new housing, but that’s time-consuming and risky without a reliable stockpile. You can also attempt to manufacture old processors and chips again, but that’s expensive. The most common solution is to use a software emulator running on an operating system that’s powering your console. It’s the cheapest option, but even the best emulators running on excellent hardware can’t perfectly replicate all the nuances of old gaming hardware. They can get close with many games, but it will never be flawless. So as we’ve seen with Sega throwback consoles like AT Games’ $80 Sega Genesis Flashback, that approach, coupled with less-than-impressive hardware, results in stuttered gameplay, laggy controller response, and, as has been the case with a lot of retro Sega hardware; abysmal sound performance.
Analogue takes a completely different approach. It relies on what’s called a Field-Programmable Gate Array—or FPGA, for short. It’s a chip that can be designed and programmed to function exactly like the processors and hardware that powered old consoles. Analogue developer Kevin ‘Kevtris’ Horton actually spent over a year perfecting a custom FPGA for the Mega Sg so that it runs Sega’s back catalog flawlessly. When it comes to audio, old Sega games will actually sound better through the Mega Sg than they did running on the original consoles. (For authenticity’s sake, you can limit the sound performance in the console’s settings if you want.)
But unlike Analogue’s Super Nt which only works with SNES games, the custom FPGA in the Mega Sg actually allows the hardware to play games from the Sega Master System, the Sega Genesis, the Sega SG-1000, the handheld Sega Game Gear, and titles that were only available through the Sega CD drive accessory. (Sorry, no Dreamcast.)
To accommodate these various cartridges the Mega Sg relies on adapters that snap into its single cartridge slot. The Master System adapter is included, while the others are still en route and will need to be purchased separately. It’s not the most elegant solution to the problem as requiring users to keep track of multiple adapters is one of the worst gadget sins, but it does help keep the Mega Sg’s footprint small so it can easily squeeze into your entertainment center.
I also have a small complaint with the Mega Sg’s controllers. The front of the console includes two ports allowing you to connect the same tethered gamepads you played with decades ago. Sure, it adds to the authenticity for those who are retro gaming sticklers, but anyone splurging for a luxury console like this is going to want to go wireless. Analogue and 8BitDo offer two solutions for this: a $25 2.4GHz version of the Genesis’ original controller which includes an adapter, or a $30 Bluetooth version of the same controller which requires a $20 adapter to make it compatible. Both are flawless recreations of the original gamepad, but each one, unfortunately, requires an ugly dongle (or two of them) to hang off the front of the console. I understand that it helps keep the price down on an already premium retro console, but I’d really like to have seen wireless connectivity built right in this time around.
No hardware design will ever be perfect for every user; we all have our own preferences and tastes. But on the software side, I can’t see anyone having any complaints with how the Mega Sg performs. (Aside from monsters who want to artificially up-res their content.) Games look absolutely beautiful and play rock solid on modern TVs, and you’ll even be tempted to crank the soundtrack on some of them. (Aladdin comes to mind.) As with Analogue’s previous consoles, there’s an in-depth “settings” menu that feels almost intimidating once you start to dig down into all the options. Everything from tweaking colors, to adding artificial CRT-like scanlines, to even changing how quickly the Mega Sg boots up can be modified to your liking. It’s hard to believe anyone would ever have to ask, “why can’t I...?” when it comes to tweaking the Mega Sg.
You’ll just want to keep in mind that, at least out of the box, the Mega SG is a BYOC (bring your own cartridge) affair. You can hit up your parents’ basement or local flea markets to stockpile Sega carts again. But if you’re patient and aren’t intimidated by custom firmware, as with the Super Nt, the Mega Sg will eventually be able to play ROMs through its SD card slot. Analogue doesn’t lock down its hardware as rigorously as Nintendo does, so it won’t take long for developers to “jailbreak” the console.
With a $190 price tag that doesn’t include a controller, I’m not going to pretend that the Mega Sg is cheap. It isn’t. It’s a premium product. If you tend to focus on Nintendo titles when it comes to retro gaming, there are certainly cheaper and adequate alternatives to what Analogue offers. But if you’re a Sega fan, you’ve undoubtedly been disappointed with the options out there. You deserve better, and it doesn’t get any better than the Mega Sg.
- Flawless retro Sega gaming thanks to a custom-chip that emulates the original hardware perfectly.
- Plays games from every pre-Dreamcast Sega console, including the Game Gear, if you’ve got the right cartridge adapter.
- Includes one game, but for the time being you’ll need to bring your own cartridges until custom firmware facilitates loading ROMs.
- Supports old-school wired Sega controllers, but requires dongles to connect a wireless alternative.
- It’s not cheap at $190, but Sega fans who’ve been constantly let down by console clones won’t be disappointed with this one.