Why you should avoid AtGames’ licensed Mega Drive clones

As I’ve said many times, both here on SEGA Nerds and elsewhere, these days SEGA are among the most committed purveyors of 16-bit nostalgia. Not only are classic Mega Drive games available on every conceivable format, but officially sanctioned rehashes of the legendary console itself have also been doing the rounds for a while now. But, as great as many of these sound on paper, a number of key flaws make them a very poor substitute indeed for the real thing.

The units are produced by a company called AtGames, and seemingly repackaged for local markets by various worldwide partners. Although there are many different offshoots and permutations of the key proposition, most appealing to old-school gamers will be the traditional home console and handheld flavours. They’ve been marketed under a number of monikers, the most curious of which being the handheld ‘Gopher’.

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There are also some Master System/Game Gear handhelds doing the rounds, but their game selection is dire.

The pint-sized home consoles fit snugly under your TV, and offer authentic looking controllers, built-in games and even the ability to play original carts, in some cases from different regions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that compatibility can be very hit and miss, however, plus Mega Drive puritans will no doubt scoff at the lack of RGB SCART or stereo support.

The handheld iterations feature crude 2.8″ LCD screens that are, frankly, laughable compared to even the most no-frills modern smart device. Although real cart support is lacking here (except for with the Nomad-aping ‘Gencore’), some models boast an SD card slot, allowing for practically unlimited expansion via downloaded ROM Images. As appealing as that may sound, it’s worth bearing in mind that since the devices sporting feature cannot write to inserted SD cards, there’s absolutely no way to save your progress in any game, making some of the Mega Drive’s most revered gems all but unplayable. Also, since there’s no official digital storefront from which ROMs can be legally acquired, these particular SEGA-sanctioned products are effectively advocating piracy.

Elsewhere we have some more outlandish approaches, such as keyrings that connect directly to your TV and even a bizarre Mega Drive/Wii hybrid seemingly modeled on Sonic’s face. True, the latter might make a cute gift, but the former is nothing but a barely functional abomination cynically targeted at gaming un-savvy parents. Indeed, I saw similar units taking pride of place on the ‘impulse purchase’ shelves of my local supermarket more than once last Christmas.

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How did it come to this?

With the core technology being used over and over in an ever more diverse smorgasbord of products, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it had proven itself capable of offering misty-eyed gamers an at least acceptable trip down memory lane. But you’d be wrong.

You see, none of them use authentic Mega Drive innards. There’s fervent debate among the fan community in terms of whether they are close approximations, or simply emulators running on low powered systems-on-chips. Whatever the truth of the matter, the end results leave a lot to be desired.

The most pressing concern here is with the consoles’ sound reproduction. Simply put, it’s cringe-inducingly off key, which is an unforgivable oversight given that their key appeal is supposed to be authentic nostalgia. As a SEGA fan, it’s heart (and ear) wrenching to hear era standouts, such as the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack, bent into torturous, incoherent messes.

The Mega Drive’s Yamaha YM2612 sound chip is considered very difficult to emulate or reproduce accurately. Be that as it may, if skillful amateurs coding legally questionable PC emulators managed to successfully reproduce near-as-damn-it Mega Drive sound years ago, it’s difficult to believe that professionals working on paid-for products are still grappling with it. Any SEGA fan worth their salt will notice the sound issues straight away, and even those lacking the old-school chops to tell the difference will sense something’s amiss.

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The GenCore. Not quite a Nomad-killer at the time of writing, but with a little more attention to detail…

Confounding this are concerns as regards the aforementioned hit-and-miss compatibility, build quality and poor design choices. For example, some of the home consoles feature wireless infra-red controllers, requiring constant, unbroken line of sight between controller and console, which is actually quite impractical when you think about it.

In many ways it’s a real shame, because none of these hurdles are insurmountable. If AtGames chose to properly address the aforementioned issues rather than repackaging the same flawed products over and over, they’d be onto a winner.

While not everybody has the time or inclination to trawl eBay or retro games stores for original consoles, and there’s certainly something to be said for buying a shiny new product over an early nineties relic, as things stand at the moment, AtGames’ consoles are simply impossible to recommend. 

About Dan Smith

Dan is a videogames writer based in grim, rain-lashed Northern England. A true child of the '90s, his formative gaming experiences centered on the famous exploits of certain blue hedgehog, and what started all those years ago in the Green Hill Zone has since turned into a lifelong obsession. Check out his blog, Pixels for Polygons , here.

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  • vongruetz .

    I have the AtGames Genesis console and I rather enjoy it. I also have an actual Genesis, but I find the convenience of the AtGames system makes it preferable in most situations. The main draw for me was that it came with wireless infrared controllers. No, they’re not perfect but they work well enough for the games I like to play. It also came with most of the games already built into the system, so I don’t need to swap cartridges in and out.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad either. I’ve had mine for well over a year and it’s gotten a lot of love.

  • Saw ashens review of them. Don’t want to go near them lol.

  • AshleyAshes

    It may not have true Genesis guts, but I’m currenting modding an old Genesis Model 2 case to house a Raspberry Pi 2 for emulation. Drilled out the DE9 gameports to fit USB ports in them even, I’ll be drilling out the back to install nice HDMI and ethernet ports even. The power, reset, and red LED will work correctly. All that. 🙂

    • David Eldredge

      I have the atgames sega Genesis console would an everdrive cart work on it?

  • Raven

    Yes every time I see someone preaching about how they just bought one of these, I immediately tell them just to go out a buy a Genesis off of Ebay. Though it’s a bit more pricey than buying one of the knockoff Atgames crap, it’s worth it in the long run. I had one of the portable ones, granted I didn’t keep it long. I traded it into a local game store and the clerk thought it was the coolest thing ever, even after I said that the sound quality is horrible and it isn’t really that cool at all… Oh well, I think he said he was going to buy it after he got off work… :V If he did he just wasted his money, but I guess I did too when I first bought it…

  • Jesus Zamora

    The problem is compounded by the fact that unlicensed clone consoles like the Super Retro Trio or Retron 3 are simply better consoles, and the Retron 5 emulator console is better still. The problem isn’t clones in and of themselves (they provide a valuable service as the original consoles become rarer and more expensive), but AtGames is just scrub tier next to RetroBit and Hyperkin.

  • Kye Weasner

    I still feel that there is something about using original consoles and controllers is the best possible experience especially with the genesis (the sound never comes out right with emulation software) I am a big supporter of flash carts on retro consoles at that point its really not even emulation anymore.

    most retro consoles are pretty inexpensive especially if you go to flea markets. its the games that are expensive. Flashcarts solve this issue with while still providing the original experience.

    flash carts are for gamers.

    big video game collections are for collectors.

    and both are ok.

    what is not ok is play retro games in ways that really distort or lesson the original experience. the retron 5 is ok… but i still feel the original hardware is the way to go.

  • Tanooki

    I have an honest question for you here about this. While I can not argue anything but you being pretty correct in this as I’ve had the orange/black original SD using unit some years ago, I didn’t mind the audio that bad and the SD card added a lot of fun. The killing blow to my interest was no save games. STUPID to no end, especially with their MegaMan/SSF2 branded unit as MM needs it.

    Anyway, produced in July, at retail now, is another revision with MK1-3 being highlighted. Big whoop right? Well actually it may be. This one has a new form factor. See here what caught my eye, direct link from their site, the top is changed, moved around and 2 NEW buttons. http://retroproducts.atgames.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/imgo-1.jpg

    Taken from here: http://retroproducts.atgames.net/index.php/products/sega-genesis/ultimate-portable-game-player/ (Notice the new now white shell on it too.)

    Use your browser, max out that thing entirely as far as your zoom wheel will go. You’ll notice the button closest to us on top says SAVE over it.

    Did they finally add saving, even if it’s some halfassed up save/load state button?? I’m in if this is the case.

    • There’s a 2016 one out now, with “more Sonic and RPG games” included. The sound is still ass-tacular for melodic stuff, but okay for jangly guitar junk music. This version allows you to save progress on the three bundled RPGs, (sword of vermillion, phantasy star 2 and 3) but not on anything else, including SD card games. Supposedly they’re moving to a new platform in 2017 so I hope things are fixed then. It’s otherwise ok especially for the price.

      • Tanooki

        Wow I don’t know if I should be pleased or offended even more than I was before with the 2015 model I had. To add saving on 3 games, then block it otherwise is beyond childish.

  • henhouseharry

    Is the sound issue a bug in the code or due to sound buffer rendering with memory limitations? To my ears is sounds like a low frequency sample output. It sounds like 6.25kHz or 12.5kHz, rather than 22.1kHz or 44.2kHz. Maybe they didn’t have enough free memory for bigger audio output buffers. Also is it stereo?

  • The free Genesis emulator on my Android phone does sound emulation almost perfectly. I dropped $30 on the handheld atgames model mostly because I wanted physical controls rather than on-screen. The poor sound emulation kills the nostalgia factor. It plays every rom I have tried, but the sound factor is a HUGE problem.

  • Degoragon

    even with the flaws, im considering getting one just to get one, then again, i’m a collector as well, and already have an original Genesis (Gen2 model).

    Also, the Keychain genesis reminds me of that awful Atari keychain game that came out awhile back. of course, for $3, you can’t expect much!

  • McHenryGames

    My 6 yr old nephew likes Genesis games. Rather than gifting him an old (and more expensive to maintain) original Genesis console, the ATGames seems like a better gift for him this christmas.