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Review: SEGA Genesis Flashback HD

Can AtGames redeem itself in the eyes of hardcore SEGA Nerds?

Back in its golden years of the early ‘90s, SEGA prided itself in delivering cutting edge hardware that pushed boundaries and pressured its competitors to step up their game.

But since the last Dreamcast rolled off the assembly line and SEGA refocused itself as a third-party publisher, the company Sonic built has shown very little interest in the home console manufacturing business.

As the years have gone by, the desire for many to replay the games of their youth has become incredibly popular, and requests for SEGA to produce a first-party Genesis system are thrown at the company every day.

But instead of developing its own retro hardware, SEGA has instead licensed the Genesis and its library to companies, like AtGames, that have released “plug and play” systems to satiate the desire of the Blast Processing fanbase.

The only problem with that is those consoles have never achieved the level of quality of the original Genesis. Poor sound emulation, inconsistent framerates and cheap build quality are just a few issues that plagued nearly every system AtGames brought to retail. Today, one need only to utter the word “AtGames” on social media, and you’re sure to receive angry posts by gamers whose experiences with the products have been anything but positive.

More frustrating for SEGA Nerds out there, is longtime SEGA rival, turned frenemy, Nintendo, who has shown that when done almost right, a retro console can be incredibly popular. So, one would think if a quality SEGA Genesis system could be brought to market, it could surely find similar success, right?

Well, AtGames is once again giving it another shot, and this time they seem pretty serious about delivering a product that addresses the issues with their units of the past and one that SEGA Nerds and the broader gaming community will want to sit inside their entertainment center.

Sounds pretty rad, right? Well, let’s find out if AtGames has managed to deliver a product worth your money.

The Sound of Silence

Before we go on with the rest of the review, there are a few things I think are most important, so let’s just get those out of the way first.

If there’s one thing that hampered previous AtGames systems more than anything else was the blasphemous sound quality. Thankfully, we can report that the sound in the new system is actually fairly decent. It’s still not 100-percent accurate, and there were times playing Sonic 2, when a portion of a sound effect would fail to play, but for the most part, it was a pretty good replication of the original Genesis sound.

Outside of the sound quality, the framerate stayed fairly solid when playing fast-paced games like Sonic, but there were several instances of frame drop. It wasn’t so bad that it was unplayable, but you could tell something a bit weird was going on. It appears the Genesis Flashback can’t quite handle Blast Processing.

One thing you’ll immediately notice once you boot up the system is its menu system. It’s styled competently enough, but once you attempt to navigate it, everything comes screeching to a halt. Why you can’t scroll through the entire menu with the D-pad makes no sense whatsoever. Instead, you have to press the “B” and “C” buttons to move up and down and the “A” button to select a game. You’ll never get used to this no matter how many times you play, and it’s telling of the poor design that a controller display is present on the home menu page.

   

The Games

The latest iteration of the SEGA Genesis Flashback is based on the Model 1 Genesis design, albeit a bit smaller, and comes with 55 pre-installed Genesis, Master System and Game Gear games; HDMI output; two 2.4ghz wireless controllers and a cartridge slot so you can still play your physical Genesis collection.

While AtGames promotes the Genesis Flashback as having 85 pre-installed games, 30 of those games are shovelware pieces of crap whose only purpose is to pad the numbers “games” for promotional purposes.

Outside of those, you get a bevvy of Sonic games, including Sonic 1, 2, Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic 3D Blast, not to mention four Sonic Game Gear games. Curiously enough, Sonic 3 is absent from the list, but it’s likely due to licensing issues with the game’s soundtrack. Blame the King of Pop.

Other high-profile games include Mortal Kombat 1-3, Altered Beast, Golden Axe 1-3, Comix Zone, Eternal Champions, Phantasy Star 1-4 and Shining Force 1 and 2. The Master System showing is pretty strong with games like Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Fantasy Zone, Psycho Fox, Dragon Crystal and even Snail Maze!

Of course, people will gripe about why their favorite game or series was left off the list, and my personal complaint is I wish the Streets of Rage series was included. Aside from that, there’s a noticeable lack of sports games – a genre that was incredibly important to the success of the Genesis. While I can understand a small company like AtGames can’t afford a major sports license like the NFL or NBA, surely they could have added Mutant League Hockey or Jerry Glanville Pigskin Footbrawl, right?

Outside of my whiny complaints, AtGames assembled a respectable list of games that rivals that of the Super Nintendo Classic.

The Hardware

Up until now, AtGames never had the license to use the actual Genesis system design, which is the reason the units looked like small, black bricks. They were able to rectify that with the new system that retains the Model 1’s look and feel.

The plastic on the system feels sturdy enough, but it doesn’t have the weight of the original. The system’s toggle switch feels fine, and the reset button works as a menu button this time around. The only things missing from the original’s design are the headphone jack and volume bar, which isn’t a big loss as I never used them back in the day and certainly wouldn’t today.

One strange and rather annoying design decision is that the red power light is powered by the HDMI cable and not the AC power supply. This means that even when you turn the system off, the light will remain on – its red eye piercing the black of night like the Eye of Sauron. The only way to turn actually turn the light off is to disconnect the HDMI cable from the back of the system, too bad it wasn’t so easy for Frodo and company.

The six-button 2.4ghz wireless controllers are leagues better than previous iterations that used infrared technology and required you to keep the front of the controller pointed towards the system. The wireless range is good enough for most situations and way better than the few feet of cord Nintendo gives you with its wired controllers. There are times, however, when input lag is noticeable in fast-paced games, like Sonic 2, but it wasn’t so bad to completely ruin the experience.

The D-pad and buttons feel good and responsive. Above the “Start” button are “Menu” and “Rewind” buttons. The “Rewind” button rewinds the game about 8-10 seconds, so if you fall down a pit or make a poor decision in a game, you can quickly press the “Rewind” button and get back to the action. Pressing the “Menu” button gives you options to save the game, quit or return to the main menu.

If wireless controllers aren’t your thing, there are two DB9 controller ports, so you can play with your trusty, old wired Genesis controllers or arcade sticks.

From a pure hardware standpoint, the Genesis Flashback and its controllers look and feel pretty good.

Compatibility

The biggest feature the Genesis Flashback has over the SNES Classic is its cartridge slot. This is something Nintendo fans have been begging Nintendo for, but there’s no way that will ever happen, not when the Big N can continue to resell the same NES and SNES games time and time again on every new system it releases.

What this means for Genesis owners, is your Genesis library is mostly compatible with the Flashback. I say mostly because games with added memory, like Virtua Racing, or lock-on technology won’t work. I also tried the Retro Freak’s Game Gear Converter to see if it’d allow Master System or Game Gear carts to run, but sadly, it did not.

We are happy to report, though, that the system is region free, so European Mega Drive games play perfectly fine on the system. We weren’t able to test Japanese Mega Drive games, but they should be compatible.

Summary

After putting the Genesis Flashback through the proverbial ringer, it’s apparent that AtGames has stepped up its game to deliver a product that’s much higher in quality than its previous efforts. If you have your original Genesis still hooked up to your TV, there’s little reason to purchase this device, but if you want a system that’s compatible with your HDMI TV and can look pretty sweet sitting alongside your fancy new game systems, the Flashback is worth a shot.

It’s still not without its warts, but if you can look past its blemishes, you’ll find a pretty solid plug and play system that your friends and family will get a kick out of at the next get together. 

Pros:

  • Sound is much improved than previous models
  • System and controllers feel and function quite well
  • Good selection of games, minus the shovelware

Cons:

  • Shovelware games used for marketing purposes
  • Terrible menu navigation
  • Random moments of framerate drops, sound hiccups in games

Chris Powell

Chris is the editor-in-chief at SEGA Nerds and Mega Visions Magazine. Over the years, he’s written for publications like Joystiq, PSP Fanboy, RETRO magazine, among others. Oh yeah, he’s also been a diehard SEGA Nerd his entire life.

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  • Hikingguy

    Thank you for the review!

  • Glad to hear it’s worth a look. =)

  • shadow1w2

    Frame rate drops are a deal breaker for me, not acceptable at all.
    The shell and controllers maybe would be of more interest to me for stuffing a Raspberry Pi into instead.

  • Luis

    My 2 cents: seeing the evolution from previous attempts, the massive feedback it has received (because now there’s much more people interested in this product) and that 2018 is Mega Drive’s 30th birthday, I’d say next year AtGames might deliver a Mega Drive Mini I’d actually want to purchase.

    This year’s model, sadly, is not enough for me. There are so many issues that prevent me from giving my money to this “not bad” product. I want a GOOD product like the NES and SNES Mini.

    What they should do next year:

    1- Remove the shovelware, for god’s sake. Of course I can just ignore these games but, who wants them? It screams “THIS IS CHEAP” all around.

    2- USB power and connection, like the Nintendo Minis. This would open the possibility of either hacking or updating the console’s firmware with improvements on the emulator. Not having Sonic 3 is really painful, but if I could add it like I added Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3 to my SNES Mini, then there would be no problem.

    3- Finish the emulator. Sound is decent but not as good as it should and could. Maybe talk to the Genesis Plus GX author for a perfect emulator.

    4- Make a main menu that doesn’t make you say “Why?”. Organization and navigation can be much better than this. Also, add some music, man. This tiny feature is much appreciated in the SNES Mini.

    5- Make good clones of the MD controller. And either wired (with long cables) or bluetooth with battery like 8bitdo. Maybe bluetooth with USB cables (and maybe a MD controller to USB adapter) would be the best.

    6- I don’t really care about the cartridge slot (good for anyone who wants it; I don’t need it as long as I can add my own games through a SD card or by connecting the console to my PC, like the Nintendo Minis), so if this makes the product more expensive, I’d gladly remove it.

    If they deliver this next year, I’m totally buying it. But I actually hope it’s Sega who makes an official Mega Drive mini. I’d love to know the reasons why Sega hasn’t done it already.

    • douglie007

      Theses are officially license from Sega. Sega doesnt make any hardware so they gave the rights to AtGames and ToyTec to make systems

      • Luis

        I’m sure that, even though they don’t make hardware, they could figure out a deal with a manufacturer (could be AtGames or TecToy, or not) so the consoles are delivered as a Sega product, though manufactured by someone else.

        The license is only a way to allow someone using Mega Drive stuff, but Sega has no input on the result (contents, quality assurance, etc).

        There’s a better way to do this, and profitable for Sega, not only in terms of money, but also image. Sega needs good products of their own.

        I mean, didn’t they start that “Amazing Sega” marketing campaign? Well, do amaze me, Sega. Make the official Mega Drive mini. Name it “Sega Forever: Mega Drive” like “Nintendo Classic Mini: NES/SNES” and create some synergy with the mobile project.

        Of course things can be done well. It just takes passion and talent. When done well, you have a product like SNES mini. When not, a product that you can’t help but detect flaws, like AtGames Mega Drive Flashback.

        We Sega fans should demand Sega to do things well, not accept average stuff.

      • Luis

        I must add, however, that if the console is hackable and some talented people find a way to overhaul the system, letting us load custom roms, changing the emulator to Retroarch’s Genesis Plus GX, etc, I will buy this one. The shell is pretty nice actually.

        Check this video. A guy has opened the Genesis Flashback and has found a working USB port inside. The OS is based on Android 4.4. Not much more info so far, but I’m pretty confident someone will find a way to hack this device and make it as good as it should.

  • Luis

    Apparently AtGames is addressing all feedback for next year’s model. Power will most likely be micro USB, and shovelware will finally disappear. The UI should get an improvement as well. Emulation… hopefully. I really think next year we could see a proper Mega Drive Mini.

  • No Ta

    Unlike Nintendo mes and super mes, you can buy this console and it take cartridges for extra games.

    If you are a die hard authentic buy a actual old sega, but for the kids etc buy the Sega HD. More games and cartridge slot gives longer life.

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