Back in the 90s, things were much simpler. There were no smartphones. People didn’t dab. Games were played in 16-bit.
No greater emblem is there of this simple time than the lowly Sega Mega Drive, a machine that reached Europe in 1990 and took the continent by storm – that is, unless you bought a SNES.
For many, those were the halcyon days – but, unless you had a PC emulator or were willing to play smartphone games stacked with in-app purchases, there was no way subsequently to truly replicate the glory of the Megadrive.
Now, that’s all changed. Sort of. Meet the Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic: a plastic box of questionable quality that could be the key to unlocking memories of misspent youth.
Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic: bargain box, bargain build
Wade through the rose-tinted memories and rub the nostalgia from your eyes: this reincarnation of the Sega Mega Drive is no high-end piece of hardware.
Pulling it out of the box, this Chinese-made import is distinctly plasticky and feels oddly hollow – probably because computing components have gotten a lot smaller and lighter in the two-and-a-half decades that have passed since Sega’s black box launched.
Admittedly, the original Mega Drive was no finely crafted machine, but the Arcade Classic barely even takes the form of the console on which it’s based, opting instead for a rounded, two-button frontage with far less nostalgia value than the NES Classic Mini.
Still, it’s subtle enough to sit beneath your TV and, while more of a nod to the actual Mega Drive might have been nice, it’s really the games that you’re here to play.
Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic: no puzzle to play
Thankfully, getting to the games is a cinch: the Megadrive Arcade Classic ships with a power adapter and an A/V cable – with one jack for picture, one for audio (it’s mono sound, after all) – and all you have to do is plug them in.
Unlike the NES Classic Mini there’s no HDMI to play with here. That said, most TVs will have an A/V input, so it shouldn’t be too problematic.
As for the gamepads (two come bundled with the box), these work via infrared, which means – rather than the wired setup of the original Sega Mega Drive or, indeed, the NES Classic Mini – you get cable-free gameplay.
The downside? The infrared is ropey at best. You’ll need a direct line of sight to the receiver on the base of the Arcade Classic box and you can’t really sit more than a meter away or things get a bit glitchy. Oh, and don’t try adjusting the volume on the TV at the same time: the signal will block your controller’s commands.
Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic: Far from Full HD
Still, at least the games are everything you’d expect. From Sonic to Echo, there’s something here for everyone, with titles spanning most of Sega’s 90s releases.
Sure, you won’t have heard of some – many – of the games, but there are enough big hitters here to pull you in, with hours more entertainment if you delve through unfamiliar names.
16-bit graphics spread across a big screen do make your eyes work hard, but it’s worth it for the button-bashing thrill of hearing that Sonic ring ‘ping’ in your living room again.
Admittedly, sound quality is low, with mono soundtracks that feel at times as if they’ve been put through a distortion box. This doesn’t matter on most games, but with certain titles – such as Echo – repeated sound effects soon begin to grate.
Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic: Time for a rummage
Criticising the quality of the Arcade Classic, though, feels a bit unfair. At it’s core, this is a plug-and-play piece of throwback kit that doesn’t cost the earth, and it delivers arcade fun in spades.
Yes, the controllers – almost identical to the original Mega Drive gamepads, albeit cheaper – are clunky, but in a way that only adds to the challenge as you grimace through round after furious round of two-player Air Hockey.
What’s more, if you’ve got some original Mega Drive gear kicking around, you’ll be able to use it with the Arcade Classic.
Two physical ports on the base mean you can stick your proper controllers in for a dose of authenticity – and, if you’ve got a shoebox full of Mega Drive cartridges hidden away, you’ll probably be able to play those, too.
Probably, because they might be too dusty or worn out to work with the Arcade Classic, but it’s got the requisite port all the same, which adds a little something extra over the NES Mini Classic.
Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic: A catalogue of classics
Of the games on-board the Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic, there are some proper classics to get into. Sonic is the obvious choice and if you’re a fan of the series it’s almost worth buying the Arcade Classic just for the spiky titles it comes with.
Besides Sonic the Hedgehog and its several sequels, you get Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast, the latter of which was regarded as a major graphical leap in its heyday – though it now looks (and plays) a little woeful.
Elsewhere there’s a host of endless runners and fighters – from Ristar and Golden Axe to Columns and Streets of Rage. In fact, spend an afternoon with the Classic and you’ll soon see how Sega’s 90s titles spawned many of the addictive mobile games of today.
There are some rather gaping omissions, sadly, including the likes of OutRun, Doom and Micro Machines, but you can always try and scoop up a cartridge on eBay if you’re desperate to play – and, in any case, you’re unlikely to run out of entertainment with 80 games to have a crack at.
Sega Megadrive Arcade Classic verdict
£50 might not be pocket change, but it’s just about right for the fun you’ll get from the Megadrive Arcade Classic.
Yes, the controllers are a bit patchy, the box feels like something you might get for free with a takeaway and the sound quality could be better, but you’re also getting 80 old-school games that’ll take you right back. That’s basically 60p per game.
What’s more, the ability to use your old game cartridges and controllers gives the Classic more value than a mere novelty purchase.
Buy it as a faithful reincarnation of the Mega Drive and you’ll probably be disappointed; buy it as a way to enjoy the titles you spent hours of your youth playing and you’ll easily lose a weekend happily wrestling with the D-pad.
It’s not high-end hardware, but for old-school value and a bunch of 90s classics on-board it’s tough to beat
Wide selection of retro games
Physical ports for original Megadrive cartridges and controllers
Mono sound is pretty low quality
Clunky controllers are confused by infrared
Build quality feels cheap