It’s been six years since the NES Classic proved how successful a retro miniconsole can be. Modeled like a tiny Nintendo Entertainment System, and stocked with 30 games from the iconic ‘80s warhorse, the NES Classic was an instant smash that capitalized on our culture’s endless nostalgia while introducing these classic games to a new audience. It was also another example of Nintendo’s policy of forced scarcity, with a limited release ensuring a sell-out and a mountain of buzz for the Classic.
The success of the NES Classic inspired similar doodads based on other ‘80s and ‘90s consoles, from the Genesis to the TurboGrafx-16. It even had a sort of sequel in the form of the SNES Classic. The well of beloved old consoles eventually ran dry—a process perhaps sped up by the disastrous PlayStation Classic—but the limited amount of games included in each miniconsole should’ve ensured multiple follow-ups and revisions over the years. Sure, the NES Classic included most of the biggest names in its 30-game lineup, but if Nintendo could get the relevant third parties on board there could easily be four or five more installments with entirely different games. Unfortunately none of the companies who brought us that wave of miniconsoles between 2016 and 2020 made a sequel—until this year, when the Sega Genesis Mini 2 came out with five dozen games from the 16-bit giant. The Mini 2 shows us once again why these machines are popular and important, while also reviving the disappointment of making them hard to buy.
The first Genesis Mini had some of Sega’s biggest hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but there were still a number of notable omissions. Many of those games pop up in the Mini 2, including multiple Shinobi titles, major JRPGs like Phantasy Star II and the Shining series, and sequels to various games found on the Mini. It also shines a spotlight on the generally unloved Sega CD peripheral, with a dozen of its games popping up on the North American version of the miniconsole. There are also seven previously unreleased games, ranging from Genesis ports of arcade games to unknown titles that were just never released during the system’s lifespan. The Genesis Mini 2’s 60 games highlight the depth and diversity of the Genesis library, touching on a wide range of genres that were popular at the time, and including both forgotten obscurities and major titles that didn’t make the cut the first time through.
Anybody who loitered in arcades in the late ‘80s will remember pumping quarters into games like Out Run and After Burner. Both Out Run and its successor Out Runners are on here, along with the sequel / upgrade known as After Burner II. Out Run remains celebrated today, but After Burner’s legacy has been overlooked for decades, and perhaps the inclusion of After Burner II in a new miniconsole could rectify that. These are games that probably should’ve been on the first Genesis Mini that get a bit of the spotlight now that there’s a second one.
On the other end of the spectrum you have a game like Mansion of Hidden Souls. It’s a surprise that the Japanese adventure game, originally released for the Sega CD at the end of 1993, was localized and released in the U.S. It’s a weird, macabre puzzler about a mansion that turns people into butterflies and traps them for eternity, and combines relatively straight-forward clue gathering with the kind of obtuse point-and-click exploration found in games like Myst. (The massive popularity of Myst is probably a major reason behind Hidden Souls getting an American release.) With a detailed walkthrough, you can finish it in a half-hour or less. Without any guidance, you might never make it halfway through the story.
Mansion of Hidden Souls has a cult following today, but it never would’ve made the cut in a world where there’s only a single Genesis Mini. That first unit had to focus on the biggest names, leaving cool, esoteric games like this in the vault. The development of a Genesis Mini 2, though, let Sega dust off this old chestnut and put it out there for new fans to discover. It helps fill in a bit of gaming history for anybody too young to know that offbeat games like this existed in the medium’s earlier days—that it wasn’t all just shooting, punching, and running from left to right. If other hardware manufacturers followed Sega’s lead and released more miniconsoles with deeper cuts on the roster, it’d be a boon to the general understanding of gaming history.
Unfortunately, the Genesis Mini 2 isn’t easy to find. Before release Sega warned that it would be manufactured in much smaller quantities than the original—about a tenth of the first one’s total—and that it would only be available through Amazon. The only sale listing currently on Amazon is from a third-party in Japan with over $20 in shipping fees, so it’s either that or trying to get it second-hand off sites like the speculator’s haven eBay. Sega said that a semiconductor shortage was responsible for the low production run, but even if it was made in the same volume as the original, it wouldn’t last for long; the first Genesis Mini hasn’t been available for a couple of years.
Perhaps the Mini 2’s microscopic run really is due to a lack of semiconductors. Given the less commercially viable lineup, though, and the fact that even the hit-filled original Genesis Mini hasn’t been kept in print, you might think that Sega is hedging its bets somewhat. The scarcity drives the hype which makes customers feel like they have to buy one as soon as it’s available, which lessens the risk of releasing a miniconsole that includes obscure games like (the very good) Robo Aleste and Atomic Runner (which I played the hell out of on my Genesis when I was young). It’s the NES Classic strategy in full effect, years after it established the miniconsole playbook.
Anybody who has been able to get their hands on a Sega Genesis Mini 2 hopefully realizes how special it is. And perhaps its instant sellout might convince Nintendo to revive its miniconsole series, or Sony to finally give it a serious go with a new PlayStation attempt. Maybe it’ll prove to Konami that there’s enough market for these things to crank out a second installment of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini. (If so, hopefully they work out the rights to the Legendary Axe games this time.) Most of all, for the sake of anybody who just wants to learn (or relearn) about some of the weirder, less celebrated corners of gaming history, it’d be great to see the Genesis Mini 2 jumpstart this faded trend—and ideally without the scourge of scarcity limiting who can enjoy it.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.