Analogue Mega Sg Review
This new mini-Genesis does what Sega don’t.
Clone console hardware has come a long way over the past 15 years. What used to be the domain of sketchy shopping mall kiosks offering off-brand NESes claiming to contain 1,000 games (990 of which were strangely named hacks of Super Mario Bros. and Contra, and none of which were legally licensed) has become a booming, legitimate business, thanks in part to the huge success off the NES Classic and Super NES Classic. Analogue Co.’s new Mega Sg—a high-end Sega Genesis clone—arrives amidst heavy competition, and it comes with a fairly steep price tag of $189.99 that anybody looking for a quick and simple hit of nostalgia may find off-putting. What Analogue promises in return, however, is something no other Genesis clone on the market can offer: Total fidelity to the original hardware, with zero barriers to a perfect plug-and-play gaming experience on high-definition and 4K televisions. While it turns out the Mega Sg doesn’t quite achieve that lofty goal either, it comes remarkably close and offers the best Genesis experience on the market.
The Mega Sg hardware looks undeniably slick. It has a similar footprint to Analogue’s Super Nt SNES clone from last year and, as with the Super Nt, it carries forward design cues from the classic hardware without being a slavish reproduction. Rather than attempting to be a tiny, accurately modeled Sega Genesis, the Mega Sg is instead a sleek rounded rectangle that echoes visual elements from the real console. For example, the power and reset buttons retain their original coloration and texturing, but here they have been incorporated into a cosmetic ring that surrounds the cartridge slot.
Analogue also playfully and tastefully pays tribute to the bold-type brag text molded into the original Genesis case. Rather than garishly proclaiming HIGH-DEFINITION GRAPHICS in 16-BIT, though, Mega Sg tucks a small semicircle of faint, debossed text describing its provenance into a discrete corner of the console’s face.
Mega Sg maintains Analogue’s minimalist aesthetic, but includes a few connectors not found on the Super Nt. Besides an HDMI output, two controller ports, the cartridge slot, and a USB power jack, it also includes the Genesis’ standard headphone jack and a connector to link with the Sega CD peripheral. Despite these additions, its 6-inch by 7-inch body doesn’t occupy any more shelf space than the Super Nt. It’s as compact as it is capable.
Likethe Super Nt, the Mega Sg ships with a game built into the firmware. In this case, the system comes loaded with a DICE-developed run-and-gun shooter called Ultracore, which original publisher Psygnosis canceled in the console’s latter days. Playing similarly to Contra or Turrican, Ultracore stands apart thanks to its semi-exploratory design. While not as open or free-roaming a game as Metroid, it definitely requires a different set of skills than a pure action game. It handily shows off the Genesis’s capabilities—and thus the Mega Sg’s—to great effect.
Mega Sg stands apart from its competitors thanks to its reliance on a hardware-based solution called a fully-programmable gate array (FPGA) rather than the software-based emulation seen in other commercial products. FPGAs aren’t magic bullets that automatically result in perfect hardware simulation, but they sidestep some of the inherent flaws in emulators. Since an FPGA attempts to reproduce hardware, it is less likely to require the game-by-game tweaking and patching common to emulators. A poorly made FPGA solution is worse than a great emulator, but Analogue has earned a reputation for quality work and that carries through into the Mega Sg.
Currently, the only clone device whose performance matches the Mega Sg is the open-source MiSTER project. The MiSTER is marvelously versatile, but it’s also a painfully convoluted hobbyist device that requires you to hunt down scarce add-on boards and deal with config file tweaks. The Mega Sg, on the other hand, is good to go right out of the box: It works as soon as you plug in its connection and power it up. And where the MiSTER runs on game ROM files, the Mega Sg runs games from their original cartridges or from cart-based flash solutions like EverDrive.
The Mega Sg offers an impressive array of options for displaying and playing games.
The Mega Sg offers an impressive array of options for displaying and playing games. By default, the hardware outputs at 4.5 times the Genesis’s native resolution while mimicking the 4:3 proportions of old-school televisions. You can customize the system’s output by shifting to an integer-based scaler, which can minimize the “shimmer” and distortion caused by uneven pixel upscaling. These issues become especially noticeable when the retro-style scanline option is activated, in which case you can fine-tune the Mega Sg’s output to best suit your display and tastes. Mega Sg also offers a variety of emulator-style graphical filters that smooth the sharp edges of pixels for those who prefer a softer look.
A new addition the Mega Sg has that even the Super Nt doesn’t have is the option to “blend” dithered images. Genesis developers famously used fine, grid-like pixel overlays to create an illusion of transparency in games. The low resolution of old CRT televisions combined with the lossy quality of analog video cables caused these pixel meshes to blend together on screen and create the impression of transparencies in clouds or water. The crisp quality of digital output on HDTVs destroys this effect, so the Mega Sg includes an optional feature to simulate it. This feature also affects other fine objects, such as on-screen text, but you can manually tweak the intensity of the effect to find a sweet spot for each game, or turn it off altogether.
The Mega Sg’s pop-up system menu allows you to tweak these and many other settings on the fly and quickly see the results in action. For example, you can fine-tune the audio output to a remarkable degree, patch through external audio peripherals, and more. Analogue has clearly gone to great lengths to address the Genesis hardware’s pain points, especially its notoriously inconsistent audio. The original console shipped through the years with multiple revisions of audio hardware, some of which sounded incredible and some of which gave the Genesis an undeserved reputation for poor sound quality. By default, the Mega Sg beautifully replicates the crisp electronic quality of the “good” sound boards, but you can fuss with the output in an attempt to recreate the harsh, rasping discomfort of the bad ones if you want.
The point of all of this, of course, is to allow you to recreate an optimal Sega Genesis gaming experience, whatever that concept may entail for you personally. The Mega Sg offers considerably more fine-tuning than Analogue’s previous FPGA-based consoles, but it carries forward their same fundamental appeal: Rock-solid gameplay output. There’s a certain amount of personal subjectivity at work that will vary from person to person, of course, and playing Genesis on a 60″ HDTV over HDMI is never going to be the same as playing those same games on a fuzzy 13″ CRT. That said, the Mega Sg is unmatched in terms of bringing those games to those big televisions.
Every Genesis game I’ve thrown at Mega Sg runs wonderfully.
Every Genesis game I’ve thrown at Mega Sg runs wonderfully. The system doesn’t suffer from the frustrating input lag so commonly encountered in emulators, nor do you need to deal with the display lag that comes hand-in-hand with plugging vintage hardware into an HDTV. Analogue, unfortunately, can’t claim to make the Mega Sg 100% compatible with the full family of Genesis software, but the exclusions are edge cases that required extra peripherals on the original console. The only games I encountered issues with were light gun games (which technically do run on Mega Sg, but the guns themselves don’t work on HDTVs), and 32X games. Mega Sg supports a huge array of Genesis add-ons, including both models of Sega CD, but support for the 32X peripheral is currently not available.
Genesis games look great on Mega Sg as they scroll and animate smoothly, audio comes through cleanly, and perhaps most importantly, they respond quickly and without lag to every push of a button. In addition to its modern USB option, the system includes two standard Genesis controller ports so that you can use original D-pads or other compatible peripherals—even unlicensed modern-day devices like the sticks made by <a href=”https://www.bxfoundry.com”>BX Foundry</a>. For fans of wireless controllers, peripheral maker <a href=”https://www.8bitdo.com”>8bitdo</a> also offers a suite of six-button Genesis controllers designed to coordinate visually with Analogue’s four color options for Mega Sg.
As much as Mega Sg shines in terms of its handling of gameplay for standard Genesis cartridges (including the ones that contained elaborate add-on components, such as Virtua Racing), even more impressive is the system’s support for non-Genesis games. While the lack of 32X support may come as a letdown to that peripheral’s super-fans, the Mega Sg does offer full compatibility with the Sega CD peripheral.
Mega Sg and Sega CD don’t exactly make for the most graceful-looking pairing. Both Sega CD models were designed in scale with the original Genesis rather than this diminutive imitator, but despite the visual incongruity the duo works exceptionally well together. By revealing a hidden connector on the right side of the Mega Sg’s case, you can dock the console with either version of Sega CD. This isn’t 100% plug-and-play, as you need to provide your own audio cable to feed Sega CD sound into the headphone jack on the front of the Mega Sg, but a standard 3.5mm audio cord isn’t exactly an obscure or expensive pickup. The console does include a spacer mat to use with the tray-loading original Sega CD design—which turns out to be a strangely foul-smelling sheet of rubber, but it does the trick.
On Mega Sg, Sega CD games look better than they ever have.
In action on Mega Sg, Sega CD games look better than they ever have. There’s no escaping the grainy compression artifacts of the full-motion video packed onto these old discs, but the sprites and text come through beautifully. And the patched-in audio from the Sega CD sounds perfect—great news for fans of the amateur voice acting and corny butt-rock that dominated CD-ROM games in the mid ’90s.
On top of that, Mega Sg also comes with a cartridge adapter that allows you to plug in Master System games. Analogue previously offered support for additional consoles with its semi-official Nt Mini jailbreak firmware, but the promised cartridge adapters for systems like Game Boy and Atari 2600 never materialized. The passthrough Master System adapter is a great step toward expanding this system’s capabilities, allowing anyone who still owns software for Sega’s pre-Genesis console to make use of those games with the same high-end HDMI output that Mega Sg offers for Genesis and Sega CD software.
Analogue will also offer adapters for Sega’s other 8-bit console cartridges and cards later this year, including the portable Game Gear and Japan-only platforms like the SG-1000. It also seems inevitable that a jailbreak firmware update allowing you to load games from an SD card will materialize at some point, as we saw with the Nt Mini and Super Nt.
Worth a Shot
The system (somewhat ironically) lacks any sort of analog video output.
While I can’t say Analogue’s Mega Sg is the perfect Genesis replacement, its shortcomings are fairly trivial. My unit shipped with a defective HDMI cable that caused faint patches of visual distortion to appear on-screen, but this was easily remedied by swapping cables. The system (somewhat ironically) lacks any sort of analog video output, so it can’t be used with a vintage television for a true Genesis gaming experience, but that’s not really what it’s for. The biggest issue is the lack of 32X support, which means it won’t be replacing my three-device “tower of power” anytime soon.
That said, the only other option for playing Genesis games on an HDTV with this level of quality would be to hook up an original console through an upscaling device—something that would cost twice as much as the Mega Sg. Analogue’s system isn’t the cheapest Genesis option on the market, but this is a case where you get what you pay for. The Mega Sg is far more capable, compatible, and responsive than the wretched Sega Genesis Classic devices Sega itself (in partnership with AtGames) has been peddling over the past few years.