Sega Finally Gets the Retro Console Treatment It Deserves
Analogue, the company that has rethought Nintendo’s retro home consoles for the modern day, is taking on much of Sega’s back library with the just-announced Mega Sg.
The retro gaming picture for Sega has been full of hard knocks.
Sega hasn’t made consoles itself since the Dreamcast in 1999, but has allowed companies such as AtGames and Brazil’s Tectoy to sell modern-day recreations of the Genesis and Master System—emulation-based affairs that have notably gotten negative reviews. The company is planning an NES Classic-style console of its own, but has struggled with development and recently went back to the drawing board (possibly without the help of AtGames, its original partner on the project). Really, the one true bright spot for Sega’s retro strategy has been in its ability to compile the games for modern consoles, including smartphones—it started offering its vintage first-party titles as free, ad-supported mobile games last year.
But what about the gamers who want to bring their old carts back to life in 1080p—and are willing to pay extra for a Shining Force experience that looks good on a modern TV? Good news: Analogue is ready to help.
The creators of the Super Nt—a hit recreation of Super Nintendo Entertainment System hardware built around a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) for maximum accuracy and an almost-perfect recreation of the hardware—are working on a new system that riffs on the Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you’re outside of North America). But that's only the half of it.
The Mega Sg, which begins presales Tuesday, aims to recreate Sega’s early console history, dating back to 1983’s SG-1000 and its computer equivalent, the SC-3000—neither of which were released in the US. While the Genesis is the main event, the system will support every major console that Sega created in the 80s and early 90s, including the Master System (and its Asian equivalent, the Mark III) and the portable Game Gear. Like Analogue’s prior FPGA-based consoles, the system cores were programmed by famed retro console hacker Kevin Horton, a.k.a. Kevtris.
“From the beginning, we wanted to design the ultimate Sega console for everything pre-Sega Saturn—the perfect way to explore Sega's 8-bit and 16-bit eras,” explained Christopher Taber, Analogue’s founder, in an email interview.
The system also gives emphasis to the Genesis’ many add-ons, particularly the Sega CD, which the Mega Sg was specifically designed to support out of the box. (One exception: The 32X add-on, which connects to the Genesis through an analog cable that is incompatible with the Mega Sg, won’t be supported at launch, but Taber says the company is working on it.)
It appears that the “proudly plastic” Super Nt—which sacrificed the premium metals and bevy of ports of its $449 predecessor, the NES-riffing Nt Mini, on its way to a premium-but-attainable $189 price point—hit a sweet spot for Analogue, becoming the company’s best-selling product. The Mega Sg replicates most of its tricks: it also sells for $189, comes in an array of color hues (mostly black, with secondary colors inspired by console releases in different regions, though there’s also a white variant), and features corresponding 8BitDo controllers (sold separately) that match the consoles.
There is one difference, however: Mega Sg will offer adapters for non-Genesis systems—the Master System cartridge adapter will be included in the box, but those for the other supported systems will sell for $9.99 each. The approach, which differs from multi-consoles such as Hyperkin’s RetroN 5, was inspired by user requests—and will ensure that only folks who actually own SG-1000 games buy the add-ons. Taber noted that, beyond being ugly, “we'd have to increase the price of the base unit to support pretty esoteric systems” if it added ports for every system.
Of course, none of this matters without the HDMI-friendly looks and accuracy, which, upon early analysis, live up to the tweak-friendly standards of prior Analogue consoles, with full support for 1080p video. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a reference video of Gunstar Heroes running on the Mega Sg:
One other place where Taber noted the company focused its efforts was on the sound. The Genesis is known for its distinctive audio compared to other consoles of the era, due to its use of a Yamaha YM2612 chip. Emulation-driven clone consoles have struggled to replicate it correctly, to the point where system modders went in and fixed the code. The Mega Sg will have no such problems, Taber pledged—even underlining the point by offering up FLAC-quality samples.
“We're here to make Sega look, sound and play better than anyone has ever experienced,” he explained.
Taber notes that the secret to their model is the company’s direct-sales approach, which has benefited from the years of goodwill the company has built—and has allowed it to keep prices on its products down even as it creates serious consoles for serious retro gamers.
“It's taken us eight years to cultivate an audience directly and be able to do this,” he added. “This has been the plan all along, but has only become possible from years of R&D, fine-tuning our development, and building a reputation with our user base."