Almost 25 years ago to date, some very special consoles came into my life. Before the era of Playstation 3 or 4 and Steam, there was only Nintendo and Sega. Back then, there was something called a cartridge. It was a lot bigger than the Nintendo Gameboy cartridges too. Within these cartridges were games in both 8 and 16 bit rendered particles of joy and electricity and magic. In the dark ages, you had to slot said cartridges into large weird machines that looked like a Playstation but weren’t and you had to hook the machine up to a TV the size of a microwave using an array of yellow, red and white wires. If you remember all these, then congratulations, you’re either my age or older, and fortunate enough to have experienced this. Of course the machines I’m talking about are the classic consoles: the absolutely vintage Nintendo Micro Genius and the Sega Mega Drive. These were the humble consoles from around the 1990s which took part in what would the first of many console wars, which eventually paved the way for so-called fifth generation consoles like the original PSX, Sega’s Dreamcast and Nintendo’s N64. Obviously, Sega, like the Soviet Union from that same era, could no longer afford the console wars and faded from the console scene.
Since then, Nintendo has moved onto things like Pokemon GO, the Wii U and suing people for copyright infringement. Sega meanwhile, has closed up its console production lines and focused on making more and more Sonic stuff and publishing games. But like any good old rivalry, both Nintendo and Sega have come back to their old stomping grounds again. This is sort of like two very old men meeting each other and fighting again just for the hell of it.
Nintendo got the ball rolling by announcing its NES Classic edition, a pint-sized version of their NES. While you can’t slot in or change the cartridge, the NES does come loaded with over 30 classic games from the era, all built-in into the console itself. Ars Technica had a look at it and are basically saying that this thing is absolutely tiny. You might be thinking that tiny merely means its more portable but no, this thing is legitimately tiny. Its basically, a scale model of the original NES which means apart from the full sized controllers, everything else is scaled down; this includes the cables that connect the controllers to the console. This means you’ll be sitting very close to the console which is very close to a monitor. The only thing redeeming feature here is that the controllers can be used on a Wii U and Wii.
But what does make this worth getting though is the nostalgia factor. Everything about this is meant to emulate what it felt like to own… frankly at this point an artefact from a long forgotten era, where pixels were large and Mario’s head was made from large coloured squares. While you do get a menu to select the games, you do need to hit the reset button to go back to the main menu, sort of emulating the time when if we wanted to change game cartridges, we’d need to turn off the console, blow into the cartridge we wanted to play and slap it back into the slot. Fortunately, there is a very important modern feature in the NES Classic that is worth mentioning though. Suspend Points. These are basically save points for the games that otherwise would not have save points... which is pretty much all the games from the era. Back then, the only viable way to save a game was with save codes which you would scribble on a piece of paper and key into game in order to load the game back. So, this’ll save you a lot of hassle had they decided to go fully vintage console.
The NES Classic also has visual modes that allow you to capture the feeling of playing on an old TV, complete with scanlines and even has a mode that makes the pixels sharper and clearer. While the chief complaints for the NES Classic are its unforgivably short controller lengths, we’ll overlook this for the fact that Nintendo has done well by its veteran fans by giving us a compact toy that does more or less faithfully replicate owning the older relic.
Not long after Nintendo’s announcement though, Sega sought to do the same, helping to relive their past rivalry. The new miniature Mega Drive doesn’t look quite the same as the original Sega Mega Drive. That’s because this version of the Mega Drive is built by a third party company called AtGames, which is a Chinese company that’s rather aptly, known for making Sega Emulators. The console’s essentially a small emulator designed to run ROMs of the games. Unlike the niftier NES Classic however, the cloned Sega console needs old fashioned AV cables to plug into the TV. I haven’t seen these type of cables since the PS2. Naturally, this means that you can expect Sega’s emulator to underperform when compared to the pure Nintendo built NES Classic or any modern console for that matter.
However, the Mega Drive clone shines when it comes to its game library, 80 games in all compared to the paltry 30 you get from Nintendo. There is a slight catch though as certain games are only available to Japan and North America. But that sort of fixes itself because this Mega Drive can accept the older Sega original’s cartridges alongside SD cards. The SD cards are a magnificent idea since cartridges are becoming increasingly hard to find as they age into antiquity. What happens is that with the SD cards, you can download a Sega ROM into it and then load them into AtGames’s Mega Drive and expand the library from there. This is really good considering there are a lot of sites with a plethora of uploaded ROMs.
So, it appears that this coming Christmas, we've been spoiled for choice in terms of retro-gaming options and at the same time experience something like an old console war reenactment too. Both consoles are currently available and up for grabs. The NES Classic is currently going at USD 60 a pop here while the Sega AtGames Mega Drive is going for USD 65 each here on funstockretro.co.uk.