Sega’s 16-bit mixtape

The Mega Drive Mini 2 takes a very Sega approach to sequels, choosing to follow up the success of the original unit not with another selection of surefire hits but a curated selection of less celebrated titles instead. This is a playable window into the company’s B-side: the sort of games people meant to play but didn’t, wanted to play but couldn’t, or didn’t know they existed at all. There’s still something for everyone in here – the little lump of matte black plastic’s graced with everything from skill-testing shmups to colourful RPGs to everyone’s favourite dolphin ’em ups – but there’s also a palpable confidence in the people who have paid to play them running through this shrunken console’s collection, as if to say we’re all Sega fans here, so let’s not waste any time with the usual choices and take a deeper dive into the library we know and love instead.

Magical Taruruto-kun is perhaps my favourite example of the Mega Drive 2 Mini’s distinctly Sega spirit. It’s a licensed game based on an old manga (as are a few other games present on the Japanese version of the hardware), which is exactly the troubling legal hurdle that’d see it instantly crossed off just about any other prospective list of re-released games if it ever made it onto them at all. Then there’s the developer to think about too, as the game itself was created not by Sega but by a little company called Game Freak. Pokémon Game Freak. And even though the company was founded and is still run by huge Sega/arcade gaming fans, I imagine that was another wrinkle that needed someone in a very expensive suit to spend at least a little time working out who owned what and who needed to give their legally binding permission for the game’s inclusion.

And this is all before we get to the biggest problem of them all: Who exactly has been begging for an affordable re-release of Magical Taruruto-kun? Who out there hoped it’d take up a precious spot on the Mini 2’s lineup over any number of more obvious, desirable, or plain old expensive Mega Drive games praying for a second lease of life? Pretty much nobody.

Yet Magical Taruruto-kun’s here anyway, perhaps more because of than in spite of these difficulties. Yes, all of that extra work could’ve easily been avoided if the staff behind the project had decided to slap a few of the usual definitively Sega-owned Mega Drive games in there instead, but someone working on the Mini 2 knew it was good – good enough to sit next to Ranger-X and Virtua Racing – and trusted that the Sega fans on the receiving end either already knew that or were going to be brave and curious enough to play it and find out for themselves.

This offbeat attitude extends to the included Mega CD titles as well, the prohibitively expensive and under supported add-on represented by a curious mix of popular crowd pleasers – Sonic CDShining Force CDFinal Fight CDEcco CD… (a predictable naming convention that does at least make titles easier to find than the SNES’ fondness for the “Super” prefix ever did) – respected niche titles such as Robo AlesteNight Striker, and The Ninjawarriors, and then there are titles like Silky Lip and Captain Tsubasa, games who could’ve carried on not being ported to anything ever and nobody would have even thought it worth mentioning.

When viewed individually some of these games are clearly more “worthy” of your time and attention than others, but collectively they add up to a more honest and intriguing representation of the hardware than a list filled with safer releases would have. This is a taste of the Mega CD as it really was – remakes, ports, and grainy FMV games vying for the same wallets as original titles that played to the system’s strengths – rather than a more flattering lie.

This apparent commitment to unvarnished honesty affects the included games in a wide variety of positive ways: Phantasy Star II features an easy mode that tones down the game’s patience-testing random encounter rate (amongst other things), and the Japan-only Star Cruiser offers an optional “high speed mode” to combat the standard game’s impressive albeit somewhat choppy 3D view. Space Harrier II is essentially a brand new game, something that’s not just been given a quick polish but completely disassembled and then put back together better than it ever was. There’s true sprite scaling in the game now alongside a whole suite of improvements that make it look and play in ways we could only dream of back in 1988, making it well worth a look regardless of anyone’s personal feelings (specifically apathy, considering how it used to play) towards the original game. So thorough is this revamp the original Space Harrier – a game that didn’t actually have a Mega Drive port until the Mini 2 came out – has been remade to the same high standards and included as a bonus, even though under normal circumstances an official Mega Drive release of the Super Scaler classic running as smoothly as it does here would’ve surely been something to shout about from the rooftops.

All this chatter and I still haven’t mentioned the new new games yet, even though they follow the exact same “There are no rules” rules proudly on display everywhere else in this package. Why would anyone develop a severely cut-down (and AI-free) port of Puyo Puyo Sun for the Mega Drive? Of all the games that could’ve been included, why spend time recreating the nigh forty year old arcade exclusive Super Locomotive or publishing Devi & Pii?

t’s simple: they’re included because they’re great – but it’s on us to take the time to play them and find out how good they are instead of endlessly bouncing between the better known releases.

Take Party Quiz Sega Q, for example – I’d forgotten it was even part of the system’s library until I saw it on the screen. This game’s a fresh take on 1993’s Party Quiz Mega Q (also present on the Japanese Mini 2) – a competitive party game hosted by none other than human ray of sunshine Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (complete with scratchy voice samples) that’s so styled like a gaudy TV show it even pauses the action for fake ad breaks hawking real Mini 2 peripherals between rounds. Get past the presentation and you’ll soon discover the themed questions on everybody’s favourite ex-hardware company – each one written especially for this release – aren’t a forgettable mix of easy challenges but an avalanche of questions intended to test even the biggest Sega fans to their limits, encompassing everything from ancient arcade exclusives to old commercials. My experience of playing it can only be described as beautifully humbling; it’s brought me a great deal of joy to have so many gaps in my knowledge highlighted in such a fun way.

Everything about this little console screams “passion project”, something born out of a genuine and personal admiration for the system. It’s the gaming equivalent of a music-loving friend taking you on a guided tour of their extensive collection of rare LPs rather than letting you borrow that generic compilation CD you already know you like, the sort of experience that leaves you in love with something you didn’t know existed until you gave it a go. It’s fair to say that some of the games on here would be considered an acquired taste at the best of times, but when they’re presented as an easily accessed slice of something unusual to put on for five casual minutes as part of a well-rounded collection… well, why not give them a go? Maybe I’ll only ever play the version of Fatal Fury 2 included here for an afternoon or play the Mega CD version of StarBlade out of curiosity – or maybe today’s the day I give Megapanel a proper go and find myself still sitting in the same spot an hour later.

I won’t know unless I try, will I?

[Ko-fi supporters read this a week ago!]

One thought on “Sega’s 16-bit mixtape

  1. I also like that they include a lot of more outlier games, and once that were probably only able to be licensed for such a one off re-release. Sega is pretty good in giving us compilations of their older games to begin with, so we don’t super need yet another one that has mostly the usual suspects on it.

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