When Black Friday came around this year, I noticed that the re-released “classic” Mega Drive console by AT Games was 50% off from Argos. As it came with “81 classic games built-in”, I thought it would be worth a try. This is especially true as it claims to play “most” original Mega Drive cartridges as well.
At a time where mini versions of classic retro gaming consoles are a big hit, if you are to release one, it needs to be good. It needs to capture that nostalgia of playing the games on the original console. So, how does the Mega Drive Classic stack up against the bigger, more expensive re-released consoles?
The Mega Drive Classic from AT Games is a plug and play system. However, it is important to know that there are two versions of the console; one with wired controllers and an RCA (red, yellow and white) cable for the TV, and one with wireless controllers and an HDMI output. I got the RCA version of the console, because it was considerably cheaper.
If you do go down this route, though, you’ll likely need an RCA to HDMI upscaler, like I use, in order to get it working on modern TVs. Most new TVs don’t have RCA input, as they are designed to run at HD resolution.
This doesn’t make the actually installation and setup of the console any more difficult. All it means is that you will need to connect the RCA cables to the upscale, and then an HDMI cable from that to the TV. But once you have those cables set up, you’re good to go.
Now, this is were the first issues arise with the Mega Drive Classic. The main interface for selecting one of the built-in games is very hard on the eyes. The graphical interface’s design is garish, and is actually far more pixelated than the games themselves, despite being a newly built system.
Whilst I am sure it was designed to capture the retro gaming look, it just feels very cheap and poorly thought out. This is also true in how you navigate the menu. My natural reaction to scroll through the different games was to go to the botton, and then keep scrolling down. However, you’ll quickly realise that doesn’t work, and that you actually have to press left and right to go across different pages.
Whilst this isn’t a huge problem, it does feel counter-intuitive, whilst really sums up the overall menu. However, when you do select a game, it feels very normal.
That is, until you hear the music. For example, when I first turned on the Mega Drive Classic, the first game I tried out was Sonic the Hedgehog. I mean, it had to be, didn’t it? And so, Green Hill Zone started up, and I was waiting for that amazing backing music.
However, the Mega Drive Classic uses a built-in emulator to run these games, which instantly means that the quality that the game runs at is nowhere near the level it would be on an original Mega Drive. But that isn’t the main issue. Rather, that comes from the fact that AT Games have used a much lower quality sound cart for the Mega Drive Classic than the one installed in the original console.
So, rather than the sound of the waterfalls that you are used to, you’ll hear a noise more akin to static on the TV. And the music seems to skip notes almost constantly, and isn’t able to reach the weight and quality of the original console.
When it comes to the effectiveness of the Mega Drive Classic, it is obviously let down by the sound card, but that isn’t the only issue. As many others have also found, when AT Games claim it came run “most” original cartridges, they weren’t making it up. It plays “most”, but certainly not all original cartridges.
This can be a major problem if you are planning to use the Mega Drive Classic are your go to console for Mega Drive games. You see, there’s no real way of telling whether a cartridge game is going to work without simply trying it out first. Some of them will work, and others will just sit on a black screen. Yet there doesn’t seem to be an actual list available that categorically tells you which cartridges will work. In fact, that would be a mission and a half to create as well, since some cartridges may work on one Mega Drive Classic, but not on another.
One positive of the console is that the controllers work well, with all buttons functioning as they should. However, even the controllers have their let downs. The D-Pad feels loose and brittle, with the actual joint feeling like it would break at any moment. The buttons are also rather stiff, and not comfortable for extended periods of gaming.
The biggest selling point of the Mega Drive Classic, and the reason I went for it in the first place, is the fact that it comes with 81 games for the price of just £59.99 (or £29.99 when it was Black Friday). This sounds like a great deal, especially compared to the likes of the SNES Classic Mini. The amount of games and the ability to play original cartridges as well were both big pluses too.
However, as we have stated, the built-in games do not run the way they should, and some cartridges don’t run at all. So that pretty much takes away that aspect of the cost savings.
The other issue that decreases the value of the console, in my opinion, is that those 81 games are not all classic Mega Drive games. Instead, there are a number of games that appear under the “arcade” category, but are really just simple copies of generic game ideas, added by the creators of the console.
In fact, you probably “only” get about 40 – 50 actual Mega Drive games. And yes, that is still a really good deal, but the fact that the sound quality is poor, the controller feels brittle and cartridge games are hit and miss, it is just another let down for the Mega Drive Classic.
And That’s All Folks
Whilst the Mega Drive Classic from AT Games may sound like the perfect idea on paper, once you actually turn it on you have to deal with one of the more eye straining GUIs I’ve ever seen, music that sounds like someone playing a violin with a jigsaw, and a list of games that contains poor quality copies of generic games.
In the end, I’m glad I picked the Mega Drive Classic up on Black Friday. Although, when you consider that an original Mega Drive on eBay will set you back just £30 – £50 as well (at the time of writing), it seems a bit pointless to settle for second best. The only selling point is that you’ll get around 40 – 50 games built-in. But again, they won’t sound right, and there isn’t anything that you can do about it.
If you are looking for a quick and easy way to get your hands on all of these games just so that you can play hem with your kids, then the AT Games Mega Drive Classic is probably worth it. However, if you are wanting to actually collect the cartridge games and play these absolutely classic retro games, then I would recommend just purchasing an original Mega Drive on eBay.