Ah, the good old Sega Genesis.
What a great system. Click here to read more about it.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to take that old system on the road and play those great 16-bit titles? Sega did make that dream possible in 1995 with the release of the Sega Nomad in 1995, but there are a couple of problems with that system of which anyone shopping for one needs to be aware.
First of all, the Nomad came out near the end of the Genesis’ life, thus making the system fairly rare. There were only about 1 million of those sold and finding one in like-new condition these days can be a chore. As we all know, “rare” usually means “expensive” when it comes to the fun-filled world of retrogaming.
Second, the battery life on the Nomad is downright awful. That thing can suck down 6 AA batteries in around two hours. That’s just unacceptable unless, of course, you want to lug a modified car battery around with you to power the thing. Of course, the Nomad can use a standard AC adapter. Ah, but using an AC adapter kind of defeats the purpose of having a portable system, doesn’t it? Oh, and by the way — if you do pick up a Nomad, make sure you get one with the external battery pack so you can make it portable.
The Nomad is, without a doubt, the most compatible Genesis system you’ll find, but there is a good alternative to it. My personal favorite is the RetroGen by Innex (click the aforementioned link to find out more about that system) and you can find it for about $40. I picked one up earlier this year and have enjoyed the heck out of it.
Now, the system isn’t perfect, but it is pretty darned good. I’ll mention the high points first. The battery life on this thing is great. The RetroGen comes with a built-in battery that charges through its standard USB port and lasts for about six hours between charges. That’s not bad at all considering the Nomad lasts for about two hours on a fistful of batteries.
Also, I still can’t get over the price. Again. $40 for a RetroGen. I can’t say that enough because this little gem has become one of the best classic gaming purchases I’ve made. And bear in mind that $40 pays for a brand new system that comes in a box with instructions, USB cable for charging the thing and even an adapter that will let you display video on your television (I’m not sure why you’d want to do that, but you can if you want).
Speaking of images, the RetroGen comes with a bright, crisp 2.8″ LCD screen that looks great. Again, that’s modern technology at work. It wasn’t that long ago that backlit screens that looked fantastic were uncommon. Now they’re simply expected and Innex, fortunately, seemed to have picked up on that.
Finally, of course, there’s the ability to play Genesis games. Ah, but you can do more than that — the RetroGen supposedly plays those Sega Megadrive import games, too (I’ve not tested that feature as I don’t have any Megadrive carts).
This brings us to the first negative aspect of the RetroGen. While the Nomad uses legitimate Genesis hardware, the RetroGen is an emulator. That means there are some games that won’t run. It also means that some games won’t run perfectly. The imperfections generally pop up in the audio department. Some games just sound out of key and, well, wrong. I’ve read reports of people carping a lot about the sound, but I’ve found it to be accurate for the most part. Yes, there are times when the emulated sound is so rotten that it will surprise you, but that’s really a minor complaint. Additionally, you can be sure that some games just won’t run. I’ve not come across that problem with that pile of games I have, but I haven’t worried too much about it because I usually play games on one of the legitimate Sega Genesis consoles I have around here. If the RetroGen won’t run one, the console will. The possibility of incompatibility may be enough to turn off those people who want to use the RetroGen as a primary Genesis system.
A bigger concern has to do with the RegroGen’s controls. While the button layout is quite good on this, the directional pad is just different. Is it hard to use? No, but it just doesn’t feel as comfortable or precise as the Genesis controller. For those of us who have played Genesis games for years, the D-pad might prove to be a problem. Still, I was able to adjust to that well enough.
Another problem is that the overall package feels a bit cheap. It’s got that “I was churned out of some generic Chinese factory” feel to it, making the thing more than a bit light and flimsy. Also, the screen scratches surprisingly easily. Still, the lightness of the unit is acceptable because this system is a portable and has proven tough enough to be used as such. As for the screen, mine came a bit scratched, leaving me to wonder about the quality control used by that buck-a-day labor employed to manufacture these things. The system feels a bit bulky, too. The whole thing reminds me a lot of one of the original Nintendo Game Boy Advance units, only considerably thicker to accommodate a big ole Genesis cartridge. The cartridge, in fact, often gets in the way, but I’ve gotten used to it.
I’ve read some reviews that have made hay out of the fact that the RetroGen doesn’t come with a Genesis controller port to allow for human-to-human contests on two-player games. Yes, the Nomad has one of those built into the unit, but I question the practicality of that. Portable systems are all about solo game play, aren’t they?
Finally, this unit comes with some built in games. They stink. You’ve got a pitifully easy Space Invaders clone, a lame Frogger clone, an atrocity called Jacks Pea and nine other clunkers hardly worth mentioning. Some other Genesis emulators have actual classic games from the system built into them. Still, I have a pile of Genesis carts here so I didn’t give a hang about whether this one came with built in games or not. Most people, I suspect, will buy one of these to play the games in their collections or the ones they’ll pick up on eBay for very little money, so the lack of great built in games probably won’t be an issue for most people who purchase the RetroGen.
All in all, the RetroGen is a very solid unit. It might not be a compatible or as comfortable to use as a Nomad, but you really can’t go wrong for the price. If you’re a Genesis fan who needs a portable system, this is a great purchase.
Stay tuned — more reviews to come in the “retrogaming” category here at First Arkansas News.
About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.