Thanks to Nintendo releasing miniature HD versions of their first ever home console, it has helped retro gaming more than ever. Since then, they also released a miniature version to the Super Nintendo (with mixed news in regards to an upcoming Nintendo 64 Mini) and Sony is following suit with a mini-PS1 and with Sega doing so as well with the Genesis/Mega Drive. And just recently, SNK released their own Neo Geo Mini. So the obvious question is, are they a good thing?
For starters, games in their original formats (whether they be cartridge, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray) can’t last forever, but emulation has certainly helped to make sure that they do last. To put it simply, mini-consoles are nothing more than just emulators by the official companies. Thanks to these mini-consoles, retro games can have a longer lifespan, and they can easily be archived for historical purposes. In case some of you gamers didn’t know, many companies don’t archive a good number of their games (most notoriously Sega) and they get lost through the passage of time. In other instances, companies lose the original source code altogether. Thanks to emulation and in extension, mini-consoles, many of the games featured in them will not be lost.
With retro gaming on the rise, the original cartridges and/or discs have gone up in price these past few years. For anywhere between $50-$1,000+, gamers can just buy these mini-consoles and get 20+ games for the price of one (while the likes of a good percentage of Neo Geo games or other rare retro games can go up the four figure range). All regions have their own unique exclusives as well. All versions of let's say the Nintendo Classic Mini include Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Gradius. But if you get the American/European version, it exclusively features Punch-Out, CastleVania II, and the first Final Fantasy game. For the Japanese version, you get Final Fantasy III (the real one), NES Open Golf Tournament, and River City Ransom. So it adds more novelty to collecting, especially if you’re into importing.
With pros, there are always going to be cons. For starters, not every classic game on previous consoles are going to be featured in mini-consoles, and there are some consoles that may not be subjected to having a mini-console at all. Take for example, the Sega Saturn. The original Saturn had complicated hardware and was notoriously difficult to program for, and that in turn makes emulating it difficult. Plus, some of the console’s hits such as Panzer Dragoon RPG’s source code have been lost, so even if Sega could make a Saturn mini-console, fans will never see a true re-release to Panzer Dragoon RPG.
While the Nintendo 64’s mini-console release has been long rumored and in consideration, the Nintendo 64 has also been notoriously difficult to emulate. Due to that very reason, getting a mini-Nintendo 64 may be more difficult in comparison to getting miniature versions to its predecessors. Last, while it’s nice that Sony is releasing a classic version to the PS1, the mini-console does not include dual shock and with today’s PlayStation Online (and Nintendo’s Virtual Console) store where you can buy digital versions to PS1 games, it just feels redundant to buy some of these mini-consoles. Why bother when you can get some of these games for a lower price, or even times free on present day online console stores?
Without a shadow of a doubt, mini-consoles are saving retro gaming in a legal and legitimate manner. We’re not trying to justify emulation but if you listen to interviews with Mike Mika, a video game designer who also serves as a video game historian, emulation has helped preserve many games. Mini-consoles are a very legitimate way of helping the industry. Thanks to that, many gamers who grew up on the games of their youth can still enjoy them like it’s 1989 (or 1999, whichever you prefer), and share them with the next generation. It helps maintain the legacies of the respective companies and their hit franchises. On the other hand, (probably) not every console is going to have that chance, so we gotta do what we can to help these games not be lost in the pages of history. In addition to the low possibilities of a Sega Saturn Mini, today’s gamers and gamers back in the day may also not get a chance to get a newer version to the Sega CD.
Thankfully, some of the Sega CD’s other (in)famous titles such as Night Trap have finally gotten a modern day release on the Switch, thanks to one of the fans buying the rights to it, and re-programming where he could. And he defied history by releasing it on the Switch, in which Howard Lincoln, Nintendo of America’s president back in the mid-90s, once said that Night Trap will never be on a Nintendo console. Mini-consoles are a great thing, but beyond them, there are plenty of alternatives to enjoying retro gaming on modern consoles if they’re not your cup of tea.