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Which is the best mini console? 16-bit console wars part 2 – Reader’s Feature

A reader relives gaming’s greatest console war via the mini consoles of the SNES, Mega Drive, and PC Engine and tries to decide which is best.

After a delay due to COVID-19 I finally got hold of the PC Engine Core Grafx Mini and have spent a few weeks playing through its games. Now sitting next to my SNES and Mega Drive Minis, I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison of the three and see which one comes out on top. Who would have thought we would be having the16-bit console wars all over again in 2020?

The consoles

Each of the minis looks fantastic, and each feature wonderful attention to detail. I particularly like the springy cartridge slot on the Mega Drive. For completists, you can import the tower add-on, which includes non-working versions of the Mega CD and 32X. Even though they don’t work, it is a nice little addition, although it’s a real shame that the Mega Drive Mini does not include any CD or 32X games in its library.

The PC Engine was already a small console on its original launch, so the mini version here is only a bit smaller. All three however look great on your shelf and come with excellent replica pads with nice long cables. The PC Engine drops points here for only being supplied with one pad, which means you have to pay out an additional £20 or so if you want an authentic pad for a second player. With the PC Engine already being the most expensive of the three, it seems a bit stingy as both the SNES and Mega Drive Mini come packed with two pads as standard.
The Mega Drive comes with the original three-button pad but please note that six-button is ideally required for Street Fighter 2 and Eternal Champions.

All of the mini consoles run off emulation, much like a raspberry Pi and the emulation work on all three is excellent. They easily connect to the TV through HDMI, although none of them come with a USB plug. Most people have a few spare ones knocking around though and you can just power them from your TV if it has a USB port. It’s worth noting that the SNES does not use USB joypads like the other two, which means you cannot use the pads on other consoles or emulators, etc. that have USB ports, unless you have an adaptor.

Winner: SNES and Mega Drive Mini (draw) – the PC Engine Mini loses out by coming with just one pad and being the most expensive of the three.

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Interface

All three consoles have excellent user interfaces on the game select screens, featuring colourful box art, multiple game saves, and plenty of options to choose your preferred viewing experience.
The Mega Drive Mini has the option to switch languages, which if you chose the Japanese version will change all of the box art to the original Japanese art. Not only this, but it will change the content of some games, most notably Contra: Hard Corps, switching the sprites and being slightly less unforgiving in its difficulty. Just be sure you can navigate your way back to English, unlike a friend of mine who got stuck in the Japanese mode for several days.

The PC Engine Mini makes this easier by simply having the two consoles to choose from on screen. It will change the image of the console to either a PC Engine or a TurboGrafx-16, and the box art and even the background music change as well. The PC Engine Mini also has a nifty graphic that shows the HUD cards or CDs being inserted when you choose a game, with a great sound effect to go with it. It also has a couple of hidden extras to change the graphics and add caravan modes to several shooters.

Winner: PC Engine Mini – all three are great but the PC Engine is the easiest to navigate and has the little extra touches that elevate it above the other two.

The games

Even though the games selection is very good across the board here, all three consoles are missing some real classics, which makes little sense. I’ll get to that subject in a bit, let’s first of all take a look at what we have got.

The PC Engine Mini boasts it has 57 titles, 25 on the TurboGrafx-16 and 32 on the PC Engine, the most games of the three minis. However, this is not strictly true as quite a few of the games are simply localised translations of the same game. Not only that but several of the Japanese titles are unplayable unless you can read Japanese. This is particularly frustrating when you have a game like Snatcher on there, which most gamers would love to play but can’t.

Nevertheless, there are still some fantastic games to play here and the console is a real shoot ’em-up fan’s dream. It could do with a bit of variety in genres and but this is still a strong line-up with classic platformer Bonk, near arcade perfect conversions of Parasol Stars, Splatterhouse, and R-Type; as well as much lauded shooters including Soldier Blade. It is also the only console to feature CD games as well as several titles from the SuperGrafx, such as Ghouls ‘N Ghosts and Aldynes, so bonus points for that – only to lose them again for including Alien Crush but not the far superior sequel Devil Crush.

The Mega Drive Mini has 40 individual games, making it the mini with the most unique titles. There are plenty of fan favourites here including Streets Of Rage 2, Sonic The Hedgehog, Gunstar Heroes, and Golden Axe. Like all of the minis it lacks good sports games, which is odd seeing as the Mega Drive had plenty to choose from. However, it is good to see some licensed games get in here with classic platformers Castle Of Illusion and World Of Illusion.

There aren’t any really rare games here and most UK gamers will have been able to play these titles easily. [The version of Tetris included is one of the rarest games of all-time and Darius has never been released before – GC] With most Treasure games rightly being on here, it would have been nice to get the rare McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure on it (maybe as a hidden bonus game). It is also a shame that there are no Mega CD or 32X titles, seeing as the PC Engine Mini managed to do it. The lack of Sonic CD seems almost criminal.

The SNES mini ‘only’ has 21 games, and therefore creates the most amount of head scratching as to what has been left on the cutting room floor (not to mention to what has been left in). However, Nintendo at their very best did produce some of the greatest video games off all time in the 16-bit days, so there are enough out and out classics here to keep most gamers very happy.

It does feature too many role-playing games and platformers though, and it would have been nice to have some more shooters and puzzle games. There are a couple of oddities on here, most notably the unreleased Star Fox 2, which, frankly, should have stayed un-released. Annoyingly the SNES mini has several different games on it depending on which region you pick up. Why couldn’t they just have all the games available on one console? This means UK gamers missed out on the classic Mystical Ninja, Super Street Fighter 2 and the not great but at least different, Super Soccer.

Winner: Mega Drive Mini – It may not have any rare titles, but it has the most games and plenty of classics for Sega fans to delve into. It is just a shame there are no Mega CD titles here.

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Missing titles

All three minis have glaring omissions from their game line-ups that leave most gamers asking: why? Considering that the PC Engine Mini hold 57games and the Mega Drive 40, the SNES’s 21 looks a bit ungenerous to say the least. Yes, some of those games are regional versions, but there is no reason these minis could not hold many more games on them.

Some readers will simply say it is a moot point as you can hack them anyway, but many customers won’t know how or won’t want to. The minis are collector’s pieces and purists won’t want to hack them. Not only that but why should anyone have to? I’m sure Nintendo didn’t say in board meetings ‘Look, let’s leave out some of our best games so people can just hack it anyway’. If you are releasing a console to celebrate your history, then put all of the best games on it!

(Almost all the SNES games you mention as missing are not published by Nintendo themselves, which requires more effort to license. That’s also probably why there are no sports games on the Mega Drive – GC)

Here are my top 10 games that are MIA on each of the minis.

SNES – ActRaiser, Axelay, Cybernator, Legend Of The Mystical Ninja, Parodius, Pilotwings, Plok, Shadowrun, Super Street Fighter 2, and Super Tennis

Mega Drive – Aladdin, Desert Strike, EA Hockey, John Madden Football, Quackshot, Revenge Of Shinobi, Rocket Knight Adventure, Sonic CD, Thunder Force 4, and Virtua Racing

PC Engine – Bloody Wolf, Devil Crash, Liquid Kids, Magical Chase, New Zealand Story, Pac-Land, Rainbow Islands, Son Son 2, Street Fighter 2, and Vigilante

Loser: SNES mini. It’s very strange that the PC Engine Mini is missing arguably its best game in Devil Crash, but with 21 games and deciding to include Kirby Super Star over Pilotwings or ActRaiser, the SNES has to be the biggest loser in terms of missing content.

The overall winner: Mega Drive Mini

All of the minis are great and must-haves for retro gaming fans. None are perfect though and if they all had some more content then it would have been draw across the board. However, Sega got it right the most with the best overall choice of games, a great interface, and two great pads – and all at a very reasonable price.

By reader Relaxed Chimp (PSN ID)

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The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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