Analogue makes the 16-bit console clone wars a reality with Mega Sg
A new way to play Genesis... and Master System... and SG-1000....
When Analogue Co. launched its Super NES clone console Super Nt earlier this year, one of the most common questions to follow in its wake concerned the prospect of expanded compatibility. Would the Super Nt go the way of the original NES-compatible Nt Mini and offer a jailbreak feature making the console compatible with software from other systems? The Nt Mini is easily the most versatile 8-bit commercial device ever created, offering rock-solid support for more than a dozen different systems beyond the NES itself. Would Super Nt become the same all-in-one machine for the 16-bit era?
It looks like the answer to that question is "no," as Analogue has just announced a companion system for the Super Nt. Their upcoming SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive clone, Mega Sg, will exist alongside the Super Nt rather than within it. Disappointing as that may be for Super Nt owners who were hoping to score a twofer freebie with their purchase, the Mega Sg feature set goes a long way toward justifying the separate release.
Like the Super Nt, the Mega Sg will contain a field programmable gate array (FPGA) core that simulates the Genesis's chip rather than emulating the console via software. While FPGAs are hardly some magic bullet, at their best they can render a console's original software without the lag introduced by emulation, and without the need for special-case patches to account for oddball games. Analogue's cores to date, programmed by highly respected engineer Kevin Horton, have been top flight; while not 100% perfect, they've come close, and Horton has been diligent about offering fixes to correct known issues. Given that track record, there's no reason to assume Mega Sg won't continue that trend.
More importantly, the Mega Sg offers compatibility with just about every SEGA console that predates the Saturn. The system can run everything up through the benighted 32X (32X capablities aren't included "yet," teases company spokesperson Christopher Taber). That includes support for 8-bit devices, including the Master System, the Japanese Mark III, and even the SG-1000. While games for those older consoles will run on Genesis by way of the Power Base Converter add-on, the Power Base introduced minor imperfections similar to the speed discrepancy in Nintendo's original Super Game Boy peripheral. Horton's 8-bit SEGA cores were included in the Nt Mini's jailbreak, and they run without a hitch, which means the Mega Sg should be a more capable 8-bit SEGA player than the actual Genesis.
Unlike the Nt Mini, the Mega Sg will allow SEGA fans to play their 8-bit libraries without resorting to ROMs. Analogue will be shipping a set of cartridge converters for the system next year, allowing players to use actual Master System carts and cards on the Sg. The Master System adapter will be included in the box, while the others will be sold separately—understandably, given the esoteric nature of, say, SC-3000 software. There had been talk of similar converters for the Nt Mini to allow a more legitimate approach to playing Game Boy and Atari 7800 games, but those never materialized. These adapters, on the other hand, are part of the core concept behind the Mega Sg.
The Mega Sg also includes an additional feature that helps set it apart from the company's Nintendo offerings, and which further justify its existence as a standalone device separate from the Super Nt: SEGA CD compatibility. The Mega Sg houses a connector that will allow SEGA fans to plug in either model of the SEGA CD add-on. This is one of the more complex features of the SEGA Genesis family, and I'm curious to see how (or if) 32X support can be added given the fact that the "tower of power) (a combined Genesis, SEGA CD, and 32X) involved a great number of cables and alternate video connections. Like the Super Nt, the Mega Sg only ships with digital video-out via HDMI, which would seem to prohibit any aftermarket addition of 32X hardware support. "What I'd really love to do is just implement the entire 32x in FPGA directly on Mega Sg," says Taber. "No need for the original 32x hardware then."
Some of the more esoteric particulars of SEGA's console history remain to be determined as well. Does the Mark III/Master System core support the Japan-only FM synthesis module that boosted music and sound quality on certain games like Phantasy Star? How about the Light Phazer (unlikely) or the Master System's active shutter 3D glasses (potentially)? For the moment, Analogue won't speak to these questions. "Not quite ready to get into the hardcore details on the cartridge adapter systems we'll be supporting next year," says Taber, "but you can count on us bringing support for every little detail and taking feedback from users and continuing development just like we did with Super Nt!" These obscure corners of SEGA history; most people won't care about those details, but ideally the Mega SG will account for the rare use cases that appeal to SEGA's most die-hard fans.
For those who prefer to do their cloned gaming on vintage televisions, Taber says that a digital-analog converter "has been done for a long time now, we just haven't had time to get it out the door to everyone. It will be compatible with Super Nt, Mega Sg and all future Analogue systems."
The Mega Sg form factor resembles the Super Nt—compact, sleek, and slightly rounded—and will come in four different color schemes designed to echo the Genesis and Mega Drive models of different regions. The clear Super Nt has been replaced with an all-white Mega Sg, which shouldn't come as a big surprise given the generally negative reaction the transparent model received. While the Mega Sg includes two standard controller ports, Analogue will also offer optional six-button 8bitdo controllers designed to match the system's colorways. My own experience with 8bitdo's products hasn't been great (my Super Nt controller refuses to stay in sleep mode and has to be plugged in constantly, which rather defeats the purpose of a wireless controller), but others seem to like them.
The real test of the Mega Sg, of course, will be how well it duplicates the SEGA Genesis gaming experience. Previous Analogue systems have been excellent, but the Genesis has a few tricky elements, most notably its extremely difficult-to-duplicate audio chip. The system is available for preorder now at Analogue's site, but we probably won't be able to properly kick the tires until the console ships next April. There's no reason not to expect the best, though, and certainly the Mega Nt will perform a lot more faithfully than SEGA's existing clone consoles. At $189 for the core unit, it won't precisely be cheap, but it nevertheless seems like it will be the easiest and most affordable way to play SEGA's vast library of 8- and 16-bit software in high definition. (You seriously don't want to know the kind of hell I had to endure to get my own tower of power up and running for HD capture.)