[Games/Retro/Tech] Review: Mega Drive Ultimate Arcade Portable

Of all the many 16-bit systems I’ve owned or emulated, the machine to which I continually return is the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis to those of you in the US). True, it was never as technically advanced as the SNES, as versatile as the Amiga, or as Arcade-perfect as the Neo-Geo AES, but there’s something about the system that still appeals even now, more than twenty years after its launch. Perhaps it’s my familiarity with the software library. While I never owned a Mega Drive myself (until a few years ago), lots of my mates did – and two player sessions of Streets of Rage, Sensible Soccer, Street Fighter II were always fun. So now I regularly fire up my Mega Drive emulator, either on my laptop or my Wii and get stuck in to classics like Sonic 2 and NBA Jam.

It therefore took all of about four seconds after I first caught sight of Blaze’s new handheld Mega Drive compatible console for me to decide I had to own one. It’s not the first time Blaze has come out with a handheld MD, the manufacturer does have the official licence from Sega, after all. The previous models included a few built-in titles, of varying quality, and were usually marketed around the one triple-A title amongst each offering – Streets of Rage for example. This time though the machine has an ace up its sleeve. While still offering the usual 20 pack-in titles, including Ecco the Dolphin, Golden Axe and Sonic and Knuckles amongst others, it also features an SD card slot, allowing the full catalogue of Mega Drive ROMS to be added to the console’s library.

Blaze Sega Mega Drive Arcade Ultimate Portable - not the snappiest name

Blaze Sega Mega Drive Arcade Ultimate Portable - not the snappiest name

The machine itself is fairly impressive. About the size of iPhone, except one fifth longer, it’s sturdily built of matte black plastic, with orange accents on the side of the case and surrounding the buttons and d-pad. It’s no PSP, but it certainly feels the equal of a Game Gear or an Atari Lynx. It’s light and pocketable – all you could ask of a handheld. In terms of controls there’s a slightly flimsy d-pad on the left. It isn’t awful, but it’s not as good as the original Mega Drive controller, and not a patch on the SNES equivalent. Under the right thumb there are A,B and C buttons as well as X, Y and Z buttons for full compatibility with later games (the X,Y and Z buttons were missing from earlier Blaze units). Start and Menu buttons complete the fascia. On the top of the unit you’ll find a standard USB-mini socket for charging, the SD card slot and an old-school volume dial. There’s also an AV out socket that allows the console to be hooked up to a TV for big-screen fun. On the bottom of the console there’s the on-off switch (this a hard, on off, not a game-preserving standby switch like on the PSP) and a standard headphone socket.

About the same size as an iPhone, only a fifth longer, and half the weight

About the same size as an iPhone, only a fifth longer, and half the weight

The screen, positioned centrally, between the d-pad and the buttons, is about 3 inches corner to corner, and is relatively bright and responsive, with little ghosting or motion blur, though it does have a slightly blue colour cast on my example. When all is said and done it’s pretty respectable for under £40. Even better news is the fact that the batteries aren’t the typical AA affair. The unit features a built-in battery pack than can be recharged from a USB socket using the included (standard) cable.

Fire up the machine and after a second or two you’re greeted by a simple but functional menu of games. Ten to a page, you scroll down the list with the d-pad, revealing a screenshot of each game on the right. Left and right button presses flip between the two pages of built-in games and the all-important SD-card option. It only takes a couple of seconds for the console to parse the contents of an SD card once to menu option is selected, good news if there are hundreds of title on the card. ROMs must be stored in a folder called ‘game’ something that the console makes clear with an on-screen prompt, but one of many requirements that aren’t mentioned in the meagre instruction booklet. My ROMs are in .bin format, which worked fine, so would seem to be the best bet if you’re wondering. Annoyingly the games list doesn’t seem to want to parse alphabetically, a bit of an issue if you fill an SD card with hundreds of titles (yes I know you need to own a legal copy of the original to use a dumped ROM, but there are terrible, evil, dishonest people out there who might just download a complete ROMset from somewhere, damn them).That can make it a bit of a pain to hunt though a long list for specific games. Streets of Rage 3 should definitely not appear eight pages ahead of Streets of Rage 2 for instance. It’s a clumsy system, but it only adds a few seconds inconvenience to the process of getting a game up and running.

The picture becomes somewhat rosier once you load up a ROM. It takes about five seconds from button press to splash screen, a barely noticeable delay. Almost every game I tried with the unit worked, though I had some trouble with the controls not registering on some American ROMs, so I decided to stick to European dumps and a few other titles had issues where the video would roll or be half off the top of the screen (I assume this is a PAL/NTSC thing). Everything else plays perfectly faithfully. Don’t forget, this isn’t an emulator, it is basically the Mega Drive chipset in vastly reduced form. Sonic is just as fast as he was on the MD first time around, and that relatively blur-free screen really makes fast moving games a pleasure.

Sonically it isn’t the greatest bit of kit on earth. The built in speaker is weedy, though surprisingly loud. Headphones marginally improve things, but fans of the Mega Drive’s underpowered sound chip might be disappointed with the overall quality.

All in all, for £39.99 (plus the cost of an SD card) you can’t go wrong. You get a cute handheld with a rechargeable battery and SD slot that is capable of carrying and playing the entire Mega Drive library. Best of all its such a cheap machine that you can toss it in a pocket or a bag without fearing the odd scratch or scrape (hello brand-new PSP). For 16-bit fans on the go, it’s a no-brainer.

8/10

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Categories: Games, Retro, Tech

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sega MegaDrive Arcade Ultimate Portable mit SD-Kartenslot « Das Handheldblog - April 4, 2011

    […] Review […]

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