AT Games has been making Genesis clone systems for a while now. However, most of the efforts have come up short with mixed results in the past. More recently, they released the $40 Sega Genesis Classic. That system is riddled with horrible sound issues and spotty emulation. On top of that, the games look splotchy, only allowing its users to output the image through traditional composite cables instead of HDMI. In fact, there has not been a purely Genesis clone on the market that has even attempted to output through HDMI. Enter the Sega Genesis Flashback.
The Sega Genesis Flashback will set you back roughly $70 – $80 depending on where you get it from. Its built into a very light plastic shell that looks like a Model 1 Genesis but its much smaller than the real thing and includes an HDMI port to display games in 720p and two traditional controller ports for using wired controllers if you choose to do so. The box also includes two 2.4Ghz wireless Six Button controllers that are powered by two AAA batteries, the obvious power adapter and an HDMI cable. While the controllers are made of the same light weight plastic that the console is made of, they rest quite comfortable in your hand. Like the original Six Button Controllers, the dpad and buttons are quite responsive. They do feel a little different though because the bottom row is actually con-vexed and not con-caved like the originals. Personally, I like this design a little better and the setup worked well with the included fighting games built into the system as well as some others physical cartridges that I tested as well (More on that later).
Speaking of games, this system includes 85 of them built into the unit. However, this can be a bit deceptive because not all of them are actual Genesis games. Half of them are homebrew titles while Sega Master System and Game Gear titles have also been mixed into the various Genesis classics included on this compilation. Unlike the SNES Classic, the Flashback also includes a fully functional cartridge slot for those of us who still own Genesis Cartridges in our collections. The cartridge slot is well made and does not grip the cartridges too loose or too tight (unlike the Hyperkin Retron 3’s incredibly cheap and clingy cheap plastic slots.) While there are some questionable choices made in the game selection such as not including any of the Streets of Rage games, this system is actually a haven for classic Genesis RPGs with greats like Shining in the Darkness, Shining Force I & II, all four Phantasy Star games and Defenders of Oasis. There are quite literally hundreds of hours of game play between these titles alone. In addition to these greats, it also includes all three Genesis Shinobi games, Golden Axe I, II and III, many of the Sonic the Hedgehog games and many more.
The sound emulation on the Flashback is much better than the sound emulation on the Classic. Also, while the original Sega Genesis Model One output mono sound through white and yellow composite jack setup, the Flashback outputs it in full stereo sound. It takes a little getting used to since most are used to the single channel used in the old system. However, the more you play, the more you begin to realize how much of an upgrade this actually is for the system. While there are some changes and the sound emulation is not completely perfect on a game to game basis, this is certainly the best effort that AT Games had put forth into any of their Genesis clones.
In terms of the interface, it looks clean but controls really weird. While you can use the dpad to cycle through the games, you must use B & C to move up and down in between the categories. While it is fairly easy to pick up, its just an odd design choice that may confuse some people.
Graphically, I noticed that the emulator uses a little bit of frameskip to speed up certain titles. One thing I noticed is that actual cartridges tend to run a little faster than the roms built into the system. This most likely happens because of the additional hardware built into cartridges working together with the system hardware. Note however that the emulation does not work with every cartridge. Games like Virtua Racing, Super Street Fighter II and NBA Jam simply do not detect due to the way the hardware is made for those carts. However, the cartridge slot is still one of the Flashback’s best features. Nothing beats being able to play an old game on a completely, graphically updated format. While the graphics look clean in 720p, the one thing I wish AT Games included was the option to turn on VSync to avoid screen tearing. While it is not a major issue with all games, it does get a little noticeable after certain levels. I have also noticed that turning on the screen filter helps a bit when dealing with this minor issue.
Like I said, how the system performs is on a game to game basis. Most of the games I tried out worked well despite a few oddities with Sonic the Hedgehog I and II where the sound would occasionally slowdown. However, when I put in my Streets of Rage 2 cartridge, It ran almost flawless, which is what one should look for in decent emulation.
Overall, while the Flashback has some small issues, its an overall step in the right direction for the company. The controls are responsive, the sound has been vastly improved and the games still play the way they should for the most part. If you are looking for a great holiday gift to play with the family or a base level emulation console for playing you old cartridges in HD, this is a great system to own. While its not perfect, it proves the old adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. If AT Games continues to improve this, they will become a bigger contender in this market. Normally, I do not give a score at the end of my reviews. However, I believe this review needs one so I give the Sega Genesis Flashback a 78/100. The system gets a lot of things right but some questionable design decisions and the need for improvement hamper what is actually a decent system. Its definitely worth owning though when you consider how much it would cost to buy all of these games individually plus the amount it would cost to purchase an upscaler for your original Sega Genesis.