Sega’s latest retro gaming machine, the Astro City Mini, sits on the back of two very different products: the great and crowd-pleasing Genesis Mini and the embarrassing but adorable Game Gear Micro. The former was an obvious mainstream play, and the latter was esoterica’s full swing.
The Astro City Mini spans both approaches. With an all-in-one miniature reproduction of a certain type of arcade cabinet with 37 games preloaded, many people’s retro console bingo cards wouldn’t have it. However, the finished product runs very well and should be considered essential for Sega fans.
I bought the Astro City Mini a few months ago when it launched in Japan. I wanted to write about it, but I always found an excuse to check the catalog first. Well, it’s now Limited Run Games has just announced that it will be selling limited systems in the US in localized packaging. Only 3,500 pieces are sold for $129.99 on Friday.
Unlike the various consoles that have recently been recreated in miniature form, Astro City wasn’t the specific system that designed the game. A cabinet sold by Sega to help arcade owners fit into a variety of game boards, it has proven to be one of the most popular and iconic cabinets ever produced. Even today, you can find units in many Japanese arcades that host many games.
That said, Sega had a lot of freedom when choosing which titles to include in the Astro City Mini. Ultimately, it has been settled in 37 games representing a unique and diverse selection of the company’s arcade history from the following giants. Virtua Fighter To lesser-known titles Dark edges I have never received a home release before.
The Mini hardware is thick and sturdy with Sega’s typical meticulous attention to detail. You can also purchase a $39.99 “Style Kit” that includes a customizable marquee, small stool, and riser with coin slots and use it as a money bank. If there is one thing Sega has done very well lately, Yakuza Games), making cute replicas in the heyday of hardware. The Astro City Mini is no different.
However, there are some drawbacks. For some reason, Sega thought it would be a good fit to use a 16:9 display, even if there were no games running on the widescreen. Most are 4:3 and some are portrait shooters. The only thing that actually fills the screen is the main menu. You can fill the filler box with a few themed borders, but the panel selection feels like a big compromise, as there’s clearly room for a 4:3 screen here. SNK’s similar but much smaller Neo Geo Mini has a decent 4:3 panel with a higher vertical height than what you get from the Astro City Mini.
The Neo Geo Mini didn’t have a good HDMI output, but the Astro City Mini looks a lot better on the TV screen. The image quality is much cleaner, and at least you can benefit a bit from the wider menu, which allows you to shuffle some screenshots and read the basics about each game before you start. (Most of the games on the Astro City Mini are in Japanese, but most of the text is fairly minimal, and the system menu is fully switchable to English.)
Unfortunately, one factor that Astro City Mini shares with Neo Geo Mini is the lack of built-in battery. This is a complaint about systems that have their own screens. It would be much more convenient and practical if you could use it without being tied to a wall or USB battery pack. Things are actually worse than the Neo Geo Mini because Sega decided to use Micro USB instead of USB-C.
However, there is one area where the Astro City Mini removes the Neo Geo Mini, which is far more important to the overall success of the product. The built-in controls are fantastic. SNK inexplicably used analog-style sticks in their 2D arcade cabinets, but Sega has a small but nicely clickable stick and responsive tactile buttons on the Astro City Mini. It feels like a high-quality arcade stick struck by a shrinking ray, and when combined with a riser, it instantly pulls the Astro City Mini from “fun desk toy” to “a legitimate way to play this game”.
If you plan to play the Astro City Mini on most TVs, you’d better opt for an additional controller for $27.99. Especially because the regular USB pad I tried didn’t work. Fortunately, the Astro City theme designed by Sega is superb with a smooth circular D-pad and an arcade-style 6 button layout. Although not sold by Limited Run Games, there are also full-size Astro City arcade sticks released in Japan by Sega.
The choice of games for Astro City Mini may not be what I expected. This is because most of the titles were released before the cabinet actually debuted in 1993. The oldest games here are: FlickyIt came from Sega’s System 1 board in 1984, and the latest version is in 1994. Puyo Puyo 2 For C2. Other than the 1993 polygon Virtua Fighter, The lineup can basically be seen as a well-organized journey through Sega’s 3D pre-arcade history. There are notable omissions such as: Run to win, But perhaps as much to do with the stick-based control scheme as the others.
All the games included are original arcade versions, not the generally inferior ports found on the Master System and Genesis. That said, unlike most re-releases, you’ll get a standard version of the following large Sega games: Space harrier, Fantasy zone, Shinobi, And more. Emulation seems to be generally good. The only game that stands out to me Virtua Fighter, There is a slight lag and runs at a higher resolution than expected.
For me, the main selling point of Astro City Mini is games with limited or non-existent home releases. Dark edges Is a pre-polygon proto-3D fighting game that pushes boundaries, looks and plays differently than others. if It’s a great scrolling shooter only from Western TurboGrafx-CD and Neo Geo Pocket Color. Arabian Fight It’s a technically impressive beat m-up that never left the arcade. Rad Mobile It’s Sega’s first 32-bit game and the first to feature Sonic the Hedgehog (like a toy hanging from a car’s mirror), but the only home release is for Sega Saturn and has never left Japan. Death Adder’s Revenge It’s the most advanced item in the Golden Ax series, but so far it’s been exclusively for arcades.
The Astro City Mini’s lineup isn’t comprehensive, but it wasn’t really possible. It’s easy to wonder about the missing title. if Virtua Fighter Make it up, why not Virtua RacingE.g? And three Pillar Do you really need a game? But what’s here is a powerful collection that combines major names with deep cuts and should be occupied by arcade game fans for a long time.
The Astro City Mini is a strange and niche product with weird flaws, but I have no choice but to help with it. The game is great and the hardware is fun to play. This is ultimately what really matters. It seems to be a good middle ground between Genesis Mini’s nostalgic charm and Game Gear Micro’s obscure charm, while at the same time making a better coin bank.
That is why the US release is at a low level, but I’m happy. If you’re a fan of a certain kind of Sega or fans of arcade games in general, you’ll want to pick one.
Photo from Sam Byford / The Verge