Sega Genesis Flashback review: Sega Genesis Flashback made me appreciate the NES Classic even more

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The Good The Sega Genesis Flashback has wireless controllers, save game slots and it works with HDTVs. It comes with dozens of preinstalled games, and even works with original Genesis controllers and old game cartridges.

The Bad Audio and video quality often falls short of the original, and gameplay can get laggy. Menus and interface get confusing. 28 of the 85 games are random crapware.

The Bottom Line AtGames' newest Sega Genesis retro console adds HDMI and improved wireless controllers, and even plays original cartridge games, but it ain't no NES Classic.

My entire childhood was spent in front of Sega systems. I got the Master System when I was recovering from appendicitis. I had the Genesis, the Sega CD and 32X, and the Saturn and Dreamcast. Even Game Gear. I've owned Genesis game compilations. I've downloaded Sega 3D Classics on the Nintendo 3DS. You get the idea.

I was really excited about the Sega Genesis Flashback: it's an HDMI-equipped nostalgia box for Sega games, and on paper it sounds like Sega's answer to the SNES Classic. And, even though it arrives in September -- along with a similar Atari Flashback model -- I got to play an early version of the system over the past week.

If only reality were as good as the fantasy.

AtGames has made many Sega Genesis retro-boxes with preloaded games in the past, and this redesigned, revamped hardware seemed like the answer to my dreams. It comes with two wireless controllers. It has 85 games preinstalled! It can play old Genesis cartridges, too, and use your old controllers.

It also made me realize how good the NES Classic really is.

With that caveat firmly in place, here's what it's like to play with the Sega Genesis Flashback.

Editors' note: We're withholding a rating on this product until we can compare build quality and performance on a second review sample that will be arriving soon. Expect an update in the near future.

Now playing: Watch this: Sega Genesis Flashback: unboxing my childhood

It's not 85 games, it's 57 (plus random junk)

57 games is great, especially compared to the mere 21 on the upcoming Super NES Classic, or 30 on the now-gone NES Classic. But you're not getting all the games you'd necessarily expect.

Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2 and Sonic and Knuckles (but not Sonic 3, oddly) are onboard. So are Phantasy Star 2, 3 and 4, all of them great classic RPGs. Also, Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Vectorman, and other games that might be familiar to anyone who's played previous Sega Genesis compilations.

The full list includes 45 Genesis games, plus, weirdly, seven Sega Master System games from the 8-bit console before Genesis (hello, original Phantasy Star!), and five games that were on Sega's short-lived handheld game system, Game Gear. The remaining 28 games are largely a bunch of odd bloatware like "Checker," "Curling 2010," "Mr. Balls" and "Plumbing Contest," of the sort of quality you'd get on the back of an airline seat.

Sega Genesis Flashback

Looks great, but it doesn't feel great.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It doesn't feel durable

Unlike the no longer available NES Classic, Genesis Flashback feels half-baked. The review unit we got was lightweight and flimsy-feeling. The controllers feel like cheap Funcoland knockoffs, with a floppy d-pad and hard-to-press hollow-feeling buttons. They use AAA batteries, and have to be unscrewed to put the batteries in. I'd rather have wires.

The system we used also had some construction issues. The power button, which slides back and forth like the original Genesis, got stuck and slid partway under the housing of this early review unit, bending the case out a bit at the seam. This isn't encouraging.

Sega Genesis Flashback

Everything handles less impressively than you'd expect.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Weird controls

The menu and interface are hard to navigate, too, and the whole design feels more like an emulator box than something that feels actually official. It's all... a little low-rent, especially when compared to the stellar overall feel of the NES Classic. Which is funny, because I didn't even think the NES Classic was all that stellar when I first played it. In comparison, it's a first-class ticket.

In games, pressing the "Menu" button brings up a sub-screen to save games or quit out of games. A separate "Replay" button brings up a built-in game rewind feature that goes back 6 seconds in anything that's played. That's nice for "undying," but it feels like an old Game Genie cheat code baked into the hardware.

Sega Genesis Flashback

You can play it all, if you've got the plastic.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Genesis does what Nintendon't: Cartridges

The Genesis Flashback does have one clever trick up its sleeve that the NES Classic and SNES Classic don't: It can play old Genesis cartridges. That's a fantastic perk for anyone who has a stash of old games. But curb your enthusiasm a bit. The games load slowly, as if they're caching or being copied temporarily to the system's memory (you have to wait for a progress bar to finish). And the system ends up copying what looks like seven folders with the game's name on them. It looks weird. Click on one, and the game begins. Why does this happen? I have no idea.

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