Nearly 23 years since it’s initial release in Japan, Blaze brings us a rehashed portable version of the Sega Mega Drive. With extra features such as the built in SD card slot to access a library of ROMs, how does it hold up to the original?
The original Sega Mega Drive launched in Japan in October 1988, since then it has become an iconic console worldwide which set many standards still in use today. With such an influential background and large following of fans, Blaze enters rocky territory with the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Handheld.
Priced at £39.99, the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Handheld comes with 20 built in games, a large 2.8” LCD display, rechargeable battery, TV out functionality, but best of all an SD card slot. Blaze’s previous Sega releases were limited to a small selection of games included (presumably due to copyright issues), however the new SD card slot addition opens up the device to just about every game ever released under the Mega Drive name to date.
First impressions of the Sega Ultimate
Upon opening the package containing the Sega Ultimate inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of effort that has been put into the package design. While it may not be the most important aspect to note, it’s certainly pleasing getting your hands on hardware that feels more expensive than the initial price tag. The swish flip top box opens up to reveal a well packaged device, sat rather snug in the plastic container inside.
Packaging aside, the device itself looks and feels fantastic. The sleek orange and black design screams retro while maintaining that modern feel. It’s an incredibly light handheld and the controls feel very comfortable once in hand. At just under 2cm thick, it’s the perfect portable Sega Mega Drive for any journey putting the rather expensive and bulky Sega Nomad to shame.
But the real selling point of this device is one we are yet to discover...
Pixel perfect 16-bit action
Within seconds of powering the handheld on for the first time, you’re guaranteed to be shocked by how crisp the device’s LCD screen is. With previous iterations using outdated technology and the likes of the Sega Nomad suffering from screen blur, the Sega Ultimate puts them all to shame with its pixel perfect display.
The 2.8” screen packs every pixel in so carefully, displaying each game thrown at it in much better quality than you’d see from traditional hardware on screen. Even the in game action remains crisp when there is plenty of motion on screen, something rarely seen in budget handhelds today.
Once powered up, the device boots into an in built menu with the 20 built in games on offer to select from. While the menu structure and user interface isn’t the most friendly, we have little complaints here as it only takes a matter of seconds to find your game of choice.
From the get go, the device offers the following games built into the hardware:
Sonic & Knuckles, Shinobi III, Golden Axe, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Alien Storm, Crack Down, Altered Beast, Arrow Flash, Columns III, Decap Attack, Ecco the Dolphin, Ecco Jr, ESWAT - City Under Siege, Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Flicky, Gain Ground, Jewel Master, Kid Chameleon, Shadow Dancer and Sonic Spinball
Despite there being more than enough classics included in this bundle, the real power comes from the SD card expansion slot on the top side of the handheld. The device however is rather fussy when it comes to ROMs. It requires ROMs placed on card to be in .bin format and will ignore anything else on the card. While most Mega Drive ROMs online are found in .smd or .md format, a quick rename should solve any issues here.
With an SD card packed to the brim of ROMs, you will need to browse to the third page of the inbuilt menu to select SD card. Here is loads up the menu again, only this time with your selection of ROMs on card on screen. While not life threatening, it must be noted that the device orders your selection in the order they were placed onto the SD card.
Sega Ultimate Compatibility
With 23 years since release it’s safe to say the same chips used in the original Sega Mega Drive consoles are no longer as accessible as they used to be. The Sega Ultimate comes packed with hardware as close to the original as possible, however there are to be a few issues expected.
The main issue which is often a common talking point with new Sega hardware is the sound chip used, sadly the Sega Ultimate is no different here. The hardware does it’s absolute best to emulate as close as possible to the original chip, however the slightly higher pitch and mixed volume channels are far from perfect.
ROM compatibility is another issue to consider. While we have had a near 99% compatibility success rate with the ROMs we have tried, there are still a few which refuse to play nice. Sensible Soccer displays a rolling screen in game, Fantastic Dizzy’s music is muted and Panorama Cotton flickers in game. Games requiring a save battery should also be noted as not working, as unfortunately the device is yet to incorporate save functionality for the likes of the Phantasy Star series and Landstalker.
Given the wealth of ROMs which are working flawlessly from the massive library of games, it’s easy to forget the few which struggle on the modern hardware. Even the largest of games such as Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition, Alien Soldier, Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Streets of Rage 3 show next to no problems whatsoever. And more importantly, the classics not already bundled with the device such as Sonic the Hedgehog 1, Revenge of Shinobi, Gunstar Heroes, Road Rash II, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Mega Bomberman all play fine.
Sega Ultimate Gameplay Video
Those who already own a Sega Mega Drive can still gain a great deal from owning one of the Sega Ultimate handhelds. With a large selection of titles fetching over £50 on eBay now, instant access can be granted to these on the Sega Ultimate with just a few clicks. And those yet to own a Sega Mega Drive should find more than enough features to get them started in the wonderful world of 16-bit gaming.
With the few issues aside above, the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Handheld is an absolute steal at £39.99. For this one time investment you’ll be instantly granted access to 99% of the Sega Mega Drive back catalogue.
RetroCollect Verdict: A must have for all Retro and Sega Fans!