Expectations are a nasty thing. They can warp and twist and turn your perception of what something is, focusing instead on what it’s not. I had that sort of reaction to the SEGA Genesis & Mega Drive Classics Hub at first. But I sat back, and I thought about it, and I realized it wasn’t totally fair to judge it on the fact that it was a lackluster front-end with wasted potential. But then there came the other issues.
Genesis Classics Hub is not the worst presentation of an emulation machine I’ve ever seen, but it feels so below average that I wonder what the point of the upgrade even was. Hit the jump to find out why.
The first problem comes in the performance. It’s obvious this is a Unity-powered thing, and I don’t have an issue with SEGA using Unity. It’s a powerful tool in the right hands, can be used to make incredible things. But it seems d3t was the wrong group to contract for this. For as simple as a room with a couple light sources and a few shadows is, it makes my computer crawl even at medium settings at 1080p. Even on the lowest resolution, the max settings still run extremely slowly. I…can’t think of an excuse for this.
It’s not something that at all looks like a demanding set-piece. I know my computer isn’t the hottest thing ever, but this brings it down to a sluggish pace? That’s just a sheer disregard for optimization there. I don’t know what the cause is, perhaps the textures are extremely bloated, maybe a light source is too intense, whatever the cause is, it needs to be fixed. A single room from a single angle should not be running at 20 frames per second. Only benchmark software should do that.
On top of that, there’s so little difference between the five presets that I genuinely wonder why they’re there. The only difference I noticed was the quality of the shadows. Perhaps you can spot the difference, because I certainly can’t.
If the room being unoptimized were the only issue, I could forgive it. But unfortunately, I had my issues with the quality of the emulation as well.
I tested three games, the only ones I have in my library; Gunstar Heroes, Streets of Rage 2, and Golden Axe. They all performed the same, which is a good thing. Uneven performance between available games would be…well, pretty bad. Unfortunately, that performance is not quite perfect.
The first issue is the sound; it’s a little…off. I tested all three games in Fusion 3.64 as well, and it sounded just right. I can’t compare with an actual Genesis, but to me, Hub sounded just slightly wrong. But that’s not the big issue with the sound; that would be the fact it stutters. And this goes into the big issue with the emulator: the slowdown. I can’t begin to explain how much this thing slows down. Games are unplayable because of it. I’m serious, it stutters so much and runs so slowly that actually playing any of these games is a nightmare. And you know what? It’s not quite the emulator’s fault.
You can still launch the original front-end, with the simpler interface and little demo screen. Launching games through that, I had no problem running them. Performance ended up exactly the same as Fusion; buttery smooth, and without those weird sound issues. On top of all of this, it turns out it does run fine inside the Hub…so long as the framerate in the front-end is fine. Running games at 720p with the “Beautiful” preset causes slowdown and stuttering galore in the emulator. Setting it down to “good” results in only mild sound stuttering.
So…the Hub front-end not only runs badly on its own, but it makes games run badly too. Whether or not this is just my computer being weird, I have to ask: this is supposed to be an upgrade?
The one saving grace of the Hub is the official support of ROM hacks through the Steam Workshop. I imagine for a lot of people, this will overshadow the other flaws, and that’s fine. I personally think it’s a fantastic idea, and a wondeful first step in removing the stigma of ROM hacks, making them more widely acceptable, and more widely accessible. No need for confusing patches here; all you gotta do is download the hack off the Workshop, and you’ll find it under that game’s sub-menu, under “Mods.” Then you just click on it, and you’re good to go.
I tried out one hack, simply titled Streets of Rage 2 Except It Makes That Weird Tim Allen Noise When People Die. It works fine, aside from the performance issues mentioned above. The Tim Allen sound is even really crisp! I can’t speak much for hacks that add entirely new assets to games instead of just replacing them, but for all intents and purposes, the ROM hacking is the only thing that works right.
The downside here is that you can only access the hacks from the Hub front-end, there’s no way to load them from the ‘simple’ launcher, as the game calls it. No way to load them directly from the game’s files either; you’re stuck with the Hub. If it performed well, I wouldn’t consider that a problem.
But it is a problem. Why would I use this, which performs badly in and out of the emulator, when I can use Fusion to play my Genesis games at 1080p with no flaws, on top of having ROM hacks still available? There’s no excuse for it. It’s an emulator front-end for a twenty seven year old console. This should not even be close to running poorly. I can commend the effort to make hacks more accessible, but the problem still stands that the thing that uses them is heavily flawed.
As it stands, the SEGA Genesis & Mega Drive Classics Hub is simply not up to snuff of quality. If patches come out that resolve the issues, I’ll definitely reconsider my stance on it, but for right now, it’s just bad.