Review: SEGA Genesis & Mega Drive Classics Hub

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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.

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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.

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Beautiful preset.

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Fast preset.

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.

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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.

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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.

17 responses to “Review: SEGA Genesis & Mega Drive Classics Hub

  1. I actually really enjoyed the hub. It is very simple and the graphics settings really don’t have much difference between them, but on my computer at least, it went very smooth in 1080p on the best settings. I didn’t have any issue with slowdown in any of the games aside from Ristar, but that was alleviated when I went into fullscreen mode. The emulations for each game I tried was good too, but maybe I just don’t know all those minute differences. The only real issue I had was with Alien Soldier. The music sounded so bad that it left me too distracted to play the game, and normally I’m really good at it. My own conclusion is that performance will vary with different computers, which really is true of any PC game.

    The way I see it, while you could just download all these games on any rom site, I like to suppport companies like Sega for bringing out their classics to be played officially on other platforms, especially with enhancements of any sort, because they don’t have to re-release their greatest hits even though they should whenever possible. Maybe this new hub isn’t perfect, but Sega and d3t have their hearts in the right places. Hopefully patches for some problems will be on the way in time.

  2. Centrale says:

    Yeah, I don’t know what kind of rig you’re running but I have the settings maxed here and don’t notice any slowdowns. Maybe you should post the specifications of the system you tested it on so people can get an idea of how their own machines will handle it. Also, I went back and forth playing Gunstar Heroes on the hub and on Fusion and couldn’t hear any audio differences. I think it’s a nice package, although I’d like some better scanline options, I imagine that might be something the modding community can come up with.

  3. The difference between a contract worker and a Sega engineer?

    A Sega engineer has to go to work each day knowing their name, and their company’s name is on their work.

    There was a time when Sega had a PC division of Windows engineers, who knew Direct3D before anyone else. They shipped the first DirectX game ever by a third-party. Sega needs to get back there. Stop outsourcing. Start insourcing.

    • Tasteofink says:

      It worked out so good with taxman remaking sonic cd they prolly wanted to try thier luck again

    • Taxman / Christian Whitehead is a notable exception… but very much the exception. And we know why. It was, and is, his personal passion hacking those games. Frankly, Sonic Team should have hired him long ago. Aside from where he lives (and remote workers should not be a foreign thing to Sega these days), I frankly don’t get why they haven’t.

  4. lenno says:

    Why does Sega bother to outsource at all though? Can somebody please explain what the possible benefits to that are?
    Sega should be well aware that it more often than not leads to mediocrity of their own IPs.

    • Paying less up-front. Hiring a contractor is usually cheaper than keeping an employee on-staff.

      Problem is, you get what you pay for. Games don’t represent your company’s DNA. A House of The Dead game (like, Overkill) doesn’t play as well as one made by Sega developers (like, HoTD 4).

      It might generate sales (and quick cash) – but it tarnishes the brand image overall.

  5. James says:

    If you’re experiencing stuttering and lag, turn off v-sync. Click on the wall clock and uncheck the v-sync option.

    • Thanks. I tried that and it does work. It alleviated the slowdown I got with Ristar before too. It also made me question myself about why I turned on v-sync for a static room corner in the first place too.

    • James says:

      No worries, you didn’t do anything wrong. V-sync was turned on by default until you unchecked it. Now you can enjoy those wonderful games!

  6. Crack says:

    This just sounds like you have a crappy pc that can’t cope with the room.
    Emulation is the same no matter the front end, so you have some problem. As someone suggested, v-sync can cause stuttering sound and graphics.

  7. Moody says:

    To all the performance tips and people saying I have a shit PC: you’re missing the point. Yes, my PC isn’t the best, I acknowledge this in the review. My point was not “argh this runs badly on my PC!!!”, my point was “why would this run badly for anyone?” What about the people with laptops and netbooks that just wanna play their ROM hacks and such? What about people who stream games to their TV? This could introduce lag issues.

    The point I tried to make with this review was “a single room with only like half of it in view with sparse decorations shouldn’t run poorly on anybody’s system.”

    • Crack says:

      But it runs fine on most systems..

    • I didn’t mean to suggest Moody’s PC isn’t up to snuff and I hope no one pesters him about it. After all, he does have a point. A static, 3D room like this isn’t exactly Crysis 3 and even the most modest of PCs from the 2010’s shouldn’t have trouble running it even on lower settings.

      Also, I’ve since played Alien Soldier in the “Simple Launcher” and the music sounded just fine, so as Moody said, it does appear to be a lesser quality emulator in the new hub. I don’t get why they had to switch to a lesser quality emulator when the last one did the job perfectly. Even if it’s just one game it has trouble with, it’s something that really should be patched.

  8. Gamma says:

    Anyway to get this hub running on an android cell phone? I see you can get the Steam app for the android on the GooglePlay shop.

    • The Steam app for Android is only for talking with friends on Steam, browsing the store, making purchases, and managing your profile. You can’t actually play you Steam games on your phone or tablet with it.

  9. Da Blu Hedgie says:

    If you run the games full screen you won’t have these issues. If you’re using a controller, then press and hold Y when you launch the game. Unfortunately the TV effect stays though.

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