Blaze Sega Mega Drive Portable

The Sega Mega Drive was the first video game system I really, truly fell for, and it's ultimately responsible for kick-starting my arguably unhealthy obsession with interactive entertainment.

So you can imagine the intense excitement that occured when the postman handed over a package containing Blaze's latest handheld gizmo.

This diminutive little console encapsulates twenty choice (and not so choice) cuts of Mega Drive gaming and is small enough to slip almost unnoticed into your pocket (something that cannot be said of Sega's own attempt to create a mobile version of its 16-bit console: the ill-fated Nomad was gigantic).

The unit is slightly larger than a Game Boy Micro and runs off three AAA batteries. The lack of a rechargeable power unit is something of a disappointment, especially when you consider that the Game Boy Advance SP was packing one half a decade ago, but the inclusion of one would have almost certainly resulted in Blaze's machine retailing for considerably more than its current £29.99 price tag.

Build quality is solid and the unit feels sturdy enough to endure prolonged travelling. The D-pad and buttons are excellent, offering precise and accurate control over the on-screen proceedings.

Other design elements of note are a volume dial, headphone output and another 3.5mm interface for hooking the machine up to a TV set.

The LCD screen is something of a let down, and it looks rather lacklustre when placed alongside the pin-sharp display of the aforementioned Game Boy Micro.

While the screen is bright, colourful and mercifully blur-free (long-suffering Game Gear and Nomad owners will be pleased), it lacks clarity and has a curiously 'speckled' appearance that often makes in-game text difficult to read.

It's clear that this isn't a top-of-the-range LCD screen, but again this is understandable when you consider the modest price.

The Mega Drive was never the most capable machine when it came to sound, but there's no denying that many titles in Sega's catalogue boasted excellent musical scores. Blaze's unit features a solitary speaker - located just below the fascia buttons - which struggles slightly when the volume is above 50 per cent.

Plugging in a pair of headphones grants true stereo sound and is consequently a much better option, but the replication of some of the music and sound effects is a little inaccurate when compared to the original releases (although in all honesty only obsessive Sega fanboys like myself will notice the difference).

With the hardware dissected, it's time to get stuck into what is unquestionably the most important feature of this unit - the pre-loaded software.

It was never going to be easy to pick twenty titles that will appeal to everyone, and while we can moan about notable omissions (wherefore art thou Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi and Sonic?) what's present will appease anyone in search of decent portable entertainment.

Highlights include Sonic & Knuckles, Shinobi III (aka Super Shinobi II), Golden Axe, Alien Storm, Shadow Dancer, Ecco the Dolphin, Flicky, Decap Attack and ESWAT - all of these titles are true classics of the 16-bit era and will keep you captivated for hours on end.

Filling up the mid-table positions are the likes of Columns III, Kid Chameleon, Crack Down, Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle, Altered Beast, Jewel Master, Ecco Jr and Dr Roboinik's Mean Bean Machine.

While none of these games can be ranked as AAA releases, they're worth investigation and offer a reasonable amount of enjoyment.

Following up the rear are the dregs of the bunch. Gain Ground, Sonic Spinball and Arrow Flash could hardly have been considered must-have titles when they were first released almost two decades ago; by today's standards they're positively woeful.

Naturally, if you count yourself a hardcore Sega aficionado then you may disagree with my opinion on the above titles; as with all retro games, the appeal is often more about reliving old memories rather than basking in quality gameplay.

Altered Beast, for instance, is widely regarded as a shambling mockery of a game by esteemed critics worldwide, but playing it reminds me of when I first got my machine way back in 1989, and I happen to find the unashamedly kitsch setting to be incredibly engaging ('Wise fwom your gwave', indeed).

Some may bicker about the omission of the myriad excellent role playing titles that appeared during the Mega Drive's lifetime, but this can be excused by the unit's lack of a save feature.

As nice as it would have been to count Phantasy Star IV or Shining Force II amongst the twenty games, we can't imagine that many people would have the willpower to play for 30+ hours without switching the unit off (in fact it's doubtful the AAA batteries would even last that long).

Naturally it would have been excellent for this portable wonder to feature a fully-functional cartridge slot so you could run actual Mega Drive carts, but again you have to consider what ramifications this would have had on the price.

At just under thirty notes this is roughly the same value as a Nintendo DS game, yet for that reasonable sum you're getting twenty different titles housed in eminently likeable (and highly portable) hardware.

In fact, further investigation reveals that this package represents astonishingly good value for money; according to my trusty abacus, to purchase all of these games on Nintendo's Wii-based Virtual Console download service would cost you well over £100.

Blaze's portable wonder may have its shortcomings, and not all of the included titles hit the spot, but for the asking price this is a tremendously alluring investment.

If you're keen to relive the good old days when gameplay ruled over graphics, then we strongly advise you to don your rose-tinted specs and snap one of these babies up at the earliest possible opportunity.

You can order one of these mobile marvels from Blaze's online store.

Blaze Sega Mega Drive Portable

We'd have liked a better screen and the selection of games isn't as perfect as it possibly could have been, but only the most cold-hearted of gamers would argue that Blaze's retro-tastic handheld isn't worth every penny of its £29.99 asking price