Arcade / SEGA

SEGA's Astro Mini City V is compact arcade journey to the past

Mini arcades are all the rage and SEGA’s Astro Mini City V slots right into the market near the top, thanks to its immense arcade history (RIP).

Last year, Sega released the original Astro City Mini, which was a celebration of the company’s arcade roots. It was literally a tiny arcade cabinet, complete with an excellent joystick and six clacky buttons. Hardware-wise, the City Mini V is largely the same as the original, but with one big difference: the built-in 4.6-inch LCD screen is vertical. Because of this, the new device only features vertically oriented arcade games. This means it actually has fewer included titles compared to the original, despite being more expensive. (The original Astro City Mini has 37 included games for $129.99, while the V has 23 games for $159.99.)

That might sound like a regression, and it definitely will be for some users. But the Astro City Mini V is designed to appeal to one very specific type of retro game fan: people who love shmups. The machine is basically a curated playlist of excellent shoot ‘em ups that span different styles and tones. Many of them were previously exclusive to Japanese arcades, like my personal favorites, Armed Police Batrider, in which you fight through a crime-ridden Manhattan on a hoverbike in the far-off future of 2014, and Kingdom Grand Prix, a fantasy shooter that’s also a racing game somehow.

As for reviews, Time Extension wasn’t too enamoured despite it’s choice of games:

Taking this into account – and the fact that games such as Batsugun, Kingdom Grand Prix and Tatsujin Ou have home ports which are worth a small fortune today – the Astro City Mini V represents astonishing value for money, even at $180. It would cost you many, many times more to own these games in their original forms (home ports or PCBs), so it’s encouraging to see a company like Sega seek out genuine hidden gems for this project, rather than recycling games we’ve already seen multiple times elsewhere.

Sadly, the issue that prevents the Astro City Mini V from being a cast-iron recommendation is input latency. Before we tackle this thorny issue and how it relates to this new mini console, it’s worth noting that input lag is something which impacts every video game, and video game system. There will always be a tiny delay between you pressing a button and the action unfolding on-screen, for many reasons; latency exists even in wired connections, and the screen you’re playing on will most likely add lag as well – but most of the time, it’s almost imperceptible. The problem with the Astro City Mini V is that the latency is so extreme it actually becomes noticeable during play, and when you’re playing ‘twitch’ genre like shooters, even the smallest amount of lag can prove fatal.

Shiro! were more scathing:

Unfortunately any review of a mini console cannot avoid the issue of input lag: too often what should be a priority for manufacturers is an after thought, if it’s even considered at all. I have all of the Japanese made mini consoles and regrettably the Astro City Mini V is possibly the worst. Given the twitch nature of the genre, input lag should have been the primary concern but what we have here borders on unplayable. The input lag varies based on which game is being played (partly because even the arcade boards had differing amounts of latency) clocking in at 6 frames for Moon Cresta, 7 frames for Raiden and a whopping 10 frames for Armed Police Batrider.

Some might try to hand wave this flaw away, claiming these are just fun little toy to briefly dabble with but I beg to differ. At approximately $150 this is not a cheap plug and play that people impulse buy while doing their grocery shopping, at this price and with these games the Astro City Mini V is clearly for the enthusiast market. As a device for playing these beloved games on, it is an abject failure. Nintendo proved nearly five years ago with the SNES Mini that it is possible to produce a well priced mini console with acceptable input lag and horizontal interpolation to boot: Sega should not be fumbling the ball in this market.

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