If you’ve been keeping your eyes on these pages, you know that we’re keenly interested in Polymega, the new retro console by Playmaji, Inc. We tracked down Bryan, the company’s founder on the E3 show floor last week to talk about, and more importantly, actually play the thing.
The Polymega is a sight to behold in the flesh; it looks every bit as beautiful as the professionally-made product shots would lead one to believe. Whether it’s sporting the dust cover, which is pictured attached to the console at the top of this page, or one of the element modules — plugins which allow players to use their original cartridges from either the Sega Mega Drive, TurboGrafx 16 or Neo Geo — this thing is an absolute joy to behold. Its striking lines contrast with the muted, matte black surface and there's just a small pop of colour in the logo to evoke an aesthetic that is simultaneously retro and modern. It’s just lovely.
Also on hand were the newly-revealed classic controllers, each of which will be bundled with a corresponding element module and are designed to mimic the look and feel of the originals. Each controller functioned as well as we remember our original NES, SNES, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and TurboGrafx controllers feeling, but they felt a bit on the light side. We were told by the Polymega team that the controllers were not yet final and they were toying with the idea of making them a bit weightier, an addition we feel would be welcome. The build quality of the pads was solid and the buttons responded in a way that tickled the nostalgia centre of our brains. Each of the pads connected using the same proprietary plugs ‘80s and ‘90s kids are used to, and we were assured by the team that our original peripherals would work fine, if we opted to use those instead. We had the opportunity to test original Neo Geo and TurboGrafx controllers and can confirm they worked without issue.
The demo unit we tested at E3 supported all of the systems Polymega has announced to date, on original media, SD cards and internal memory. As soon as we grabbed the modern wireless controller — which Bernal told us was actually licensed from another company and was then branded with Polymega’s logo — we were off. The modern controller feels comfortable in the hand, similar to Sony’s DualShock. The D-pad takes centre stage, placed where you would expect to find it on a PlayStation controller, a choice that makes sense given the system’s focus on retro titles. The face buttons feel clicky and responsive and there wasn’t so much as a whiff of wireless latency when playing even the most demanding, twitchy 8-bit titles. Before we hopped into the games, however, we were keen to explore the system itself.
The user interface is every bit as responsive as it appears in the Polymega marketing material. It’s clear to us that the team at Playmaji, Inc. have put a lot of thought into how to make the experience for players with collections large and small as seamless as possible. At the top of the device’s home screen, you’ll see icons representing each machine the console is capable of emulating. Selecting one of those icons will display all the games you’ve copied to your Polymega that were originally released for the corresponding console. The Polymega remembers your recently played games as well, and it also allows you to create a list of favourites, along with custom game lists.
Once you find the game you’re looking for, pushing the start button on your controller will take you into it with no delay. We were shocked by how quickly games boot on the Polymega, even optical media-based games such as those on PlayStation. While the software running under the hood of the console isn’t yet final, the games we demoed ran as well as they did on their systems of origin. The team giving our demo was quick to note that it wasn’t quite yet perfect, however; games such as Star Fox, which shipped with a custom SuperFX chip inside the cart won't play as the team hasn't been able to accurately emulate the chip as yet.
Speaking of copying games, the process is dead simple, if a little on the slow side. When original media is inserted into the optical drive or one of the Polymega’s element modules, a small icon representing the media type will appear in the upper-right of the screen. Selecting it brings up a menu allowing you to install. Once you’ve done that, you can still play the game off of its original media as it’s copying, or play a different game you already have stored on the console, if you like. The systems detailing how much space is left on the Polymega (as well as notifications regarding game installation) weren’t functional in the version of the software we tried, but we were assured they would be by launch.
Our first run of a PlayStation game didn’t work quite as well as we had hoped, however. When booting up Tekken 3, we noted it was running very slowly, causing a brief moment of concern for those running the demo. We were informed the demo unit had been having some overheating issues due to the fact that the unit was not yet complete and didn’t have its final thermal solution in place. A quick reboot of the system saw PlayStation games once again running at full speed. For the rest of our demo, games ran smoothly. We’re hoping the team at Playmaji can sort out the thermal issues with enough time to manufacture and ship without delaying Polymega’s release.
All told, we spent about two hours with the console. Not quite enough for a full review or even solid impressions, but we came away impressed with what we saw. The Polymega seems to be the real deal, and if it is, it’s the retro console we’ve all been waiting for. We can’t help but feel the console is just a few tweaks away from being something truly special. If the speed and accuracy of the system can be maintained and the promised features we haven’t seen yet, like Twitch streaming, can be delivered in a way that both works and is easy to use, we don’t see any reason why fans won’t be champing at the bit to snap one up when pre-orders go up this Fall.