The Polymega is an all-in-one retro console that deserves your attention

More than four years after being introduced as RetroBlox, being rebranded only a few months later, moving from FPGA technology to software emulation a year later, and then opening for pre-orders a year after that, the retro gaming console all in one. , Polymega, will finally ship on September 12.

That laborious timeline is just part of the challenge developer Playmaji has had to bring this device to life, but, after spending almost exactly a year with a pre-release device, I’m happy to report that it may have been worth it – the Polymega is, after all that, an excellent retro game console worth your attention.

Polymega is a software emulation-based console with a custom Intel-backed motherboard that runs on Linux with a custom user interface. Hardware includes the usual lineup of HDMI, Wi-Fi, ethernet, USB, and SD card support, while also including some other more unique additions, notably a CD-ROM drive, support for the small m.2 SSD format. but fast and compatibility with four specific expansions of the console called “Element Modules”. These $ 80 modules provide cartridge and controller support for the NES, Super Nintendo, Genesis, 32X, TurboGrafx-16… and all of their European and Japanese counterparts.

In addition to those optional cartridge modules, the out-of-the-box Polymega is compatible with Sega CD, TurboGrafx-CD, Neo Geo CD, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn. It is Saturn that deserves your attention here. Polymega uses the Mednafen emulator in conjunction with a custom BIOS file, so playing Saturn games is as simple as opening your flawless copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga Or, if you’re really paranoid, your backup burned a copy to CD-R (yes, that works).

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For any games with compatibility issues, although it’s worth noting here, I didn’t discover any, the Polymega will support uploading an official BIOS file to an SD card, if you have access to one. to BIOS files, it is not when it comes to game files. If you’ve already copied your games to ROM or ISO files, or if you (* ahem *) acquired some ROM or ISO files elsewhere, you can’t manually load them onto an SD card. The only way to load games onto the Polymega is by ripping them from a cartridge or CD yourself. If you’ve already given up your cherished games, then … well, you’ll have to do it again here.

Once you connect Polymega to an Internet connection, it downloads the huge game library database that it uses to identify which games you have inserted into the console. Insert a disc or cartridge and you will be given the option to run the game directly or install it in console storage, at which point you can put your precious (and probably valuable!) Game back on a shelf somewhere. .

With a meager 32GB inside the drive, you’ll want to expand your storage with an SD card or SSD right away. Ripping CD images, especially those multidisc games, will quickly fill up your internal storage. I bought a 500GB SSD and immediately got to work copying my entire PlayStation library, some of my Saturn and Sega CD titles, and my Super Nintendo carts via the EM02 expansion module they included. In total, this was around 130 games.

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There was something physically satisfying about preserving my old optical media library in this way. It was also reminiscent of doing all of this almost 20 years ago with my music when I got my first iPod. It didn’t take long and with few exceptions: Pandemonium on PS1 and my THQ versions, unlike the JVC versions, of the Super Star Wars trilogy – my entire library was on Polymega.

While it certainly wasn’t flawless, I don’t think my copy of Pandemonium was too scratched to read here. In fact, some of my other more abused discs loaded just fine and didn’t even have a problem during the copying process. And as for the THQ variants of the Super Star Wars games, Playmaji says they already ordered those copies so you can manually dump the unique ROMs, and we should see them supported in the console’s October software update.

The Polymega with optional EM02 Super Nintendo module attached.
Chris Grant / Polygon

After copying all these games, I was able to use the included wireless controller which looks a lot like a DualShock 4 and was a good solution for most 3D PS1 games. That being said, I preferred to use some other controllers for other consoles.

My wireless Rediscovered Saturn controllers it worked perfectly, and once the USB dongle was inserted it was instantly recognized. The EM02 module includes a SNES-like driver, but I actually preferred to use my 8bitdo M30 controller, which worked similarly right away. Some other tests, including a wired Xbox 360 controller and a wired Retrobit Sega Genesis 6 button controller, worked without a hitch. I’m sure once people get their hands on the Polymega we’ll have a better idea of ​​its overall controller compatibility and ideally Playmaji can add support for additional controllers.

Playmaji says the expansion module controller ports should provide lower latency input than the USB ports on the base module, but I found the convenience of a 2.4Ghz wireless USB controller preferable to a wired controller. Of course, there is always the option of an 8-bit wireless controller and a retro SNES (or Genesis) receiver, so you can have it both ways, depending on what you’re optimizing.

That question: what are you optimizing for? – It really seems paramount to Polymega. It’s an all-in-one console that uses your original games to deliver a compelling software emulation-based experience for modern televisions. That means a sleek user interface, saving states for your cart-based games, and solid controller support. But it also means a lot of expensive hardware and, let’s be honest, many thousands of dollars worth of software if you aim to have a decent-sized library.

If you have the huge retro library, like I do, it’s a really worthwhile deal … but if you don’t, now is not the time to start collecting. (Have you seen auction prices lately?) While there is an opportunity for an online store to sell games directly within Polymega, it is not yet available, and I imagine licensing will be a nightmare. Instead, I wonder if borrowing a friend’s library, along with a friend’s plug-in, and sharing isn’t the most obvious result of this format. Or maybe Playmaji finds out, and a digital store is a reasonable result, just like the iTunes Store did for my iPod.

At $ 400 for the base console and an additional $ 80 for each expansion module, the Polymega certainly doesn’t come cheap. But dedicated retro gamers know how expensive HDMI mods and optical drive emulators can be (not to mention modding setup costs). The Polymega is an attractive all-in-one solution and while it may not have the FPGA-based bona fides of the MiSTer, it stands alone as a viable contender for the ultimate retro gaming console crown.

Polymega will launch on September 12. Playmaji provided this beta review hardware. Vox Media has affiliate associations. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.