More than four years after being unveiled as RetroBlox, renamed a few months later, moving from FPGA technology to software emulation a year later, and then open for pre-orders a year later, the retro gaming console all -in-one, Polymega, is finally available on September 12.
This laborious timeline is only part of the challenge developer Playmaji had to overcome to bring this device to life, but, after spending almost exactly a year with a pre-release device, I’m happy to report that Maybe it was worth it: the Polymega is, after all that, an excellent retro gaming console worthy of your attention.
The Polymega is a software emulation based console with a custom Intel based motherboard running Linux with a custom user interface. Hardware includes the usual range of HDMI, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, USB, and SD card support, while also including a few other unique additions including a CD-ROM drive, support for the tiny m.2 SSD format but fast and support for four console-specific extensions called “item modules”. These $ 80 modules provide cartridge and controller compatibility for NES, Super Nintendo, Genesis, 32X, TurboGrafx-16… and all their European and Japanese counterparts.
In addition to these optional cartridge modules, the ready-to-use Polymega supports Sega CD, TurboGrafx-CD, Neo Geo CD, PlayStation and Sega Saturn. It is Saturn that deserves your attention here. The Polymega uses the Mednafen emulator coupled with a custom BIOS file, so playing Saturn games is as easy as inserting your blank copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga or, if you’re really paranoid, your backup copy burned to CD-R (yes, it works).
For all games with compatibility issues – although it’s worth noting here, I haven’t discovered any – the Polymega will support loading an official BIOS file to an SD card, if you have it there. have access. While Polymega may be permissive when it comes to BIOS files, it is not when it comes to game files. If you have already extracted your games to ROM or ISO files, or if you have (* ahem *) acquired ROM or ISO files elsewhere, you cannot manually load them to an SD card. The only way to load games into the Polymega is to extract them yourself from a cartridge or CD. If you’ve already dumped your precious games, then … well, you’ll have to do it again here.
Once you connect the Polymega to an internet connection, it downloads the huge game library database that it uses to identify the games you have inserted into the console. Insert a disc or cartridge and you’ll have the option of running the game directly or installing it on console storage, in which case you can put your precious (and possibly precious!) Game back on a shelf somewhere.
With a bit of 32GB inside the unit, you’ll immediately want to expand your storage with an SD card or SSD. Ripping images from CDs, especially from multi-disc games, will quickly fill up your indoor storage space. I bought a 500GB SSD and immediately got to work ripping my entire PlayStation library, some of my Saturn and Sega CD titles, and Super Nintendo Carts through the EM02 expansion pack that they included. In total, it was about 130 games.
There was something physically satisfying about preserving my aging optical media library in this way. It also reminded me 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 a few exceptions – Chaos on PS1 and my THQ versions, as opposed to the JVC versions, of the Super Star Wars Trilogy – my entire library was on the Polymega.
While it certainly isn’t blank, I don’t think my copy of Pandemonium was too scratched to read here. In fact, some of my other most abused records loaded well and didn’t have any hiccups during the ripping process. And when it comes to the THQ variants of the Super Star Wars games, Playmaji says that it has already ordered these copies so that it can manually clear the unique ROMs, and we should see them supported in the software update. October from the console.
After checking out all of these games, I was able to use the included wireless controller which looks a lot like a DualShock 4 and was a good fit for most 3D PS1 games. Having said that, I preferred to use other controllers for other consoles.
My wireless Retrobit Saturn Controllers worked perfectly and once the USB stick was inserted it was instantly recognized. The EM02 module includes an SNES type controller, but I actually preferred to use my wireless 8bitdo M30 controller, which worked the same immediately. Some other tests including an Xbox 360 wired controller and a Retrobit Sega Genesis 6 wired controller both worked without issue. I’m sure once people get their hands on the Polymega we’ll get a better idea of its overall controller compatibility and ideally Playmaji can add support for additional controllers.
Playmaji says that the expansion module’s controller ports should provide lower latency input than the base module’s USB ports, but I have found the convenience of a 2.4GHz wireless USB controller to be better than one. wired controller. Of course, there’s always the option of an 8bitdo wireless controller and a retro SNES (or Genesis) receiver, so you can have it both ways, depending on what you’re optimizing.
This question: what are you optimizing for? – seems really essential for the Polymega. This is an all-in-one console that uses your original games to deliver a compelling software emulation-based experience for modern TVs. This means a sophisticated user interface, save states for your cart-based games, and strong controller support. But that also means a lot of expensive hardware and, let’s be honest, several thousand dollars in software if you’re going to have a decent-sized library.
If you have a huge retro library like me, this is a really great deal… but if you don’t have one, now is not the time to start collecting. (Have you seen the auction prices lately?) While there is the option of an online storefront to sell games directly inside the Polymega, it’s not there yet, and I imagine that licensing will be a nightmare. Instead, I wonder if borrowing from 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 understands it, and a digital storefront 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 add-on, the Polymega certainly doesn’t come cheap. But dedicated retro gamers know how expensive HDMI mods and optical drive emulators (not to mention the modding setup costs) can be. The Polymega is an attractive all-in-one solution and while it may not have the good faith of the FPGA-based MiSTer, it is on its own a viable competitor for the crown of the ultimate retro gaming console.
Polymega will be released on September 12. This beta test material has been provided by Playmaji. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find more information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.