Is the Retron 5 the perfect retro gaming solution?

Thursday, 26 June 2014 11:00 AM Written by 

 

I first laid eyes on Hyperkin’s Retron 5 at E3 2013. This device claimed to be five retro consoles in one: a Famicom, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and Game Boy Advance (Game Boy Color games work, too). The dream device was packaged in a little black box with four top-loading slots for cartridges, plus additional slots for original controllers. It was love at first sight.

The Retron 5 was originally slated to release in the summer of 2013, but faced numerous delays. The console is finally available to the public a full year after that E3 encounter. I was able to track one down at a local game shop in my area for $140 (prices will vary based on the retail store). Here are my impressions of this all-in-one retro gaming solution.

 

 

Build

The Retron 5 makes a solid first impression that quickly evaporates upon the first touch. The system is attractive. It’s available in two color schemes: black, and an SNES-style gray. Its glossy finish of the back version gives the system a sharp look, but shows fingerprints just like every other current console. The top has the 4 cartridge slots, while the GBA slot is housed in the front. A power button rests next to the GBA slot. Ports like HDMI, AC, mini-USB, and SD slot can be found in their traditional space in the rear of the console.

Both sides of the Retron 5 are reserved for classic controller slots. The port setup is mirrored on the opposite side so two controllers can be accepted for each console.

The build looks fine, but it feels undeniably cheap when touched or held. The console is incredibly light and has a hollow sound when switching cartridges or even pressing the power button. The lack of build quality is echoed in the packaged Bluetooth controller, but more on that later. The Retron 5 feels like a cheap package, but it’s still able to get the job done.

Retron 5

 

Functionality

The console does what it promises to do. It plays cartridges from five classic consoles. The Retron 5 boots up to a start-up menu that displays info like system memory and software version, and then boots whatever game is inserted on demand. You can only insert one cartridge at a time. Otherwise, the system doesn’t know what to do. Hyperkin has stated that a future patch may be released so the system can recognize multiple cartridges simultaneously.

There is 1.2 Gb of system memory to house save states. Up to ten save states (called snapshots) per game can be housed on the system. Save states can also be loaded from or saved to an SD card.

One of the chief benefits of the Retron 5 is its HDMI output. This is the first time many of these consoles have been outfitted with a video output that is recognized by modern HDTVs. Users have the option to play the games in the standard 4:3 ratio, or stretch it to fit 16:9. The latter is the best way to play.

Gamers who relied on Game Genie back in the day will be happy to know that the cheating software is built into the console. Users just need to load codes from online sources onto an SD card. Cheats can then be activated within the Retron’s OS.

The OS seems to be well made and stable. I’ve only had one game freeze out of about a dozen hours of play time.

 

Controller

The packaged Bluetooth controller is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise wonderful package. This thing is a near disaster from a pure game control angle. It weighs in at only a few ounces, giving it a high cheapness factor. Face buttons rattle around when the controller is moved or the buttons are pressed. But these gripes pale in comparison to the egregious decision to put a clumsy analog stick in place of a d-pad.

Every standard controller for each of the five included consoles operated with a D-pad. Because of that, 2D platforming games feel natural with a D-pad. The choice to have an analog pad on the packaged controller is a real head-scratcher. The stick clicks at all eight directions to let the player know that he or she has hit an input, but it still lacks the level of control found on a classic D-pad. It only takes using it for a few minutes on a familiar game for it to feel woefully foreign.

Other than this list of faults, the controller still works. The battery life is impressive, as I haven’t had to charge it at all so far.

Fortunately, this thing isn’t your only option. You can always use the original controllers for each system. You can even mix and match them for two player games. One person can use the wireless atrocity, while another person can play happily with a good controller.

Retron 5
(Image of prototype Retron 5. Shows accepted cartridges)

 

Value

The value of the Retron 5 depends on the size of your retro collection. If you have boxes of unused cartridges for these systems, then the system comes with a ton of value. If you don’t have the old cartridges, then you’ll have to go hunting online or local game shops. The Retron 5 doesn’t support roms, so you’ll need the original cartridges in order to play the games.

 

Lasting Appeal

If the retro catalogs of these consoles still appeal to you after nearly 30 years, the Retron 5 should have more than enough replay value for you.

The system has unveiled a new gaming obsession for me. I’m now on the hunt for all the old games that I loved as a child, or others that I may have missed. I’m constantly checking Ebay and my local shops to see what great finds are there at cheap prices. The summer lull in releases will be nonexistent this year and it’s all because of the Retron 5.

 

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