Retro games are extremely popular right now, and with good reason; they deliver experiences that are hard to come by in the realm of modern video games. As someone who currently has more than a dozen systems connected to one TV through a series of switcher boxes, I have to say the idea of the RetroN 5 is quite appealing. It’s one console that hooks up through a single HDMI port and allows you to play a wide range of popular retro systems. Convenience is great, but if it doesn’t deliver an experience that rivals playing on the original console, it’s still not worth having. So does the RetroN 5 deliver on that? You’ll have to keep reading this review to find out.
Best of all, we have a $140 RetroN 5 (which is incredibly difficult to find in stores right now) to give away to one lucky reader. Keep reading through to the bottom to find out how you can enter to win!
Introducing The RetroN 5
Hyperkin has been involved in the world of retro consoles for years. It has produced all kinds of devices that allow gamers to play their favorite retro games without turning to the likes of flea markets and eBay to get their consoles. In fact, we even reviewed the SupaBoy, a device designed to let you take your Super Nintendo games on the road with you. While the company has been around for a while, the RetroN 5 is a far more ambitious venture compared to any of the other consoles it has made. Not only does it support far more gaming platforms, it also features an upgradeable operating system, which gives it a more modern console feel.
As far as the systems it can support, you’ll find the ability to play NES, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Famicom, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advanced cartridges. Additionally, if you have the Power Base Converter (a device that allowed you to play Sega Master System games on Genesis), you can play Master System games as well. Essentially, the only cartridge-based retro system you can’t play is Nintendo 64, which is pretty damn impressive.
The device also comes with its own Bluetooth controller, as well as two ports for each of the main consoles (Genesis, NES, SNES), for a total of six. This gives you options for how you want to play. Ever dreamed of playing Sega games on a SNES controller? You can totally do that, as weird as it might seem.
There’s really no competitor for the RetroN 5. While other companies make systems designed for retro gaming, the $140 RetroN 5 sits alone in terms of quantity of consoles, HDMI capability, and interface. Of course, just being the only option doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Is this the best way to play your retro games? That’s just what we are going to figure out during this review.
First impressions always stick, and I must say, I was pretty impressed with the RetroN 5 at first glance. The packaging is quite nice, and not too bulky. Once you pull the console out, you realize it’s a pretty nice-looking piece of hardware, and one that you won’t mind having on your entertainment center.
We ended up with the the black console, though not necessarily by choice, but rather because it was the only one we could find. The other color is white with black accents, and looking at the two, I am quite happy we ended up with the black unit. Not only do I like the look of it better, but it matches the other hardware in my system, as they all tend to be black.
Everything you need to use the console is in the box. You’ll find the system itself, the Bluetooth controller, HDMI and USB cables, and adapters for plugging the system into power supplies outside of the United States. You’ll also find a basic manual that will help you get started. The only thing missing is the SD card, which is used for a lot of the console’s key features.
Because the RetroN 5 has no Internet capabilities, updating the firmware requires an SD card. The process is simple enough, but you do have to put the card into the system, request an update, and then send that file to the Retron website in order to download the update. It took a few minutes, and while it would have been nice to have the process run a little more smoothly, you can actually use the console without updating at all, so it’s not really something I can knock it for. Additionally, as we will get to later, having the UI is well worth a few minutes of firmware updating from a usability standpoint.
As far as the hardware of the console goes, everything feels well-made and solid. On the top surface, you’ll find all of the ports for the cartridges except for the GameBoy, which is located on the front. You’ll also find a large opening around the back, which can be used as a place to store the controller, and also allows the giant Master System adapter to fit. The back of the console is where you will find the HDMI ports, SD card slot, and so on.
One complaint that has been levied against the RetroN 5 is how tight the pins that hold the carts in are, and it’s definitely true. You will have to give a solid pull to remove them, which is moderately annoying, but nothing game-breaking. Personally, I’d rather it be a little on the tight side, because pins tend to loosen up over time. So as far as the pins are concerned, you can expect the console to last.
Overall, the RetroN 5 is a well-designed piece of hardware. Considering how many consoles it supports, it’s has a small footprint, and will fit comfortably on an entertainment center. It seems well-built enough to last for the long haul, but of course, it’s a new device, so it’s hard to say that until we put it through some serious long-term testing.
It seems like every device I review lately comes with a controller that I don’t like. Perhaps I am just picky, but between the OUYA, GameStick, and Xbox One, I keep finding myself with a controller I don’t enjoy using. This one though, beats all of them. Literally the only positive thing I can say about it the wireless support, which is something you don’t get too often with retro gaming consoles, but everything else about it is utterly bad.
Starting from the core design of the controller, there’s a major flaw that you will notice right away. There’s no d-pad. Think about it, a controller designed to play retro games – a time when joysticks didn’t exist — and you don’t get a d-pad. Not only that, but the joystick itself is this weird-feeling-clicky thing that feels nothing like any joystick you’ve ever used before. And I don’t mean that in a good way. The button layout is confusing, with 6 buttons smashed together. Then there’s the shape of the controller, which is rectangular, and kind of lumpy. It just feels weird in your hand.
The shoulder buttons aren’t bad, actually, and are one of the only decent parts of the controller. Aside from that, the eight hour battery life is pretty solid, and the long USB cable to charge it is a good thing. But really, if you are serious about your retro games, you’ll want to use the actual controllers and avoid this one. The only reason I can see anyone wanting to use this is if their system is on the other side of a large room and the range of a wired controller just won’t do the job.
The interface, along with the long list of supported consoles, is what really makes the RetroN 5 something special. Back in the old days, you simply turned on the console with a game in it, and into the game you went. Those days are long gone with modern consoles focusing as much on delivering a solid interface as they do on the games. While the RetroN 5’s interface cannot compete with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, just the fact that it has a GUI is pretty game-changing.
When you put a game in, you will see it load for a few seconds, and then the name of the game displayed on the top of the screen. You can simply click “Play” and jump right into the game, or you can adjust some options. If you’ve loaded up an SD card with Hyperkin’s cheat file, you can load them up before you jump into the game. You can also adjust button bindings and add one of several filters that tweak the look of your games.
The best thing about having a dedicated interface is that you can actually create save states, like you would with an emulator on a PC. Now, retro games that used to require a single playthrough to beat with nowhere to save can be played in multiple sittings. This alone is absolutely fantastic.
Other bonuses with the interface come in the form of the ability to snag screenshots with just a couple of button clicks, and audio adjustments that tweak the way the game sounds.
Overall, I am happy with the interface on the RetroN 5. It’s not fancy, but it gets the job done, and it gives you the ability to play your retro games in a way that was only possible with piracy before. It’s most definitely a huge selling point for the RetroN 5, but it really comes down to playing games, and that’s just what we are going to look at next.
We save the most important thing for last, and that’s the gameplay experience. Interfaces, well-made hardware, and all that other stuff is cool, but it doesn’t matter if playing games isn’t enjoyable. For the most part, the RetroN 5 delivers in that regard. It uses emulation to accomplish the gameplay, so when you put a game in the slot, it dumps the ROM of the game to the system, and that’s where it plays. You still need a cart in the slot, as this is not a piracy machine, but it’s not actually running from the game.
Sometimes, you might see a game fail to load, which is pretty standard for older games whether it’s dumping the ROM or loading directly off the cart. I didn’t find that I had any more issues than with the actual systems, so there’s really no knock against it there. Still, there are some occasions where games don’t work, especially if you are trying to play unlicensed cartridges. Personally, I didn’t have any problems, but others are reporting that certain games aren’t running, so your mileage may vary in that regard.
Another minor problem is that you cannot have multiple cartridges in at once. It would have been nice to be able to have a bunch of games in, and then switch at the operating system level, but alas, that’s not an option for now, though Hyperkin is attempting to fix that via a firmware update, so that’s a problem that could go away as time goes on.
Moving back to the positive side, the RetroN 5 will make your games look crisper and brighter. That’s thanks to the HDMI output, and the difference really is noticeable. Add in the filters, and you can really make your retro games look better than you ever imagined. For purists, playing on the original console and leaving the graphics untouched will always be preferable, but for people who just want to take a trip down memory lane, the tweaks and improvements to the look of the game should make them quite happy.
During the interface section, we talked about how great it is having saved states, and for your saves on cartridges (for those that support it), the system will actually dump them as well. You’ll have to manually transfer them back to the cartridge if you want to pick up your save games on the original console, and this works most of the time, but you might find the occasional error that puts you in a weird situation where your latest save is stuck on the RetroN 5. It’s not a common problem, and most game saves move back and forth without issue, but when dealing with aging cartridges and old batteries, issues are bound to pop up.
The controller issues we talked about before reared its ugly head here, and as I said before, you’re better off just avoiding the RetroN 5’s controller and sticking with the original retro controllers. They are just flat out better in every way (other than having wires).
All in all, the RetroN 5 delivers a great gameplay experience. Basically, it delivers everything pirates are used to with computer-based emulators, but it allows you to do it legitimately with your actual cartridges on a TV. It takes games that were designed to be played on a 4:3 aspect ratio tube television and makes them look pretty good on a high definition TV. It’s not perfect, and nothing will ever replace the actual consoles, but unless you’re crazy like me and willing to overload your TV with over a dozen consoles, the convenience of playing a variety of retro games on one device is awesome.
So, the big question: should you buy the RetroN 5? The answer really depends on your needs. If you’re a dedicated classic game collector looking for a pure experience, you should just stick with what you’ve been doing already. However, if you have a few games from your childhood sitting around, and you want a quick, easy way to play them, the RetroN 5 is a great choice. In fact, I’d say it’s the best multi-console you are going to find. The $140 price tag isn’t too much to ask, especially when you consider that it can play literally thousands of games. Throw in the fact that Hyperkin is promising to fix some of the quirks with firmware updates, and we could be looking at the gold standard for retro gaming.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it if you want an easy way to play a variety of retro games without hooking up multiple consoles to your TV.
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