On paper, the all-in-one retro gaming system the Retron 5 could be the greatest thing to happen in retro gaming history. Gaming company Hyperkin is advertising a single machine that plays, now get this: NES, Genesis, SNES, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Famicom, Super Famicom, Mega Drive, and Master System games. This is literally my childhood wrapped up and summarized in one machine. The Retron 5 is not yet available and has already been delayed but if this system is able to deliver everything that it promises, this could be a gigantic leap forward for the retro gaming industry.
I won’t mince words in saying that I really enjoy retro games. I certainly make plenty of time for the classic cartridge games, and keep adding more to my collection all the time (don’t worry Arkham series I still love you too). There is a sense of nostalgia that is only captured when I sit down and play some NES or Genesis games that are simple enough that I can jump right in, but enjoyable enough that I keep coming back. Really the only thing that gives me a red rump about anything retro is the fact that I have trouble keeping all of my systems hooked up to one TV. There have been clone systems before but nothing that quite matches this behemoth.
The reason this machine is specifically called the Retron 5 is because there are five slots available for gaming; one for the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES), one for the NES, one for the Genesis and Mega Drive (Genesis games outside the US), one for SNES and Super Famicom (Japanese SNES), and one for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance.
The fact that this system will be able to play Famicom, Super Famicom, and Mega Drive games is interesting in that it will open up a new avenue for gamers who didn’t have any previous interest in them before, or a system that could play games that were only available outside the US (Mega Man compilation for the Mega Drive anyone?). The system plays both NTSC and PAL cartridges and also is compatible with CIC lockout chips and FX chips. It will hook up to a television via HDMI, which is fantastic because all of the gaming will look nice and crisp in up to 720p resolution, but might be a bit of a turn off because it has only one connection instead of also including a component connection.
Similar to other current gen platforms, players navigate via a GUI home interface that directs to the game itself, while also allowing up to 10 save states per game, pre-loaded cheats, and video/audio customization settings. Buying the unit also buys one bluetooth wireless controller, but there is also room on the system to plug in up to two NES, Genesis, or SNES controllers, so you can enjoy all this retro goodness just as it deserves to be enjoyed (keep those NES doggones handy).
Lastly, Hyperkin is claiming that they have achieved 100% compatibility with all of the systems that the Retron 5 plays (though the Master System games are played with the Power Base converter placed into the Genesis game slot). Every report and even Amazon is listing this all-in-one juggernaut at $99, including Hyperkin stating on its facebook page and twitter page, that it will be released in April.
The Retron 5 definitely sounds like something to be very excited about and could boost sales of cartridge games exponentially. The potential market is extremely wide as almost every console from the mid ’80s to mid ’90s is represented. Anyone who spent any time playing these games might want one just for the overwhelming nostalgia factor. Not to mention this could refuel the age old feud of Sega Genesis versus Super Nintendo, because after all Sega does what Nintendon’t.
But let’s calmly remove our fanboy glasses and take a look at this with a critical eye. Firstly, the system was delayed from late 2013 when it was almost ready to ship, but got bumped “until Q1 2014” after discovering the systems contained faulty pin connectors, which already brings into question quality concerns.
Personally, I would have to see the finished product to make an informed opinion as to the casing and construction of the system. I have seen a few clone systems in person, and have talked to some people about what they think of all-in-one systems, and the consensus seems to be hit or miss. Typically described as “cheap”, “plastic feeling”, these all-in-ones play games differently than the actual systems, so there is less internal guts required to make them work. This means they don’t have a heavier, sturdier construction like the NES or Genesis. I haven’t actually seen or handled a Retron 5 yet, so it is unclear whether the system feels cheap like some clone systems, or matches the sturdy feel of the originals.
As mentioned before, the Retron 5 does not play games the way the original system typically functions, and will play the games via “ROM dumping”. As showcased in a video on their facebook page, games can be hotswapped and then the game is loaded from the cartridge ROM into the system. Hyperkin is ambitiously stating that the Retron 5 has 100% compatibility over all 10 systems, but via pictures from their social media sites it looks like it’s attempting to test every single game it can get ahold of, instead of providing reassurance via the internal components that the machine will be able to process any cartridge ROM. Games will play the same as on a regular system, but some clone systems before have had trouble with video or audio portions in some games. There is also the slight possibility that a game is actually not compatible with the system that hasn’t been found, so the 100% figure stated is merely a projection.
An official release is still not set, and April is fast approaching. Hyperkin is constantly teasing details, pictures, and videos on their facebook and twitter pages, increasing the already palpable anticipation for what might be a milestone event for retro gamers. Some questions still remain though pertaining to the quality and performance of this machine that still feels part mythical beast. Ten video game libraries simultaneously available on one machine could be a tremendous achievement, if Hyperkin is able to deliver a quality product.
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