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Joe Reviews… the RetroN 5

The RetroN 5… a Step Forward for Yesterday’s Gaming

There were people out there that didn’t believe the RetroN 5 (R5) would actually ever come out.  Rumors abounded that Hyperkin was dealing with massive internal quality control issues as the release date kept getting pushed farther and farther back.  Taking two of them on the road to a number of gaming expos (including RGS’s own Super! Bitcon) certainly continued to whet the retro gaming community’s collective appetite for this all-in-one wonder.

Imagine a single console on your shelf that could play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, and Master System (with Sega’s Power Base Converter) games.  One HDMI output covered all of your audio and video needs, and hooked up with no issues to todays modern TVs (although, believe it or not, one of your Component video input jacks most likely accepts a yellow RCA jack if you have no other RCA A/V input).  A single power supply saves room on your surge protector.  A wireless bluetooth controller further reduces the amount of clutter, but you’ve got inputs for NES, SNES or Genesis controllers too.

Sounds like retro gaming heaven?  Perfection?  The ultimate console?

I’ve been using it for about a week now, and the answer so far is a resounding “not quite yet”.

My R5 and I initially got off on the wrong foot, as after I hooked it up to my TV and plugged everything in, I pushed the power button.  Nothing.  I pushed it again.  Still nothing.  After holding it down for about 5 seconds, it finally came to life.  Turns out that’s the standard way to turn it on.

I popped in the SNES classic Super Mario RPG (which I later discovered may have been a poor choice of game due to some known issues, more on that later, but it’s what I wanted to play), and got off and running.  After a brief loading screen, I was asked if I wanted to import my save file for use on the R5.  An easy decision, so I could pick up where I left off.

The HDMI video quality was apparent from the get go.  Every single pixel feels accentuated.  It almost has a jagged look to it.  Hyperkin apparently thought enough ahead to plan for this gripe, and included multiple different filters to soften the edges of those pixels, and give things a much smooth, and more natural feel.  The differences between each filter were subtle, but I definitely preferred playing with a filter intact than without one.

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A close-up without the filter.

R5 filter

A close-up with a filter.

I decided to use the Hyperkin pack-in bluetooth controller, and it took a little bit of getting used to.  It’s directional stick is a movable circular pad similar to a Neo Geo Pocket, which has a little bit of a mushy feel if you’re trying to go in a specific diagonal direction (as you need to do frequently in Mario RPG).  The buttons also make a clicking noise each time they’re pressed, which bothered me somewhat at first, but not as much as I got accustomed to it.  In addition to the standard buttons used by the game directly, there are two additional small circular buttons on the top corners of the face of the controller.  One of these is programed to do an instant save state, while the other doubles the frame rate while it’s pressed down.  Both of these features are extremely useful, and welcome additions.  The frame skip especially makes playing some of the older, albeit classic, RPGs more manageable as grinding levels and clicking through long text scenes can be done at double speed.

R5 Contoller

The included controller; notice the small buttons in the top corners- your save state (left) and frame skip (right).

I did have a few minor issues with the Mario RPG.  The save state button worked intermittently, and when it didn’t work, the game would lock up.  I tried several other games (to include some of the typically more troublesome ones such as Mega Man X3 and a Donkey Kong Country 3 Not For Resale Demo Cart), but was unable to duplicate the lock up issue.  One other curious problem with Mario RPG specifically- those familiar with the game will remember the rhythm button pressing Yoshi racing on Yo’ster Isle.  For unknown reasons, the game did not register the “A” and “B” button presses here.  Plugging in a traditional SNES controller didn’t help.  I ended up turning the system off and using using a Retro Duo Portable (RDP), which didn’t have a problem registering all of my button presses.

I did find when I turned on my RDP that the file I had just saved on the R5 wasn’t present, and it was still showing my original, pre-R5 file.  It turns out that you need to manually select an option in the R5’s menu to copy a save file from the R5 back to the cart itself.  Those of you familiar with emulators may be familiar with the different files associated with simulating battery back-up and save states.  The R5’s system menu has a similar sort of file directory, and it’s just a matter of making sure the emulated states are copied back to the cart.  One potential advantage of this is the ability to do a complete memory wipe of a cart, even if there’s no menu option or discrete option to do it, which is nice for owners wanting to feel like their second-hand cart with someone else’s name emblazoned on a save slot isn’t quite so second-hand.

R5 NBA Jam TE

The Sega Genesis version of NBA Jam TE.

Other notes and observations:

-Save state functionality effectively makes any game that previously relied on battery back-up playable again without the hassle of replacing a battery.

-The console’s plastic and build feels a lot less cheap than other clone consoles.  The controller, however, has more of a cheap-plastic-y feel.

-The R5 does have a bit of a tight grip on the cartridges (Game Boy carts excluded).  This got better (or I got used to it) as I used the system more.  Didn’t really bother me too much, but I am careful not to yank them out of the system.  There are some accusations out in the wide, wide, world of web that the pin connector has been separating from the console due to this tight fit.  I doubt it, but also don’t mind treating it properly.

-The R5 did an outstanding job working with Sega’s Power Base Converter.  I had about a 95% cartridge read rate on the first insertion, which is better than I get with my model 1.5 Genesis.  The only cart which didn’t read on the first insertion was taken and out put back in, after which it came up fine.

-Game Boy games with color functionality (i.e. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX) both looked and sounded better than I thought they would (after playing around with the filters to soften the pixels).

-The R5 is physically longer than any other system on my shelf currently, and it sticks a little bit off the edge.  Not a huge issue, but worth noting for the picky aesthetic people out there.

-There is a cradle at the back of the console for the controller to sit.  It won’t charge without being plugged in via a 10 foot mini and micro USB cable, but it was nice to know there was a designated place for the controller to go.  This slot also serves as the extra room needed for the Power Base Converter to sit.

-An SD card slot in the back offers a lot of options for the future, as well as patches for games that have issues (Mario RPG for instance…).

-That SD slot can also be used to export snapshots in .jpeg format too.

-SNES reproduction carts aren’t recognized by title in the R5 user menu, but all have played fine so far.

-E.V.O. Search for Eden didn’t recognize in the R5 user menu, but still played fine; Super Metroid had the same issue as well as Pokemon FireRed, but each still played fine.

-None of my NES reproduction carts were recognized as even being inserted (the previous mentions said “Unknown Cart” in the menu with the option to try to run them, this one didn’t even say that or let you try to start the game).

-Super 3D Noah’s Ark did not register as even having a cart inserted and was unplayable.

R5 Centy

The R5′s menu system showing the Sega Genesis title Crusader of Centy.

-Games I’ve tried so far successfully:

NES: Duck Tales, Final Fantasy, Wayne’s World, Werewolf

SNES: Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble Not for Resale Demo Cart, EVO: Search for Eden, Final Fantasy V (Reproduction Cart), Mario RPG, Mega Man X3, Super Metroid

Sega Genesis: Crusader of Centy, General Chaos, Golden Axe III (Reproduction Cart), NBA Jam TE, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic & Knuckles

Sega Master System: After Burner, Black Belt, Double Dragon, Fantasy Zone: The Maze, Golvellius: Valley of Doom, Out Run, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Zillion II: The Tri Formation

Game Boy: Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, Operation C

Game Boy Advance: Breath of Fire, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Pokemon FireRed

Overall:

I do like my R5, and am glad to have it on my shelf.  I appreciate more than anything else it’s ability to consolidate the inputs and plugs so that I can streamline things quite a bit.  Outside of the Mario RPG gripes, I haven’t had any other major compatibility issues so far, aside from the carts requiring lock-on technology and the NES reproductions.  The frame skip and save state functionality is great.  There is a part of me that’s wondering, with the N64 patents expiring in 2016, if the RetroN 6 will add an N64 input to cartridge slot line-up though… but that prospect isn’t enough to deter me from recommending the R5 today.

Instead of a review score, I prefer to asses the cost of the system and it’s relative value to the asking price.

Launch MSRP: $140
-Worth it if you’ve got the money, but I don’t think I’d sell that copy of Earthbound off to be able to get one.

No-brainer price point: $100
-If you can find one (or wait for a price drop) here, it should be an easy decision to go for it.

It’s a steal price point: $80
-You’d be missing out big time if you passed up one at this price.

 

Let us know what you think in the comments section, or by dropping me an e-mail: joe@retrogamersociety.com

I’ll be putting together a community response piece if I get enough feedback, so don’t hesitate to send it, or if you’ve got any other questions or things you want me to test out on my R5.

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Jumpman Is Back – For An Official Sequel: Jumpman Forever

Inspired by a series of posts on the Oklahoma Game Developers site, I’m going to begin a regular feature highlighting up-and-coming crowd-funded, retro-inspired projects that spark my interest.  A wealth of cool games and products are gaining traction as the independent development scene takes flight.  One project that has jumped out to me in particular is an officially licensed release of a Jumpman sequel that is coming down the pike via its Kickstarter campaign.

Jumpman Forever is under development by Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr of Midnight Ryder Technologies, to be released across a plethora of platforms.  Sickmon acquired the rights to produce this game, the first non-freeware/shareware/hobbyist sequel to the Jumpman franchise, from the original developer many moons ago.  Creating this game is a duty that he doesn’t take lightly.  In fact, it has been a project Sickmon has waited 13 years for – because it had to be the right time and environment to materialize a product worthy of the Jumpman name.

Sickmon has a few other recent games in his mechanic-creation repertoire, such as 2010’s “The Horror Game” and 2012’s “The Plastic Army Game”.  His most recent video game, “RetroBreaker”, debuted in 2013 and found a home on iOS, Android, and Mac OS X.

Sickmon takes his responsibility to do Jumpman justice very seriously, with a number of planned updates to amplify the engaging timelessness of the original title.  These innovations include:

  • A host of new levels
  • Retro-chic graphics updates
  • An interactive level editor
  • Innovative cross-platform community and game engine
  • Future-proof animation system for planned upgrades
  • Scheduled releases of new content
  • A second, brand new playable female character with different skills and features

So you’re probably wondering – how is the project coming along?  I had an exclusive look at the beta (editor’s note: a preview beta is now being given away to Kickstarter backers!) and I have to say: it is a faithful reproduction.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 5.11.26 PM

Granted, this is a very early release, so there are the expected bugs with the controls.  The graphics and audio are a keenly executed throwback to the original game.  The potential is absolutely there for a very fun single- and multi-player experience.  That product is contingent, however, on the Kickstarter project achieving its funding goal.  There are very few instances when I back Kickstarter and other crowd-funded projects, but this is one I couldn’t pass up.  Check it out, back it even at a few bucks, and tell your friends.

Jumpman Forever is a game that needs to happen – and you can help make it so. ♦

Brandon Cole Phillips

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DCC Remembers: Super Mario Bros (the movie)

SMB

A few months back, Brandon wrote an article about a new Mario movie reboot that he passionately wishes for. In the article, he talked about how horrible the Super Mario Bros movie was. I have to say… I disagree with him – it is actually a pretty good move. It just sucks as a “video game” movie.

When I was a kid I wanted to see this movie so bad, but my dad hated video games. I mean, the man absolutely despised them.  So, obviously, I didn’t get to see SMB in the theater. The video store that we frequented did single day 99¢ rentals on Tuesdays. We would go once a week and pick a movie to watch as a family.  For seven months I picked this movie… and every time my dad would say no.

Eventually it rolled around to the week of my birthday, so there obviously wasn’t going to be any other option for my dad… We were finally watching Super Mario Bros.  We loaded up into the car and trekked to the rental store.  Horror struck.

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They were out of SMB tapes.

I was heartbroken – so much so that I didn’t really want to pick out another movie.  We left empty-handed.

When we got home I was moping around the house pretty bummed out. Then my mom called me into the family room, where she was holding a gift.

“I know your birthday is still a few days away but your dad and I decided to give you this early,” she said.

I didn’t even hesitate – I swiftly ripped the wrapping off and there it was: the Super Mario Bros movie on VHS. We all watched it that night, and it was awesome. Most important of all, my dad absolutely loved it.

To this day it is still one of my dad’s favorite movies. You see, he doesn’t really know anything about Mario Bros other than this movie. It is because of this that he enjoys it so much. And sadly enough, that is the perspective you must use when looking at this movie.  It’s the only way to fully appreciate and understand it. I think if this movie was called Phil & Drew’s Inter-dimensional Dinosaur Adventure, and was billed as an early 90′s sci-fi/action/adventure movie it would have actually done pretty well.

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It had all of the ingredients for success – well designed sets, good actors, and what could have been a really good, albeit cheesy story. But the studio got greedy and saw the cash attached to the Super Mario Bros name.

My theory as to what happened is this: they already had a script and it was decent. It most likely sounded as if it could have been Mario Bros related. So they tried to force all of this Mario material into it so that they could capitalize on the Mario craze.  Nintendo at the time was still not a huge company; especially compared to the movie studios. So they had no say in anything, which really was a bad move on their part. From what I understand, Nintendo was a little afraid of the movie/TV industry during this period. It’s sad, really, because if they would have fought back just a little bit, things could have been better.  Nintendo could have been an even bigger power.

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Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy the movie.  It has a lot of great, odd little jokes in it. It also has a charm to it that movies today just don’t have. I enjoyed all the acting except a few moments when Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo have that “WTF am I doing?” look on their faces. My only other acting-related complaint is with the the girl who plays Daisy (Samantha Mathis).  She just kind of sucks as an actress.

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You know, my first truly personal experience with Mario was on the Game Boy. So to me Mario’s princess is Daisy.  In the SMB movie, Daisy is Luigi’s girl.  Having Luigi hook up with her was really the only part that truly bugged me about the movie. But from a Hollywood standpoint, it had to be that way… Because Mario is old and fat.

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After watching this movie I was finally allowed to get my first Nintendo, even though my parents claimed it had nothing to do with the film.   Still, I know it did. This is why the Super Mario Bros movie will always hold a special place in my heart.  I think any fan of the series should watch this movie at least once. If you have seen it and you didn’t like it, you should watch it from the point of view that I described earlier. You might be pleasantly surprised. ♦

David Chauncey Clothier

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This Gen: The Last of Us

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The Last of Us is an excellent game. There’s really no question about it. Just look at the reviews! From the post-apocalyptic setting  (in a not-so-distant future) to the stealthy action, character development, and intensely emotional story, The Last of Us is worthy of a play-through regardless of your retro versus modern gaming preference.

The Last of Us is essentially a survival horror/stealth game. It brings to mind previous generation titles such as Metal Gear Solid and Ico. The game relies heavily on stealth, much like Metal Gear Solid, and the environments, characters, and general atmosphere of the game world evoke a real sense of hopelessness, much like Ico. The gameplay should remind you of Uncharted, since it basically plays the same. If you’ve never played Uncharted, think of the Tomb Raider series. As you play you’ll find weapons, ammo, sharp objects to make melee weapons more effective, health containers, keys, comic books, etc. There are also light platforming elements in The Last of Us, but none stand out as anything more than a way to better associate you with the environment. The game also has obvious similarities to the Resident Evil franchise…at least when RE games had zombies…and were fun to play.

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There are, in fact, zombies in The Last of Us. Well, sort of. These “zombies” are called the Infected in this new American wasteland game world. The Infected have similar characteristics to zombies. They are human beings who have been exposed to some form of catalyst which results in a drastic redirection of said human being’s primary purpose on the Earth. Just like the stereotypical role of other zombies you may be familiar with, these people want nothing more than to violently recruit you to their newfound cause. You will also fight against uninfected human characters throughout the game.

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So what makes the Infected any different than your average, run-of-the-mill zombie? Honestly, not too much. They ARE rather quick (as in, you can possibly out-run them), some of them can see very well (as in, you need to stay well hidden if you expect to survive), some of them use sonar to find you (as in, hear your sweat drop to the ground from fifty miles away), and a few can seemingly do whatever they damn well please. Aside from these small twists on the variations of traditional zombie-dom, the way this round of killing machines has come into existence is somewhat fresh.

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If you know anything about Resident Evil then you know about the T-Virus. Some jerks started the Umbrella Corporation, those jerks hired scientists, those scientists made the T-Virus, the T-Virus turns people into zombies, blah, blah, blah. Well take that story, substitute the creation of Umbrella Corp with the Big Bang theory (or any other creation story), substitute the hiring of scientists with evolution, and substitute the T-Virus with the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. That’s no fake game name…it’s a real thing that exists in our world today. Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis basically turns living things into zombies. While this fungus currently poses no risk to humans, it could with a little visit from your friend Mr. Evolution. What’s that? You don’t believe in evolution? It’s called science. Check it out*.

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Either way, this is where the Infected get their name in The Last of Us. The fungus evolves, takes over its human host, and then tries to kill you. One really intriguing perspective that is mentioned in the storyline of the game is, what if the fungus is simply controlling its host’s actions without altering the host’s state of mind? Basically, what if these people are still people on the inside, with feelings, emotions, morals, ethics, etc. and they are all being forced to infect other humans against their will? It’s an unnerving thought.

The story is really the only thing left to talk about here. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it because it’s something that every person should experience independent of outside influences. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I felt real emotion welling up inside me within the first fifteen minutes of firing up the game. It wasn’t so much that I was upset with the events that I had just witnessed as much as it was the fact that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop these events. It leaves you feeling totally helpless. It’s a great start to a game where you truly find yourself feeling helpless most of the time (especially if you bump up the difficulty).

Oh yeah, the graphics! They’re beautiful. ♦

tlou-replacelast

David Sollars

 

*Actually, don’t check out science. When evolution decides it’s time to wipe out 60% of the world’s population I’ll still need people around to entertain me with their fantastical myths and legends.