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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.

R5 unfilter

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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SUPER! BitCon VIP Packs Unveiled

VIPAs a special way to commemorate our first RGS-hosted gaming convention, we have devote special care and attention to creating the most unique promotional item we could devise. Born out of a love for retro and an appreciation for the art of the classic black-box Nintendo games, these limited edition VIP packs hold true to the vested spirit of our event. The SUPER! BitCon 2014 VIP packs cannot be bought — they can only be won. They will be given out variously via contests and giveaways on the web and television. Information about these contests will be available via the S!BC Facebook page, so like it and stay tuned!

What’s in the VIP pack?

  • One custom black box with striking artwork
  • One custom manual which includes event information and maps
  • One custom cart (this item was sourced from corroded, water-damaged, or otherwise non-functioning games — with that in mind, please be aware that each cart carries a varying amount of character and patina unique to itself)
  • Two commemorative VIP tickets, design inspired by the Nintendo PCB inside every grey cartridge
  • Two standard adult-entry freebie tickets
  • Two event t-shirt vouchers redeemable at the S!BC merch table
  • Two limited edition black S!BC event t-shirts
  • 80′s-inspired posters
  • One NES game sleeve

We are very excited to bring this promotion to our guests in the weeks leading up to our event — and we wish you good luck in winning one! Thanks to Uncle Tusk and Wal R’ Us Games for their help in putting together these beautiful works of art. We couldn’t have done it without their expertise.  Stay tuned to our S!BC sponsor, the Game Bros, for some unboxing goodness coming soon…

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RGS Exclusive: The Ten Must-Have Games For The NES (PART 2)

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Here it is: the much-anticipated finale to the Retro Gamers Society’s Ten Must-Have Games For The NES!  Check out the first half of this list if you missed it.  While there were a couple of obscure or unusual titles included in the first half of our article, part two contains a few more notable selections.  Remember — this isn’t the our list of the top 10 NES games of all time, but the top 10 you need to have on your shelf right now. Here we go!

Tetris

Micah Heath

TETRIS

How can we even begin to describe it? So deceptively easy, yet so incredibly difficult as it progresses. This is the game that taught us to appreciate Russian culture, eased tensions during the Cold War era, and forever changed the way we do simple household chores such as arranging closets, stacking groceries, and filling the dishwasher.

Originally released in 1984, Tetris made its way to the United States in 1986. Nintendo officially released it in 1989 on the NES and Gameboy, and the strategy/puzzle genre has never been the same. The basics of the game are incredibly simple; arrange groupings of four blocks (tetrominoes) as they fall, trying to create a solid horizontal line where they land. The higher the level, the faster they fall. Such a simple premise for a game that’s sold well over one hundred million copies and shows no sign of slowing down — especially in the handheld/mobile market.

tetris2

Tetris was originally programmed and designed by Alexey Pajitnov in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Sadly, he received very little compensation for his work until over ten years later. The Soviet government however, was raking in millions in royalties. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Pajitnov began to make a real profit from his now-legendary creation. Tetris, being such a phenomenon, has been the subject of numerous scientific studies. According to some research, playing Tetris can boost the efficiency of your brain by thickening your grey matter. When playing for extended periods, many people report the game pervading their thoughts, mental images and dreams. Most people who have played extended stints of Tetris will attest to seeing falling blocks as they drift off to sleep. Or, imagining buildings, furniture, or boxes as blocks to be stacked. This is called the Tetris effect, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes classifying the many ways in which Tetris can affect the brain.

Honestly, while preparing for this article, the author had particular difficulty in deciding what to include. How does one write about something so well known, yet so multifaceted and so phenomenal? It’s a little like being asked to write a brief article about the U.S. Constitution, The Rennaissance, the pyramids of Egypt, or space travel. Are we saying that Tetris is on equal level with these things? Well… maybe.

Mega Man 2

David Chauncey Clothier

megaman2

The Mega Man series is one of the finest platforming/shoot-em-up series ever. It is also one of the best on the NES. Of all the Mega Man games that have been made, there is no better than Mega Man 2. In only their second attempt, Capcom managed to get everything right.

Creator Keiji Inafune almost never got his 1988 masterpiece out to the public. Although a great game, the original Mega Man didn’t sell that well on the Famicom and NES. Because of this, Capcom wanted Keiji to use his team’s resources to develop games that they deemed more ‘worthwhile’. Keiji had to treat Mega Man 2 as a side project, utilizing only a small team for development. It was the pet-project nature of this game that, in my opinion, made it turn out so well.

There are many factors contributing to the success of Mega Man 2, one being the way the game pushed the NES color palette and graphical abilities to the absolute limit. The music composed by Takashi Tateishi is some of the best ever in 8-bit midi era. The gameplay is superb — it is a very difficult game (but in a good way). The controls are perfect, and there are no unnecessary villains or sprites of any kind. The addition of two more bosses brings the total to eight (previously six).  This adds to the difficulty of the game. The story is just as good as any visual, audible, or mechanical feature of the game.

The story arc is very simple, yet eloquent.  After being defeated in the first Mega Man, Dr. Wily builds a new fortress and crew of robots to get his revenge. Sent by Dr. Light, you control Mega Man to defeat the crew of robots and eventually battle Dr. Wily.

If you haven’t played this game yet, you are really missing out. The Mega Man series, for the most part, is pretty affordable.  Of all the Mega Man games, this is the second least expensive one. Also, since it is the best selling one of the series — with a little over 1.5 million copies — it’s not like it’s hard to find. So you have no excuse not to pop that bad boy in the toaster and travel back in time to 200x!!!!

Bubble Bobble

Brandon Cole Phillips

bubblebobble

This pseudo-puzzle-solving, sorta-platforming, somewhat adventure game by Taito began ever-so-humbly as an arcade cabinet.  But as its popularity grew – so did its number of ports.  And when it landed on the NES, it became both a rental and a retail success.

Its unique gameplay style involves blowing bubbles to trap your enemies with, and popping the bubbles to turn the villains into food or treasures.  Some screens have pits that you can fall into and emerge from the top of the screen, whereas others require a calculated mix of strategy and ‘bubble-jumps’ to scale the obstacles above.  Beware Baron von Blubba if you take too long to finish a screen!

bb2

With a sometimes fun/sometimes frustrating co-op play and over a hundred levels (and two endings!) to traverse, Bubble Bobble provides hours (and days) of frustrating, annoying, and rewarding gameplay.

Bubble Bobble didn’t change the world of video gaming, but it succeeded in making it much more fun to experience with a friend!

The Legend of Zelda

David Chauncey Clothier

loz

The Legend of Zelda, a classic story about a young lad who must defeat evil forces in order to rescue the princess. LOZ truly is so much more than just a game to many of us. I was 5 the first time I saw LOZ — it was at my neighbor Jara’s house. We were looking through her NES games to find one to play. I was mesmerized as soon as I saw it.

“What is that?” I asked.

“It’s Mom’s, we didn’t want to play it, it’s really boring!” she replied.

I didn’t believe her — I couldn’t believe her. The way the light danced off of the gold cart I knew it had to be something special. It wasn’t until I was 9 that I was able to prove her wrong.

As a kid my mom liked to take me to garage sales, a pastime I have come to love over the years. It was a late September morning and I remember it being kind of chilly. As we were waiting for the sale to start I was scanning the tables in the distance to see if there was anything I would want. Sticking out of the top of a box I saw light shimmering off of a gold surface in the exact same way it was at Jara’s house. Instantly knowing what it was, I ran towards it. I reached into the box to fish out my treasure and up came the Adventures of Link. I was beside myself, I didn’t know what to think. So I decided to investigate farther into the box for more golden treasure. After looking through the whole box, I didn’t find any more gold — though I did find the grey version of Zelda.

zelda2

Regardless of color, I knew I had to have this. I searched the box for a price, but could find nothing. So I decided to ask the lady running the sale how much. $20 she replied, only having $5 I was heartbroken. The look on my face must have been very obvious because she asked me if I thought that was too much. I looked right at her and told her I only had $5. She told me she couldn’t go that low but would take $10. I knew at that moment my only option was to beg my mom for $5. This was going to be no simple task since my mother hardly ever surrendered extra money (this was to encourage me to budget and negotiate). I mustered up all the charm I could and went to her hugging the box.

“Mom I found this video game and the lady wanted $20, but I talked her down to $10…… Can I have $5 so I can buy it?”

She looked at me, looked at the box I was holding, then back at me.”What do you need that for”? she asked.

I knew I had to come up with a good reason or I was never going to get to play Zelda. “Um….well..” Then it hit me, the go-to for every desperate kid. “It can be my birthday present.”

Damn it! Why did I say that? If it was going to be my birthday present I wasn’t going to get to play it until November, I couldn’t wait that long. Then all of a sudden the look on my moms face changed.

“Alright if you want it that bad here is $5, and it doesn’t have to be your birthday present.”

I couldn’t believe what was happening.  I ran to the lady and paid her then went directly to put my treasure in the car.

We stopped at a few more sales before going home which seemed like it took hours. After what seemed like an eternity we were finally home, I unloaded the box from the car and ran to the basement. Once in the basement, I dumped the contents onto the floor. Looking at the heap of cables and electronics I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Like a possessed child I grabbed the system and started to look it over examining all sides of it like you would a Rubik’s cube before you got started. I instantly knew what to do as if by instinct. I swooped up the necessary cables and my Zelda game and went to the TV. After hooking everything up and changing the channel I was ready. This was my moment of glory, I anxiously pressed the power button and bam!!!! Nothing but a blank gray screen. I checked everything to make sure I didn’t screw something up, but it all seemed right. Then I remembered this happened once at my cousin’s house and he put the game in his mouth and blew on it. So I pulled the game out stuck it in my mouth and blew on it until my face turned purple (then I blew on it some more). I put the game back in and that seemed to do the trick. It was working.

There it was, The Legend of Zelda, with some of the most epic music I’ve ever heard playing as accompaniment. After hitting a few random buttons the game finally started. In front of me was a small green boy named Link — and I was in control of him. The first screen had a cave in it, so I went in. Inside there was an old man handing out swords so of course I took it and went on my way. I decided to go right after leaving the cave. At first there wasn’t anything on the next screen.  Then all of a sudden 4 guys that looked like Q-Bert came in and started pelting me with rocks. I knew I had to do something to defend myself, so I went at them wildly swinging my sword. I took one out, then another, to the right was a third. I turned to work my way up the screen and take him out. The thrill was amazing, I imagined really being In Hyrule bashing octoroks in the head with my wooden sword. This was great, then all of a sudden I look down. There was one behind me at the bottom of the screen. It had just spit a rock at me and I didn’t have time to react, it hit me!!! Beep, beep, beep I was almost dead and the game was taunting me by beeping at me. I knew I had to do something — couldn’t die now, not like this. He shot another one, my shield deflected it as I walked towards him. Then another rock was shot and deflected. When I finally got to him I clicked the button to raise my sword and at that exact moment the octorok shot one final rock at me. I was dead, I hadn’t even made it past the first set if enemies and I was dead. I thought to myself, ‘I fricking love this game’, so I restarted.

mullet

I spent the next 8 hours playing that game, I’d find a new enemy and I’d die. I’d find a new dungeon and I’d die. I must have died over 100 times. Even with all the dying I learned a very valuable lesson that day: Jara had no clue what she was talking about.  When it came to games, Zelda was freaking awesome . Unfortunately all the progress I had made that day didn’t get saved right, so when I went back to play a few days later, I was pretty pissed, which made me want to try out the other games I had recently acquired. It wouldn’t actually be until after I started college at KU that I actually defeated Gannon and saved Princess Zelda. But I’ll always remember that first time I played The Legend of Zelda and how it sparked my imagination.

Super Mario Bros 3

Brandon Cole Phillips

smb3

Could the final entry on our list be anything other than the most anticipated sequel of all time?  So many factors played into the success of Super Mario Brothers 3 — condensing it all into a single summary is difficult.

The media blitz was insane: there were the McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, the hoards chanting Mario’s name, the TV show based on the game, and who can forget The Wizard starring Fred Savage?

But it wasn’t just the epic-scale advertising campaign that won over the hearts of millions – the gameplay itself was damn near unbelievable!

The game pushed the NES cart’s chipsets, memory, and sprite capability to the upper limits, accompanied by tight controls, vivid worlds, and a full musical score rivaled only by that of Hollywood.

smb3-2

Well over a third of the NES library has aged positively over the last three decades.  Many games still hold a considerable amount of replay value.  But SMB3 is a different breed of game.  It set the stage for the revolution just a couple of years away on the SNES and Sega Genesis.

Super Mario Brothers 3 transcended other video game franchises in a special, personal, and endearing way.  It was a game that so many still consider to be their game.  And in this reviewer’s opinion, that makes it the best NES game of all time — so far.