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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.

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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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Independence Day Salute: The Army’s MACS System

kingsley-promo

So most of us are familiar with the Zapper, Super Scope, Phaser, Justifier, Menacer, and many other popular light guns for our retro consoles.  However, today I won’t be talking about any of them – I want to introduce you to the Multi-purpose Arcade Combat Simulator (or M.A.C.S.) for the Super Nintendo.

MACS1

This training set consisted of: an M-16/M-4 replica with a light pen module, the Basic Rifle Markmanship Program, a small 13” Magnavox or (13” equivalent) television, a SNES system with controller, manual, and carrying case. Most sets were all serial numbered and had a set number under that serial (pictured below). The case design for these sets consisted of no more than a plywood box with slots and tray for storage of items during transport. The light rifles would be transported in a gun case.

MACS3

Developed for the U.S. Army in 1993, this system was designed to train soldiers for proper marksmanship proficiency. The game focused on five main points: steady positioning, aiming, breath control, trigger squeeze, and shot location. It was used at many Army basic training programs and several Army training centers. The simulator would have you zero the weapon on the screen then place you on a simulated target range to allow you to get the chance to score a weapons zero. Following that, you would move forward to the pop-up target range, where you would then qualify for your marksmanship skills.

MACS5

The light gun works just like the zapper – you see your target, pull the trigger, the screen flashes, and the gun detects whether it’s a hit or not. Now, the trigger is a little different on the version I used due to the fact that the gun chosen was a rubber dummy rifle.  There had been some necessary modifications. They had to hollow out and remove the whole right side of the M16 to retrofit the electronic trigger. Then the cord would be run up through the inside of the body to the light pen located on the top of the barrel.  From there, a cord would be run to connect it to your SNES console – simple and practical for the time period and technology.

MACS4

Now for the collecting aspect…

There are two different systems: the one shown, which is the Super Nintendo version, which has three different type of carts and several different M16/M4 gun variants.  There was the Jager AP74, both M16A1 and CAR-15 models, an M16A2 dummy rifle converted like the one shown, and the M4A1 dummy rifle conversion. I have personally seen and handled the dummy conversions and I have only seen the Jager AP74 models in photographs.

According to Video Game Price Charts, the average price for one would be a whopping $600-800 price tag.  Many were simply destroyed by the Army.

There is a second “rumored” Commodore 64 version. Not much is to be known… besides the rumors. So if you know anyone with one or have any info, please drop us a line.

After long, technology improved and the Army moved on to the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) Simulator. This system is about as close to video game combat as it gets. Almost all of the U.S. military’s portable or small arms weapons are usable: .50cal Ma Duce, M240B ,M249, AT4, Javelin anti-tank rocket, HMMWVs in a live fire situation – and the list goes on.

I want to close this tale of the Army and video games coming together by focusing on what Independence Day is all about.  It is the day we gained our independence from England thanks to some of the greatest men and women in our nation’s storied history.

Today we salute those men and women: those amazing dudes who fought to liberate us, so that we unified and became one of the best countries in the world! Patrick Henry said it best: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

MACSend

GOD BLESS THESE STATES, GOD BLESS AMERICA! ♦

Kingsley Blancher

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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