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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.