Hardware Reviews
Retron 5 Console Review: Absolutely Worthwhile for Retro Enthusiasts

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 13 Jun 2014 15:00
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Retron 5

The ability to solve that specific visual issue has been Hyperkin's main selling point for the Retron 5 over previous console-clones, and it's here that the system is not just a success but a straight-up unqualified wonder for the dedicated retrogamer. No lie: The issues with the machine's nuts and bolts construction keep it from being perfect, but on the software side the Retron 5 is as close as these things get to a must-own. A miracle. A (literal) game-changer.

Rather than simply recreating the console-to-screen interface of original systems, the Retron 5 boasts an Android-based custom operating system that loads the cartridge data into onboard emulation software - but only while the cartridge itself is connected, making this not technically piracy. From there, it outputs the games in clear 720p HD while preserving the original graphics pixel-for-pixel. I cannot overstate enough just how good the results of this are, visually: Not only did every console game I tried look as good as new - they looked sharper and clearer than they'd ever looked even on the best oldschool CRT displays. In a few cases, it was almost like seeing them for the first time.

Frankly, the HD upscaling is so remarkable I'd have happily paid twice what Hyperkin is charging (and maybe if I had they'd have made the thing out of materials worthy of its innards); but it's not the end of its software benefits. The games launch from a main menu packed with user-friendly options allowing you to adjust screen size, volume, customize button maps, change aspect ratios and even apply visual filters like anti-alias smoothing or CRT-style scanlines.

Retron 5 UI

The onboard software also allows for game-specific save states, which remain stored and waiting for whenever you put the game back in (another feature that would've made this a day-one must buy even without the other bells and whistles) and it recognizes existing save data from battery-backed cartridges. There's even a built-in menu for cheat codes, which can be downloaded from a Hyperkin database and added via a rear SD card slot - which is also how the system will handle patches and software updates.

Of course, the retrogaming scene is nothing if not filled with traps and hurdles. The Retron 5 is still brand new, and devout gamers are still putting it through its paces with regard to more obscure titles and peripherals (I'm curious to find out, for example, if there's a way for it to work around the infamous "soft reset" gimmick from the Genesis X-Men.) I can personally report that my original, not-even-close to "mint" copies of two infamously difficult to emulate classic titles, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and the original SNES Starfox, both booted up with zero difficulty.

Bottom Line: The Retron 5 is not perfect, but while its physical construction leaves a bit to be desired, what it does with regards to the presentation, playability and even full-on resurrection of Golden Age games leaves me quite comfortable calling it one of the most satisfying gaming purchases I've made in years.

Recommendation: Absolutely worthwhile for retro enthusiasts, oldschool fans who've still got their game collections and younger students of the medium who'd like to experience the games that formed the foundation of gaming for themselves. If that sounds like you, and you can handle some nagging issues with mechanics and casing (which, admittedly, tend to be part of the retro-scene no matter what) I'd call it very close to a must-buy.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to hit every thrift store, yard sale and flea-market between here and kingdom-come - some old and dear friends of mine are out there, somewhere, and I think they've waited long enough.

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