Monster Reviews! Hyperkin’s Retron 5!

Aaron Blog Photo

I’m terrible at video games. I enjoy playing them, but it usually takes me longer than the average gamer to complete them. If it took me 15 hours to finish a game, then it took everyone else 10.

Nintendo vs. Sega (bdtorino.eu)
Image: Bdtorino.eu

For modern games, this is perfectly fine. I can save them if I get stuck and come back to them with a refreshed view and usually get past the part hanging me up. The issue of my lack of gaming ability glares brightly when it comes to retro games. These games are more difficult and most of them are not going to have a save function. Unless you are playing a big RPG that has hours and hours of gameplay or the rare non-RPG games like Super Mario World that has the function, you are forced to either write down passwords (if it even has that function) or try and beat the game in one sitting.

In short, I’m not 8-years-old anymore.

I have a wonderful wife I like spending time with, a job I have to go to, and other adult responsibilities. I can’t take a whole afternoon to beat a game anymore, or in my case, play the same levels over and over again until I achieve a virtual breakthrough. It also doesn’t help that I don’t use any strategy guides, FAQs, or YouTube videos to help me beat the game on the initial play through. I want to figure out how to conquer the game myself the first time, then all resources are open to me on replays of the game if there are hidden items, characters, or levels I would like to find. I also like to play the game in its original form which, at least during the cart based era of games, can make it difficult because of the aforementioned lack of a save feature. And I’m not a big fan of emulators because I don’t like playing classic games on a computer or smart device. It just doesn’t feel right.

And, yes, I could come down off my pixel built high horse and just go emulate it so I can have a save option, or use a strategy guide to help alleviate the lack of gaming skills in my possession. And you are right. I could do both of those, but if it would take some of the enjoyment of playing those games away, then I would rather not play them at all. I like the challenge of beating it myself and I hate playing classic games on a laptop or PC. I’m even a bit hesitant about playing compilations of retro games on more modern consoles, because I find them a bit of a drag of as well.

So when the Retron 5 was announced it intrigued me. A system that has save states, an HDMI output, and can play all the majors systems (NES, SNES, Genesis, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, and even the Nintendo Famicom and Super Famicom systems) is going to raise some eyebrows of retro enthusiasts. It basically is a emulation machine that lets you use the retro carts you own and, because it basically dumps the rom from the cartridge into the Retron 5 without damaging the cart, allows you to save games and adjust the resolution to make the game look cleaner and work better with modern TVs. It’s emulation without having to sit at a PC and you get to use your original controllers instead of the USB remodels of classic controller. It gives you the feeling of the playing Retro games with all the modern conveniences.

Hyperkin chart
Image: Hyperkin

I wanted to pull the trigger at launch, but I waited to see reviews from both professionals and the consumer. It received some pretty good marks from IGN and CNET, but the retro gaming community was a little bit disappointed in the system. The biggest issues were the plastic casing being a bit too bendable and the pin connectors being too tight, with some saying that the pins on some of their games were stripping when they pulled it out of the cartridge slot. Like many systems being released today, I decided to wait and see if Hypekin would make a 2nd model that improved upon the first one.

I started looking at the system again after wanting to play a game in my collection, and decided against it because I couldn’t save it. I jumped back on the forums and was happy to see that Hyperkin released a second model that was better built and improved on the concerns of the first. I talked about it with my wife numerous times, but was still a bit hesitant because $150 is a lot of money to spend on anything, let alone something you’re not so sure about. I didn’t have to pull the trigger as my wonderful wife decided to get me one for Christmas. Of course, because I’m so picky, she told me her plans and asked me  how to find the newer build of the system. I found what I needed to identify the newest model and, luckily, Amazon came through with the second construction of the system.

After having the system in my home for close to a month, I can honestly say that the Retron 5 is a must for any retro gamer.

I have found my self playing games and being able to progress without sacrificing hours on end to a game that makes me start over every time I die or run out of continues. The interface is easy to maneuver and it loads the game even quicker. I’ve only played a handful of games on it, but I haven’t had any issues with any of them playing on the console. And, one of the best parts about the system, is the ability to load firmware updates via SD card which allows Hyperkin to patch issues along the way. As much as I hate day one updates on modern systems, I don’t hate firmware updates that fix small bugs or glitches in a game, I don’t like them when they are massive files that complete a game that is supposed to be done already. Hyperkin supporting this system gives me confidence that if something doesn’t work and is reported they will try and patch it if possible. This also allows for you to load translation patches so can better play import games for both the Famicom and Super Famicom. This is a huge feature and allows for players to be able to bring over some great import games that were never released in the US and be able to actually read them. For any RPG fan interested in imports of the genre, this feature almost sells the system itself.

The filters you can put on the game are pretty neat as well. I know a lot of people like the original look of retro games, but when you have a modern flatscreen TV they just don’t translate very well. The Retron 5 lets you choose what type of resolution you want to play in and makes the games of yesteryear look much better on the newer TVs. It has a good number of filters that allow you to clean up all the jagged lines to adding the old school scan lines if you so choose to. And having just one cable go to the TV for both sound and video is a bit more convenient in my game room setup.

Shinobi Retron
Photo: Aaron Collier

The biggest feature of the console is the save states. This has made my retro gaming life much easier and affords me the ability to play through games I may have never had time to. I’ve always wanted to play the Shinobi series, but my local movie rental place (Go look it up kids!) never had any part of the trilogy so I was out of luck. I picked up the first part a little bit ago and have been playing it on the Retron 5, something I couldn’t find enough time in the day to sit down and play with any feeling that I was going to complete it. Now I’m at the last stage of the game and I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but without save states I would have never been able to experience the game like I have now. It looks great on my TV and I can stop playing when it’s time to and pick it back when I can. It may not be creating the exact same experience I had sitting in my bedroom when I was an 8-year-old, but it makes playing these retro titles enjoyable for 31-year-old me. It’s a great feature to have that has allowed me to move through a game at my own pace without losing progress. Some see this as cheating and, to be honest, it is without a doubt. Anyone that tells you otherwise isn’t being honest with themselves and due to the new found advantage I, personally, have decided to save only at the beginning of each level. However, the system makes me excited and driven to play more of the games I’ve accumulated over the past 4 years due to being able to play when I can and keep the progression I was able to achieve. If a product makes you want to play more games, then it’s doing it job pretty well.

One of the negatives I have is that I’m not a big fan of the controller that comes with the system. It is a Bluetooth controller that allows you to recline back with no cables hindering you, but it just isn’t very comfortable in your hands. I’m a big proponent of controllers feeling good in your hands while you play. Both the 6-button Sega Genesis controller and the SNES Super-Pad are two of my favorite retro controllers to play with because they fit perfectly in your hand and have rounded sides so it doesn’t feel like it’s cutting into your hand while playing. Hyperkin’s controller does a bit of that because of the box design. I did play an extended session with it and put it back next to the console and pulled out my SNES Super-Pad as the system allows you to use the original controllers for the systems or even use a Genesis controller to play SNES games and vice versa. The good news is that it has two controller ports for NES, SNES, and Genesis so your friends don’t get stuck with the Retron controller when they come over to play. The option to play with the systems’ original controllers was a smart one as I haven’t used the system’s pack-in controller since the initial trial run.

Hyperkin System
Picture: Hyperkin

Even though I know I ordered the improved model, I still experience some tightness in the cartridge slots, especially the Nintendo one. I had a pretty hard time pulling the cartridge out and it doesn’t make a great sound when inserting one. Luckily I don’t play a ton from that system, but it does concern me if I do decide to play more of it. The Genesis one is a bit on the tight side as well, but if you put one hand on the front corner and pull one corner of the cartridge up it comes out very easily. And inserting it seems to be a gentler process than the Nintendo cartridge as well. The SNES is perfect on both inserting and taking out. I’ve read reviews that tell me they loosen up the more you use them and, out of all the cartridge openings, I hope this is the case for the NES in particular because even trying the method I used with the Genesis slot, which was recommended by Hyperkin, it still took a bit of muscle to pull it out. I haven’t tried the Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, or Famicom slots mostly because I don’t collect for those systems and, to be honest, I don’t know if I ever will.

Even with the controller and the NES port’s tightness issues, the Retron 5 is a must own for retro game enthusiasts. It allows you to enjoy games on your time and schedule, and adjusts it for more modern TVs to work with. The firmware and translation patches are a great feature that adds even more value to the system.

Sometimes bringing in a little bit of modern technology into the retro world isn’t a bad idea. Especially when that technology allows you to enjoy the past even more.

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