Being a product of the early 90's, I grew up with a lot of hand-me-down video games; it was all I could get due to how poor my family was at the time. If I wanted a new one, I either had to wait for my birthday or Christmas to roll around, or go to a flea market or garage sale to see if anyone had any they were trying to pawn away. As such, I wound up not having many games to play. This quickly changed after I got my first paycheck and I was soon surrounded by retro games; this was poor judgement on my part. Also, it wasn't long before I found out that games often outlive the console they are made for and I found myself with dozens of games with nothing to play them on. It was then that I discovered the Retron 5, a region-free third-party console made by the company Hyperkin that is advertised to be able to play game cartridges from five different systems. Honestly, I didn't think I'd ever delve into this kind of territory, but here we are, so let's see if it is worth the purchase...
When I first opened up the box, I noticed that the console itself is extremely lightweight; it feels like it could break very easily. Although, it looks very nice with its glossy sheen and it is well put together. The controller has a very unusual design however; it doesn't feel quite right in my hands and it has a digital joystick instead of a standard directional pad. Now as I went to boot up the system, I found that the controller wasn't synced with the console by default. Luckily I had a spare SNES controller that I could use to access the menus which allowed me to sync up the controller that came with it. After syncing, I browsed the menus and discovered that the system could be updated with a new version of the existing firmware. So, I grabbed an SD card, plugged it in to the back of the console, followed the onscreen instructions, took out the card, went to the official site, downloaded the update onto the card, put it back into the Retron 5 and finished the update. THIS is an egregious flaw in the system's design as this could easily have been done via WiFi. That being said, this tediousness was the biggest problem with it and everything else flows a little more smoothly.
The first game I decided to test on this thing was EarthBound for the SNES. Everything worked really well and the controls did what they were supposed to. Plus the system saves a state the first time you start a game up. So I played for a little while until I got far enough to save my progress and I discovered that the system has the ability to save a backup of your progress to the internal memory or the SD card if you so wish. So I did, and quit the game, but this is when I ran into my second problem: the Retron 5 doesn't have an eject switch for any of the five cartridge slots. While this usually isn't a problem in and of itself, but it was in this case because the console had one helluva death grip on my game. I'm sure that if you need to use excessive force in order to remove a game from its slot, then that is an indication that an eject button would have been sorely needed. It wasn't until later when I found out that the games come out more easily when you gently pull them out from one side at an angle.
Now because of how much force it took for me to remove my game from the cartridge slot, I feared that I might have damaged my precious copy of EarthBound. So as a second test, I tried out the game again on my SNES, and (unfortunately) I saw that my save file had been wiped clean. This pissed me off until I remembered that the Retron 5 saved a backup of my save file. So I reluctantly put the game back into the system and had the Retron rewrite the file onto the cart. Then came the moment of truth; I CAREFULLY removed EarthBound from the Retron 5, booted the game back up in my SNES and lo and behold, everything was all peachy-keen. Despite the problems I had, this is an extremely nice feature that I think all future cartridge-based consoles should have.
Next thing I tested was the built in Game Genie with the NES game Little Nemo: The Dream Master, at least, that's what I would like to say. As it turns out, the Game Genie codes had to be downloaded separately from the firmware update. I had to do all of that downloading crap again and it doesn't even work when there are too many cheats active at one time. There were some games that weren't even compatible with it as it was an early version of the list. At least the process is much more user-friendly than the firmware updates. The last thing I tested was the screenshot tool with the Famicom game Summer Carnival '92 RECCA. Not really much of big feature, but it is nice to able to save screenshots as a jpeg or png file.
Now I bet you're wondering, "This sounds a lot like a glorified emulator that can play cartridges," and well, you'd be half right. While it does emulate the console specs of the NES, SNES, Famicom, Sega Mega Drive and Game Boy Advance (and the Sega Master System with the help of Sega's Power Converter), it CANNOT play ROM files of any kind. "Then what's the point when I can just download an emulator and connect it to my TV?" you may ask. Well, my valued readers, let me ask you this: Can you backup your cartridge data from an emulator? Well no, but honestly, that feature of the Retron 5 (while nice) really isn't all that worth it since it can't even use any hardware features that might be built into the cartridge. If you get it as a gift, great. If you buy it with your own money though, don't spend more than $100 on it. I guess the new firmware update that allows you to patch games with ROM-hacks or translations might be nice. I would need to test that first though, but until then, I'll be seeing you.