If the Xbox One and PS4 are a little too modern for your tastes, then you might want to take a look at the RetroN 5 by Hyperkin. The next evolution of the popular “clone” system concept, this remarkable unit not only plays all of your old cartridges, but also outputs in pin-sharp 720p HDMI – something you couldn’t even dream of back in the early ’90s, when fuzzy old RF was the best AV connection we could hope for.
Still, at over £100, this isn’t an impulse purchase – especially when you consider that you have to then go out and buy the original cartridges, many of which are actually more expensive in their original form than they are via download services on the Wii U and 3DS. Is this all-in-one wonder machine worth your time, or are you better off sticking with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo’s current consoles? We’re about to find out.
RetroN 5 Review: Design
The RetroN 5 is a behemoth of a console, but then it has to be when you consider that it runs NES, SNES, Mega Drive, Famicom, Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games, all out of the box. It also has controller ports for two NES, two SNES and two Mega Drive pads, as well as a docking station for the system’s dedicated wireless controller.
Fitting all of this under one roof was clearly a tricky proposition, and while the RetroN 5 can’t be described as a gorgeous system, it’s nice enough to slot in alongside your other gaming consoles without too much trouble. It’s about the same size as a Xbox One or PS4, but doesn’t weigh anywhere near as much – the cheap plastic casing looks fine at a distance, but close-up it’s less appealing. The shiny black plastic on the top also picks up scratches with alarming regularity.
RetroN 5 Review: Controller
While the RetroN 5 is capable of accepting your vintage controllers as well as your vintage games, the machine comes with a wireless pad which is required to access the “home” menu of the machine. It’s not the best pad we’ve ever cradled in our sweaty palms – the microswitched stick and clicky buttons could have been better – but it’s perfectly useable when you just want a quick blast on Sonic or Mario.
The pad has an internal rechargeable battery which is good for a few hours of play, but actually charging it is a bit of a pain. You have to plug in the supplied USB cable to top it up, despite the fact that the console has a large space for docking the controller. It would have made more sense to have charging contacts in the dock itself to avoid the use of irksome wires.
RetroN 5 Review: Performance
Although the RetroN 5 runs original cartridges, the actual software inside the machine is based on Android. The games are dumped into the machine when the cart is inserted, and then run via an Android-based emulator. This not only means that you benefit from HDMI output so your games look crisper and more detailed than ever, but it also allows for various emulator-style benefits. You can save the game at any point and reload at a later date, take screenshots and even input cheat codes. The RetroN 5 interface also allows for various graphical and audio enhancements, such as screen filters and sound boosts.
Emulation is often frowned upon by dedicated retro gamers, but in the case of the RetroN 5, the performance really couldn’t be better. All of the games we tested ran perfectly, with the exception of a single Famicom title which refused to load.
The only issue with the system is that the console’s save transfer function – which is advertised as allowing you to import and export original save data from your carts – simply doesn’t work. It wiped the games we loaded up, erasing years of progress in the blink of an eye. The console has an SD card slot which means that Hyperkin can upgrade its firmware and solve this fault, but it’s nevertheless disappointing that such an issue exists.
RetroN 5 Review: Conclusion
If you’re keen on your vintage gaming, then the RetroN 5 is your dream ticket. Save data issue aside, it’s the perfect package for anyone who grew up in the 8 and 16-bit eras. You’ll need to dust off those old cartridges of course — or invest in some new ones off eBay — but there really is no better way of playing classic titles these days. The picture quality is superior to that witnessed on the original hardware, and the raft of new features and functions enriches the experience further. If Hyperkin can fix that unfortunate save data fault, then this will become an product that every serious gamer should own.