The Hyperkin RetroN 5 is available now (stock depending) from FunStock for £129.99.
- Plays titles from up to 10 systems
- Original controllers and included Bluetooth gamepad supported
- Load/save, screenshots, fast-forward and built-in cheats
- Android based emulation system
- 720P output over HDMI
The RetroN 5 is a 5-in-one gaming console that wants to reconnect you to the cartridges you once loved, but shoved away in a drawer.
Ideally, that's a stash of titles you last played 20 years ago.
To my personal shame, it's a treasure trove I bought in 2013.
Like a lot of people nearing the, erm, 'middle third' of my life, I have relatively recently dived back into the retro gaming scene. I subscribe to the magazines, read the reviews, and from time to time buy the odd old console and play some of the games.
The problem, though, is that these games are more difficult to just get on your TV than you remember. None of the old machines come with HDMI connections, and with modern monitors or TVs that literally might be enough to keep them in the loft. Even if you do want to play them, you're left with buying VGA cables for extra, or using the original tuning cable, which is awful.
There are other issues too. Old controllers are cabled - which means dragging your couch forward and sitting uncomfortably close to the big TV in your living room. The images are low quality, and not suited to the big screen. Just like when you were a kid you can't save mid-game. And then there's the hardware. Beautiful these old boxes may be, but they stack up. As soon as you have a Megadrive, a SNES and a NES under your TV, you end up sort of looking like this guy.
It's a problem. It meant I never played the SNES games I loved. And it's a problem the RetroN 5 pretty much… solves.
The RetroN 5 had a troubled 2014. But the machine that arrived with us for testing was an impressive for an inexpensive piece of kit.
It's made of plastic, and has a slightly odd aesthetic - it's almost retro, and almost cool, but not really either - but it's functional, light, and has a pleasing range of ports, slots and features that cater for almost every use. So let's list them.
- The RetroN 5 plays NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy Advance cartridges. PAL and NTSC are covered.
- It has an included Bluetooth controller, but has six extra controller ports (two each for the NES, SNES and Mega Drive).
- It exports in 720P (max) over HDMI with options for shading/filtering the image, stretching to screen sizes and also producing an enhanced audio output which claims to be smoother than the original.
- You can save states, screenshots and load games at any point, including via an SD Card slot at the back, and access built-in cheats via the GUI menu.
If you have a stack of cartridges you don't play, because of all the cable/port/clutter issues listed above, this is starting to sound like a great deal.
And in the main, it is.
The controller included in the pack is a little odd - it's blocky and the direction stick isn't ideal for some games - but it works. Neatly, the controller also has a built-in fast forward button, which is brilliant for skipping cut-scenes or other annoying interludes. It's better than some controllers included in Android consoles (like the Ouya) though if you have a collection of old controllers you might prefer them.
Another biggie is that every cartridge we tried worked. There have been some reports of compatibility issues, but we didn't have any with our relatively simple collection of titles. The games all looked fantastic, especially if you fiddle around with the various image filters, scan lines and other visual gimmicks in the RetroN 5's menus. Even the Game Boy games look amazing. Tennis (1989) has a certain majesty in 720P on a 55-inch screen.
Old gamepads (we tried SNES and Mega Drive pads) play fine, and also work cross-system, meaning you can run NES games with a SNES pad if you like.
So what's not to like? Well... There are some oddities.
The most obvious is how the system actually works. For this is not a collection of old hardware in a box, it's an Android-based system packed with emulators (software designed to run old games). The RetroN 5 downloads your games from your cartridges each time you place them in the slot, and then runs them on the Android emulator. You'll feel like you're playing off the cart, but you're not.
For purists it's possible that's an issue on its own. For most players it's fine. Practically it's the same experience. But it's a shame that obvious uses for this system -- like building up a library of carts on the RetroN 5's memory, loading multiple carts at once and so on -- aren't implemented.
Needless to say, you also can't run illegal or grey-area ROMs downloaded from the internet. Legally, even ethically Hyperkin's policy makes total sense. But the reality of life means that for some players dabbling in the dark arts and running games on a laptop will remain more convenient -- and a lot cheaper, when you factor in the reality of buying carts online or in specialist stores.
I wish it looked cooler. I wish the controller was better. I wish I had more NES games and a Master System adapter. And no, it doesn't run Spectrum, Amiga, BBC Micro, Atari or games you made up in your head and never made.
Those things aside, though, in almost every way, the RetroN 5 is actually better than original hardware. It's faster, looks better, is more convenient and works amazingly well.
It's not perfect. And it's hard to shake the feeling - mistaken, probably, but intrinsic - that this is somehow less fun than playing games on old machines. But if you have a stack of games and don't play them -- either through laziness or technical problems - the RetroN 5 is an amazing solution.