The RetroN 5 has finally made it to households, after numerous delays on the hardware. Its premise is promising—being able to play up to nine different retro platforms for only $139.99 is pretty impressive—but reproduction consoles tend to fall victim to cheap materials and the inability to play a (nowadays usually small) percentage of a system's games. How well does the RetroN 5 perform?
When you first power up the RetroN 5 (by holding the Power Button for about 10 seconds; really, Hyperkin, you should make that bit more evident), you are asked to sync the packaged controller up to the system and calibrate the visual settings to match your TV. From there, the main menu has a few options to play around with. You can play the game currently in the system, of course, as well as mess with cheats and other options.
Arguably the most important feature found here has to do with saves; you can transfer saves from your cartridges to the RetroN's internal memory and back again, making it easy to create back-up saves for these aging cartridges. When the RetroN first loads a cartridge, it'll automatically pull any save data from the cartridge, if available, so if you're loading up a new game you don't need to remember to do this yourself. While there have been reports of the RetroN wiping the original save on the cartridge when first loading up a new game, the only time where I myself may have ran into that issue is when I inserted Pokemon Red, a title I hadn't played in years that may have had a dead battery in the first place. However, it's worth noting that the RetroN 5 may erase your initial, years-old save, but it has no difficulties holding the data after that point.
In addition, it will create a save state for your games once you quit out of them. Essentially, as long as you exit out of the game back to the main menu before you shut down the console, the RetroN 5 will keep track of where you left off, even if you switch to other games. This is particularly great for games that only have a password system, or no saving system at all.
You can also manually create save states, and take advantage of other emulator-like features, but it requires the use of the wireless controller packaged with the system. As one might expect, the controller itself is terrible. The controller is uncomfortable to hold and cheap feeling, and the buttons make a loud, clicking noise that grinds on one's nerves. Also, a play test of Mega Man X showed that the button buttons could be unresponsive at times (usually when trying to press multiple buttons at once). Still, the controller works for the most part, and you can make do with it until you buy a legitimate NES, SNES, or Genesis controller.
Also, like most reproduction consoles, the RetroN 5 does have some difficulties reading some games. Of my (admittedly mostly portable) collection of cartridges I tried, the RetroN 5 had trouble reading five games: Mega Man X, Lufia II, Final Fantasy VI Advance, Dragon Warrior III, and The Adventures of Star Saver. The latter two were due to the less-than-ideal condition of the cartridges (a cleaning and a couple tries got them to work), but the other three ended up being errors with the console itself. The RetroN 5 read the cartridges as "unknown cartridges"--you can still play them, but the game may not run correctly. Going back to Mega Man X, running the game as an unknown cartridge had the title running fine in the beginning, but as the game went on, unusual glitches began occurring that ruined the ability to play the game.
This, however, shouldn't be a reason to decry the RetroN 5. The SD support on the console allows Hyperkin to release firmware updates for the RetroN, and in fact, they already released an update for the system, fixing some of the cartridge reading problems it had before. After the update, trying the problem cartridges again resulted in Lufia II (seemingly) working correctly and no change in Final Fantasy VI Advance. Mega Man X was weird, however; while the RetroN read the cartridge correctly, the game itself continued to act oddly, exhibiting the errors common with the copyright protection effects put into place by the developers (health pick ups disappearing when they touch the ground, health randomly dropping, and so on). Seeing as the copy of Mega Man X is not a bootleg, it's odd that the update is making the cartridge read like it is.
When the RetroN 5 does read the carts correctly (which is most of the time), it does so wonderfully. The games look great on the big screen, and run just as well on the RetroN 5 as they on their original consoles. The ability to play in HD is a big selling point for the system, and this is one area that it really excels in.
There are a few other quirks with the system, but they are by no means deal breakers. Not being able to have more than one cart at a time is a bit of a downer, but is understandable when considering that the RetroN loads the data from the cartridges into the UI; inserting a second cartridge would cause loading errors. Also, the system has a veritable death grip on Genesis and NES games; on the Genesis titles in particular, it feels as though I may be breaking my cartridges when trying to remove them (though that, of course, isn't the case). The GBA slot is also a little loose when trying to insert GB/GBC titles, usually requiring a bit of wiggling to get them to read.
Is the RetroN 5 worth your money? Well, it isn't a pitch perfect emulation of all of these retro consoles, but that's to be expected from a reproduction console. Playing these retro games in HD is a plus, and for those that lack room the ability to have nine consoles in a compact area is a godsend. There are some inherit problems with the software (which can be solved with firmware updates) and hardware (which there's little to be done), and the price may seem a bit steep when considering the overall production value of the console.
It all depends on what exactly you want from the RetroN 5. If you just want to play games, depending on your library, you may come into some issues but overall you will be pleased. Basically, the bigger and more diverse your retro game collection is (platform-wise), the more the RetroN 5 will be worth your purchase.
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