Hyperkin Retron 5 Review
by The Video Game Critic8/27/2017
I read a few reviews before purchasing Hyperkin's Retron 5, and I have to say they were pretty much dead-on. This system is a real pain in the ass to set up, but once you get the thing running it's a pretty amazing device. It lets you play retro games from a wide variety of systems in crystal-clear HD, and the price is right. Out of the box the system supports games for the NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance. It's HDMI output has a maximum resolution of 720p and supports up to 60 frames per second. Its side ports support NES, Genesis, and SNES controllers.
When I received my Retron 5 from Amazon I was struck by its packaging. The box has a very streamlined black design with a stylish pink accent in the right corner. That corner is actually indented, creating an eye-catching asymmetric look. Just be careful how you unpack it, as you can't slide the contents towards the side with the indentation.
The system itself measures 12 by 8 inches and the design is sleek and shiny. The Retron 5 is the sports car of game consoles. I opted for the black model with the purple trim and my friends were absolutely drooling over it. Unlike most systems the console is longer than wide, with cartridge slots running along the top and controller connectors on each side. To the rear of the system is a bay that holds its wireless controller.
The box also contains a power adapter with four variable head sockets, the wireless controller, a charge cable, and an HDMI cable. The HDMI cable seems like a nice inclusion until you realize it's only three feet long! Especially for my convoluted setup, I immediately had to run out and buy a longer one.
Setting up the Retron 5 is frustrating and instructions are not particularly helpful. It tells you to "press the power button to turn the system on" yet nothing happens when you do that. Apparently you need to hold in the power button for a few seconds. It's one of many minor but irritating oversights you'll grapple with trying to get this thing up and running.
When the Retron 5 is powered on the Hyperkin logo flashes across the screen but there's no audio. Your first instinct is to turn up the volume, but you'll want to resist the urge because the menu interface has some of the most ear-piercing sound effects I've ever been subjected to.
Hooking up the wireless controller was an adventure. I correctly assumed it was not charged, so I hooked it up via the charging cable. The setup screen offered cryptic instructions on how to link with the controller. After hitting some buttons the controller lights began to blink, but I couldn't get it to register. Apparently it just needed to charge a bit, because after a few minutes the next setup screen magically appeared.
After a few quick prompts I was all set... or so it would seem. I then noticed my 3-in-1 Sega Master System/Game Gear attachment (which I ordered at the same time) wasn't being recognized. That's because it was necessary to upgrade my Retron 5 firmware (joy). I followed the directions in the manual which instruct you to insert an SD card into the Retron 5. Fortunately I had a card handy. The system writes something to the card which you then plug into your computer for transfer to the Hyperkin web site. Good thing my Mac has an SD card slot.
The instruction manual instructs you to go to the Hyperkin site and "locate the next firmware update". So I went to the site but couldn't find any information about firmware updates! After combing through the online FAQ and I found the necessary link buried in there. Why does this process have to be so hard? Once I downloaded the firmware I plugged the card back onto the Retron and it updated immediately. Suddenly my 3-in-1 was recognized and I transformed back into David Banner.
I find it odd how Retron 5 menus sometimes prompt you to press A or B on the controller, yet there are no A and B buttons on the Retron controller! There's a plus, minus, and four arrows. You'd think "plus" would go forward and "minus" would go back, but that's not always the case.
The Retron 5 controller is likely the worst ever designed. It's just barely functional enough to navigate the Retron menus, and I wouldn't even attempt to play a game with it. Its overly-sensitive directional pad has a really mushy, clicky feel unlike any controller I've ever used. The buttons are super springy, as if they were designed to measure how hard you press them. Fortunately I only need to use this inexact piece of junk to navigate the Retron 5 menus.
I have to admit I was a little worried about inserting my beloved classic game cartridges in the Retron 5. Early reviews for the system warned how the system applied a "death grip" to cartridges, making their removal feel like an alarming struggle. This was the reason I held off buying the system for so long! I'm happy to report that this issue apparently has been rectified. The cartridges do fit snug (you can't rock them back and forth) but I haven't had trouble inserting or removing them.
When you insert a game the system displays the recognized title (sometimes referring to the Japanese version) and sucks the game ROM into memory. Playing old games on the Retron 5 is an eye-opening experience. While the pixelation is accentuated, the razor-sharp objects and vibrant colors reveal a degree of detail you've never seen before. The vibrant colors really pop off the screen. There are various effects you can apply to affect the size of the screen, add scan lines, or soften the pixelation. Some of the filters do a remarkably good job of smoothing pixelated edges.
Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure on a CRT TV (left) versus the Retron in HD (right). Click images for detail.
The emulation is spot-on for most games. I've tried a wide variety of cartridges for various systems and have been pleased with the results. In many cases the Retron 5 enhances the experience, allowing me to see (and hear) parts of the game I never noticed before. If there's any control lag it's barely perceivable. I can't get over how crystal clear the sound is. It's great fun to try out your old favorites on this thing. I played Streets of Rage with my wife and we were impressed how its amazing music was faithfully reproduced.
There are exceptions however. One big one is the original Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis. The music is slower and the general pace of the game feels sluggish. I'm really surprised the system can't properly handle such a high profile title. Also, X-Kaliber 2097 for the SNES would not run on my Retron 5. Instead it displayed the message "THIS GAME IS NOT DESIGNED FOR YOUR SUPER FAMICON OR SUPER NES. ACTIVISION". I don't know how many games are affected, but these appear to be isolated cases.
I love how the Retron 5 saves your game in progress. Whenever you reload a game it picks up exactly where you left off. Batteries in classic games are known to last decades, but they won't last forever so this feature is perfect for Zelda and lengthy RPGs. It's worth noting however that the default internal storage is tiny so you're probably going to want to pony up for an SD card. I have a 2GB card plugged into mine although I'm pretty sure I'll never need that much space.
It's fun to toy around with the system options. Video settings include filters, scan lines, aspect ratios, frame rate, and screen size. You can enhance the sound or boost the bass or treble. You can select the console region and map the buttons on your controller. Many options can be adjusted while a game is already in progress.
My friends generally like the Retron 5 but sometimes insist playing their favorites on a CRT television. Playing old games in high definition brings out new level of detail but it also magnifies visual flaws. While playing Goal for the NES, Brent and Chris thought the scrolling seemed choppy so we switched to the CRT which was a lot easier on the eyes. On the other hand my friend Eric was thoroughly impressed wit the Retron 5. He couldn't get enough of Sunset Riders (Genesis) and Reggie Jackson Baseball (Sega Master System) in high definition.
As a reviewer I still prefer to review classic games on their native systems and a CRT television. It's the way they were originally intended to be played, after all. I have however begun reviewing Game Gear and Game Boy titles on the Retron, as I feel like I can get a much better grasp of their graphics and sound (versus the small screen). The Retron 5 has also given me the option of reviewing Japanese NES games which I couldn't play before.
There are a lot of reasons to buy an Retron 5. Maybe you want to play classic games without having to purchase the systems. Maybe you want to play your collection of retro games on your big family room TV without having to haul in your old systems. Maybe you want to just streamline your game room. Whatever the reason you probably won't be disappointed.
The Retron 5 won't be replacing my collection of classic systems but it's nice to have it as part of my collection. The system lets me view old favorites in a whole new light. I'm just hoping future attachments (or versions of the system) will support Turbografx-16, Nintendo 64, and Atari games.
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