Video Game System Review - Hyperkin's Retron 5
It was the biggest pain in the ass getting this set up. I feel like I have to get that out of the way right off the bat.
But it was soooo SOOOOOOOOO worth it!
When you do a search on the Google for Hyperkin’s Retron 5, you’ll come across many things, positive reviews, negative reviews, complaints, praises, controversy on the emulators used and so on and so forth. I’m here to tell you the story in the guise of a review. This story will have its dark moments, but it has its shining light of victory as well. So let’s get started.
The initial problem is quite simple…at least on the surface. Now that I’d relocated to a city that was VERY conducive to retro gaming, it was time for me to dive in. I dug out my old SNES, I scrambled to get a replacement Sega Genesis and the scramble for old games was on. Firing everything up on my HDTV yielded a disappointment. Sure, they looked fine…but just a little blurred and certainly not how I’d remembered them. Granted, one could blame the haze of age, either in the cataracts sense or the ‘things are always better in your memory as opposed to how they really were’ sense, but in doing a little digging, it turned out this was more a disagreement between old tech and new tech and, as I dug deeper, the solution sounded more and more complex. Now, I say complex…and honestly, it might not have been…but it seemed like the only place I could get the bits, pieces and wires I’d need to make my old consoles shine in HD was on the internet. If I was going to sink money into this, I wanted to see and feel connectors and such before buying anything so that I could understand what it was that I was going to be doing. This hurdle slowly pushed the option further and further into the realm of “not so much”.
The next step was to look into the various…let’s call them imitation consoles. And I have to admit, I really didn’t do much in the way of “due diligence”. I’d seen the Retron 3 (capbable of playing NES, SNES and Genesis games) at the various games stores in the area and made a mental note of it. Just before the holidays, I finally decided to cave at my local game shop…only to find they didn’t have any in stock. This would prove to be a blessing in disguise. Doing my homework on the Retron 3, it only hooks up via A/V cables and thus, may not have solved the problem I was hoping it would.
Enter the Retron 5. Expanded to play not only NES, SNES and Genesis games, it also plays Japanese Famicom games and the entire suite of Game Boy games (original Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance). But the clincher? HDMI. Yes, it was about double the price of the Retron 3…clocking in at about $150 (more or less depending where you pick it up). Reading up on it, well, the internet was pretty split down the middle. Those that had one and one that worked absolutely adored the machine. Those that had one that didn’t work right out of the box took internet hatred to a new level. And then, of course, you had system purists out there too harping on emulation lag times and such. I have to admit that the fact that systems were out there that did not function right out of the box had me scared as I absolutely abhor dealing with ‘customer service’ ( one, because I just hate dealing with people in general and two, there’s guaranteed to be a language or accent barrier).
So, as you'd expect with a set up like that, once I found one, did a Tusken Raider victory cry, got it home, took it out of the box and hooked it up, NATURALLY it didn’t work.
Before we get into that, though, let’s look at the actual hardware itself. Even the positive internet reviews (and definitely the negative ones) would comment on how the plastic the system is made out of feels “cheap”. I really didn’t think that to be the case. Yeah, I’m not going to tell you it can handle a game of tackle football…and seriously, is this console really going to leave your entertainment stand or whatever? Okay, maybe to take over to a friend’s house, but I’m guessing that’s not going to involve passing through the middle of a gigantic sword battle, right? Hell, the system would likely survive the car ride to your chum’s place even if you decided to off-road it or chose the shittiest roads possible to your destination. The other big hardware complaint was the included controller. On the bright side, it is wireless, but I’ll agree with everyone in that using the original controllers feels better. I dunno, there’s something about this controller that doesn’t feel right ergonomically. Functionally, it’s fine, if a little too clicky, but I do use it as my default controller for when I’m playing Game Boy games and haven’t noticed anything negative like lag or what have you.
Let’s get back to our long, dark trek to functionality. Hook up the system, power up, black screen. Off to the internet we go. Well, first off, you need an SD card for memory. No one tells you this and it says this absolutely NOWHERE on the box. The set-up instructions inside the box make it sound like having the card is optional. IT’S NOT. Buy one either at the same store or grab one on the way home (or if you’ve got a spare just sitting around the house…that works too). Putting the card in…THERE IS LIFE!!! Now let’s pair the controller with the system. Sometimes it’d take, sometimes it wouldn’t…yeah, there were multiple attempts. If it DOES take, you move on to the ‘adjust screen size’ screen, which, again, sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t…and again, MULTIPLE TRIES. If you’ve made it this far…and I did, you’re welcomed with “Your firmware needs updated”. Now, I was hopeful for this…I figured update the firmware and all these problems go away. Sounds good on paper…right??? First, there’s updating the firmware. The system writes a firmware update request on your SD card. From there, take your SD card, go to Hyperkin’s tech website (not just the system’s homepage, no, you’ve got to go digging in their FAQ to find the link http://retron5.in/node/6) and download the firmware update onto your SD card. Plug the card back into your system and “A newer firmware version has been detected. Would you like to update?” Of course, I clicked ‘yes’. “Updating firmware, please be patient.” Okay, I’m a patient guy. I’ll watch some TV in the meantime.
30 minutes go by. “Updating firmware, please be patient.” Okay, I’ll watch a movie.
2 hours go by. “Updating firmware, please be patient.” At this point, I had to go to bed…had to work in the morning. But, for fear of turning my system into a $150 lump of plastic and silicon, I opted to let it go overnight.
8 hours later, before going to work, I check. “Updating firmware, please be patient.” Nope. Not anymore. Turned it off and went through the day in a funk…and on a quest to try and find just what the hell was going on. Some YouTube videos showed me that the firmware update should’ve only taken a couple of seconds. Uh oh…this wasn’t sounding good. More and more, I had the feeling I’d be arguing with someone that was not a native English speaker by the end of the day. But there was one last nuclear option I could try.
Now, they warn you about this, saying that it will wipe out all your game saves and such. Lucky for me I didn’t have any! Of course, finding out how to do this, like anything else with this system requires Google searching and just a little bit of luck. I’ll spare you, the instructions are here: http://retron5.in/node/4.
Going through all of that, I closed my eyes, muttered a “If this doesn’t work, I swear I’m gonna…” and hit the power button. It worked. Holy Geez, it worked!
So we can now actually talk about the system! Popping the games in and out of the system the first few times can be like pulling the sword from the stone. I’m at a joke crossroads…do I use “I got a hernia pulling out my copy of Super Mario Bros” or “while trying to pull out my copy of Metroid I saw an inscription reading ‘He who removeth this cartridge from this system shall be king’? Otherwise…this thing is a DREAM! You can play with various filters to get games to look as sharp or as smooth as you like. You can save your place in any game. And even if you don’t, the system will still remember where you were before you opted to shut the system down or change games. Getting back to the home menu to do these things is very easy. And yes, while this system depends on an Android system based emulator, there is no lag or anything else associated with emulation gaming. The system has ports accommodating controllers from the NES, SNES and Genesis and functionality where should you like one controller over all others, you can assign button functions. That sentence feels awkward…so let me see if I can explain it like this. Say you really like the SNES controller, then you can use it to play Genesis games and assign what SNES buttons will fill in for the Genesis controller’s buttons. I’ll be honest though, I haven’t used this function.
There is, with all of this, a very minor downside: compatibility. There are going to be some games you run into out there that aren’t going to work on the console…yet. Fortunately, I’ve only run into one thus far, Burai Fighter…and obscure little title that I rented once or twice when I was younger and really liked. All the major releases that you remember, Super Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Castlevainia and so on…yeah, they work just fine. But even with the more obscure games, they are working to increase compatibility, so while my copy of Burai Fighter may not work now, it just might in a few months. You see, the system only launched in the middle of 2014, so it’s still rather young and as such, I expect the list of playable games to grow even larger than it’s already considerable large-ness. That sentence got weirder as I wrote it…look, if it doesn’t work now, it likely will in the near future as Hyperkin is striving to hit 100% compatibility. Since the online community for the system continues to look pretty active, I actually feel comfortable making that statement.
Long story short? Yeah, yeah, too late, I know. It’s a pain in the ass to get this thing up and running, the instructions don’t help and getting the information to do it right is like a massive internet scavenger hunt. But once you do? It truly is the land of milk and honey when it comes to retro gaming on your HDTV. And from what all I’ve read and heard, your experience setting up the system is probably going to be different from mine…either different good or different bad. Hopefully, by putting the links in this review, I’ve given you a step up that I never had. But back on topic, if you can stand a day or two of hair pulling madness to get the system up and running…once it does, you’ll be in heaven.
Well…one way or another.
Site-wise, this opens up another area I can dabble into, Retro Game Reviews. Granted, I haven’t been all that stellar on the video game reviews (still gotta write up Force Unleased 2)…but hey, potential content, right?