In North America in particular, Hyperkin has made a name for themselves releasing clone systems for a number of classic consoles. We take a look at the range available, the pros and cons each and what you can expect.
The Retron 1 (stylised RetroN) was Hyperkin‘s first foray into clone consoles and used NES An A Chip (NOAC) to emulate a Nintendo Entertainment system. It was primarily notable for being able to use both the controllers and the light gun from the standard NES (with a CRT television only), and provided composite output of for video and audio. Famicom cartridges were not supported, owing to the different form factor.
Compatibility was generally good, however some older multicarts and approximately 20 titles including Castlevania III will not work on the device. There were also some complaints that the pins could bend when removing cartridges from the device, owing to a very tight port.
The Retron 2 adds to the Retron 1 functionality by adding in support for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The system has quite a high quality video and audio output adding an S-Video connector to the mix. It has four controller ports, with on NES port, and one SNES port on both the left and right hand sides.
The unit seems to feature the same NES slot as the Retron 1 along with the death grip on the cartridge, but thankfully adds an eject mechanism to assist for the SNES portion of the unit.
Compatibility of the system is generally fairly good, however there are about twelve titles (including Street Fighter Alpha 2) which do not work with the system due to having unsupported custom chips – in particular the S-DD1 and SA-1 chips.
The Retron 3 upped the ante by bring in support for the Genesis / Sega Megadrive console. It is based on Genesis On A Chip (GOAC) and as such has issues with PAL games, but supports Japanese and US Genesis cartridges, in addition to the requisite support for NES and SNES.
Video output is similar to the Retron 2, and includes composite stereo output and S-Video output. There are six controller ports, 2 per supported system. The console itself comes with two wireless controllers, styled after the Sega Genesis.
Compatibility is generally fairly similar to the Retron 2 for the NES and SNES portions. Almost all PAL Megadrive titles will not work with the Retron 3 (this is an issue with GOAC in general and affects most Sega clones), and specialist titles such as Virtua Racing will not work properly due custom chip support. There have been some reports that multicarts such are the Everdrive will not work with the device.
Hyperkin was expected to release a Retron 4, with support for NES, SNES, Genesis and GameBoy, GameBoy Color, and GameBoy Advance. Slated to be announced at the Midwest Gaming Classic expo, Hyperkin instead announced the Retron 5.
The Retron 5 is what the Retron 4 was intended to be, except with the addition of an extra slot for Famicom cartridges. Hyperkin extended the supported systems list to include NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Megadrive, Gameboy, Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance.
Video output uses HDMI, and there are controller ports for SNES, NES and Genesis controllers. The system comes with a wireless controller that can be reconfigured through the in-built user interface.
The system itself eschews the use of custom chips to provide the systems support as used in previous models and instead is effectively an ARM quad core based system running each system under emulation. People have examined the system and found it appears to be based on Retroarch, an open source emulator platform and library that implements cores for all the specified systems.
Controversially, some of the licences for the cores are incompatible with commercial use, and the retroarch developers were unhappy with the appropriation and use of their work in violation of the licensing.
Emulation on the Retron 5 does however seem to support a broader range of titles than the On-A-Chip based systems, due in part to the more flexible nature of emulation, and that the core code in question has been refined by the original developers for many years. There have been some complaints of lagginess with regards to controllers / video with the system (some users claim this is an issue with the TV sets themselves) but generally the emulation is decent.
However, the Retron 5 appears to have been discontinued, although it is still available on Amazon.
Most recently, Hyperkin released the Retron 77, its tribute to the Atari 2600. It contains a cartridge slot, HDMI output and the various toggles and switches needed to play 2600 games.
As with the Retron 5, the decision seems to have been to use emulation to provide the Atari compatibility. The hardware base seems to be a 1Ghz ARM quad core chip (a bit less powerful than the one in the Retron 5). The system has a slot for reading cartridges and also an SD card slot for using roms. The emulation is provided by a version of the Stella open source emulator (3.7.5).
Compatibility with cartridges for the most part is ok, however any cartridges with custom chips such Pitfall II will not function correctly. Pitfall II can be played as a ROM however. Cartridge-wise, most of the affected titles are Activision or Parker Brothers.
There were some complaints also with early versions that the joysticks were not quite reinforced enough and the sticks would break with very little use. This has apparently been addressed in more recent units.
Retron HD, MegaRetron and SupaRetron HD
So, where do you go after the Retron 5? Well, all of the models we’ve covered here so far only have analog video out. Now, whether that matters to you or not is going to heavily depend on what generation you’re from – if you’re an actual former 80s kid, then you’re going to have grown up with blurry video and interference and colour distortion, so blowing up a composite signal on a large flat panel is probably not going to bother you that much. However, if you’re a millennial, you’re going to be accustomed to somewhat better quality in your gaming, and so the HD models are likely to be up your alley. Rather than blowing up a low-resolution screen, each pixel is made larger, filling up a higher-resolution screen. This makes edges of objects crisper.
Upscaling also makes game elements look more pixelated, which while attractive to some younger generations, might be enhancing an aspect of vintage videogaming those from older generations may consider undesirable. The HD models also feature redesigned (and in our opinion much more aesthetically-pleasing) cases and controllers.
The Retron HD plays NES games, the MegaRetron Genesis/Megadrive games and the SupaRetron SuperNES games.
Devices like these can be a good substitutes for original systems, particularly in the case of an NES, which tends to need regular maintenance to keep running, however they each have their pros and cons, and some may find the emulation aspects of the Retron 5 and Retron 77 to be less to their taste than original hardware. That being said, the more systems there are that can allow their users to keep enjoying their libraries of games for longer, the better.
But there’s still ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!
So, where can I get a Retron in Australia? The newly expanded amazon.com.au has various Retron models for sale, most of which appear to be coming from overseas. There’s also eBay, which has models available from Australian sellers, but prices vary and ordering from overseas could be cheaper.
While our Retron 2 does play PAL NES cartridges, the music seems to be faster (due to running a 50hz cartridge at 60hz) so that could be a consideration if you’re in Australia and trhinking about getting a Retron. On the other hand, the games run a bit faster too, which livens some well-worn titles up a bit.
Generally, the Retrons are a good choice for affordable retro-gaming, despite their issues.