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Back in 2014, the Retron 5 came into my life. I was blown away at the time as there weren’t a lot of options on the market for retro game collectors to play their cartridges in HD, let alone with a lot of quality of life upgrades like built-in cheats.
Fast forward to 2022 and the Retron 5 is still an essential piece of the retro gaming puzzle for me. However, nowadays there’s quite a few more options for playing your retro game collection on an HD screen, so you might be wondering if the Retron 5 is still a viable choice.
If you’re just looking for the short answer, it’s definitely a YES. However, if you’re looking for what the console does well and doesn’t do so well, read on for a detailed breakdown of what you’ll find with the Retron 5.
What’s a Retron 5?
For the uninitiated, the Retron 5 is a console that plays several different types of cartridges. The consoles it supports by default are NES, Famicom, Super Nintendo, Super Famicom, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance.
An extra 3 consoles are enabled with the purchase of Hyperkin’s 3 in 1 adapter. This adds support for Game Gear, Sega Master System, and Master System Cards. I don’t personally own the 3 in 1 adapter yet, so I can’t speak to the quality of it, but I’m really glad to have the option for when I actually do want to play my Game Gear games on my HD TV.
What the System Does Well
At this point, there are other options on the market to play your retro game collection and some of them are substantially cheaper. So, at a higher price, what makes the Retron 5 a better option than even Hyperkin’s other clone systems? The answer comes in the form of several quality of life features. I’ll try to run through them fairly quickly.
One of my favorite features with the Retron 5 is that it has cheats ready and waiting for A TON of games. You really don’t need a Game Genie when you’ve got a Retron 5 (I don’t think the system actually even supports Game Genie). The cheats vary by game, but typically make breaking games with infinite lives/continues, invincibility, one-hit kills, and many, many other things easily possible. The only downside is that you have to download a file from Hyperkin’s website to an SD card to enable cheats on the system. It’s not a big deal, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re having any confusion after you’ve purchased the console.
The next thing I absolutely love about the Retron 5 is that it supports save states. For me, this is one of the single biggest selling-points of the console. One of the pains of gaming as a kid was brutally hard retro games that seemed impossible to beat. Save states solve that problem and have allowed me to see the ending of games that I wouldn’t otherwise be bothered to brute force my way through as an adult with time constraints. The Retron 5 allows you to have 9 different save states per game, which is really nice if you’d like to mess around and try different things in a game without ruining your normal playthrough or save.
If you have games that you’ve imported, the Retron 5 allows you to load .ips translation patches so you can play your Japanese cartridges in English. This is really nice since the console outright supports games for the Famicom and the Super Famicom.
A minor feature that I enjoy about the system is that it can take screenshots. It’s perfect for those weird moments when something crazy pops up or you want to celebrate rolling the credits on a game.
By default, the Retron 5 gives you crystal clear, HD pixel art. I’m personally a huge fan of seeing this games in all their proper glory, however, some folks out there might prefer to see the jagged edges become smooth on certain games while other folks out there still prefer to game on a CRT. The Retron 5 has both of these groups covered with their visual options. If smooth graphics or scan lines are your thing, you’ll find them available on the Retron 5.
The console also supports an option to turn on overscan. This is nice when the screen cuts off the edge of something for whatever reason. When I originally played Castlevania on the Retron 5, some of the text was cut off. Enabling overscan solved this problem for me.
The last visual feature that I like about the Retron 5 is the option to play games in their original aspect ratio. Something that I’ve learned in recent years is that a 4:3 aspect ratio actually stretches the picture a bit. While this isn’t a big deal (I still enjoy games in 4:3), I like having the option to make a game pixel perfect with the original aspect ratio.
Fast Forward Mode
One of the coolest features that the Retron 5 has is the ability to fast forward. I like to call this “JRPG Mode” personally because it makes grinding in RPG’s so much more pleasant. It can also be useful for speeding up cutscenes, or just anything that gets in the way from moving too slowly. The thing about this mode is that its probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 5x-10x faster, so it’s not feasible for normal gameplay that requires precision in almost any way. It’s REALLY fast.
Mixing and Matching Gamepads
Another amazing feature that the Retron 5 supports (besides allowing users to use original, OEM gamepads) is the ability to map buttons and to use your gamepad of choice. The Retron 5 has ports on both sides for NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis. So, if you’re playing a Genesis game and you wish you could use a SNES controller instead, you can absolutely do that here. If you want to play NES games with your Genesis controller, feel free. The Retron 5 is totally flexible with your gamepad of choice. Obviously, you just need to be sure you have enough buttons to play whatever game you’re trying to swap gamepads on or you won’t be able to play the game properly.
Passing saves back and forth from the cartridge to the system
The last feature that I’d like to point out is that the console allows you to pass saves back and forth between the system and the cartridges themselves. Essentially, if you put a cartridge into the system, it’ll read your save data and you’ll be able to play a preexisting save file if you have one. The system reads the save by default, but you also have the option to shut the feature off if you’d like.
Which brings me to the next thing about it that’s interesting. It’s actually optional. If you wanted to maintain 2 different saves, you can keep them separate. The Retron has 2 options in the menu for both writing the save TO the system from the cartridge, and writing a save FROM the system to the cartridge.
So, basically, if you don’t want to screw up your childhood save from Pokémon or something, you could maintain a clean save and then break the game with cheats on the Retron without corrupting your original file. Alternatively, you could save your original file in a save state on the Retron, break the game however you see fit, and then be able to revert to the old save later and pass it back to the cartridge if you want to play your cartridge somewhere else.
Issues With the Console
For all the things that are amazing about the Retron 5, the hardware itself has a few quirks/minor issues that you may or may not experience yourself.
One of the issues that I experience with my Retron 5 is that sometimes I need to unplug and replug in my NES controller. I think generally, this happens when I leave the NES controller plugged into the system and then come back to it days later. I don’t recall having this issue with any other gamepads, but the NES is the main one I use most of the time and it’s the one I have issues with.
Another minor issue that I’ve experienced with gamepads is that the console seemed to think that my 3 button Genesis controller was a 6 button controller when I was playing Maximum Carnage for the podcast. The main reason why this was an issue was because the game wouldn’t actually let me perform certain actions only using the 3 buttons. I’m not sure if there might have been a way to solve the issue, but I switched over to a SNES controller and just played the game that way instead.
Learn to Read
Another issue that I’ve experienced is with getting the Retron 5 to read games sometimes. This has mainly been an issue with the SNES slot on the system where, when I place a cartridge into the system, it doesn’t detect it until I move it around a bit. I don’t play a ton of Famicom games with the system, but in doing a bit of testing, it seem like there might a bit of an issue with the Famicom slot as well on my system.
Not only does the system sometimes not realize that I put a cartridge in, but sometimes it also takes a few tries to get the games to load properly. The system does this thing where it reads the game and then says “Unknown Cartridge”. Generally, this issue can be solved by taking the games out and putting them back in. Sometimes it takes a few tries, but it’s rare that I can’t get the system to read a game.
One issue that I’ve experience is the inability to pass saves between the system and Pokémon LeafGreen on GBA. I don’t recall having the issue with any other games, but for some reason there’s an issue with passing saves back and forth specifically with LeafGreen.
Second Time’s a Charm
I have 2 Retron 5’s. I bought the first one when the console originally came out back in 2014. It served me fairly well until last year when it refused to read a copy of Pokémon Gold. I needed to play the game for our podcast, so I decided to outright buy another Retron 5 as it wasn’t the only issue I was having with my launch model console.
As it turns out, there’s some kind of issue in general with the Game Boy slot. It reads some games, but for some reason it just doesn’t seem to detect others. It won’t even try to read them. In addition to the Game Boy issue, I was recently playing my copy of TMNT 1 on the system, and it seemed to freeze on me randomly at times as well. I’m not sure what might have caused this since the Retron 5 dumps the ROM into memory when you put a cartridge in, so perhaps it has to do with the cartridge slots being a little finicky on the launch model in general?
Sadly, that’s not all for the issues I’ve experienced with my launch model system. The second player controller ports for the NES and Genesis went completely dead when I did a firmware update on the system. Supposedly Hyperkin fixed the issue in a firmware update according to their patch notes, but I was never able to fix the issue, even after updating.
Lastly, the original model seemed to have a NASTY vice grip on the games sometimes. I don’t think it ever damaged my games, but I was always a little afraid that it might. As it turns out, the grip is releases easier if you pull the games out from the side instead of the middle, but it’s still worth noting.
Worth it or Worthless?
On Hyperkin’s store, the Retron 5 has a price tag of $179.99. However, if you look around, you’re likely to find a better deal than that. Amazon tends to fluctuate based on their stock levels, but you can generally find one lower than MSRP there. You can find a used one for cheaper than that on eBay, though you might want to message the seller and read the description carefully if you’re buying a launch model to make sure you understand if there’s any issues with the console you’re looking at. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
If you can get one for around $150, I’d absolutely say the Retron 5 is WORTH IT. Even around the $180 mark, I’d call the system WORTH IT as well. Despite a few of the quirks and minor issues that I’ve experienced over the years with the system, it’s still one of my favorite pieces of retro gaming hardware.
As I said, I bought a second one when the issues got in the way enough with the first one to warrant a replacement. My original model now serves as a backup unit that I have hooked up elsewhere for when I’m playing games outside of my normal game room. The console definitely feels like there’s room for improvement (or quality control?), but at the price, it’s a great option as a workhorse retro gaming console that most folks will enjoy.
Thanks for reading the article! I hope it was helpful! If you’re looking for more retro gaming reviews, be sure to check out our reviews page!