Back at North West Fan Fest, we happened across a storefront for a place in the mythical land of Coquitlam.
“Good con to you, worthy friend,” quoth the Merchant. “Please, please, come closer – not too close! – for I have the most wonderful of all treasures. You look like a child of the Nintendo generation, one who remembers the 16-bit wars. Did you ever dream of a system that plays those games from all those systems? Perhaps with the capacity to play games from the Super Famicom and Game Boy Advance variety, as well…?”
“Such a thing would be a marvel,” responded I, walking forward with awe and trembling.
“Not only do I possess such a system, but it also will pretty up your graphics, smoothing pixels out to give you somewhat like high definition,” said he. “It also possesses a wireless controller of its own native design, but it will use controllers from the old systems as well.”
“I currently have no children,” I told him. “I’m getting married soon. Do you take layaway deposits?”
“There is no need. For two hundred Canadian dollars, plus tax, this system will be yours!”
And that was how I got my hands on a Retron 5, though I did throw in another forty dollars for an extra wireless controller and picked up a couple of games. Once the con was over I settled in by setting up the system and trying to boot it up.
It wouldn’t turn on.
Mystified, I checked the instruction booklet to see if I had done something wrong. It’s a two cord set up, one power cable and one HDMI cable, both of which were included. It also comes with cord adapters for the outlets of other countries, but I ignored those and get back to trying to turn the damn thing on.
Thinking there might be a trick to either setting it up or turning it on, I hunted through the instruction booklet and got nothing. The Retron 5 website was also unhelpful. Puzzled, I considered other possibilities – maybe I’d gotten a lemon, or a show model?
Wanting to cover all my bases, I checked the breaker box. Everything was fine there. Confuddled, I switched outlets a few times. Still nothing.
Annoyed, I made the trek out to the mythical land of Coquitlam to exchange my not-working system for one that would turn on. It was then that I learned that you actually have to hold the power button for about ten seconds to turn the damn thing on, so my system works perfectly.
Still annoyed, I picked up several more games – one on each of the systems it purports to play – and then went home to try them out.
So, after the difficulty of getting the damn thing turned on, it loads into a menu and invites you to play a game. It will not work with more than one cartridge in at a time, and it sometimes has problems recognizing the games you’d like to play. This can be fixed by taking out and re-installing the cart, which can be a bit of a pain. I’m terrified of breaking things at the best of times, so struggling to get the carts out so I could put them back in was mildly harrowing.
Once the Retron is up and running, though, it plays smoothly. The wireless controllers charge with a micro USB cable (also included and super long) and holds a charge for a good long while – I’ve been using mine on-and-off for two weeks now and have not yet had to recharge the controller. So, that’s a thing.
Better, the controllers work well with most games, though the buttons are often not what you’d expect them to be and I haven’t found a means of changing them to more familiar settings. Odder still is the directional pad being analog, which none of the games this system supports requires. It makes pulling off combos in fighting games or the fine jumping and directional control in platformers a little more difficult than it should be.
Thankfully, you can put in the controllers from the systems this console supports. This means that I need to get my hands on Genesis and Super Famicom controllers – I’ve still got my old SNES and NES controllers kicking around, and they work just fine. You can even trick the Retron into playing games from one console with controllers from another without much difficulty.
Sadly, the Retron doesn’t seem to like third-party or bootleg controllers, so try and stick with the official stuff or just use the wireless controllers.
When they load the games play perfectly, and being able to save your progress on the system’s onboard memory or an external SD card (not included) is a pretty great feature. It makes beating games like Blaster Master a little more palatable. The Retron 5 also supports Game Genie codes, which is a nice touch.
Games saved on the Retron will remember cheat codes being used, though getting saved games from the cart to the Retron can be a bit hit-or-miss. Admittedly, that might change with reloading the game via taking out the game and putting it back in, but the struggle to get the games out without breaking them is troubling enough, so I guess I’ll just have to start from scratch.
That’s not so bad when playing something like Super Metroid or Zelda, but it’s frustrating when trying to get the Immortal or Final Fantasy to run. I haven’t been able to get Final Fantasy III to work at all, though Final Fantasy II worked just fine after several resets.
Random annoyances aside, it’s pretty great being able to play Ring King again, or getting the old Genesis version of Spider-Man up and running. The system has more good than bad going for it, and will even emulate some of the old visual glitches of the original systems for those purists looking for an authentic experience. As someone with a Nintendo that barely worked at the best of times, I’ll stick with the smoothed out pretty graphics, but to each their own.
And in case anyone thinks I’m hating on this system, I just want to be clear – I’m thinking of buying another one for my brother, because being able to play games from all those systems is pretty great. The hardware is as tight as it needs to be, and the response time is spot on. I love the damn thing; it’s worth the price just to be able to play GBA games on my TV.
Here’s hoping the Retron 6 plays DS games, has eject ports, and customizable controls for the native wireless controllers; those are really the only complaints I have. This system is great, and any fan of old school gaming really should go and grab one.