Feature Article

Hyperkin Retron 5 Review

Rise from your grave.

A taste for the classics is on the rise, inspiring people to seek out old games and consoles, but not everyone wants to wade through flea markets or enter into a bidding war on eBay for a 20-year-old Super Nintendo. This is where a hardware company like Hyperkin comes into play. Its line of Retron consoles has given fans of classic games a new way to play NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis cartridges, and its latest console, the Retron 5, introduces support for Famicom, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games. Everything is powered by an embedded Android operating system, which opens the door for valuable features such as HDMI output, save states, and Game Genie-like cheat codes.

It's a great system with loads of promise, but it also has a few issues that need to be ironed out if Hyperkin wants to please enthusiasts. Luckily, the Retron 5 has an upgradable operating system, so these issues may be resolved down the road. But, as it is today, is Hyperkin's latest console worth the $140 asking price? Let's take a look.

The Retron 5 is a good-looking if unusual console. It has five cartridge slots, six controller ports, and a dock in the back for the included wireless controller. Like a lot of aftermarket consoles, it's outfitted with cheap-feeling plastic, but given its attractive design, it's natural to forget what it's made from and focus on how it looks instead.

The included wireless controller isn't quite as good looking as the console, or as well made, but as a functional piece of hardware, it's fairly sufficient. It communicates with the Retron 5 via Bluetooth, and has a battery that lasts up to eight hours. It would be great if the battery could recharge passively while the controller was docked in the back of the console, but in reality, you have to manually connect it to the system using a rather unusual micro-USB to mini-USB cable. Thankfully, the 10-foot cable offers plenty of slack so you can play games while the controller is charging.

Though it has a few nice features, the controller doesn't quite measure up to the quality of original NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers. Its convex buttons are made of hard plastic and emit an unpleasant, hollow, clicky sound. Instead of implementing a directional pad, Hyperkin opted to install an eight-way thumbstick, similar to what you would find on a Neo Geo Pocket. It works well for some games, but it can be a death sentence when playing difficult games with strict timing and movement requirements. It's also unfortunate that the system can't be turned on with the wireless controller; you have to hold down the power button on the front of the system for five seconds. It's a better controller than those Hyperkin has shipped with past Retron systems, but not by much.

The wireless Retron 5 controller is convenient, but also cut-rate. Stick to official controllers, if you can.

On either side of the system are three ports--one each for NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers. The Retron 5 lets you use any controller that's plugged into the system regardless of the type of game you're playing. So you don't need to unplug your Genesis controller when you want to play an NES game, for example. The controls for different systems remap automatically to other controllers, but you can also remap the button layouts manually within the Retron 5's OS.

Unfortunately, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games remain single-player experiences. Traditionally, you would have to link two Game Boys together via a link cable, and the Retron isn't currently capable of emulating that arrangement. Thankfully, it does simulate multitaps, so four-player games for every other console are easily arranged, regardless of the mix of controllers you've connected to the Retron.

A quick look at the back of the system reveals an SD card slot that's used for cheat codes, screenshots, firmware updates, and save-state files. There's also a mini-USB port for recharging controllers, an HDMI port, and the AC adapter port. Hyperkin has thoughtfully included outlet adapters for Europe, the UK, Australia, and China.

Most aftermarket retro consoles use problematic emulation methods to do the heavy lifting, which doesn't always work with games that use special chips and circuitry. The Retron 5 is no more pure, in the sense that it still uses emulation to get the job done. Though Hyperkin confidently asserts that the Retron 5 will ultimately support every officially licensed game for the consoles it supports, we found a few exceptions during our tests, including some games that worked perfectly on previous Retron consoles. These include Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Super Nintendo, and the combination of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or 3 with Sonic & Knuckles for the Sega Genesis. Unlicensed games aren't officially supported, and when we tried to play Pier Solar on the Sega Genesis, it failed to make it past the intro screen. Again, these may just be temporary issues that Hyperkin can fix with a future firmware update.

Unfortunately, though the Retron supports multiple systems, for now, it won't operate if you put in more than one cartridge at a time. With the Retron 3, for example, you could keep a cart in every slot and manually select which one you wanted to play. Hyperkin has said that it's working on an OS setting that will allow you to do the same on the Retron 5, but at the moment, the system will report an error if you insert more than one game.

If you're used to playing classic games through composite cables, you'll be impressed by how crisp and colorful they look with the Retron 5 and an HDTV, and with HDMI, you don't have to worry about PAL and NTSC incompatibility. Though some people will appreciate the sharp, hi-def pixels coming out of the Retron, you have the option of smoothing them out with a few distinct image filters. No one filter works well for every game, but it's a great option to have, and you may find that some games look surprisingly fresh when the right filter is applied.

Apart from playing thousands of games, perhaps the most useful feature of the Retron 5 is its ability to use save states. These allow you to save at any point during a game and restart right where you left off. It's a convenient feature that makes getting through some of the more difficult games a bit easier, and given that a lot of old cartridges have dead batteries inside, save states can breathe new life into a cartridge that's no longer able to store saved games.

Built-in cheat codes are another valuable feature, and Hyperkin is constructing a large database of codes that it will distribute on its website, but you'll need to supply your own SD card in order to use them. Our tests with an early version of this database were mostly positive, but there's still room for improvement in the cheat section of the Retron 5's UI. There's no way to automatically sort codes, or to activate and deactivate codes en masse, so it can be a bit of a chore when you want to find one code out of a list of a few dozen. Unfortunately, there's no way to enter new codes via the Retron OS, and there's no easy way to edit the cheat database on a PC without manipulating massive and unintuitive XML files.

Unfortunately, though the Retron supports multiple systems, for now, it won't operate if you put in more than one cartridge...

The Retron 5 emulates games after dumping them to local memory, which includes any saves that are present on the cartridge. Therefore, any new in-game saves you create are also saved locally, but you can also upload them back to the original cartridge. This worked in almost every case, with the exception of Super Mario RPG, but we also had an issue with a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. In this case, the Retron looked as though it were rewriting save files to the cartridge, but it would consistently fail to rewrite one save in particular, which went mysteriously blank, resulting in an empty slot and a save file that remains in limbo on the Retron. Given that you're working with decades-old games with equally old batteries, there's always the inherent risk that this feature will be unreliable, but this is never explicitly spelled out in the OS.

Save states, cheats, and battery backups are tied to specific games, which are identified by cross-referencing the data on a cartridge against a database of known games in the Retron's local memory, which is supposed to account for the entire library across all supported platforms. Unfortunately, when a game can't be identified, you lose access to cheats, and potentially save states too. Oddly, the Retron 5 couldn't properly identify our copy of Super Metroid for the SNES, even though it's a well-known game. This might be due to a poor connection between the cartridge and the Retron, but there's no alternate method for accessing cheats and save states when this occurs.

Taking all of these features and issues into account, it's clear that the Retron 5 is not for everyone. On the one hand, it does things with real cartridges that could previously be accomplished only with PC-based emulators and ROMs. Unfortunately, the promise of a great system is hampered by minor incompatibility issues and half-baked features. The dependence on cart verification is too strict, and the fact that you can have only one cartridge in at a time is disappointing.

Speaking as an avid collector and retro-game enthusiast, I'm impressed with the latest Retron, but given its current limitations, it's not yet a full-time replacement for my original consoles. Still, it breathes new life into classic games, and despite its current issues, there are enough benefits to justify adding it to your repertoire of classic gaming hardware. It's currently the most expensive console of its type, but if Hyperkin fixes the issues with the OS and the internal emulators, $140 will be a small price to pay for the new gold standard in retro gaming consoles.

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Discussion

415 comments
redwolf442
redwolf442

well has anyone thought about if that USB port for charging the controller might have data capasity as well that hyperkin my just make additional game slot add on... lets say N64 (with a firmware update as well), neo geo, atari systems.... but this is all based on if that USB port carries data as well

gajbutler
gajbutler

Just get an emulator on your PC or Android...

DavidinCT
DavidinCT

Can it play Sega Master system games or will it with an adapter of some type? I have all the consoles that it has, plus many more but, I pull out the old consoles time to time to play a classic game for a while (yea, classic NES/SNES games are a lot harder than most of todays games). This would leave MOST systems available for use with out re-wiring AND HDMI (not needing a composite to HDMI adapter that I have).


Sounds like a possible Winner for classic gaming on modern hardware but, as long as they can deal with the bugs...


Wonder as it's a custom version of Android, could it be rooted and run emulated games, You can get a SD card with 256gb these days, that would fit almost every game that this system CAN play. In front of my home theater, HDMI out and every game possible at a click of a button..


Very interesting product...cant wait to get to see one...

Coolman13355
Coolman13355

For those asking about N64, according to another video GameSpot posted not all the patents have run out yet. Hyperkin actually has it working in-house. They were unsure but it sounds like 2016.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

Worthless piece of junk. If only it had the original hardware for each respective system inside, then yeah.

maddogmark25
maddogmark25

Don't see the point of this when I can just play everything on my PC.

Benficafan_101
Benficafan_101

I'm baffled by people saying " well I can just use emulators!" or "well I'd rather have all the consoles whats the point of this!" Well this isn't' for you then. Not to sound harsh but this is for people who don't have the kind of money to spend on 7 different consoles(which will put it over this price point) and you get the convenience of having only 1 console plugged in instead of either having them all at the same time or unplugging and plugging each individual one in.

LegendaryBadass
LegendaryBadass

By now, there should be a PS1, Dreamcast ,and GameCube console.

hotwog21
hotwog21

oh and let men plant this seed in your heads, if this had online scoreboards and multiplayer, it would destroy current gen and they would be forced to "reach potential" quick smart and compete, but hey, keep every area as grey as possible that way we cant really complain because hey, what do we know? we're not developers or programmers. right?

hotwog21
hotwog21

"still needs more work to reach its full potential" thanks sony and microsoft for making it acceptable to realease an unfinished product on the hope and promise that it will get better.


wow, people buying hardware on the promise, hope and hype that it will get better.


we are all mad and should be in a padded cell or not buy things untill they are finished, i mean its 2014 and somehow, consoles have gone from finished to "buy it now, its not finished but it will get better"


Stinger78
Stinger78

If this works with any PowerPak's or Everdrives, it's worth a whole lot more for those who like the 'plug and play' of original controllers and physical carts.

mkdms14
mkdms14

Or my modded Nintendo Wii does all of that and much more.  Plus I don't have to worry about game not saving anymore.  To those wondering all the old retro cartridges like snes had a battery which made saving possible once the battery went dead not more saving for you.

huyckb04
huyckb04

For the Retron 5 did Hyperkin find a way to make NES Zapper games functional on an HDTV?  I'd really like to break out the classics like Operation Wolf and Adventures of Bayou Billy.  These games MUST be experienced with the Zapper to achieve full effect.

Johny_47
Johny_47

Nice idea and all but I'm happy with emulators =/

shiss27
shiss27

Well done on the review.

snaketus
snaketus

It's neat, but I still prefer the actual hardware when using actual cartridges or CDs, depends on console. I can do all this with emulators on PC too so I don't see the point of the device, maybe easier to setup emulator station where you can use your actual classic controller and games if you don't want to download all the games on your computer, but like I said when using actual games and controllers then why not the actual consoles, with right mods they can put pretty much comparable image quality as well.


But that's just me, I do emulation on my PC so I kind of don't need one and when I want authentic experience, then I just play on actual hardware, sometimes I wish those could do save states though :D


edit: Oh and that function to move saves from and to carts is kind of neat.

kgallis21
kgallis21

Not necessary.  The I have almost all retro emulators on my PC. If im gonna buy a system Id rather collect the actual vintage consoles albeit it would be costly.

snk0610
snk0610

Retron 5 doesn't have Sega Master System Neo Geo and Nintendo 64.


The PC can run all of this consoles newer consoles and also arcade games.


It could be nice to have a device that can run All of the classic games and consoles.


Either way anyone should do what he feels right.


I personally think that a retro device should have All of the cartridge based consoles.


If having a small collection of retro consoles is enough for certain gamers then they should go for it.

edubuccaneer
edubuccaneer

This thing sounds wonderful. Hopefully I can find one in stores.

bruceer
bruceer

I prefer games to be made digital so they can be played on current gen consoles. I feel that this system is very unnecessary or obsolete considering all the technology we have today; but of course I know there are the hipsters who are gonna love the s*** out of this. So what ever floats your boat I guess.

holenjd
holenjd

They keep pushing the release of this back.  At least I know why now.  I can't wait until they release it.

thetaaz
thetaaz

Wow, pretty awesome! Love classic games. They seem to be the only real games left. New stuff is all about graphics and "fluff", and mobile games are the abomination of the gaming world - Real gamer's play consoles!! Haha!!

PowerSwitchOff
PowerSwitchOff

For anyone interested, there is also the Retrobit RetroTrio that just came out. I watched SatoshiMatrix's video review of it, the conclusion would seem to be that it plays SNES so well that he went so far as to say it makes owning an original SNES "obsolete" (plus it plays SFC games too), and its Genesis emulation is really good as well though bars appear on both sides of the screen for some reason (he was playing it on a CRT TV, mind so it's nothing to do with 4:3 display on a widescreen); it too also plays Mega Drive titles. And the NES side is... much more hit and miss. It has some issues with color display and sound that modding fixes (one thing to mention it has options for both RCA cables and S-Video and one displays games better than the other... which one I don't remember) but there are still titles that it can't play or it plays poorly (including the infamous Paperboy, which for some reason almost every clone system has problems with... what is with that game? Another one is Rad Racer 2 which many "Famiclones" cannot play well either, in that one everything clips on top of each other, not attractive). And unlike the Genesis and SNES sides it can NOT play Famicom games without having to buy a separate adapter to plug in. Otherwise... issues with some NES titles aside if the trumped-up emulator aspect of the Retron 5 is unappealing then the RetroTrio seems like the best alternative at the moment (I myself have a RetroDuo and it is very good... however what I gather is that it plays NES games better than the Trio does so I probably won't be getting rid of it anytime soon if I get a Trio).


Another interesting thing about the RTrio is that it comes with what SM thought were perfect-feeling replicas of the SNES controllers... only they were actually Genesis controllers (they plugged into the Genesis slot). You could however still use them to play SNES games if you have a SNES game playing with the Genesis switch turned on apparently. That also means you can play SNES games with an original Genesis controller too(!). Strange but neat.

foxhound_fox
foxhound_fox

An emulation device should never be considered a "gold standard" for playing old games. There are plenty of manufacturers out there who reverse engineer old console tech that actually plays the games as originally intended. And they don't cost an arm and a leg. I own a Yobo FC3 Plus and while it doesn't support original controllers, it's a great option for someone who cannot afford a true original piece of hardware.

mrgrissom
mrgrissom

so it dosen`t play the cartridges at all, it just dumps them to memory. pretty pointless then if you ask me. theres other ways to play any of these games on the real consoles without them being emulated. EVERDRIVES ill just say that.

WolfgarTheQuiet
WolfgarTheQuiet

With so many repetitive annual franchises no wonder people are going back in time. Games are way to much about graphics these days.

DAOWAce
DAOWAce

I'd buy it, mostly for nostalgic reasons, as emulators are much more convenient.

Would really love to play my Genesis again though..

McGregor
McGregor

Well, this isn't a bad solution for those that don't want to invest into a gaming PC; but the gaming PC is, and more than likely will always be, the best solution.

hollowtip
hollowtip

Why the hell would they put an analog stick on the controller instead of d-pad? none of the systems that it emulates ever utilized analog control. If it's only eight way, just put a d-pad on the controller. Not thought out well on that.

xcollector
xcollector

Good to see the old systems still supported.

hotwog21
hotwog21

this includes xbox one and ps4 if your wondering. I never thought i would see the day when i would go back to pc, but im left with no choice.

PowerSwitchOff
PowerSwitchOff

@mkdms14 No more saving... until you replace the battery that is. A pretty common one, a standard CR2032, at that.

Coolman13355
Coolman13355

@huyckb04 I doubt it, as understand it light guns used unique properties of a CRT to work. I've even heard that those properties made it easier for spies to capture information displayed on a CRT monitor.

WolfgarTheQuiet
WolfgarTheQuiet

@kimanderson15 Apple v Samsung???....F.u.c.k. Apple lol

suppaphly42
suppaphly42

@Payasoplas Hagani you've most likely never heard of it as it was only on sale at block buster back in the day 

Spike
Spike

@bruceer You just don't get it. You can play anything you want on this thing, instead of waiting for Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo to make the game you want to play available. Also, some games, like Willow and Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers(both NES), will probably never be available to download, as they are licensed games. Although many of the older TMNT games were made available in the past by Konami, they were all later taken down. There are other reasons why a system like this is better too, like being able to use the actual controllers the games were meant to be played with.

everson_rm
everson_rm

@mrgrissom Oh, i have an SNES everdrive, and its amazing. The only downside that it have, is some games (with special chips, like mario RPG) dont work with them...  But out of thoose games i want to play, that aren't supported by everdrives, the only ones that I dont have are Mega Man X2 and X3...

snaketus
snaketus

@McGregor Like you need very powerful PC to emulate systems this old. We emulated Mega Drive and SNES back in the day completely fine with 266 MHz Pentium II computer that had 32MB of RAM. Yeah gaming PC.

snaketus
snaketus

@hollowtip It's not analog stick, it's micro switch pad, it's still digital. Neo Geo used d-pad like that and also was used in arcades.  

Benficafan_101
Benficafan_101

@singhellotaku @Benficafan_101 Mine didn't, mine was $50 with 2 controllers. I've also seen it for higher as well, especially if you goto Retro gaming stores. I'm right now for an NES and an SNES both $69 at this online store. obviously it depends on where you go but they are between 40-60 usually unless you find them dirty cheap at swap meets but not everyone will do that and just want something convenient like the RetroN5

bruceer
bruceer

@Spike @bruceer Totally agree with you that this system is useful because there are games that probably won't be converted to digital format; but I used to have a snes and a genesis as a kid but have no idea where those games are now. I checked how much it would cost me to get Yoshi's Island again and it was very expensive. So unless the creators of all of these retro games don't try to profit with making there games digital I don't see the point for them just restricting the games from being converted to digital format. The only people that will really get any joy from this system are collectors.