New Modular Retro System Lets You Play NES, SNES, PS1 Games And More

RetroBlox heads to Kickstarter in April.

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There are any number of systems on the market that let you play retro games. A newly revealed one called the RetroBlox takes a novel approach, using a modular design to let you play physical games for systems including the NES, SNES, Genesis, TurboGrafx-16, and PS1, among others.

Following a recent public showing, the team behind RetroBlox shared new details about the system and how it works on its website. In short, by connecting different "Element Modules," you'll be able to play physical copies of games through what it describes as hybrid emulation. You can get a full rundown on the technical explanation for how this all works here. Suffice it to say, it's not as simple as standard emulation or FPGA systems.

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RetroBlox is "primarily made for people who own physical copies of games," meaning you won't use it to boot up ROMs you downloaded online. It does, however, offer something of a middle ground, letting you back up your cartridges and discs to the system. By doing so, you can play without putting any additional wear on your physical games. That said, in the case of a game like Star Fox, which famously used an on-board Super FX chip to power its visuals, "the user interface will prompt you to insert the cartridge to play so that it can run under Hybrid Emulation compatibility mode. Otherwise, installed games will run under normal emulation rules."

This setup would seemingly lend itself to piracy in its own way if you could rip games to an SD card and then hand that off to someone else. Instead, SD cards will be "encrypted and signed to the individual user of the system so that they are exclusively usable on that one account.

"While this may be an inconvenience to some players, we may never be able to move retro gaming forward if we don't comply with the completely fair and reasonable request of IP owners to not use their games without permission," it explained. "In turn, they should acknowledge the need to make classic games more accessible for players in the future."

In addition to playing games you own, RetroBlox will also allow developers to sell games through the system itself.

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RetroBlox does not yet have a price, though we do know it'll be less than $300. "RetroBlox, including one Element Module and controller, will be much less than a base Nintendo Switch, and additional Element Modules will vary in cost depending on complexity (both software and hardware), but won't cost any more than a new video game," the post said.

To get your hands on one, at least initially, you'll need to back a Kickstarter set to launch in April. There will be three different models available; each includes the base unit and a bluetooth controller, with the difference coming in the number of Element Modules that are included (one, three, or all five).

Modules to support other game systems may be released in the future, and that potential flexibility is called out as a highlight. It's also a potential point of concern, as there's no guarantee of what modules will be released down the line. That's something to keep in mind before backing the Kickstarter if you're doing so in the hopes of seeing support added for another system in the future.

Regarding Nintendo 64 specifically, there are some legal concerns that stand in the way. "N64 is technically very doable today on RetroBlox, but Nintendo (correctly) filed many, many patents for that system, some as recently as 2001, so it's not something we're targeting at the moment unless Nintendo were to provide us with permission to do so," it explained. "On the bright side, the great thing about having a modular system is that we're always capable of supporting additional consoles in the future without replacing the base hardware, so you can bet we will be there first when a legal opportunity to support N64 presents itself."

Here's what is currently supported, with some added descriptions from the developers:

Via Element Module (for Kickstarter launch -- there will be others after launch)

  • NES
  • SNES / SFC (Super Game Boy will work fine for play only -- but you won't be able to back up GB games individually to RetroBlox)
  • Genesis / Mega Drive (J) / Mega Drive (E) / 32x / SMS support via Power Base Converter
  • Atari 2600 (7800 is currently not confirmed for support, but will be vetted and confirmed before KS campaign in April)
  • PC-Engine / TurboGrafx-16 / SuperGrafx

Via CD/DVD Drive (more TBA)

  • PSX (PSOne) -- all regions
  • Sega CD / 32X CD / Mega CD (J and E)
  • PC-Engine CD / Super CD-ROM / Arcade CD-ROM / TurboGrafx-CD

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Avatar image for mentalrevolt
MentalRevolt

You know this will get shut down due to copyright before it ever gets going. I hope no one is stupid enough to donate to this.

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Mafon2

I have similiar system, it also plays PS2 and Gamecube games. It's called PC.

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jwrebholz

Here's hoping it's better-built than the Retron consoles. Those things are cheap JUNK.

Avatar image for vfighter
VFighter

@jwrebholz: Sure the game slots hold the games to tight, but that's its only real negative.

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dolfan62

i see a lot of you idiots need to learn how to read. this is for people who actually bought and own the games. not a bunch of cheap pirates who prefer to play glitchy copies.

Avatar image for uninspiredcup
uninspiredcup

@dolfan62: Buggy?

More to the point, if they would simply release there old games on Steam, people would buy them. Sega done good with it's classic collection for Genesis, but no Master System, Game Gear, 32X, Sega CD, Saturn (many of which where never imported) and a sorely lacking Dreamcast catalogue, games like Sonic DX themselves being bad ports. It's really there own fault for refusing to sell them in the first place when they are readily available in seconds, and people are willing to pay. Even on Nintendo's own service they are terrible with releases with and prices.

Other than that, many of these games were already released on pc with user updates making them significantly better than the originals. Unless you're an absalute purist, games like Tomb Raider 1-5, Final Fantasy and so fourth are already sitting on services like Steam with higher resolutions, framerate e.t.c.... without having to drop £50 on ebay for abit of plastic.

Avatar image for uninspiredcup
uninspiredcup

@sellingthings: Maybe if it was 1-5 years ago, if it's a 15+ year old game, no issue dropping cash as long as it's reasonably priced.

Sega's Genesis bundles have generally been far better than Nintendo's offerings, but both are still objectively terrible, pretty much throwing money into a fire.

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themyst

I'm sorry, Retroarch on my Mac, an assortment of superior emulators on my Windows box, an iBuffalo USB controller, $300 in my pocket.

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HalcyonScarlet

@themyst: I've been having a bit of trouble getting my game pads working on the MAC, what did you use?

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JustinGoSka

This is cool but the price is a little steep. I bought a console that plays Snes, Nes, and GBC games and it was only like $30. It would be handy to be able to save games on it, but blank cartridges can hold an insane amount of games on them because the rom files are so small.

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Seymour47

I smell another Coleco Chameleon. Forget this.

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mkeezay22

Damn no Saturn, I understand it isn't as easy to emulate as PSX, but without it this provides nothing I'll pay that much for.

Avatar image for domiddian
Domiddian

Still haven't cracked the old Sega Saturn yet...

Actually they have, but only very recently. Only took them 20 years.

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Lorikat

Wow cool! :O

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Jag-T1000

Just buy you an invidia shield. It does way more than this.

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uncle5555

It can't do much more than my Retron 5 / Retrofreak can do. As a matter of fact it actually does less with certain systems. (No GB/GBC/GBA, SG1000, GG)

And adding PS1, I can do that with all of my playstations (except PS4). I see they made it region free, so that might be enticing. The Sega CD and Turbo CD games I'd be interested in are too expensive to have on this. (Snatcher...Dracula X)

They SHOULD have added Saturn, then I would be VERY interested in this. As that is one system I have games for but don't own a system for. Wait and see, but ultimately I'll probably pass.

Avatar image for domiddian
Domiddian

@uncle5555: Do you know how complex the Sega Saturn was? It basically had separate CPUs for everything, which is why there are absolutely no decent emulators for it.

Some Australian dude only just managed to crack it late last year. Took them over 20 years.

Sega really knew how to protect their consoles from piracy.

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harrykid1

@domiddian: not the Dreamcast lol

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Domiddian

@harrykid1: Lol, yeah true. Although that still took a while due to the GD-ROM

Avatar image for Atzenkiller
Atzenkiller

What's the point? Why pay up to 300 bucks for something like this when everyone has a computer who's more than capable to run all these age old games at higher resolutions and with improved graphics? Even if I did own physical copies of these games it would still be more convenient to just download the roms and leave the collection to gather more dust in the basement.

Avatar image for JustinGoSka
JustinGoSka

@Atzenkiller: Games play better on consoles than as a rom on PC, even a really powerful PC. The fault is probably in the emulators, but if you plan SNES games on an actual SNES, it looks way smoother than on an emulator on a gaming PC. All you need is a blank cartridge to load all your roms on and your good to go.

Avatar image for JustinGoSka
JustinGoSka

@sellingthings: That's because the PC has more processing power, but since the graphics on SNES are designed for round pixels, not square pixels, and the emulator is not running the original chipset, just interpreting the data in a similar way, the game doesn't run exactly the same way. Normally the difference between round and square pixels doesn't make much of a difference, but when its running at only 16 bit, every pixel matters.

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JustinGoSka

@sellingthings: There's a lot of good emulators that get pretty close to running the games the same as on a console and for most people, emulation is good enough. You've probably gotten so used to emulated SNES that you cant tell the difference, but some people do want to play the games, having them look exactly as they should, and for people like that, having a console and flashing roms to cartridges is prefered to using an emulator. The roms are exact images of the original games. As good as emulators are, they're not perfect.

Avatar image for Atzenkiller
Atzenkiller

@JustinGoSka: No they don't. I've played SNES games on a shitty PC back in the 90s and they already had perfect emulation back then. Exceptions always exist but most games run just as well on an emu and the same goes for more modern ones, which of course are a bit more difficult to emulate than a SNES. A toaster could emulate that thing.

Avatar image for JustinGoSka
JustinGoSka

@Atzenkiller: The roms may play fine without any glitches and I'm sure you're plenty used to how roms look and play on emulators, but if you see games on a SNES, which you probably haven't in over a decade, no shame, you'll be surprised at the difference. Part of it too may be that TVs has round pixels and computer monitors have square pixels.

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Atzenkiller

@JustinGoSka: Hook your computer up to an old school tv then. Though I can't say I've ever heard anyone prefer old tvs over computer monitors, especially the NTSC ones Americans had. Man, those were horrible.

Avatar image for dolfan62
dolfan62

@Atzenkiller: the older systems were designed for older tube tv's. that's why they look better than on today's pc's and tv's. when these systems came out computers were still pretty much in their infancy. the internet didn't even exist.

Avatar image for JustinGoSka
JustinGoSka

@Atzenkiller: Hooking up your computer to a tv would be even worse than using a monitor. Monitors have a higher resolution. When you plug a PC in to a tv, it converts the square pixels to round pixels the best it can, but you still lose quality, so it will be twice as worse because the graphics are changed from round pixels to square pixels by the emulator and then back to round pictures. I don't think you understand how chipsets and software encoding work.

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Moonco

The modular design is a nifty idea but I would rather buy the original consoles. I can buy them real cheap at the various retro gaming stores around town.

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BMWPro77

@moonco: There's no such thing as a cheap TurboGrafx 16 or TurboDuo. Have you looked at eBay lately??? And they'e hard to find. Also with a lot of these older systems I am finding that over time their capacitors wear out and require replacement. I am still researching this myself. I am a vintage videogame collector and I feel this system is an awesome idea.

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Moonco

@BMWPro77: Depends on were you live. I bought a TurboDuo for $70 (usd) and see the PC Engine for sale all the time at various stores that specialize in retro gaming. One place had two brand new factory sealed Super Nintendo consoles. Replacing the capacitors is not an issue. A local electronic shop is able to fix my old consoles if something happens.

I think the RetroBlox is great for those who want an all-in-one console and the modular design trumps similar cart playing devices from Retro-Bit, Hyperkin and Cyber Gadget

Moderator
Avatar image for suicidesn0wman
suicidesn0wman

@BMWPro77: Yes, a lot of the Turbo Grafx and Sega CD systems you find will need to be recapped. I'm currently sitting on a dead SCD module for the LaserActive and a dead N64DD right now. Not sure how many other systems I own that have died sitting on the shelf, probably have to recap my Turbo CD as well.

Still trying to decide if I want to do the work myself or have someone who knows what they're doing work on it.

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suicidesn0wman

@sellingthings: I've played around with that kind of stuff before, but when you're not even a novice you tend to avoid trying to fix $1000 game consoles on your own to avoid fucking it up even more.

Avatar image for suicidesn0wman
suicidesn0wman

@sellingthings: Yeah, I got a soldering iron a while back, figured I'm technical enough I can figure it out. Decided to try and fix a broken 3DO system I had obtained, didn't realize that my hands weren't steady enough to do the work and couldn't do a very clean job of it, I'd try to melt the solder on one connection and end up doing 2 or more, end up with things that shouldn't connect being connected. tried to **** with circuit boards from my broken Xbox controllers and never did a good job with any of that so I just gave up.

So now I'm sitting on a bad Sega Pac for the LaserActive and a bad MK1 Sega CD and simply can't do the work and don't trust anyone with these higher priced items. I probably need to go through all 75 consoles I own and test them all, I bet half of them don't work now.

Avatar image for suicidesn0wman
suicidesn0wman

@sellingthings: I'll probably try it at some point, short on funds this month since I spent too much money on this damn game collection. Found boxes for some of my old Atari systems and I'm about 50 games away from having 100% of the US released OG Xbox games.

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BeantownSean

@BMWPro77:

I could see that.

Electrolytic Capacitors have a tendency to dry out over time. I assume those are the Caps you're talking.

I think this great for people who have a large collection of carts and CDs, but don't want keep their vintage consoles connected 24/7.

Many of us who owned the original systems have children who have never played many of these old titles.

Avatar image for suicidesn0wman
suicidesn0wman

@beantownsean: Most of them end up leaking, it's pretty common with game consoles from that era.

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lonewolf1044

Guess I will not be getting one being I do not have any cartridges or CDs from the list, however I hope they do well.

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strabbycrabby

wow, but.. where in 2017 will I find a licensed cartridge? I couldn't even find them in 90s in Russia

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BMWPro77

@strabbycrabby: eBay.

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