Concerning Video Game Nostalgia and the Retron 5

I’m a dumb-dumb. You will see evidence of that if you stick around this blog long enough. One early example of my dipshit nature came in late 1987, when I asked my dad for a Sega Master System. Mind you, dear reader, I didn’t really know anything about the system. I saw one at a neighbor’s house during a birthday birthday party and thought, Hmmm, that looks cool. That was the extent of my Master System knowledge. 

Dad, ever the faithful divorced father, bought me a Nintendo Entertainment System instead–the NES Action Set to be precise. I was angry that my dad had ignored my request but I didn’t let my disappointment show. Instead I had my uncle help me hook up the console, popped in the included Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt cartridge, and instantly fell in loving with video games. Oh my, how hard I was hooked, and so quickly, like a junkie discovering a drug he never knew he wanted. I was an instant convert, and the next several years were spent largely finding excuses to play more video games.

Unfortunately my family (my mom, sister, and I lived with my grandparents who happily supported us) didn’t have a lot of money so those opportunities were few and far between, at least until my teen years. I got to check out new games via rental stores once in a blue moon but most of my gaming experiences came from birthday and Christmas game gifts. Whether I was renting or getting a gift, I usually received one game per occasion. I played the holy hell out of the few games I got my little hands on, digging as deep as I dared, learning every nook and cranny of games such as The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (and what a bastard that game was), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (also not that good). Naturally this passion for gaming continued through the years, from the Sega Genesis to Sony’s next-generation effort, the PlayStation 4. 

Sadly I no longer own any of my old consoles. They are all easy enough to find used on eBay but few work well on newer HDTVs because of their extremely-out-of-date video/audio connections. This is where a console like the Retron 5 comes in, allowing owners to play Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, Famicom, Super Famicom, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Mega Drive games, all in one device. You can also plug in and use original NES, SNES, and Genesis controllers, along with the included Bluetooth wireless controller. Sounds like a small gaming miracle, right?

I wish I could sing the Retron 5’s praises but unfortunately it is far from miraculous. First strike: the build quality. This thing looks and feels like a piece of plastic dogshit. The body is weak, likely to break if you don’t handle it with extreme care, and almost certainly prone to scratches. The cartridge slots are very stiff, making the simple act of inserting and removing carts an arduous task. I was afraid I might break the damn console when I first tried prying Super Mario Bros. out of the NES slot. 

Then there’s the controller, which not only feels awkward in your hands but also weighs too much considering its size and does not feature a d-pad, utilizing a finicky analog stick instead, which makes next to no sense. I appreciate the Bluetooth connectivity–I hate wires–but that’s about the only positive thing I have to say about this damn controller. Considering this might be the only way for some people to play games if they haven’t hit up eBay or flea markets for used old-school controllers, this is a terrible first impression. Don’t be an idiot like me, be sure to get a real controller first. No matter what you use, you’ll be able to use it with any game due to the Retron’s software. You can even remap buttons to your liking, which is a great feature.

Okay, I should stop because this is starting to sound like a damn review, and I’m not a critic. And honestly, the innards of the Retron 5 are what really matter, and in that regard it’s a pretty good emulation machine. But at $140 (assuming you get it from an authorized retailer, and not some shit-head third party seller) it’s a bit too pricey to recommend to anyone that isn’t a hardcore retro gaming enthusiast. If you’re just looking to play Metroid one more time, consider hunting down a good emulator for your computer instead. Then you can use a great controller like the DualShock 4 instead of the Retron 5’s uncomfortable box thing. Plus there’s the whole saving money thing, which is always a plus.