Monday, April 15, 2013

Retron 3 mini review thing

I recently bought a Retron 3 to augment my classic game collection, save some space in my room and also  hopefully save myself a little hassle in trying to get 20+ year old games to work. Here's my rough impressions after a solid weekend of throwing nearly every 8 and 16-bit cartridge I had on hand at this thing.

Keep in mind that the version I have is the newer one (v2?), and there are some important differences  between it and the older model to consider if the Retron interests you at all.

First, the bad:

  • The included wireless controllers are functional (they'd be OK if they were all you had); but kind of cheap and flimsy. My biggest problem with them is that they require constant line-of-sight with the system's IR sensor. When I first got the system, I actually thought they had some slight input delay; but I'm pretty sure it was just the controllers moving very slightly out of range during spurts of excited button mashing (I was playing Toki, after all.)
  • SNES sound output is ridiculously loud (at least 2x that of the Genesis'!) and depending on the game, can be awfully distorted as well. This video demonstrates these problems perfectly.
  • NES outputs composite video only, which I'm fine with, honestly. HOWEVER, simply having the s-video outputs hooked up to your TV when playing NES games causes the colors to completely freak out. The box even recommends not having them both hooked up together at all! Basically, if you want to utilize the Retron's excellent s-video output AND play 8-bit Nintendo games on it, you'd either have to continually plug/unplug video cables when swapping between systems or have an A/B switcher on hand just for that purpose. This just perplexes me. I can very easily understand the need to cut costs for things like pack-in controllers, not having the time to totally perfect sound emulation, I can even understand why doing the additional work necessary for the NES components to output s-video might be prohibitively expensive, difficult or time-consuming; but this is just odd.
  • Sound emulation is (understandably) imperfect; but it really varies on the system and game. To be fair, the majority I tried were spot on for the most part, with only the odd sound effect or two being noticeably off.
  • For some inexplicable reason, 2 of the 3 standard NES pads I have flat-out don't work with the Retron.

Now the good..

  • EVERY GAME I'VE PLAYED ON THE SYSTEM WORKED THE FIRST TRY! Even my most problematic NES carts, which might take 20 tries normally on the old gray box, worked right off the bat. Astounding!
  • S-video output for Genesis and Super Nintendo looks absolutely fantastic.
  • Speaking of video, there's no godawful RF switches to tangle with!
  • Compatibility is very good overall. Many 'problem' games, such as R-Type 3 and Castlevania 3 seem to play near perfectly.
  • The Retron has 2 controller ports for each system, allowing you to use any of their original controllers and accessories (for the most part.)

Now, a brief bit on the older model. From what I understand, it lacks the specific sound problems with the SNES that this one has; but has weaker compatibility and the s-video output isn't quite as good. They both have undeniable drawbacks and are likely out of the race altogether for absolute retro purists; but I think it's worth considering which has problems that concern you less.

In conclusion, it probably all depends on how bad those drawbacks are to you. Personally, while I'd really like having flawless sound emulation and everything output to s-video (or component for that matter), just having something that will play games for all three systems, play them all on the first try and only take up one AV input on my TV is definitely enough for my money.

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