The Retro Freak is Everything I Wanted in the Retron 5 (And More!)
As much as I love original hardware and playing old games, sometimes I just want to sit down in front of an HDTV and play an old game with no hassle. This want for a quick solution to retro gaming in HD led me down a path of clone consoles and emulation machines. My use case is probably ideal for the clone console market. I have a ton of cartridges and games readily available to pop into a system. I understand the appeal of RetroPi and just using phones and computers for emulation but I like using original cartridges if I can.
The Hyperkin Retron 5 seemed to be the solution to all of my gaming problems. It has cartridge slots for everything from Original Gameboy to the Super Nintendo, including Gameboy Advance. With an adapter, the Retron 5 can play Game Gear and Master System games. I purchased 2 used Retron 5’s and the newest retro beach neon re-release they had on Amazon. When the Retron 5 worked, it was awesome! You have to keep the cartridge in to play the game but the UI is wonderful and the software options for cheat codes and translations are super user friendly.
Sadly, every one of my Retron 5’s broke. The pins bent, some of the slots stopped reading cartridges and one just stopped powering on. I have messed around with a lot of hardware but the Retron 5 is probably the least reliable console I have every touched. I have a Hyperkin Clone SNES, Genesis, and NES. Those systems are bullet proof. Those consoles don’t have any issues with the pins and they feel solid. I thought maybe I had bad luck on the Retron 5 or that I using it wrong. I bought Dielectric grease to keeps the pins safe, I paid 35 dollars for a back up proprietary power supply. None of this mattered, it’s just a garbage piece of hardware that will fail with regular use.
With that disappointment noted, the Cyber Gadget Retro Freak was a Japanese console that emulated everything the Retron 5 does but also PC-Engine and TurboGrafx. The most recent release of the Retro Freak was in 2020 on the console’s 4 year anniversary. I was very skeptical of this system because it was very expensive and nobody was talking about it. I can find countless threadsand videos on the Retron 5 and other multi-console systems. The Retro Freak moves in silence. There is a nice NintendoLife article on it and a few Youtube videos from it’s release but it’s not hyped up nearly enough. Allow me to bring the hype. This console is incredibly well made. It is a proprietary mini-computer with plastic shells you can put on it, to allow the use of different hardware. You can buy a bundled set of system + shell that includes the mini-computer with Super Nintendo/NES or you can get the deluxe bundle with all the systems available.
A nice feature of the Retro Freak is that if you don’t have the games, you can just dump roms into it. The Retron 5 doesn’t allow that unless you use some backend workarounds. Also, in service of protecting the games and the system’s pins, you can dump the original game’s rom onto the Retro Freak and never have to put the game in again. It also dumps and backups your save. It’s amazing for space saving with cartridges and convenience. You also get the normal filters and save states that the Retron 5 provides as well (the Retron 5 has better CRT filters). I have some really rare Genesis games that I want to play but I balk at the idea of jamming the cartridges into anything at this point. Being able to put it in the Retro Freak once and then play it forever is amazing. As somebody who has a gaming PC with RetroArch and a bunch of emulators, there is something so easy about just grabbing a cart and sticking it into a slot. I don’t have to pray the rom isn’t a virus or that the game won’t run for some reason.
The most value I felt from all of these systems is being able to easily play handheld consoles on my TV. Game Gear games looks amazing on the big screen now that the image has proper lighting. It feels like rediscovering the games again because you can finally see the sprite work and amazing detail the games have. With button remapping, it makes some games infinitely more playable. For the NBA Jam handheld ports, they had to put turbo on the Start button for the Gameboy and Game Gear. It’s workable for the GG but on the Gameboy it means you probably will have to move pass to the start button to have access to turbo and dunking. With the Retro Freak (and Retron 5) you can map the start button to a shoulder button and then play NBA Jam like a normal arcade sports game. Those ports hold up incredibly well!
The downfall of the Retro Freak is it’s price. Every part of it is expensive. The controller it comes with is $100 USD. The system only has USB ports for controllers on it, the bundles come with an adapter for Genesis, SNES and all the consoles original controllers but if you need a second adapter…it’s another hundred bucks. The system runs anywhere from $250–350 USD. You can buy it on PLAYASIA or use Ebay. I stalked Ebay for months, spamming best offers to sellers who had it until somebody finally caved and sent me one for $200. The console also needs a NES adapter because the system defaults to a Famicom slot. That adapter runs $150. The Game Gear and Sega Mark-III adapter is $100. Then another $15 spent at AliExpress to get a cheap Mark-III to Master System converter. It’s a lot. The bundle comes with most of these things, but if something breaks or you want a second one the prices are obscene. Compare that to the Hyperkin Retron 5 that cost $150–200 USD with a $50 Sega Game Gear adapter and the price difference is pretty noticeable. I think you get what you pay for. My experience with almost daily use of the Retro Freak has been positive. The cartridge slots still read games and no hardware or software issues. It feels like it’s built to last while the Retron 5 feels like a cheap toy.
The use case for these multi-console machines varies for a lot of people but if you’re somebody who wants to play your old cartridges on your current television the Retro Freak is the easiest and most reliable solution I have found. Keep in mind that both the Retro Freak and the Retron 5 have had drama around profiting from unlicensed emulators. There is also the legal ramifications around downloading and using ROMS. I don’t endorse downloading roms illegally. I have used and use a lot of Hyperkin products but if you are considering the Retron 5, maybe save up for a Cyber Gadget Retro Freak instead.