Review: Retro Entertainment System (Hardware)

Retro Entertainment System: Official GBAtemp Review

Hardware 6,983 views 9 likes 14 comments
Reviewed by Another World, posted Sep 6, 2015, last updated Sep 6, 2015
Sep 6, 2015
The Retro Entertainment System by Retro-bit is a NES hardware clone that supports Nintendo 8-bit cartridges. Featuring a small, light weight form-factor and AV connectivity, it offers a cost-efficient alternative to emulation based retro consoles.
Another World

GBAtemp Review of the...

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Retro Entertainment System
Developed and Released by: Retro-bit
Also Known As: RES
Review by Another World – Completed 9/06/15

Introduction

Gamers have enjoyed a resurgence of retro video game experiences over the past few years. A movement which gained momentum as Indy titles rejuvenated a lost era of gaming for modern consoles and handhelds, has inevitably boomed with affordable retro “clone” systems supporting a variety of gaming’s bygone era. These clone systems have been released in many varieties, including handhelds such as the Supaboy (SNES) and the Retrogen (GEN), as single cart systems such as the Power Player Super Joy III (Famicom, with light gun), and as multi-cart consoles like the FC3 Plus (NES, SNES, GEN) and the RetroN 5 (NES, SNES, GEN, GBx, GBA).

While the various clone systems have been differentiated by their style, support, and connectivity, the deciding factor for most serious retro-gamers has been hardware versus software solutions. Out-of-the-box, hardware based clone systems have offered a higher compatibility rate than software (emulation) based systems. Those who lack other alternatives and become interested in dusting off their old cartridges for that familiar retro feeling, may inevitably seek out the Retro Entertainment System from Retro-bit, a hardware based solution that requires virtually no setup and comes packed into an incredibly small form factor.

Important GBAtemp Information:
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Special Thanks:
attachFull24628 A special thanks must go out to Retro-bit for providing the review sample.

Contents, Packaging, Design & Impressions

Contents:

  • 1x Retro Entertainment System
  • 1x AV Cable
  • 1x AC Adapter
  • 2x Controllers

Packaging:

Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World   Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World   Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World

The RES is packaged in a thin, yet supportive cardboard box. Both the top and bottom of the box are secured by tuck flaps that lock into place via a locking flap. The top flap, which was taped shut on two sides, has a cut-out for the built-in cardboard hang tab. The box has a glossy, somewhat waxy finish and proudly displays the contents of its interior on all sides. The front of the box shows an artist’s rendition of the RES, the manufacturer’s name, the full name of the system, and the console color scheme. Most of this same information can be found on each side of the box as well. Additionally, the front of the box contains text that explains that while the RES is “compatible with your favorite classic NES games,” that built-in games and game cartridges are not included. The back of the box, along with duplicate information, contains a graphic for the system and controller. This graphic clearly labels each part of the console (power switch, controller port, etc) and the included controller(s) (start, turbo, slow, etc). Also on the back of the box, specific information such as the console is top-loading and that it is a NES compatible clone which supports the included turbo button controllers and original NES controllers, has been printed in more than one language. All included English text has been professionally written and edited.

Inside of the box, the console, AV cable, AC adapter, and 2 controllers sit secure in a thin, clear plastic tray. Each of these items is protected inside of their own plastic bag and rest in separate areas of the tray. All of the plastic bags have a pungent odor that is reminiscent of chlorine. After being removed from their packaging, the console and controllers have retained a faint hint of this smell, which is only noticeable when held close to one’s face. In addition to storage, the plastic tray doubles as a form of support, helping to box to be more crush resistant. This additional support should be adequate enough to protect the items during transit. 

Design & Impressions:

Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World   Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World   Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World

The RES is about the length and width of a NES cart, and about as high as 3 carts stacked on top of each other. More accurately, it measures approximately 5 and 3/8 x 5 and 1/8 x 1 and 1/2 inches. Located on the right front-face of the console are the 2 controller input plugs. The top of the console contains the top-loading cartridge slot, which is protected by plastic, spring-loaded doors. Just below, and to the left of the cartridge slot, is the Power button, Reset button, and red “power” LED. The full name of the console (Retro Entertainment System) is printed on the top-right area of the shell and just below this text, both controller ports have been clearly labeled as well (controller 1, controller 2). The bottom of the console contains 4, soft rubber feet inset near each corner. These soft rubber sticker pads cover the 4 screws that hold the two halves of the shell together. Additionally located on the bottom of the console is a silver sticker that further identifies the system by name, number, and where it was manufactured (China). On the back of the console are labeled inputs for DC-IN and AV-OUT (Audio/Video).

The console itself is extremely light weight, and feels no heavier than a few NES cartridges. The review unit's shell is a two tone color scheme of black and red (also available: white/red, silver/black). The black area is a low-gloss finish while the red area and pieces are a matte finish. The plastic shell feels very thin and buckles creakily when pressure is applied. It feels as if it could be extremely easy to crack or damage the shell by accidentally dropping or stepping on it. Caution should be observed when leaving this small NES clone upon the floor. 

The AV, DC, and controller inputs are very snug. The spring-loaded cartridge slot doors swing away with ease when a cart is pushed in and back into place when it is removed. The slot doors are made from the same thin plastic as the shell, and provide a nice way to protect the interior PCB from dust and debris. The cartridge adapter itself is extremely snug, and grips much like a refurbished or repaired 72-pin adapter. It can take some force to remove a cartridge from its grip. Caution should be exercised here as well to avoid damaging the slot or the retracting spring-loaded doors.

Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World   Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World   Retro Entertainment System RES Retro-bit GBAtemp Review by Another World

Each of the included controllers measure approximately 4 and 1/2 x 2 x 1/2 inches. The bottom left and right sides of the controller flair outwards, providing more of an ergonomic shape when compared to the original NES controller. Located on the face of the controller is the d-pad, a slow button (slow-motion, automatically pauses approximately 2-3 times per second), select and start buttons, 2 input buttons labeled B and A, and two turbo buttons labeled BB and AA. The 4 B and A input buttons are in a diamond pattern, with A placed on a right-side, and upwardly diagonal to that of the B button. In regards to the slow-motion and turbo buttons, there is no way to adjust their frequency of repetition. The frequency at which they repeat their task has been hardcoded into the controller. Rising out of the top-center of the controller is the input cable, which measures approximately 5 ft. and 10 inches. On the underside of the controller are 4 visible screws that secure the two halves of its shell together. 

Like the console, the controller is light weight and made from the same thin plastic. The shell and the cord of the review unit's controllers are black, while all input buttons are red. The same glossy and matte finish have been incorporated here as well. All input buttons are a hard plastic, and while perhaps not the most comfortable buttons to game with, they have not provided any level of discomfort. During all phases of testing, the d-pad and buttons have proven to be extremely responsive. Directional controls are easy to input and respond accurately. The d-pad does have a slight "dead zone" when not enough pressure is applied. However, this zone is not extreme and most gamers may not even notice it. The slow-motion button works but remains a gimmick as its input frequency can not be adjusted. While the hardcoded frequency of the turbo buttons is adequate for most situations, it would be nice to be able to dial in the speed of repetition, like on the official NES Advantage joystick controller.

Setup and Usage

Setup for the RES console is extremely easy. Simply plug in the AC adapter and AV cords and then run those out to their respective inputs. Not all HDTV sets will support retro systems or clone systems via the Yellow (video) and White (audio) AV inputs. Please research your specific TV model before purchasing a RES or consider buying an adapter that will allow you to interface AV via HDMI.

Once the RES has been properly connected, plug your favorite, clean NES cartridge into the cartridge slot through the top spring-loaded doors. Press the power button and the RES will instantly display your game on the television. On an HDTV, the display will adjust to the full height of the screen and align to the right edge. Once the power button is pressed a red LED will illuminate between the power and reset buttons. Reset functions the same as on the original NES console, and will soft-reset (power-cycle) the RES. 

Compatibility

All NES cartridges utilized for this review were cleaned before and during testing with 50% isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs. Two official NES controllers and the Zapper light gun utilized during testing were additionally tested on a cleaned and fully functional NES console. Game cartridges which failed were further tested on an official NES. Game cartridges which failed to work on the RES were additionally tested as ROMs via the N8 Flash Kit. All testing was done utilizing a Samsung HDTV and a 27” Sony Trinitron CRT television. Most games were played for a period of 20-40 minutes. Only some games were completed, and the potential for errors remains a possibility.

In regards to ROMs, a small collection of games from each system (NES/FDS), homebrew, and patched games were tested for this review. Each game was tested for a period of 5-20 minutes. Only some games were completed, and the potential for errors remains a possibility. 

The results are listed below, each followed by a color coded phrase. Games which failed to run simply did not work or were unplayable due to various issues. Games which passed testing ran without serious issue and were fully enjoyable.

Nintendo Entertainment System Cartridges:

  • 72-in-1 Multicart - PASS
  • 1942 - PASS
  • Anticipation - PASS
  • Astyanax - PASS
  • Batman - PASS
  • Battletoads - FAIL (Random freezing, graphical issues, unplayable)
  • Bionic Commando - PASS
  • Castlevania - PASS
  • Castlevania II Simon's Quest - PASS
  • Codename Viper - PASS
  • Contra - PASS
  • Defender of the Crown - PASS
  • Deja Vu - PASS
  • Duck Hunt - FAIL (Light gun does not function)
  • Double Dragon - PASS
  • Double Dragon II - PASS
  • Double Dragon III - PASS
  • Double Dribble - PASS
  • Dragon Warrior - FAIL (Does not start)
  • Final Fantasy - PASS
  • Goal - FAIL (Does not start)
  • Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II - PASS
  • Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition - PASS
  • Journey to Silius - PASS
  • Kabuki Quantum Fighter - PASS
  • Kung Fu - PASS
  • Mega Man - PASS
  • Mega Man 2 - PASS
  • Mega Man 3 - PASS
  • Mega Man 4 - PASS
  • Mega Man 5 - PASS
  • Mega Man 6 - PASS
  • Metal Gear - PASS
  • Metroid - PASS
  • Ninja Gaiden - PASS (Must press "restart")
  • Ninja Gaiden II The Dark Sword of Chaos - PASS
  • Ninja Gaiden III The Ancient Ship of Doom - PASS
  • Pro Wrestling - PASS
  • Rambo - PASS
  • Rescue The Embassy Mission - PASS
  • River City Ransom - PASS
  • Rocket Ranger - PASS
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms II - FAIL (Does not start)
  • Rygar - PASS
  • Shadowgate - PASS
  • Shadow of the Ninja - PASS
  • Skate or Die - PASS
  • Skate or Die II - PASS
  • Snake's Revenge - PASS
  • Street Fighter 2010 The Final Fight - PASS
  • Super Mario Bros. - PASS
  • Super Mario Bros. 2 - PASS/PROBLEMS (Occasional graphical issues, can not always reproduce)
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 - PASS
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II The Arcade Game - PASS
  • The Goonies II - PASS
  • The Immortal - PASS
  • The Legend of Zelda - PASS
  • The Mafat Conspiracy - PASS (Must power-cycle)
  • Tombs & Treasure - PASS
  • Track & Field II - PASS
  • Ultima Exodus - PASS
  • Ultima Quest of the Avatar - PASS
  • Ultima Warriros of Destiny - PASS
  • Uninvited - PASS
  • Vegas Dream - PASS
  • Win, Lose or Draw - PASS
  • Wizardry - PASS
  • Xenophobe - PASS
  • Zelda II The Adventure of Link - PASS

N8 Flash Kit and ROMs:

  • Angry Birds (Homebrew) - PASS
  • Assimilate (Homebrew) (NES) - PASS
  • Battle Kid - Fortress of Peril v1.100 (Homebrew) (NES) - PASS
  • Battle Kid 2 - Mountain of Torment v1.000 (Homebrew) (NES) - PASS
  • Bionic Commando (U) '99 Patch (NES) - PASS
  • Blade Buster (Homebrew) (NES) - PASS
  • BodyConQuest I - Girls Exposed (J) English Translation (FDS) - PASS
  • Castlevania 2 – Simon’s Quest (U) Re-translation/Definitive Patch (NES) - PASS
  • Contra (J) English Translation (FC) - PASS
  • Dracula II - Noroi No Fuuin (J) (FDS) - PASS
  • Dragon Warrior (NES) - PASS
  • Flappy Bird (Homebrew) (NES) - PASS
  • Goal! (NES) - PASS
  • Ice Hockey (J) (FDS) - PASS
  • Metroid (J) English Translation (FDS) - PASS
  • Streemerz (Homebrew) (NES) - PASS
  • The Immortal (NES) - PASS
  • The Mafat Conspiracy - PASS
  • Wolverine (U) Color Patch (NES) - PASS
  • Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS) - PASS

Battletoads was one title listed as incompatible with the RES. The game started fine, but by the 2nd stage random freezing and graphical issues ensued. These issues made the game impossible to play. Duck Hunt failed to fully function on the RES. It was possible to start the game with a 2nd controller, but the lack of Zapper support made it impossible to play the game. Dragon Warrior booted into a screen of garbled black and white graphics. This cartridge was further tested on an official NES and found working. Goal suffered from the same issues as Dragon Warrior and also displayed the same NES testing results. Ninja Gaiden loaded to similar garbled graphical issues. Once the Reset button was pressed the game played as expected. This cartridge was further tested on an official NES and found working. Romance of the Three Kingdoms II shared identical problems to that of Dragon Warrior and Goal. Super Mario Bros. 2 displayed some graphical issues on the title screen and during actual game play. The issues did not always repeat from world-to-world. Oddly, the cartridge functioned perfectly on an actual NES and a CRC verified ROM functioned perfectly on the RES via the N8 Flash Kit. The Mafat Conspiracy loaded to garbled graphics and power-cycling the system allowed the game to function as expected. A CRC verified ROM loaded and worked correctly on the RES via the N8 Flash Kit. 

EverDrive N8 testing results proved to be rather intriguing. Unexpectedly, ROMs worked where cartridges failed. Dragon Warrior, Goal, Ninja Gaiden, and Super Mario Bros. 2 each loaded and functioned as expected. The fully cleaned and tested official NES cartridges, however, either failed to work or required hard/soft power-cycles. It was also interesting to discover that The Immortal ROM functioned on the RES where it fails to function on the NES. Each of the tested Homebrew, translations, hacks, and FDS games, functioned without issue.

The RES supports NES peripherals, and during the testing phase of this review the original NES controllers and the Zapper light gun were both tested. The original controllers functioned as expected, as did the RES controllers on an actual NES (including their extra features). However, the Zapper did not function on the RES. It was possible to "select" by pressing the trigger, but shots fired at a CRT television were unregistered by the RES. The same Zapper and TV set were tested with an actual NES and found to be fully functional. No other peripherals or 3rd party controllers were available for testing.

As no additional consoles, cartridges, or Flash Kits were available for testing, the EverDrive versus cartridges and NES versus RES results remain inconclusive.

Conclusion

The Retro Entertainment System is a small, affordable hardware-based NES “clone” packed inside a professionally manufactured design. The design incorporates not only a top-loading slot for ease of use but spring-loaded doors to protect it against dust and debris. While the design is clean, well thought out, and clearly labeled, it has been formed into a very thin plastic shell that could easily become damaged by one misstep. 

The system outputs to a television via an AV-out cable. HDMI and a form of upscaling would have been welcomed features. However, both would have inevitably driven up the unit’s price point. The video signal maintains a ratio for the television in which it has been connected. On a CRT television, the standard 4:3 ratio was observed. On an HD television, something similar was experienced. Here the video signal was output to match the height of the television and then right aligned so that one small black bar appeared only on the left side. As graphics are not upscaled at all, jagged pixels and minor graphical artifacts were experienced across a variety of games when tested on an HDTV. Needless to say, AV-out is not the most elegant solution for retro games on a modern television set. It is here that emulators and emulation-based “clone” systems have an obvious advantage with graphical filters and software-based renderers that allow effects such as blur to soften the output. 

The controller is constructed from the same thin plastic as the console, yet feels sturdy enough for intense gaming sessions. The d-pad and hard plastic buttons are extremely responsive and felt comfortable enough across long gaming sessions. The B and A button diamond pattern leaves something to be desired. It is awkward to transition between the two buttons at times, especially when utilizing the turbo buttons. The frequency of the slow-motion button was not adequate enough as a means of “cheating”. The frequency of the turbo buttons, however, was ideal for most situations. While perhaps firing a bit faster than desired, the turbo frequency made many fighting and platforming games much easier to play. The RES controllers, and their special features, function perfectly on an actual NES. Perhaps not the best 3rd party controllers, they are a nice alternative to the official square NES control design. 

The box proudly boasts that the RES supports original NES controllers and it was indeed nice to find that it did support the classic square controllers. However, it did not support the Zapper light gun. While there are only a handful of games made for the Zapper, a system calling itself a “clone” should support all features of the original.

The top-loading cartridge slot is a nice feature. It should be noted that the adapter grips so securely that pulling out the cartridge itself requires more force than expected. The adapter never caused any noticeable damage nor did its grip feel like a hindrance. In fact, with 72-pin connectivity issues surrounding the original NES design, the RES adapter feels more like a welcomed feature. Any cartridge plugged into the system will stand firmly attached and continue to function even when the system is jolted, moved, or physically lifted up and shook.

While the RES does not support every NES cartridge, it does appear to have a high compatibility rate. Officially, the company has admitted that Paperboy and Battletoads will not function. Unofficially, the RES is supported by the Everdrive N8 Flash Kit. This means that N8 owners can enjoy FDS games, homebrew, hacks, and translations on the RES. The system's extremely affordable price point should make it a strong contender for N8 owners who seek a hardware-based solution.

The Retro Entertainment System does a lot right. Its barebones, no frills hardware-based solution will get NES collectors and N8 Flash Kit owners gaming with ease. Perhaps it is not ideal for every situation or every retro gamer, yet its extremely affordable price point ($14.99) and high compatibility make it an welcomed addition to most retro gaming setups. 

Verdict
Pros
+ Small, light weight form factor
+ Professional design
+ Extremely affordable ($14.99 MSRP)
+ Top-loading cartridge slot
+ Spring-loaded cartridge slot doors
+ Adapter grips securely
+ Simple to setup and use
+ High NES cartridge compatibility rate
+ High Everdrive N8 Flash Kit compatibility rate
Cons
- Shell plastic is extremely thin
- “Clone” without 100% cartridge compatibility rate
- AV-out instead of HDMI, etc.
- Zapper light gun is unsupported
8
out of 10
Overall
Simple, small, affordable, and N8 compatible, the RES packs a lot of fun into a professionally looking package. Easy to setup and use, it will give gamers a reason to dust off their NES cartridge collection. For a higher score it would require, at the very least, Zapper support and a 100% compatibility rate with all officially released Nintendo cartridges.
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