Review: Super Retro-Cade (Hardware)

Reviewed by kuwanger, posted Oct 19, 2018
As a fan of shoot 'em ups, I became interested in the Super Retro-Cade when I discovered it had over 90 games of which a large number are various Irem shooters. On the surface the user experience was quite good, but there's more to a retro hardware device than this. After a bit of tinkering, it is clear the Super Retro-Cade has a lot of potential and one very massive pitfall.
Oct 19, 2018
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The Super Retro-Cade is a small, Orange Pi like device that comes includes with over 90 mainly arcade games from Irem, Data East, Capcom, and Technos. Using a modified form of Android 4.4.2, Mame4Droid, and Retroarch, the system includes two controllers, an HDMI cable, and a power adapter. AV and HDMI output are available although only the latter was tested.
kuwanger
Hardware

The Super-Retro Cade is based on the Allwinner H3 SoC and has the following hardware:

  • ARMv7 Quad Core clocked at 1.2GHz
  • Mali 400 MP2
  • 256MB RAM
  • 3.6GB NAND
  • Two USB ports
  • AV and HDMI Output
  • SD Card Slot
Emulation

With emulation based on Retroarch and Mame4Droid, the accuracy of the emulation I tested is quite good. While there was slow down in some games, such as Super R-Type and R-Type III, the interface does not provide a means to display FPS so it's unclear if this is owing to accurate emulator slowdowns or an unoptimized build of the Snes9x core. It is possible to use Lakka to boot Retroarch from the SD card slot and there 60 fps is readily obtainable in those games. The general low support for other gamepads than the include ones and the generally dummied out support for USB keyboards is disappointing. Also disappointing is the generally limited options exposed to be configured by the end user. TATE mode is not an included option, for example.

Repair and Extendability

As noted above, it is possible to boot Lakka with some tweaking to access a fuller version of Retroarch. This also allows you to backup and restore the included nand or otherwise dump the included games for your personal use on another system you own. Lakka with the Orange Pi PC Plus dtb also offers more cores including ones like Dosbox for which I've had some limited experience playing some older Apogee titles. DPMI titles would crash the system unfortunately. I had simple issues with trying to use RetrOrangePi with Emulation Station being killed after the gamepads were configured. I am uncertain if this is fixable with another build or a configuration change or if it is a limitation due to only have 256MB RAM. Regardless, there's a lot of room to experiment and definitely room for exploration.

Licensing

As originally stated, my primary interest in the Super Retro-Cade was in obtaining legally licensed copied of some of my favorite arcade classics. As such it's disappointing that Retro-Bit chose to include and use non-commercially licensed Snes9x, Genesis Plus GX, and an older Mame core with Retroarch. Even for the code that can be commercially licensed, most of the emulation and operating system code is GPL licensed which requires providing access to the source code. As such, the net effect is buying the Super Retro-Cade is to buy a system with unlicensed code. Testing the higan balanced core on the Super Retro-Cade it's clear the hardware does not have the performance to use higan in place of Snes9x so even if Retro-Bit were to take steps to be legally compliant they'd likely drop support for the handful of SNES games included. Given Retro-Bit's behavior to at least one Retroarch developer, I am not very hopeful of them taking such steps.
Verdict
Pros
+ Hardware comparable to an Orange Pi H3 variant
+ Includes many licensed games
+ Has generally high quality emulation
Cons
- Uses unlicensed or otherwise non-legally complaint emulation software
0.1
out of 10
Overall
If you're interested in the hardware the Super Retro-Cade provides, you can build something very equivalent in performance for near the same price ($69..99) but with a lot more connection options. If you're interested in the legally licensed games for the Super Retro-Cade, all I can say is that by association Irem, Capcom, Data East, and Technos apparently aren't entirely concerned about legally licensing software. I do not encourage piracy, but the Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade definitely sets a bad example of why you shouldn't.


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