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Published on February 17th, 2016 | by Chris Scott

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The Deep, Dark Retro Hole

I’m in a deep dark hole. I know exactly how I got here. I bought a new house that has a dedicated space for me to do whatever the hell I want with it. So, of course I made it into a room dedicated to film watching and video game playing.

For some reason the last owner of the house left behind a bunch of old furniture and electronics. Some of it was completely useless, like the super huge record player, radio, TV combo piece of which only the radio only worked. But other things, like the old school TV/DVD combo were totally functional. When we moved in and were deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, that TV/DVD combo made the cut. Working CRT televisions are hard to come by these days and it was left in our laps. Might as well make good use of it.

Of course, the inevitable question arose of what are we actually going to do with this technological relic? First thought in my head, of course, was to use it to play old games.

Now at the time I didn’t really have a means to play a lot of old games. Like many people, I’ve used my old systems and game collections as collateral for the new hotness or have gotten rid of them because I didn’t have the space and need for them anymore. I did have a Dreamcast with a few games, that I purchased off a friend before he moved away, and I also have an original Final Fantasy NES cartridge. That was it. I wasn’t really rolling in retro games.

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But even if I had been, I certainly didn’t have the hardware to play them. Sure, my Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii had the ability to play original Xbox and Gamecube games, but that’s not the same as having the original systems. And my interest in this endeavor stemmed from the CRT screen anyway. I wanted something that could play old Nintendo and SEGA cartridges. So, I put it in my head to buy a frankenmachine, the Retron 5.

For those that don’t know, the Retron systems are retro machines developed by Hyperkin. These machines, and others like them, are capable of playing old game carts without the original hardware. The machines have some bugs and won’t play all the game carts but something like 99% of titles work with them. That’s close enough to perfect for me. Anyway, I was pretty close to getting a Retron 5, but a combination of events pushed me away from that machine towards another cheaper one that I could get right away.

On New Year’s Day, my family and I traveled out to a mall that we usually don’t frequent to get some family pictures done. While waiting for my wife to wrap up the selection process of what to get in the package (anyone that has had family photos done in a studio knows this is a torturous, time consuming endeavor), the kids and I sat out in the mall. Where we were sitting just happened to be within eyesight of a retro game store (not planned, I promise). We got up and wandered into the store where I was greeted by a stack of Retron 2s and 3s.

The Retron 2 plays NES and SNES games. The Retron 3 plays NES, SNES, and Genesis games. And the Retron 5 is basically an emulation super computer that plays NES, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, and Game Boy Advance games and some other bullshit that you probably don’t need. The Retron 5 is also $130, more than double what this retro store was selling the Retron 3 for. Still, I didn’t want to drop $60 on a retro console that very day. So we left intrigued, but with no retro gaming to be had.

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About a week later, Amazon dropped a sale price for the Retron 3 in my e-mail. Coming in at $45 and about almost $100 less than the Retron 5, it seemed to make sense to me to pull trigger. So I did. But now, with a means to play retro games, I actually needed some to play. And that is where I tripped and fell down a hole.

I didn’t want to drive all the way back out to Plymouth Meeting to get some games to play (although I would make that trip again), so I started looking for more local retro game stores. And I found one, just a fifteen minute drive into the city. They were running a buy 2 get 1 free sale (I’ve been there twice since then and the sale is still going, so I think it is a permanent thing). Taking advantage of this, I picked up three of my favorite games: Super Mario World (SNES), NHL 94 (Genesis), and Dragon Warrior (NES). Super Mario World and NHL 94 worked fine, after a light cleaning. Dragon Warrior and my Final Fantasy cart were inoperable though. I began to suspect that the NES portion of my new Retron 3 was busted but then I got a third game, WCW – World Championship Wrestling, and that worked. Guess what? Old games are old and the Retron isn’t perfect, just nearly so.

The Retron 3 comes with a wireless infrared controller that works with all three of the systems. It’s cool in theory, but it kind of sucks. The IR would consistently drop out and playing anything that wasn’t a Genesis game with it was difficult because of the button layout. And this is why I promptly purchased a set of two wired controllers for each of the three systems. And then I bought some more Genesis games via Amazon. And then I started exploring Gamestop’s online retro offerings. That’s when I bought an original Playstation, some memory cards, and a slew of PSOne games.

Everyone I’ve come in contact with while looking for old games and systems has been incredibly nice, inviting, and helpful. It’s a drastic difference from when I collected comics years ago and felt super judged with every back issue choice I made, no matter what shop I was in. These clerks don’t care that I’m cleaning them out of NHL hockey games from 1992-2000 (PS2 era, I’m coming for your NHL games next). And they don’t care if I am buying rather awful wrestling games because I had a preference for WCW rather than WWF. And now, here I am, a month later, slightly lost down here in this hole. It’s dark and kind of expensive (this one store wants $30 for Super Mario Kart), but it’s also warm and these walls are really furry and soft. I think I’ll stay down here for a bit, at least until something I want to play on the Xbox One or PS4 shows up.

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  • cary h

    Great post! I’ve been thinking about getting more into retro gaming, and I’ve never heard of the Retron systems — how cool! Of course, that would mean having to actually get a bunch of old games, which is much bigger investment. Ah…to have all the time and money in the world…

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