The Retron 5 should have been a retro gamer's wet dream. As the picture above indicates, it plays goddamn everything. Well, not literally of course. But look at that! When it was first announced, the price was planned to be under $100. Wowza! But not only does it simply plays thousands of games, it's also got its own on-board OS that allows for save states, up to 7 players multiplayer in games that allow it, support for the original consoles' controllers, HDMI output on par with the original quality on CRT TVs and 100% compatibility, something no clone console has ever been able to accomplish.
But of course, it was too good to be true. Initially penned for an October 2013 release date, October 31st rolled around with absolutely no information from its maker, Hyperkin. Sometime in November, it was announced that the console would DEFINITELY launch sometime before Christmas 2013.
Christmas rolled around, and Hyperkin announced a problem: Having received their first completed shipment (one that they later announced would not have been enough to meet pre-order demand), they discovered that the pins in the Famicom slot were not functional on most of the units. The console was once again delayed, this time to Q2 2014.
Sometime in March, having gotten back on my feet financially after a string of shit jobs and unemployment, I e-mailed Hyperkin as to the status of the Retron 5. I spoke to Chris Galizzi, the lead product developer for the Retron 5. He guaranteed me personally that the Retron 5 would be in stores sometime in April - that the console was currently being shipped, and that it should meet demand. I sold my Retron 3 in anticipation.
April came and went. Absolutely no news from Hyperkin, despite several appearances at small gaming conferences across the US. During one of these conferences, the demo unit they had been showing off actually died, and Hyperkin had to tell conference-goers that the Retron 5 they had on hand was broken.
One of my favourite things to do on a free weekend is to go around to several independent game stores in the Toronto area, either to look for things to cross off my list or to just make conversation. I'll usually bring my brother or a friend with me, and it's always a good day. Two of the shops I visit frequently have a strong professional relationship with Hyperkin, carrying a wide range of their products. I was sure to ask the owners - who I'm on friendly terms with - what they knew about the Retron 5 (since Hyperkin was dodging my questions at this point).
The first shop I visited that day runs out of a flea market. This owner told me that Hyperkin has many of its products, including the Retron 5, manufactured at a particular Chinese factory infamous for poor quality control - although his exact words were slightly more crass. Whether this is true or not is hard to confirm - Hyperkin has not answered my questions about this. If it is though, it makes the console failure at that recent gaming convention extremely worrisome.
The other shop I went to, later in the day, gave me some specifics in terms of distribution. They had been told by Hyperkin earlier that week (this being two weeks ago) that the Retron 5 would arrive at Hyperkin within three weeks. They also informed me that the console was getting a $40 price hike. The MSRP is now $140. I had heard rumours of this, but Hyperkin has still not confirmed this. I have no reason to doubt this though - I have been frequenting this particular shop since it opened, and they've always given me accurate information.
Sometime later that week, Chris Galizzi released this video:
To summarize, he basically says that the console is delayed to meet worldwide demand, as the amount they presently have will only meet US demand. He doesn't say anything about the price increase, although I speculate they've been hemorrhaging money ever since that first batch was discovered to be faulty - he does mention they've been pouring their own "resources" (which I read as time and money) into the project, and they understandably need to recoup their losses.
From where I stand right now, as a consumer, I'm pretty pissed. I've had this thing pre-ordered since January, and I sold my Retron 3 - my only means of playing my SNES games - about a month ago, on faith. There's enough information in front of me today to understand what's been going on with this thing, but for the longest time, we were all in the dark. Hyperkin has done an extremely poor job of community management, though I do suspect they are a very small company with a very small staff. If the console comes out and meets my expectations, I am totally prepared to forgive the wait and extra price.
Have any of you dealt with the Retron 5 and its BS? Did anyone greatly enjoy this article? I made an attempt at real journalism, and I hope it's impressed. :> Feel free to discuss anything you like in the comments - even the giant bruise (30cm x 6cm!) I have on my posterior from falling down a flight of stairs (pro tip: don't carry 40 lbs. of car parts down hardwood stairs with sweaty socks on). It kinda looks like Heath Ledger's lipstick in The Dark Knight, and I'm somewhat proud of that.
Thanks for reading! :D
While perusing the internet before work, I found this update on 8bitclassics.com, which more or less confirms the information I'd been given by the second game shop mentioned above:
Update (April 23, 2014) – We were just contacted by Hyperkin in regards to changes with the Retron 5. We will be contacting all of our pre-order customers in regards to these changes.
- Official list price has been changed from $99.99 to $139.99. This means that if the pre-order stays active, we will need to charge an additional $40 per order.
- Shipping will happen towards the end of May. No definite day given.
- Initial quantities are limited but the remaining of the product will ship two to three weeks ater the initial shipment is received.