Retro Duo Console ReviewMarch 11, 2014
The retro gaming scene has exploded in recent years, with new homebrew games (like Classic Kong and Study Hall) getting physical releases, and the patents on 8- and 16-bit hardware having expired. Now clone consoles have made their way to the market, featuring a much smaller form factor and shiny new components. Retro-Bit’s Retro Duo allows gamers to play virtually all of the carts from the NES and SNES’ libraries, without subconsciously worrying about when their ancient hardware is going to fail. It even supports imported Japanese Super Famicom carts!
As many of us know all too well, it’s only a matter of time before all computer components fail. And seeing how Nintendo stopped manufacturing their cartridge-based consoles ages ago, finding functional hardware in 2014 can be a luck of the draw – not to mention expensive. When Sega and Nintendo let the patents expire for these consoles a few years ago, it gave companies like Retro-Bit an opportunity to bring freshly manufactured retro consoles to the gaming masses, ensuring that old-school games would be playable for years to come.
At roughly 6×7 inches, the diminutive Retro Duo doesn’t take up much space in an entertainment center, thankfully. The console is only about two inches high, but obviously you’ll need some extra height above to compensate for the NES carts in particular, due to the top-loading design. The Retro Duo comes in at least three color schemes – I’ve come across a Silver/ Black version (reviewed) as well as a Red/Black version and White/ Blue version. The power button features a three-way switch; pushing it into the up position powers up the 8-bit slot, down powers up the 16-bit slot, and in between these two lies the off setting. Build quality seems quite decent, and nothing feels flimsy, but it is extremely light and made of plastic, so you’ll want to avoid dropping it on a hard wood floor or anything like that. While the console is not particularly sleek or attractive, it’s certainly not ugly, and besides, the important matter is how well this thing plays games, right?
Fans of the original SNES controllers will be happy to know that the Retro Duo supports them, but it also includes two of its own clone controllers as well. While the included controllers have hardly any weight to them and don’t feel incredibly durable, they’re functional. That said, I did have problems with the d-pad on both of the included controllers. For instance when holding up to climb a ladder in a game, the controller will sometimes move your character to the right, which can cause a bit of frustration. I had similar problems in games that required you to hold down, such as when attacking Mousers in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.
One slight design flaw in the Retro Duo is that the cartridges can be pretty difficult to remove, at least without feeling as if you’re about to crack your game or the system in half. The NES portion seems to suffer more from this problem, but it’s almost impossible to remove the games without either slowly shuffling the cartridge from side to side until the system releases its death grip, or holding one hand down on the system and using the other to pull with all your might as if you were dealing with the Sword in the Stone. OK, it’s not quite that bad, but it’s far more difficult than it needs to be. Maybe incorporating an eject button into a new version would be a good idea.
The Retro Duo can use both S-Video and composite cables, and both connections are included. S-Video looks slightly better when playing the SNES games, but it’s not meant to be used with NES. For the most part, I played through composite with both systems, and it looked passable on my HDTV. Of course, it would likely look better on an old-school CRT monitor, but the rest of us who’ve embraced upgraded technology will have to either deal with a grainier picture, or wait for something like the upcoming, HDMI-compatible RetroN 5.
As far as compatibility is concerned, the Retro Duo easily handled every SNES and NES game I was able to throw at it. While my collection of 8- and 16-bit titles is meager these days, I was able to test at least 8 NES and 8 SNES titles, including the newly released Classic Kong and Study Hall homebrews.
If your original Nintendo and Super NES systems are on their last legs, or if you’re feeling nostalgic and want to restart your retro gaming collection, Retro-Bit’s Retro Duo is a money-saving, space-saving alternative to seeking out official replacements. While the controllers and design of this clone console leave something to be desired, the important thing is that this plays just about every game from your childhood for less than $50 – even imports. I can’t wait until one of these companies is able to make a Nintendo 64 clone console.