Hardware Review: Hyperkin SupaBoy Portable SNES

The biggest retro hardware release in more ways than one

The lapse of hardware patents on retro platforms has resulted in an explosion of clone machines, most of which are produced cheaply in the Far East. These systems emulate the performance of consoles such as the NES, Super Nintendo and Genesis/Mega Drive, all of which are no longer covered by their original manufacturer’s patents, which expire after 20 years.

While we can imagine that Nintendo and SEGA aren’t exactly thrilled that low-cost variants of their machines are being created and sold, the appearance of such devices has been something of a boon for retro gamers. Not only does it allow players to purchase new hardware when their own consoles fail, but it also allows a certain degree of wish fulfilment to take place. There can be few Super NES owners who would have turned their noses up to the idea of a portable version of their beloved 16-bit console back in the '90s, and the Hyperkin SupaBoy makes that possible.

The SupaBoy isn’t the first machine of this type; we covered the Yobo FC-16 Go a few years ago, and that too offered the ability to take your SNES collection on the road. However, Hyperkin’s reputation is quite high among retro players, which goes a long way to explaining why there’s been so much interest in the machine.

When you consider the size of SNES carts, it’s almost a given that any portable system is going to have to be pretty bulky to accommodate them. Even so, you’re unlikely to be prepared for the sheer girth of the SupaBoy; compared to modern portables, it looks like some kind of monster. Needless to say, Atari Lynx veterans will feel right at home with this huge beast in their palms.

That bulk hides some cool additional features, the most appealing of which has to be the twin joypad ports, allowing you to hook up your existing SNES controllers. You can then plug the SupaBoy into your TV using the composite connect provided, effectively turning the device into a fully-fledged domestic system.

While the dimensions of the system do hinder its mobile aspirations, they actually make it quite a comfortable machine to play on. The hand-cramp that is so common on dinky systems like the 3DS and DSi is nowhere to be seen, and the slightly-enlarged D-Pad feels as good as the one seen on the original SNES controller, if not better. In fact, all of the buttons on the SupaBoy feel good, with plenty of travel and lots of responsiveness. According to reports online, early versions of the SupaBoy suffered from control issues, but we experienced no such issues on our review unit.

Clone systems are made on the cheap, so it’s almost a given that the screens they use are of low quality. While the LCD display on the SupaBoy certainly isn’t the best we’ve ever seen, it’s far from being the worst. The brightness could be better, but there’s very little in the way of motion blur, and colours are generally decent. Unfortunately, the screen appears to be something of a hungry beast when it comes to power consumption — the SupaBoy’s rechargeable battery is only good for around two and a half hours of play, and we can only assume that low figure is due to the screen’s energy demands.

Because clone systems are basically emulating the performance of retro hardware, ensuring 100% compatibility with all games is nearly impossible. The SupaBoy fares better than many of its rivals though, and will run almost every Japanese or North American SNES/Super Famicom game you throw at it. European PAL carts present a slightly different story; because the SupaBoy basically acts like a NTSC US SNES, PAL games that feature region locks will refuse to play.

The biggest shortcoming of the SupaBoy is its questionable build quality; as you might expect from a clone device, it isn’t constructed from the same high-grade materials as official Nintendo hardware. The plastic casing bends under the slightest pressure, and we noticed little imperfections — such as marks under the screen cover — that hint at a less than stellar quality control process.

Such issues come with the territory, though; it’s unrealistic to think that a small firm like Hyperkin can match the production standards of massive corporations like Sony and Nintendo. And as annoying as build quality problems may been, they’re hardly deal breakers and don’t impact the overall usability of the device.

If already have a large collection of SNES carts and are looking to give your retro gaming a semblance of portability, the SupaBoy is worthy of investigation.

Stone Age Gamer provided a SupaBoy unit for review. The machine can be ordered direct from the Stone Age Gamer store and retails for $74.99.