Hardware Review: Retro Duo Portable V2.0

NES, SNES and Mega Drive on the move

Clone systems are growing in popularity with each passing year, with several different companies all producing consoles which ape the performance of vintage hardware and aim to satisfy the needs of retro-lovers everywhere. We've already seen Hyperkin's SupaBoy bring portable SNES gaming to the masses, and now it's the turn of Retro-Bit's Retro Duo Portable V2.0 — the second attempt by the firm to make a mobile marvel capable of playing both 8 and 16-bit Nintendo cartridges.

The Retro Duo Portable plays SNES carts right out of the box, accepting games from any region — North America, Japan or Europe — without any need for modification. NES games can be played using the bundled RetroPort adapter, and it's even possible to run Sega Mega Drive / Genesis carts using an optional accessory — but more on that later. As the console's name suggests, this is version 2, and as such promises a wide range of improvements over its forerunner. The LCD screen has been upgraded, the control layout has been redesigned and the stereo speakers have been given a boost. Compatibility has also been enhanced, meaning the system will work with more games than its direct predecessor.

You get a surprising amount of gear inside the box. In addition to the console itself, there's the aforementioned RetroPort adapter, a controller port adapter (which allows you to hook up two SNES pads), a plastic stand, TV-out cable and power supply. The Retro Duo Portable V2.0 contains a rechargeable dual capacity lithium-ion battery which is said to offer around eight hours of stamina — we've not managed to get quite that much yet, but the battery life is impressive nonetheless.

The console itself isn't the most attractive piece of gaming hardware we've ever laid eyes on, but it's comfortable to use at least. The plastic is covered with a soft-touch coating which offers superb grip and the controls are precise and responsive. The D-pad is a real pleasure to use, but the shoulder triggers can be problematic, as they're placed quite close to the cartridge slot. It's not a deal-breaking issue however, and on the whole the Retro Duo Portable is surprisingly ergonomic and won't cramp up your hands during extended gameplay sessions.

The LCD screen may be an improvement over the one found in the original Retro Duo Portable, but it's still a long way off the standard seen on modern handheld systems. Colours are washed out and viewing angles are poor, which means you have to make sure you view the screen dead-on, otherwise the image becomes hard to see properly. There's also a disappointing lack of clarity, making it hard to discern individual pixels. It's not a complete disaster and we've certainly seen worse screens in our time, but we'd have liked a slightly better display. The "stronger" speakers are also something of a mixed bag. They're not especially loud — even on the highest setting — yet they still manage to distort and cause the console's casing to rattle slightly.

Although the Retro Duo Portable is capable of accepting any SNES game, Japanese and European carts don't fit as snugly in the slot as North American ones, thanks to the fact that they have a different design. Even US carts move around a little when inserted into the machine, and if you shake the console during use it's quite common for the game to crash or pause, prompting a complete restart. This is an almost unavoidable issue with these kind of systems; SNES games weren't intended for portable use and their size makes it difficult for manufacturers to create consoles which can accept the bulky games yet still remain moderately portable.

This issue is amplified when playing NES and Mega Drive games on the Retro Duo Portable V2,0, as these both require additional adapters. The RetroPort adapter which comes with the console sticks so far out of the cartridge slot that the manufacturer has included a screw which can be used to secure it to the system during use. The RetroGen adapter — which is sold separately and will work on standard SNES consoles as well — is less ungainly, but still awkward all the same.

These options are clearly better suited to the Retro Duo Portable's TV-out functionality, which allows you to connect the system to any television set with AV composite input. Using the included controller port adapter, you can essentially replicate the big-screen console experience using this system, and even enjoy a friendly two-player game of Super Mario Kart.

Speaking of which, Super Mario Kart was the only title we experienced any kind of issue with when running on the Retro Duo Portable V2.0. As you can see on the video below, the game suffers from a strange flashing effect during play — although this could be related to the fact that we were running the European PAL copy, and not the North America NTSC version. All of the other cartridges we tried ran flawlessly.

The Retro Duo Portable V2.0 isn't perfect, but it's certainly one of the best clone handhelds we've seen in a while. Although the screen and speakers could be better, the console is comfortable and boasts well-designed controls. Compatibility seems to be excellent from what we can gather — we obviously weren't in a position to test every single SNES and NES game, but the ones we did throw at it didn't cause any serious problems. If you're in the market for a new SNES system and like the idea of being able to play it on your TV and out of the home, then the Retro Duo Portable V2.0 is certainly worth a look.

Thanks to Innex for supplying the console used in this review.