For a wide range of reasons, the public's interest in retro gaming has arguably never been higher. New players are being drawn into this fascinating corner of the industry to explore the origins of characters like Mario and Sonic, while veterans who still bear the scars of the '80s and '90s console wars are reacquainting themselves with the joys of yesteryear. No matter your age or background, your entry point into this arena is likely to be one of two options: dusty and battered original hardware or shiny new clone systems (there is of course a third choice, emulation – but we'll conveniently pretend that doesn't exist for the purpose of this review).
If you're a seasoned user of clone systems then chances are you'll already be familiar with the name Hyperkin. This firm has been making these consoles for years now, and one might argue that it reached its zenith with the superb Retron 5 in 2014 – a system which accepts original cartridges for a dizzying range of different systems, making it an excellent "all in one" option for curious retro gamers.
The existence of the Retron 5 hasn't dissuaded Hyperkin from producing more devices, however. We've already had the Retron HD – which gave us NES games in high definition – and now the company is performing a similar trick with the Super Nintendo, a console which is very much in the public consciousness thanks to this year's massively successful SNES Classic Edition, an official micro-console from Nintendo itself.
The timing of the Supa Retron HD is therefore rather cunning; the SNES Classic Edition is hard to track down in stores due to Nintendo's tiresome insistence on strangling the supply chain, so there will be plenty of gamers (and, perhaps more importantly, gift-buying parents) in the hunt for anything emblazoned with the words "Super Nintendo". The key difference, of course, is that Hyperkin's offering doesn't come pre-loaded with any games; instead, you need to supply your own, original SNES cartridges to bring it to life.
Supa Retron HD: What's In The Box
Before we get onto that part of the review, it's worth talking about the physical appearance of the Supa Retron HD. The unit is compact, just like its forerunner, the Retron HD. On the top there's the cartridge slot – which accepts North American SNES, PAL SNES and Japanese Super Famicom carts – as well as the power switch, eject button and reset button, arrayed in exactly the same order as on the original system. Two controller ports are found on the front, and these use exact same interface as the SNES, so you can harness the battered power of your old pads if you so wish (or 8bitdo's excellent wireless option, of course). On the back, there's (from left to right) a Micro USB port for power, HDMI-out, composite out and an aspect ratio switch which allows you to "force" an authentic 4:3 image (although most TVs allow you to do this via their menu system regardless). On the bottom you'll find another switch which toggles between NTSC and PAL standards, ensuring excellent compatibility with software from all over the globe.
Also included are two controllers which are modelled on the original SNES design, albeit with some minor differences. The back of the pad has two bumps which ensure your fingers have something to grip and rest on during play; at first we weren't convinced this change was necessary but after a few hours it actually felt more comfortable than the real thing. The buttons and D-Pad are also excellent – at least as responsive as those on an original SNES controller – but the shoulder buttons feel slightly cheap, and emit an unpleasant clicking sound when pressed. On the more positive side, at a whopping 8 feet the cables on these pads are insanely long – those of you who grumbled about the short leads on the SNES Classic Edition pads will have no such quibbles here.
The final items in the box are a HDMI lead, composite lead, Micro USB lead and USB power block. While it's possible to run the console from your TV's USB socket (we tried it with ours and it worked fine), Hyperkin recommends using the supplied power block for optimum performance.
Supa Retron HD: Performance
Now onto the really important bit: how the console performs. While we've not been able to verify this ourselves we'd imagine that the Supa Retron HD uses the same "system on a chip" approach seen in the Retron HD (and, it should be noted, the SNES Classic Edition), rather than the more expensive (and more accurate) hardware-based route offered by Field-Programmable Gate Array technology, which will be used in the forthcoming Super Analogue NT console.
While Hyperkin's approach doesn't offer the same degree of faithfulness when it comes to replicating the performance of Nintendo's famous 16-bit system, unless you're comparing the two side-by-side you're unlikely to notice any glaring issues. We tested a wide range of games across all three main regional formats and everything ran smoothly in terms of both visuals and audio. There was no noticeable slowdown (aside from that which existed in the games already, of course) and no unfortunate bum notes in the soundtrack. The image quality is also excellent, with sharp definitive and bold colours. For most players, this kind of performance will be perfectly fine; if you were happy with how the SNES Classic Edition performs then you'll be more than pleased with the Supa Retron HD. Oh, and it also works with flash carts, if you're interested in that kind of thing.
Supa Retron HD: Should You Buy One?
At $69.99, the Supa Retron HD is a pretty attractive option for SNES lovers who want HD visuals but still want to use their original cartridges. If you're a stickler for authenticity then you may wish to dig a little deeper into your pockets and pre-order Analogue's new FPGA-based console, which will surely be the most faithful SNES clone yet seen. However, if budget is a concern and you're not obsessed with getting the 1:1 performance, then this should fit the bill perfectly; it's reasonably-priced, comes with two excellent pads (which you can use while sitting on the coach thanks to those massive cables) and boasts superb compatibility with SNES software from all over the world.
The Supa Retron HD launches on January 8th, 2018.