Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Hyperkin is one of the elder statesman of the clone hardware arena, having operating in this sector for quite some time now via its line of Retron systems, the earliest of which replicated the performance of the fan-favourite Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. The recent kerfuffle regarding the hard-to-obtain NES Classic has predictably led to an increased interest in such consoles, so it's hardly surprising that Hyperkin has pushed out an affordable NES clone to capitalise on this renewed demand. The Retron HD is a pint-sized pretender which doesn't come preloaded with software - as is the case with the NES Classic - but does support original cartridges. It also has 720p HD output, authentic joypad sockets and a switch which allows it to toggle between NTSC and PAL TV modes for enhanced compatibility.

From a purely physical perspective, the Retron HD is a success. While Hyperkin isn't producing this unit under an official licence it has imitated the look of the NES as closely as possible, adopting the iconic grey, black and red colour scheme of the 8-bit legend. The power and reset buttons are a close match as well, while the slits on the top plate also draw inspiration from the aesthetics of the original console. Spin the Retron HD around 180 degrees and you're faced with a HDMI socket, composite AV, a Micro USB port for power and a switch which alternates between a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 4:3 aspect ratio when using the HD output. On the base of the console a second switch allows you to select NTSC or PAL - a feature which Hyperkin insists will ensure a higher compatibility with software than other NES clones.

The Retron HD feels solidly built and - dare we say it - almost as robust as the real thing. This positive impression extends to the "Cadet" control pad, which is a close match to the famous NES controller save for two cut-aways on the bottom corners. This is part of Hyperkin's signature style (the console has a cut-away on the front-right corner, and even the packaging has one on the top-right edge) but it has an ergonomic benefit as well; the removed sections allow you to grip the pad more comfortably. The D-Pad and buttons all feel great and the cable is a whopping 10 feet in length as well, so you don't have to sit right next to the TV, as was the case with the NES classic. You don't get a power supply in the box but any phone charger block will do - Hyperkin recommends a 5 volt, 1 AMP charger for optimal performance. You may find that your TV's USB port can supply the power to the Retron HD, saving you having to plug in a PSU.

When it comes to actually playing NES games, the story is a little less positive. The Retron HD uses a system-on-a-chip solution when it comes to replicating the NES, so while this isn't software emulation - and therefore avoids the bugs and issues that come with that - it's not as accurate as the FPGA option which is found inside the RetroUSB AVS and Analogue NT Mini. As you can see from the video below, there's quite a noticeable difference between the Retron HD and the Analogue NT Mini, the latter being perhaps the best NES clone money can buy at this moment in time.

But this isn't really a fair comparison - the Retron HD costs significantly less than the NT Mini, and the disparity in performance isn't quite so bad when you play the console in isolation. The colours are off in some games and the music doesn't sound entirely faithful in others, but most casual players probably won't notice the difference. The 720p output is rather fuzzy and ill-defined but it's still a huge step forwards when compared to composite AV, which is what the vast majority of cheap clone systems use.

For £50 / $40, the Retron HD's unfortunate faults are easy to forgive. While the standard of emulation doesn't match that seen on the NES Classic (which is almost impossible to find for a reasonable price these days) or the Analogue NT Mini (which is way out of the price range of most gamers), for this kind of cash it's hardly a deal-breaker. Hyperkin isn't aiming this console at hardcore players who obsess over things like colour accuracy, screen filters and scaling options; this is a cheap and cheerful offering which will no doubt sell well this festive season as lapsed Nintendo fans seek to rekindle their love affair with their dusty NES collection in a low-cost fashion. There's certainly room for improvement, but as is so often the case, those seeking retro perfection will have to pay extra for it.

Thanks to Funstock Retro for supplying the Hyperkin Retron HD used in this review.