Despite the fact that the SNES Classic is on the horizon and we're already seeing SNES clones being announced - like the Hyperkin Supa Retron HD - there's obviously still a healthy market for systems which replicate the performance of Nintendo's previous system, the NES. This year has already given us the excellent Hyperkin Retron HD, which arguably caters for the budget end of the spectrum, as well as the utterly superb Analogue NT Mini, an unashamedly "premium" option for seasoned 8-bit addicts. Retro-Bit's RES Plus predictably falls at the cheap end of the scale, but is it a worthy competitor to Hyperkin's effort? We're about to find out.
Like the Retron HD, the RES Plus is tiny. The makers of these clone consoles are clearly aware that when you're fitting an entire system on a single chip, there's little reason to clad said chip in a massive case which will contain mostly fresh air. The RES Plus is dominated by its cartridge slot – which only accepts NES games and not Famicom ones, we're sorry to report – but were it not for that, it could perhaps have been even smaller. On the front edge there are two NES controller ports, so you can use your original pads if you so wish. On the back there's Micro USB for power, HDMI out and composite AV connections, while on the top you'll find a "Reset" button and sliding power switch, as well as a red LED which shows when the console is turned on. A HDMI lead is included but there's no PSU in the box; thankfully we found that the USB port on our Sony TV was perfectly capable of powering the console. If yours doesn't have one then you can always resort to the USB power brick you use to charge your phone.
Retro-Bit's hardware has something of a reputation for feeling a bit cheap, and while the RES Plus isn't ugly by any means, the case does come across as slightly low-rent. The black and red colour scheme doesn't exactly call to mind the glory days of the NES, unlike the Retron HD which is clearly modelled with the iconic aesthetics of Nintendo's classic system in mind. Having said all of that, the RES Plus is functional and – perhaps more importantly – small enough to fit discreetly beneath your television without calling too much attention to itself (handy if you want to avoid explaining to your better half exactly why there's another bloody retro console in the house – not that we speak from experience, you understand).
The pair of bundled controllers are more appealing. In terms of design and ergonomics they're a close match to the original NES pads, with only the placement of the "Start" and "Select" buttons being noticeably different. The D-pad and buttons are responsive and precise, striking a neat balance between clickiness and sponginess. The 6ft cable is just about long enough to game comfortably away from the TV, too – although it's shorter than the lead on the Retron HD's controller, we should note. As we've already said, it's possible to use your vintage NES controllers with the system if the mood takes you.
Now for the important bit: performance. While we haven't torn the RES Plus apart to inspect its insides, we assume it's using a similar setup to the Retron HD – a NES "system on a chip" which imitates the classic system closely enough that the casual player probably won't be able to tell the difference. However, just like the Retron HD, it's not an exact match. Audio is subtly altered when compared to how it sounds on a real NES; certain parts of the instrumentation are weaker than the real deal, with drums appearing to be particularly different – although the this isn't true across the board and some games perform better than others in the audio department.
Like the Retron HD, the RES Plus isn't perfect when it comes to emulation; you'll have to either adapt your existing NES system to output HDMI or stump up the considerable cash for an Analogue NT Mini, which uses a FPGA approach to create a chip which behaves exactly like the NES on a hardware level, leading to greater accuracy; the RetroUSB AVS is another (more costly) option. Even so, for what it costs the RES Plus is arguably worth every penny. With an RRP of $39.99 it's a full ten bucks cheaper than the Retron HD, although it has its own emulation niggles, weaker build quality and no aspect ratio toggle switch. The Retron HD also comes with bundled composite AV cables and its controller has a longer cable, but it only ships with one pad – the RES Plus has two. Which is best? You might have to decide that for yourself.
Like Hyperkin, Retro-Bit is aiming for the casual side of the nostalgia market with this console; Nintendo purists will scoff at the plain case design and the inaccuracies in emulation, but everyone else should look very positively on this cheap and cheerful means of resurrecting your dusty old NES cartridges and making them look half-decent on a massive, flat-screen television. Perfection doesn't come cheap, but at least there are viable options for those shopping on a budget.
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