Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

It's fair to say they we weren't all that impressed by the Retro-Bit Generations, 2016's attempt to bring a selection of classic Data East, Capcom and Jaleco titles to the home. An odd library, terrible emulation and general sloppiness made it a product to avoid, despite the tantalising promise of having 100 classic games in a single micro-console. 

Retro-Bit has listened to the lukewarm feedback it received and is back with a successor which shares many of the same games, but features superior performance and a few new (and hitherto unreleased in the domestic arena) titles which will make this a system of interest for seasoned retro gamers. But is it worth your hard-earned cash this Christmas? That's what we're here to tell you, silly!

What is the Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade?

Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Like its forerunner, the Super Retro-Cade is a micro-console which plugs into your television via HDMI or composite AV. It comes pre-installed with more than 90 games covering a wide range of formats, including the NES, SNES and even arcade. Two six-button pads are bundled in the boxed (with generously long leads, yummy) and the console has a SD card slot for transferring save data. The case design is practically identical to the Generations, but it now comes in white. The pad design is entirely different however; gone are the 6-button Genesis / Mega Drive-style pads seen before, replaced with a controller which looks like the SNES pad and the original 3-button Genesis controller had a baby. Also included in the box are AV leads (for both HDMI and composite) and a power adapter.

Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade: What games are included?

Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

Over 90 titles come pre-loaded on the Super Retro-Cade, taken from the back catalogues of Capcom, Data East, Irem and Technos – four of the most notable coin-op makers of the '80s and '90s (Jaleco is absent this time around). Some of these titles were included on the Generations – such as Knights of the Round, Captain Commando and Ghouls 'n Ghosts – so those of you who (unwisely) purchased last year's model will experience some duplication. If you're coming to the Super Retro-Cade entirely fresh then this obviously isn't an issue, and the selection of games included here is undeniably impressive.

Capcom's arcade offerings include Final Fight, Strider, Forgotten Worlds, 1942, Gun.Smoke, Mercs, Mega Twins, Three Wonders, Armored Warriors, Side Arms and Bionic Commando, as well as many others. Data East's Bad Dudes Vs. DragonNinja, Super Burgertime, Midnight Resistance, Boogie Wings and Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja all make the cut, while Irem contributes the likes of Mr. Heli, Image Fight, Ninja Spirit and X-Multiply. Technos games predictably include brawlers such as Double Dragon, Double Dragon 3, The Combatribes and Renegade.

Coin-op games take up the vast majority of the Super Retro-Cade's library, but home console versions are also featured – sometimes duplicating content. There are two versions of Mercs, for example (arcade and Genesis / Mega Drive), but given that the Sega port has an exclusive mode, it's not a massive issue. We also get two versions of Strider – arcade and NES – but the latter is a very different game, so again, it's not really the problem it initially appears to be. Elsewhere, we have Mega Man 2, Mega Man 3, Final Fight 3, Mighty Final Fight, Joe & Mac (and its tropical sequel) – all games that are worth a look and, in their original cart format, would cost you an arm and a leg to acquire.

What's really cool about this particular console is that it is giving several arcade games their domestic debuts. Capcom's Armored Warriors – a side-scrolling fighter which serves as the forerunner to the one-on-one scrapper Cyberbots, released in 1995 – has never been ported to any home system. Neither has Data East's insanely brilliant shooter Boogie Wings (known as The Great Ragtime Show in Japan), which allows you to hook objects with your plane and even leap from your craft in order to control other vehicles (and even animals). While it could be argued that these relatively obscure coin-ops lack the brand-recognition of games which are notably absent (there's no Street Fighter II, for example), the fact that they can be experienced in the home for the first time ever (outside of legally-questionable emulation, of course) is cause for celebration, whichever way you look at it.

Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade: Performance

One of the big issues with the Retro-Bit Generations was the quality of the emulation; many titles suffered from crippling performance issues such as slow-down, glitchy music and – in the case of Capcom's arcade shooter Varth – the wrong screen orientation. The good news is that on the whole, such problems have been eradicated with the Super Retro-Cade. The console appears to be Android-based (at least judging from UI elements) and uses emulators (in the case of the some of the arcade games, the MAME decryption screen even appears upon loading – oops).

On the Generations, we noticed serious issues with games like R-Type III on the SNES, so we were quick to test these on the Super Retro-Cade. The good news is that R-Type III no longer suffers from awkward slowdown, and the music no longer fluctuates depending on the intensity of the on-screen action. Varth is also displayed in its proper vertical orientation, too. Emulation isn't perfect across the board – Double Dragon and Midnight Resistance are noticeably choppy and Boogie Wings has some very minor audio and frame-rate problems – but it's a massive improvement over the Generations. NES, SNES and Genesis emulation is nigh-on perfect, and pretty much all of the Capcom CPS-1 and CPS-2 titles run flawlessly, too.

The menu system is also a big improvement over the one seen on the Generations. Games are laid out in a grid system which gives a better overview of the titles included, and it's possible to filter them based on a series of criteria, including genre, system, publisher and name. Each game has an info screen where you can load save states and read a short description, but rather annoyingly each one defaults to a hideously stretched full-screen display once loaded. It's not possible to set the screen aspect ratio to "original" on a global level, so before you load up a new game you have to make sure you enter the options menu (press Select) and pick the "original" setting. In-game, pressing Start and Select at the same time brings up a pause menu from where you can save and load game states, reset the game's settings to default and drop back to the main menu.

Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade: Conclusion

The Super Retro-Cade rights many of the wrongs present in the Generations from last year. Performance – while still not perfect across the board – is much improved, and we still can't quite believe there's now a legal way to play the sublime Boogie Wings in the comfort of your own home. It's disappointing that so many key Capcom, Data East, Irem and Technos titles didn't make the cut however (why no arcade R-Type, R-Type II and R-Type Leo?), and that Retro-Bit has used so many of the same games that were present on the Generations. It's also a pity that titles like Double Dragon suffer from seemingly inexplicable emulation problems when later – and more advanced – games like Capcom's CPS-2 Armored Warriors run as smooth as butter. It may well take a third attempt from Retro-Bit to finally crack this intriguing concept, but we'd argue that it's worth the $60 asking price just to play Boogie Wings on your TV. 

Did we mention that we really like Boogie Wings?

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