Back in 2014 Retro-Bit released the Super Retro Trio, an ingenious clone system which played NES, SNES and Mega Drive / Genesis cartridges. Launched just before Hyperkin's superior Retron 5, it was perhaps a little overshadowed and you'd be forgiven for forgetting that it even exists. However, Retro-Bit is keen to see the concept get another crack of the whip and has equipped the system with HDMI output while leaving the core functionality intact.
In the box you get the system itself, the PSU (ours is a Euro model so it comes with a two-pin connector, but you can power the console with a MicroUSB cable and mobile phone charging block), HDMI cable and two controllers, both with impressively lengthy 1.8 metre cables. The console itself has three sockets on the top - one of each of the formats it supports - and an array of connections on the rear. The most interesting part of the system is hidden under a flap at the front; pop this down and you'll notice a bank of controller ports, two for each system. There are also toggle switches which allow you to pick your region and controller type, but we'll come to those a little later.
Build quality is the same as the 2014 original - sturdy enough but not in the same league as a first-party Nintendo product. The controllers are the same as those which came with the Super Retro-Cade and feel like a halfway house between the Mega Drive and SNES pads; the diamond button arrangement, shoulder buttons and cross-shaped D-Pad all remind us of Nintendo's famous interface, but the ergonomics of the pad subtly mimic Sega's 16-bit controller. The pads are quite thin and light, but they're responsive and comfortable to use for prolonged periods - and that generous lead helps, too. The key thing here is that if you don't like the bundled pads you can always use your own (you may have to if you're Sega fan - again, we'll come to this in a bit).
The inclusion of HDMI output is the single biggest advantage this new model has over the 2014 original, which could only muster composite and S-Video. Thanks to the wonders of 720p HD, overall image quality is much improved, with sharper pixels and no colour bleed. However, when compared to the likes of the NES and SNES Classic Mini and the Hyperkin Retron 5, there's a notable lack of fidelity. The image isn't quite as crisp as we've seen on other HDMI-ready retro consoles, although when viewed in isolation the difference is admittedly harder to spot.
The single biggest problem we encountered with the Super Retro Trio Plus is the fact that the European model we're reviewing is stuck with PAL speed when playing Mega Drive games, despite the presence of a toggle which is supposed to allow you to switch to NTSC. For the uninitiated, back in the '90s European players had to make do with slower games because the Euro PAL (Phase Alternating Line) TV standard has a lower frequency than NTSC (50 Hz vs NTSC's 60 Hz). This has ceased to be an issue with modern games consoles, but older players will no doubt remember having to endure titles that ran almost 20 percent slower than their North American and Japanese counterparts, along with unsightly black borders at the top and bottom of the screen due to the fact that PAL has more display lines than NTSC.
The black borders aren't an issue here but no matter which way you slide that region selector, Mega Drive games (even Japanese ones) run at PAL speed. That means both the music and gameplay are noticeably slower than they are on an NTSC machine. It would appear that the slider is simply to overcome the issue of games not booting because they're from the wrong region. Strangely, SNES and NES games do appear to run at NTSC speeds. It's all a bit of a mess but we'd imagine this only impacts the European model, and if you're a purist you could argue that Mega Drive games are simply running at the speed PAL gamers will have been used to back in the day; it's authentic, kinda.
Another annoyance with those toggles on the front of the machine relates to selecting your controller. A switch in the top-left corner has two settings: SNES and NES / Mega Drive. When you're using the controllers bundled with the system this needs to be on the SNES setting (as the included pads are essentially clones of the SNES controller), but even then, when playing Mega Drive games 'C' is awkwardly mapped to the L shoulder button while 'A' and 'B' are mapped to 'B' and 'Y' respectively. To solve this problem you have to purchase an authentic Mega Drive controller and toggle the switch to the NES / Mega Drive setting. The sheer number of switches on the front of the console is quite intimidating for newcomers, but there's no aspect ratio toggle, which is why the footage we've captured for you here is displayed in forced 16:9 widescreen. You can, of course, tell your TV to present the image in 4:3, so it's not a massive problem.
Emulation quality is generally good, despite the aforementioned image quality niggles. The Super Retro Trio Plus was able to run Super FX games like Star Fox and Stunt Race FX, and was even capable of playing Everdrive flash cartridges for all three systems (with a Mega Everdrive you can also play Master System games). We couldn't get it to load our copy of Virtua Racing on the Mega Drive however; we were presented with a white screen every time we attempted to load it, and as far as we're aware the cartridge is in perfect working order. Generally though, performance is as solid as you can expect from a clone system of this type.
The Super Retro Trio Plus had the potential to fix the problems we had with the previous model and offer a viable alternative to the many other clone systems hitting the market right now; while the inclusion of HDMI output is a definite bonus - despite the less-than-amazing quality of the image - issues with the Mega Drive performance being locked to PAL standard put something of a dampener on the European version of the system. We haven't sampled the North American NTSC console but we would assume this problem doesn't exist so you can ignore our complaints if you're situated on that side of the pond.
Another issue we have is cost - the Super Retro Trio Plus is currently available for around £120, which places it in competition with the Retron 5, a console capable of playing a wider range of systems. Getting below the £100 mark would have made this as easier sell to a great many players we're sure, but if you own a stack of NES, SNES and Mega Drive cartridges and are in the market for a space-saving solution that features HDMI output, this could be the answer to your prayers.