As retro gaming becomes more and more of a niche market, there are two primary concerns to worry about. First, that the old games and consoles aren’t being manufactured anymore, and second, that authenticity in feel is of the utmost importance. For years, Retro-bit’s RetroDuo systems have been trying to alleviate both these problems, and their latest 3.0 model manages to capture the feel but not always the authenticity. It’s not that they do more than what the console originally could, and in fact their additions are most welcome.
Out of the box, the RetroDuo 3.0 can play Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges, and an adapter to support Sega Genesis titles is available as well. With no flash memory onboard, the system relies on the actual cartridges itself to function, so while you have to scour your closets or eBay, at least you can rest assured that you’re not running afoul of the law at all. The system packs 2 SNES-style controllers, which are a huge improvement from the original Retro-bit SNES controllers. The d-pads are no longer hard plastic, instead opting for something a little softer and easier on the thumbs. Everything is mostly in its place, but not quite exactly like the actual controllers themselves.
The nicest thing about this is the dual compatibility these controllers have for both SNES titles and NES games, offering something more ergonomic than the boxy, small old NES controllers. Maybe it’s not authentic, but I for one and thankful for the lack of hand cramps. Import games are also playable without any modifications, opening up new opportunities to try games that never made it to America. Furthermore, the RetroDuo 3.0 has S-Video output as a standard feature, allowing for a sharper picture when playing games, something that unfortunately comes at a cost.
Despite my fantastic experience using the console as a Super Nintendo clone, the NES support is really, sadly lackluster. The games work just fine, and if your carts are even remotely clean, the need to blow on them to get them to work is almost entirely circumvented. Once it’s running though, when using composite video, you get a picture with very, very washed out colors. Everything looks faded and bland. Switching to S-Video brings some of the color back, but in many instances, creates a severe case of motion blur, making it lose-lose.
In addition, the sound channels on the NES are all present, with no missing sound, but the priority and volume of these channels is incorrect. During racing games, engine sounds will drown out music much worse, and in a perhaps criminal scenario, the music for percussion-heavy games like Batman becomes a garbled mess. One might say that these things are minor because the games themselves are functional and playable, but if you need the actual carts in order to play these games, demanding any less than perfect performance isn’t really out of the question. With an emulator you can give leeway for mistakes in the code as they’re most often considered works-in-progress, but on an actual console, with actual carts, a feeling of disappointment washes over every time things don’t work exactly the way they should.
Bottom Line: The RetroDuo 3.0 game system is a good, low-cost investment for people who want to play carts and aren’t picky about the way they function. All of the added features really go a long way into making the price tag worth it, but for purists or even those who want the experience just like they remember it, the flaws in this system are just far too big to ignore. Compatibility isn’t 100% perfect, and the major flaws in the NES part of the machine’s performance were a big letdown for me personally.
- Plays both NES and SNES cartridges regardless of original region and with a uniform, comfortable controller
- Onboard S-Video support allows for a clearer, much nicer looking picture, at least on SNES titles
- Global use of SNES-style controllers makes for a more comfortable gaming experience
- Washed-out colors and motion blur on NES titles severely detracts from the gaming experience
- Flimsy, small housing and tight grip on pin cartridge slot feels like the plastic might crack every time a game is removed
- Lack of support for certain titles or NES peripherals like the Zapper light gun mean that not every game can be enjoyed on this device
The RetroDuo 3.0 Game System is available from ThinkGeek for $49.99.