Nothing fans the flames of online discussion more than the topic of retro emulation, but hold on to your hats because we’re delving in again. As we’ve discussed here at RetroCollect on multiple occasions in the past, there are numerous ways that gamers can play classic games using PC-based emulators or via hardware like the Retro Freak and the RetroN 5. Opinions about emulation are mixed, and there’s the question of legality to contend with in the grey and hazardous realms which lie beyond those particular gates. The topic is about to come up again though, as there’s another new emulation device about to hit the scene, and one which takes a slightly different approach to the offerings from Hyperkin et al.
Enter the Retroblox modular emulation console. A system that looks at the RetroN 5 and Retro Freak with disdain and offers a new and slightly unorthodox alternative; a modular approach to emulation and the added promise of being able to play disc-based games as well as cartridges. The concept behind the Retroblox is certainly intriguing, but also a little puzzling for a number of reasons. The idea is that the Retroblox comes as a base unit with an optical drive that will play all manner of disc-based titles “from PlayStation to Sega CD,” according to the professional-looking website. However, it's the modular design of the cartridge sections that presents a new angle on things. Want to play a Super Nintendo cart? Then slot on the Super Nintendo section. Want to play a Genesis/Megadrive cart? Simply pop off the Super Nintendo section and slot on the Genesis/Megadrive bit. Sounds simple enough…but the question has to be asked: why?
Far be it for us to cast a new approach to playing older games on new hardware into the fiery pits of Hades, but the Retroblox looks like it is creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist. While the console is purely a concept at present, and the promise of an emulator that can play optical media is a very interesting one, there appear to be quite a few issues with the Retroblox. The promise of playing CDs is great…but the number of formats that won’t be compatible will surely be a potential problem – the Atari Jaguar and Sega Dreamcast both use bespoke formats that a standard CD-Rom drive cannot make head nor tail of, for example. And on the topic of the modular design? Well, it’s a nice idea in theory but if owners need to buy additional hardware to play different formats, surely it would make more sense to either use the original hardware, a PC, or a multi-cart system like the RetroN 5 or Retro Freak?
The Retroblox will be seeking crowdfunding in the near future, and the unorthodox design and promised interface features (HD output and Twitch streaming capabilities) are certainly attention-grabbing. The team behind the Retroblox also includes some well-respected industry veterans. However, the question as to who this system is likely to appeal is a prominent one.
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