Hardware Review: Super Retro Trio

Hardware-Review-Super-Retro-TrioFor the majority of retro gamers there's one thing that has the power to completely stop our collection from growing. Sure, money may be an issue, but that doesn't mean you can't still look in charity shops for a lucky find. No, the real nemesis to a collector is storage. Old games are big, often in large oversized special edition boxes. They consume shelves, drawers and storage. To be a good RetroCollectee you need to not only know how to source, play & appreciate old games, but you also need to know how to maximise shelf real estate. Perhaps it is because of this very problem that multi-system consoles have become big business. If you can have one unit playing games from several different machines you don't need to have as many consoles under your TV.

For the last couple of years two companies have been competing for the attentions of those who love old games, but have limited space. Hyperkin's 'RetroN' range does essentially the same as the machine's made by RetroBit. Indeed it was really because of the announcement of Hyperkin's 'RetroN 5' that RetroBit's 'Super Retro Trio' (also known as the 'SR3') has unfairly been overlooked. When compared on paper, the two machines may appear to be doing the same thing, but in reality they are very different. Hyperkin are always keen to announce that the 'RetroN 5' plays games from a total of 9 systems; The NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy Advance. Meanwhile the name would suggest that the 'Super Retro Trio' only plays games from three different systems. In reality though and with the right adapters it can play seven: The NES, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, and then also the Game Boy and Game Boy Color using a Super Game Boy. Using RetroBit's own 'Super Retro Advance Adapter' with the 'SR3' means Game Boy Advance cartridges can also be used. In reality therefore, in terms of systems supported, only the Famicom separates the 'RetroN 5' and the 'Super Retro Trio'.

But despite running games from more or less the same number of machines, you still can't really compare the 'RetroN 5' to the 'Super Retro Trio' - mainly because they're doing totally different things under the hood when a game is inserted. The 'RetroN 5' is essentially a glorified emulator that reads the ROM file from an inserted cart and runs it through appropriate software installed on an Android based operating system. The 'Super Retro Trio' on the other hand does exactly what you'd expect from a clone console, it plays the games from the cartridges in the same way that the original hardware did. Yes, that will mean you won't get to use emulated Game Genie codes, fancy screen filters or artificial save states, as you can on the 'RetroN 5', but many would argue you're getting is much more authentic.

The 'Super Retro Trio' really does feel like several machines squashed into one. When you play a game on it, it's the same experience you would have had if you put the cart in the original machine. There's no laborious on screen menus to navigate, all the player needs to do is flick a switch at the front of their unit and the 'SR3' becomes which ever system you want it to be.

Hardware-Review-Super-Retro-Trio-Controller-Ports

(More Than) Three Machines for the Price of One

Nothing quite encapsulates this fusion of retro machines more than the two controllers that come bundled in with the console. The style and shape clearly emulates the Super Nintendo's input devices, identical in size and feel. With, a ball at the centre of the D-Pad preventing you from pressing two directions at once and springy concave buttons, Retro Bit have done a far better job at copying Nintendo than the majority of third parties did at the time of the console's original release. Although it does have the colours normally associated with the NES the largest surprise comes when you follow the cable to the connector. Instead of the wide Super Nintendo plug is a DB9 connection - which is of course normally associated with a Mega Drive and Commodore Amiga. In our youth the idea of playing Sega games with a Nintendo controller would have been abhorrent, but that clearly is the goal here.

While the front of the unit allows you to insert the original OEM input devices from any of the three main systems, you are not limited to using only the traditionally associated controller when playing games form a system. This not only helps us with our storage problems as for 7 systems you need only two controllers but the benefits reach further. A Capcom aficionado for example may prefer 'Street Fighter 2 Turbo' on the SNES over 'Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition' on the Mega Drive, but they have stuck with the inferior game because they prefer the 6 button Sega Controller. Finally content, so will be the 8-bit RPG fanatic who can finally play the original Nintendo NES 'Final Fantasy' without endless hours spent gripping the sharp edges of the vintage controller. With so many control options you would imagine the 'Super Retro Trio' to look like the console equivalent of Swiss cheese, but even with so many holes for controllers it maintains an attractive look.

The system is roughly the same size as the Super Famicom and the similar weight suggests a build quality that you really don't usually see in these sorts of clone consoles. Though it pales in comparison with the classic look of the consoles its mimicking, the 'Super Retro Trio' does look like a modern, sleek machine. Having all the controller ports and region switch in one place makes the 'SR3' look less ugly than similar machines that seem to have sockets in any place that they will fit. If you do find the sockets unattractive, a flip up cover can conceal them all when the unit is not in use. Equally it can be easily removed if your continual use of this system demands ease of access.

The cartridge slots on both the Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo portions of the machine are physically large enough to fit in cartridges from any region. This may mean that smaller European cartridges feel a little loose, but it's a small price to pay for such global game compatibility and really poses no technical problems. Dust flaps cover theses cartridge slots when not in use and a range of colour options for sale on sites like FunStock means you'll be hard pushed to find a combination you dislike.

Of course, the look of the machine is largely irrelevant if the games the 'Super Retro Trio' puts onto the TV are an unattractive blurry mess, but the S-Video output signal sent from the back of the machine leads to a picture that's on the whole good. You may read some negative reviews online saying the picture is noisy and stretched but this really didn't seem like a significant issues. The colours are bright and vibrant, with pixels sharp and ghosting minimal. For someone who has grown up with their 16-bit machines going through the aerial input on a 14 inch 4:3 television, the picture will seem like a revelation. Vertical scan lines can be seen on the screen which may be unattractive to some but not others, but this is only an issue if the 'Super Retro Trio' isn't plugged into a CRT display. The NES side of the console sadly does not support S-Video output at all though, owing to the fact that the original hardware did not support it. Because of this the output from the NES slot is not true S-Video but rather a composite signal passing through it. It does not look good and consequently if you intend to use the system specifically for 8-bit Nintendo games you're better off plugging the 'Super Retro Trio' in via composite leads. You will then be getting a direct feed of the picture output and a significantly better picture, albeit one that's still blurry with colour bleed.

Without doubt the system would have benefited from a HDMI output and it's worth noting that this is the only option the 'RetroN 5'. Retro Bit clearly has excluded this expensive video output to keep costs down, but I think most would have preferred to pay the extra.

Hardware-Review-Super-Retro-Trio-Game-Slots

Original Cartridges = Triple The Fun

If you are considering buying the 'Super Retro Trio' instead of an emulation station such as the 'Ouya' or a 'JXD S7800b' it will most likely be down to the fact that you have a physical game collection you wish to use with it. If the machine doesn't run the games you own, or indeed the games you wish to buy it's essentially useless. Where this is concerned, sadly the machine isn't as globally compatible as Retro Bit may claim.

The Mega Drive section is without a doubt the machine's strength, which is surprising considering that Retro Bit's previous machine the 'Super Retro Duo' didn't support this console. There was no problems with any of the Mega Drive or Genesis games plugged into the 'SR3' and much of this compatibility is probably due to the merits of the front mounted region switch, allowing you to play Sega games from around the world. Since the machine reads the cartridge rather than just scanning it to find a recognisable ROM, if you insert a game that works on the native console it will probably work on the 'Super Retro Trio'. Reproduction games also posed a little difficulty for the machine, with a Genesis reproduction copy of 'Mega Man: The Wily Wars' working flawlessly (as did a 'homemade' SNES copy of 'Mega Man and Bass' incidentally). Lock on games such as 'Sonic and Knuckles' also worked when tested, however, more unique cartridges such as Codemasters' 'Micro Machines' proved a disappointment. Despite much effort, this game's on-board control ports would not work meaning the all important 4 player mode was out of the question. Others online have said they experienced no problems with this individual title, so the fault may have been due to the cartridge being temperamental. If that was the case it wouldn't have worked on the original Mega Drive when tested though.

Fans of homebrew and questionably downloaded games on SD cards will be thrilled to know that The 'Mega EverDrive' (and 'Super EverDrive') both worked without problem. If you put piracy guilt and legality aside, this potentially means you have a machine sitting under your TV that will potentially play any Mega Drive or SNES game with minimal fuss.

For those with 16-bit Nintendo collections the 'Super Retro Trio' initially seems as fantastic as it is for Sega owners. Games that traditionally cause headaches to emulation such as Super FX games all worked without problem. The CX4 chip used in the 'Mega Man X2' and 'X3' sometimes cause these games to freeze when played on non-original hardware, but these also could be enjoyed without any noticeable slow down or concerns. Anyone who has had the headache of trying to find a import adapter that plays American exclusive RPGs will be relieved to know all the big hitters that normally derail these devices also worked fine. Opinions on the best SNES adventures will no doubt cause huge arguments, but it doesn't matter if you think it's 'Super Mario RPG', 'Chrono Trigger' or 'Earthbound', as you will be able to play all of them on the 'Super Retro Trio'. Likewise Japanese games not previously seen in Europe all work fine and at full speed. From the most obscure games to accessible titles like 'Cotton 100%' the 'SR3' was successful, and as such a world of quirky unusual treats are yours to import.

Having said that though, the 'Super Retro Trio's Achilles' heel is the PAL Super Nintendo library. Unlike the Mega Drive portion of the machine, there are no region or speed switches for the SNES, meaning the system will only run in NTSC mode at 60Hz. While this means that some Super Nintendo games are finally running in the way they were always intended, others that have been optimised for the slower 50Hz refresh rate suffer. 'Super Mario Kart' for example runs noticeably faster than it should, with some bizarre sprite flickering, visual glitches and a weird screen flash every few seconds. 'StarWing' has a blank column down the centre of the screen that makes playing the game rather impossible as it obscures your ship. The Japanese and American versions of 'StarFox' (the same game with a different name) both run flawlessly though, so the problem clearly is to do with the European carts. Retro Bit may claim that these games are running, but they are not entirely playable. Compatibility extends beyond just seeing the title screen; it should be defined by a game being playable from start to finish without problems.

But things get worse than this for European SNES owners. It seems the 'Super Retro Trio' houses the innards of an American SNES that has had the basic region lock disabled. Back in the day, as the Super Nintendo aged, more sophisticated region blocking techniques were installed into the game cartridges to stop customers from buying the games cheaper from other regions. Consequently, the companies that made adapters which circumnavigated region restricting technology would have to continually release new hardware to keep imported games playable on home machines. Annoyingly for UK buyers, Retro Bit has not attempted to combat the later techniques used to region lock the games released into the back end of the console's lifespan. This means many PAL games will simply not play on the 'Super Retro Trio'. This would be less of a crisis if it were games that no one wants to play, but many of the best PAL games released on the SNES refuse to boot and give an on screen message saying "This game is not compatible with this Super Nintendo/ Super Famicom". If you were to think of your top ten Super Nintendo games it would include 'Donkey Kong Country', 'Donkey Kong Country 2', 'Yoshi's Island', 'Stunt Race FX' and 'Super Mario All Stars'. None of these work on the 'Super Retro Trio' when they are played from a PAL cartridge. They will work however, when they are played from an NTSC one.

Hardware-Review-Super-Retro-Trio-Errors

Tragically for European gamers, the problem continues in the NES portion of the console. No matter which NES game you put into the 'Super Retro Trio' it will play, but the problem here is there's a very good chance that it will play much faster than it should. It's well documented that older systems run slower in Europe than elsewhere in the world, owing to the screen updating slower. When we were younger we probably didn't notice that our games were 17% slower, but that was the reality. To combat this, a portion of PAL games were optimised; made to run artificially faster. This meant that when they were put in the slower PAL machine they would play at the same speed as their American equivalents. Since the 'Super Retro Trio' doesn't have any way of acknowledging this nor a region select for Nintendo machines, all NES games run on an NTSC machine at the faster 60Hz speed. This isn't an issue for any PAL NES game that wasn't optimised, indeed they now are running at the speed they always should have. But for optimised games though (which includes the bulk of Nintendo's first-party published titles) the artificially faster game played on the faster machine equates to an un-enjoyable over-sped experience. It's not only that the games run too fast, classics like 'Battletoads' and 'Kirby's Adventure' result in various on screen glitches. Without a list of compatible games, there's also no way of knowing prior to purchase which of your PAL games will be fast and which will not work at all.

If a game was designed to work on a native NTSC American system it will work in the 'SR3' though. This also includes homebrew games such as 'Battle Kid'. Looking online for problem games yields little results, with only one website saying that the system will not run with MMC4 or MMC5 games which includes the almighty 'Castlevania III'.

Great for Import Fanatics

Of course, because the 'SR3' isn't running emulators in the way that the 'RetroN 5' is, compatibility can't be improved through a downloadable update. If a game doesn't work when you unbox the machine it never will. If you want the 'Super Retro Trio' to play your PAL SNES or NES collections you will need to be prepared for a potential upset. The 'Super Retro Trio' is very much an American made machine built for an American market - something emphasised by its accompanying power supply. There is no 3 pin UK plug included in the box, only the 2 pin American one. Of course, this can be easily solved by simply using a travel adapter, but it really shouldn't be something you have to do when you're buying the machine from a UK store, as opposed to importing it. It feels like something done to keep costs down, and it's a short sighted decision that causes issues when really they could have been avoided. Similarly another rather major failing comes from the On/Off switch also serving as the system select switch. Should you be playing a NES game and wish to switch off, the system briefly sends power through to the SNES and Mega Drive cartridge ports. As we were all warned in user manuals, repeatedly turning off and on a system can cause damage to cartridge save files which is essentially what the sliding switch of the 'Super Retro Trio' does to power down. This is probably why some users have reported the system wiping the files stored on inserted cartridge's Battery BackUp SRAM. The solution though is simple; don't leave games in the cartridge ports when playing other systems; spikes in power cannot damage a hundred hour SNES RPG save if it is not left in the system while you play a Mega Drive game. Like so many problems, this could of course have been avoided if Retro Bit had spent some money and the system had a dedicated shut down button.

With so many compromises it feels like the 'Super Retro Trio' is a machine that has been designed with a final price point in mind, but the omissions all lead to the machine's failings. A Mega Drive region switch was included, but not a similar one that could allow the user to select NES's or SNES's region. Having these in place would have solved the compatibility issues experienced in the NES and SNES portions of the machine. Controllers could have been wireless and Game Boy Advance support could have been included as standard rather than requiring additional hardware. That being said all of these desires would have boosted price and as it stands you can buy the machine for much less than you would pay for the console second hand.

Hyperkin assure us that the release of the 'RetroN 5' is imminent and this machine really should be considered when deciding if the 'Super Retro Trio' is for you. The superior HDMI display mode and on-board up scaling of Hyperkin's machine simply shames the 'SR3' with its aged S-Video output. That being said, reports suggest that Retro Bit have bundled in a far better controller than the one found with the 'RetroN 5' and the machine is visually more attractive. A decision between the two is probably based on what region you collection is and how you want to load these games. The 'Super Retro Trio' is the machine for those who simply want to replace their existing aging NTSC hardware with a one-for-all unit. The picture sent to the TV is not as good as it could be, but it matches what the original American consoles could do. The 'RetroN 5' meanwhile is a machine for those who are used to emulators; those who don't mind save files not being stored on cartridges and those who want their pixels softened by filters so their games look closer to HD remakes.

It's a good purchase for those who want to free up plug sockets and shelves, but only for those who have an exclusively NTSC collection, or those who rely on the likes of the Mega Everdrive and Super Everdrive. If your games are of the PAL variety, the compatibility simply isn't good enough to banish your machines to the loft. The 'Super Retro Trio' may have an attractive design and excellent controllers, but if you still need to keep your original systems to hand to play all the games that aren't compatible it's hardly saving shelf space.

It's obvious why the 'Super Retro Trio' has reviewed so well on American websites, for them it does everything it sets out to do. For gamers with PAL collections though, one slot out of three works as well as it should. That's a pretty depressing ratio and one that rather mocks the machine's own name.

Link: Super Retro Trio at Funstock

Thank you to FunStock for proving the Super Retro Trio used in this review.


Last Updated ( 20 November 2014 )  

Julian Hill

Julian is the author of the popular blog Boxed Pixels, and is currently on a mission to document his thoughts as he buys boxed complete SNES Games.

Described by PlayStation Access as a "gamer, Dad and all round hero" he has been playing games since they had four colours on screen and blips for music.

Other recent articles:

Comments 

(Link to this comment) LDman95 2014-11-21 19:57
I would rather have US games anyway, I would only get it to play NES and Super Famicom Games, but for £69.99 it's a bit too much, I would rather get that NES to SNES adapter, whilst some games don't work, it's £19.99 so that's affordable.
(Link to this comment) ewjim 2014-11-21 21:35
Mine crapped out on me in under a week sadly. The Snes part died completely after the sound cut off. After that it wouldn't work at all.

Had the option to get a replacement and I asked if there had been any issues with other customers and my seller was decent and honest enough to say they had an issue with some of them.

So buyer beware folks! I really loved the short amount of time I spent with my Trio, it even ran games I had previously thought to be broken, but I won't be getting another.
(Link to this comment) PacMan Pete 2015-06-26 22:27
I just got1, think they're pretty cool! Does anybody else on here have one? Looking to start a list of games that won't work on it, so people can see what games to avoid, I didn't read the review until after I got1. I do have Donkey Kong Country 2 on Pal SNES, it does work on my Super Retro Trio... My SNES Pal Ghouls N Ghosts works until level 3, the end level boss is invisible, I killed him anyway but on level 4 everything is invisible, only thing visible is the knight. I gota level select cheat off the net, started at level 5, completing the rest of the levels (but not the getting princess bracelet). My NES Rush N Attack doesn't work or my GreenDog Genesis (but I think GreenDog cart might be broken). Also I have Rockman X2 Jap cart, that has the Pal screen on (mentioned in above review), it plays level 1, you get to defeat 1st end level boss then it goes back to start menu. If anybody else has a Super Retro Trio on here message me for a chat :)
(Link to this comment) gavie 2018-02-16 11:03
The Super Retro Trio Plus is out now. Are you going to check that out for a hardware review? The speed issue seems to be solved on that, but now it doesn't work with an Everdrive N8, there always seems to be something wrong with these clones... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKivXyqWCS8
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