As much as we like to play the newest games on the newest consoles, as much as we may be looking forward to the PS4 and Xbox 720, there is just something to be said about those classic consoles. For those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s, there is a definite nostalgic value to the games of the NES and SNES, but even if you still have those old systems, they may not work all that well anymore.
Well, there is a solution and it's far more authentic than using some emulator on your PC. You might remember when we bumped into the Innex booth at CES 2013 earlier this year. One of the products that they were showcasing was the RetroDuo Portable V2.0 Core Edition, which is an improved version of the original RDP. They were kind enough to send us a sample to test, so let's see if it really works as advertised.
Going Old School with NES and SNES
The main appeal of the RetroDuo Portable V2.0 is that it is able to take your original NES and SNES cartridges, playing those old games in a portable (and home-based) fashion. Available in your choice of red or black, the RDP2 takes the Super Nintendo cartridges directly, but you'll need to use the provided RetroPort adapter if you want to use original Nintendo (NES) cartridges.
Even though this is dubbed as the "Core Edition" of the RDP2, the contents of the box are actually pretty comprehensive. You get the portable system itself, which is roughly the size as the old Game Gear from Sega, plus the instruction manual, a small plastic stand, wall adapter, RetroPort adapter for NES cartridges, AV-out cable, an adapter to connect two SNES controllers and, for whatever reason, a couple of extra screws.
The RetroDuo Portable V2.0 is designed to be primarily a portable console, but that AV cable effectively turns it into a viable home console too. One end goes into the headphone jack and the other end is your usual RCA audio and composite video (red, white and yellow connectors). There is also a controller out port for that SNES adapter so you can play with a friend.
Button Layout Improvements
There were a few complaints about the original RDP that Retro-Bit, manufacturer of the RDP2, addressed with this updated model. The original d-pad had "fatter" directional arrows, but this one has been slightly narrowed. Also, the original face buttons were smaller and further apart. Now, they're bigger and closer together. All said, this provides for a better and more authentic retro gaming experience.
I like how they even paid extra attention to the four face buttons in that the A and B buttons are convex while the X and Y buttons are concave. This really does mimic the feel of the original SNES controller, albeit with a different color scheme. Naturally, there are L and R buttons on the shoulders as well. Because the cartridge slides into the top and nearly covers the entire length of the console, though, I did find that the cartridge could feel like it was in the way of the shoulder buttons in terms of comfort.
Wiggle It, Just a Little Bit
Overall, the RetroDuo Portable 2.0 feels well built and they used a nice, softer-touch plastic for the body. The buttons are fairly crisp, though I did find they could "stick" a little in games where you would hold down a button. That was in the case in Super Mario Kart, for example. It's not a deal breaker, but it was noticeable.
While the overall build quality feels decent, I'm not so sure about the fit and finish of the actual cartridge slot. Whether I was playing an SNES game directly or using the RetroPort to play an NES game, it wiggled within the cartridge slot. That doesn't give a lot of confidence, especially when some of those wiggles caused the game to freeze. It was very intermittent and unpredictable.
The lack of a proper eject button also meant that you simply shove the cartridge in and yank it out. If you have some rarer games, you might feel worried about damaging those connectors. It seemed fine, but it did seem troublesome.
The Nintendo Trials
I don't have an extensive library of NES cartridges at my disposal, but every cartridge I did throw at the RDP2 (via the RetroPort adapter) worked. The screen is very crisp, offering graphics that stay true to the 8-bit era of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The viewing angles, particularly the vertical viewing angles, are quite poor though. You really need to look at the display straight on. Controls were generally responsive and it was an absolute joy to play these old games again.
Can you imagine taking the original Double Dragon out on a road trip? Or how about enjoying Super Mario Bros. 3 while waiting at the dentist's office? It's great how well this works, but the real problem is the sheer size and bulk of that RetroPort adapter. With the sizable NES cartridge inserted, the overall protrusion from the console is almost double the height of the RDP2 itself. That's awfully ungainly.
Playing Super Nintendo Games
Compatibility here appears to be a bigger issue than with NES games, however. Street Fighter II didn't work for me originally, even after several attempts. When I tried again a few days later, it worked. I'm not really sure what changed. I have heard that games that used the FX chip, like Star Fox, are far more problematic here, so your mileage will vary. I've also heard that game saves can sometimes be lost, so I would exercise caution.
As far as gameplay goes, overall controls appeared to be good. There were some execution errors when playing Street Fighter, particularly with quarter-circle or shoryuken movements, but I can't say for sure whether that is because of my poor execution or if it is the fault of the RDP2 controls. Also, when using the video-out, there appears to be a slight lag and possibly dropped frames. It doesn't ruin the experience and, realistically, it's not that noticeable.
Success with Super Famicom
This was certainly an unexpected surprise. Back in the day, your NES could not play Famicom cartridges from Japan and your SNES could not play Super Famicom cartridges. Given this, I assumed the same would be true here. And I would be incorrect in that assumption.
To be fair, I only had one Super Famicom cartridge to test -- Super Street Fighter II -- but it did work. Now, it could be because of the cartridge, but I did find that SSF2 was more prone to freezing when I gave the cartridge a little jiggle. So again, be careful.
MEGATechie Gaming Guru or MEGATechie Sophomore Sadness?
Some people will tell you that the portable gaming console is dead. They'll tell you that the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita are a waste of money and there may be some truth to that. And yes, you could just as easily use an emulator on your PC or even your smartphone, but let's face it: that's just not the same and it also runs into a legal gray area.
Short of using an original NES or SNES console directly, you aren't going to get much more authentic a retro gaming experience than with something like the RetroDuo Portable V2.0. Indeed, it even be better than the real NES/SNES since the RDP2 is portable too. The compatibility isn't quite at 100%, but it's awfully close and with an MSRP of $89.99, the RDP2 isn't outrageously expensive either. Better still, if you buy the appropriate adapter, it can even be used to play Sega Genesis games!