For this entry I decided to do a little something different. Something that has become more common over the last few years is the creation of clones. Consoles that can run the software of older, defunct consoles. There are Sega clones, Nintendo clones, among others. The Nintendo clones are often called Famiclones, as many of them can even run Famicom cartridges. Of all of the vendors making these things, a handful stand out. The Retromini X is a pretty good one. I nabbed one a while ago, and while I took a number of decent photos back then, I never got around to reviewing the thing. So I’m rectifying that.
PROS: Runs the majority of the NES library. Can also be connected to a TV.
CONS: Wireless pads aren’t so hot. Light guns won’t work on modern HDTV’s.
WHAT?!?!?: The reaction you will hear playing it in public.
The Retromini X is one of the better portable NES clones you can find. The unit is lightweight without feeling too cheap. It has pretty responsive buttons, in a great layout. As far as handhelds go, it’s very comfortable, and you can easily spend several hours playing it. At first glance, one might complain about the size of the screen. It measures around 2.5 inches. Consider that’s about the size of the original Game Boy’s screen. But the quality of the screen is honestly, quite good. Colors pop, and the detail of the sprites show up without a hitch. it is also positioned nicely in relation to all of the face buttons, and the viewing angle is pretty wide. You don’t have to look at it dead on, just to see it.
The Retromini X also has a very nice audio chipset. The speaker itself can be set very loudly, without distorting the sound, or becoming muffled. It does have a headphone jack as well. So you can play it out, and about without distracting everyone around you. The Retromini X runs on 4 AA batteries. I would recommend using rechargeable batteries in lieu of the standard alkaline batteries. Because the regular batteries will drain fairly quickly. You can expect to get around 3 hours or so out of regular batteries, whereas the rechargeable ones can go a lot longer. That said, I do like that the unit works on standard batteries as, many other portable NES clones go with a proprietary battery. Especially a lot of the more recent releases. While these do give you much longer play sessions there is a problem. When the units go out of production you have no way to run it as a handheld any longer. Because this in turn means you cannot find a replacement battery, as they were only ever made for that specific handheld. Which makes replacements very scarce.
With the Retromini X you won’t run into that trouble as it isn’t likely we’ll stop seeing AA batteries any time soon. The system does include an AC adapter as well, so you can still play your games off of an outlet. The AC adapter (at least the one included with the North American release)also appears to be a fairly common style that many devices use. So if you lose it, or it wears out you can probably find a suitable replacement for it. So long as you’re willing to put a bit of effort into scouring the internet for one. If not? Then common, every day AA batteries will have to do.
Where the unit begins to fall short however, is as a home console. It does come with AV cables, and you can hook it up to a TV. But this is not going to replace an NES in your gaming setup for a number of reasons. The biggest of these is that the handheld has no ports for game controllers on it. To alleviate that concern, the manufacturer included two wireless gamepads. But these pads cannot be replaced if they become lost or broken. They run on two AAA batteries each. Unlike the plastics used in the Retromini X itself, the pads are made of flimsy, and brittle plastics. The pads also don’t retain the same shape as classic NES pads or the NES Max. Instead, they take the shape of the Super NES controllers. But they won’t give you the same comfort, or feel as the handheld or classic controllers will. They also aren’t as responsive as a wired controller. So in some games where timing is key, you’ll really wish you could use something else.
Mysteriously, the system also includes a Zapper clone. The Nintendo Zapper was a light gun used for games like Duck Hunt, and ports of light gun shooters like Operation Wolf. Surprisingly, the Zapper clone works really well. Almost as well as the original gun. It isn’t as comfortable to hold as it is made from the same questionable plastics as the wired pads. But it does work as advertised. The biggest problem with it is the same one affecting the original Zapper, and other light guns. Modern televisions. Back in the 80’s, and 90’s light guns worked on a combination of light patterns off of a TV screen, and coordinates on a grid. It could read a pattern, send the data to the software, which would tell if you were close enough to your target’s hit box to count as a hit or not. But modern HD TV technology doesn’t display the image you see the same way. The Zapper was built with a CRT’s line by line refresh rate, where HD TVs mostly draw all of the image lines at the same time. I’m sure someone even more technically inclined might comment with a better explanation. But the bottom line is unless you are hooking up the Retromini X to an old CRT you won’t be able to play the NES light gun games on it whatsoever.
The unit works with the overwhelming majority of the NES library. Even most of the unlicensed third-party game paks in your collection will run well. The system’s emulation is pretty spot on, as the music, effects, and visuals are on display as you remember them. In the time I’ve had with mine over a few years, I’ve put a lot of games through the paces on it. The only game I ever ran on it that didn’t work was a copy of Paperboy. The cartridge fired up fine enough, but none of the buttons would work. I switched the game out with Mario Bros., to find that game played pretty flawlessly. So again, most of your collection should run on this swimmingly. With that said there are a number of game paks that will not run on this. There are no definitive lists of incompatible games that I’m aware of. So for the most part, it’s going to be hit, and miss. At least until either the vendor or a group of collectors get together to make a definitive list.
One last note about this system is how well it holds games in place. The Retromini X is a few years old now. A number of other handheld NES clones have come about, and yet many of them have wobbly cartridge slots. That is, the cartridge can shift forward or backward while it is in the system, and cause the pins to briefly disconnect. In the Retromini X, Game Paks fit in pretty snuggly. You don’t have to worry about the game falling out of the unit completely. Despite that fact, the Retromini X does has a hint of this issue, as you can get games to wiggle slightly. Yet it is not as bad a problem as on some of the other retro themed handhelds you might find in the wild. So if you find yourself looking at them, it is something you might think about when trying to decide on one. With my time on the Retromini X, I’ve found you almost have to go out of your way to tap the cartridge, and knock it loose. Although I suppose there are some titles you’ll pop in that will make you want to do exactly that. Isn’t that right Deathbots?
As a handheld NES, the Retromini X is actually a pretty cool product. It’s standard battery use, comfortable layout, and spot on emulation are wonderful. Bringing a handful of NES games on a long trip, or killing an hour in a coffee shop will be nice experiences. Provided of course you use rechargeable AA batteries. As a console replacement you’d be better served trying to find a used NES or a dedicated Famiclone. The Retromini X doesn’t give you controller ports, and the wireless pads really don’t lead to a good experience. I should also note that the system was also released as the FC Mobile II. So if you do hunt one down you may see that version. For all intents, and purposes they’re the same handheld. The only differences are some minor paint decorations around buttons.
As far as I can tell Hyperkin is still producing these for independent game stores, and E-tailers. So it shouldn’t be too hard to find if you want to give one a go. Do note that according to their website these are for PAL territories. So if you live in another region you’ll need a power converter, and an outlet adapter if you plan on plugging it into an outlet. It isn’t confirmation that the NTSC versions are discontinued. But if you see one, verify the version so you’ll know if you need those additions or not.
Final Score: 7 out of 10