When I first laid my eyes on this adorable little arcade machine at CES 2016, I couldn’t help thinking that my 8 year mind would have been blown by this small feat of engineering. 200 games crammed onto what is essentially a scale model of an arcade cabinet, complete with joystick and button controls, back-lit color display, and glorious mono sound?
OK, I admit this doesn’t sound all to impressive in this age of ubiquitous smartphones, but trust me, back in the early 90s, this would have been hailed as the pinnacle of technology. When I later saw the Retro Machine on the clearance rack for a mere $15 dollars, I had little choice but to take it home and see for myself if it could re-kindle those glorious arcade memories of the 90s. Did it succeed? Let’s find out!
It was immediately apparent that the Retro Machine was not crafted from the finest materials. The main housing and controls are crafted from your typical injection molded plastic, while the cabinet art and button labels are all applied as a series of stickers. I can’t help thinking that over the course of time, these stickers are going to come loose and will look quite crusty indeed. For now at least, it looks fine, and all the controls function well enough. Although the buttons and joystick did not feel as smooth and responsive as say, an XBox controller, they serves their purpose, and I didn’t notice at any time that they failed to register my intended input.
Let’s talk about the LCD screen for a moment. This is one area where there were clearly some corners cut. The brightness and colors are fairly decent. However, the viewing angles are so poor, that there is a noticeable difference in color saturation from one eye to the other. That’s right, the viewing angle is so narrow, the color shifts from the slight change in angle between your two eyeballs. This creates an unpleasant shimmering effect which admittedly can be reduced by moving the machine further from your face. Overall, I’d put the screen in the same category with other early LCDs such as the first generation Gameboy Advance SP (the front lit one).
Enough about the hardware, how do the actual games fair? Well, do you remember in the later days of the NES, when companies made those cartridges with dozens, or even hundreds of games on them? This is the exact same vibe I get from the Retro Machine, down to the poorly translated “Engrish” titles. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if inside the Retro Machine was nothing more than a basic NES emulator filled with a bunch of long forgotten, unlicensed NES roms.
The games range from downright boring, to mildly amusing. Honestly, half the fun is just going through the sheer volume of games to see what’s on display. There was no false advertising; there are, in fact, 200 unique games available to play. Unlike the old NES carts that would recycle games and simply change the title and/or sprites, all the games on the Retro Machine from what I can tell are completely distinct from each other. Oh, and did I mention the “Engrish”? Here’s some of my favorite titles: “Awful Rushing”, “Panzer Fly Car”, “Powerpull Girl” and who can forget the classic that time forgot, “Utmost Warfare”.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking for a stellar gaming experience, or an accurate arcade experience with the Retro Machine. At most, I was looking for a fun little diversion and something that would look neat sitting on my office desk or coffee table. In that right it succeeds, and is everything I could have hoped for. Despite all it’s shortcomings, my inner 8 year old self was quite pleased. Oh, and I can’t wait for the inevitable Raspberry Pi hacks that will transform the Retro Machine into a proper Mame emulator. Metal Slug 3 on a 2 inch screen? Sign me up!