Frank Provo's World

Bury my shell at Wounded Knee

Checking in
I feel bad that I haven't been updating this journal as much as I used to. Sure, I think I have a dozen valid excused, but I still feel bad. After all, journaling is an excellent way to organize one's thoughts, improve as a writer, and generally rant into an endless void. What's not to like?

What am I up to? Not much. I've 95% decided to do a Master's Degree program starting August 2016 or January 2017, either in public accounting or forensic/fraud accounting. My LCC program is almost done and my previous Bachelor's basically will combine with the Associate's to allow entry into the graduate program.

How's work? Getting more interesting. Seeing and hearing more interesting things. But still liking the new digs. And, since I spent two months splitting offices, the digs actually do feel new yet. Starting to see some of the office politics you'd expect, but nowhere near as prevalent as I've seen elsewhere.

How's mom? Moving into her own place soon. Hard to explain why without going on and on, but basically she hasn't yet lost that fire for independence and we haven't yet learned how to share our space with someone else long-term. Truth be told, we all could have shrugged off the whole idea, but she has the opportunity and there's no downside to her taking it. She'll still be within a couple miles anyway.

What am I into? Still classic video games, though lately I've developed a real taste for Godzilla movies again. It's to the point where I now think Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is probably my favorite all-time, bumping Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack into second place. If anyone cares, third is Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. Those three movies are just total cool.

Good news? Cindy will soon get her first smartphone. Motorola's "shatterproof" Droid Turbo 2 earned the honors by being the sort of phone you can take into a school without first encasing it in 3" acrylic and rubber.

Bad news? Lindsey Stirling's keyboardist / keytar player, Jason Gaviati, died yesterday of complications following the aftermath of cancer treatments. I get pretty choked up when I think about how he had basically kicked cancer to the curb, only to have his body made fragile by the treatments employed. I feel privileged to have been able to chat with the man on four occasions. He was a joyful, kind soul who touched many in his brief time on our spinning rock.

On reflection? I have been looking back on choices I've made the past 10 years, the friends I've lost due to them, and the new friends and opportunities they have brought about. For the most part, I would make the same choices even in hindsight. There are two choices that I made that negatively affected my relationships with two separate people that I would have handled differently: one 100% so and another I'd have delayed. We don't get to undo our choices, however, so I can only reflect on the "what ifs" and try to make better decisions as life goes on. I'm still kind of impulsive and self-centered though, which means I have a few gaffes left before I'm put into the ground.

Final thought? See and understand people through the context of their lives and their environment. Try not to judge them based solely on how your own upbringing shaped you. Lately I've had a heaping helping of "take people as they are, not as you want them to be" and it's really been shaking my internal monologue. Also, many people I know are experiencing pain right now, great and small, and it's cranking my sadness meter to the max... especially since the way I'm responding outwardly is completely lacking the sort of empathy and insight that (I swear) I am having at the same time my voice and body language are in idiot mode.

In a nutshell, yep... still have a pulse and still human (mostly).

Total eclipse of the... moon.
As awesome as it is to see a lunar eclipse happen right before your eyes, it's challenging to get too floored when you realize it's basically akin watching the moon go through all its phases in a single hour or so....

One year ago today, I did what many would deem insane: I left a relatively steady job with “ok” pay for a job that offered new knowledge and a significant pay cut. In my heart, I knew at the time that it was the right thing to do. Looking back in hindsight, though, I’m confident that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Different people react to toxic environments in different ways. How I adapt to such situations isn’t the same as how you, your parents, or your friends would adapt. As such, I can’t profess that everyone in the same situation should do what I did. All I can say for sure is that, for me, that workplace was toxic in most senses of the word. I didn’t feel respected and I didn’t feel others were respected. Heck, when you walk into work at 8:30 a.m. and a random employee says to you, “welcome back to hell,” you know a place is fully off the rails.

I made the decision to leave more than a year prior to actually doing so, but a medical situation and poor timing delayed my going through with it—as did a job change within the company that didn’t actually do much but show me another side of the problem. You’d think that having had all that time to digest my decision would’ve made it easy to follow through with, but I have to be honest here and say that I felt shaky delivering that resignation letter.

Thankfully, that feeling didn’t last long. My next employer, Neogen Corporation, re-invigorated my spirit and my faith that the employer-employee relationship could be a positive one. Training was spot-on, management showed care for employees, and the corporate culture was simply “us” (as opposed to the us-vs-them of my previous job). Granted, I do feel the pay was below prevailing scale, but the positive environment and flexible scheduling made it seem like a fair trade to me. Actually, I felt like I was getting the better end of the deal, since I was basically getting paid to learn how to use an industry-standard ERP package.

I never planned to remain at Neogen for years and years, but I also didn’t plan on leaving there after nine months either. The irony of it is that Neogen may have been “too nurturing” of an environment for me. Working there made me even more aware of my value and gave me the confidence to strive for an even greater opportunity. I resolved to seek out something that would employ my accounting knowledge, would let me flex my brain, and would pay a truly meaningful wage.

What I didn’t expect was leaving and making that “upgrade” as quickly as I did. My last day at Neogen was May 15th. I interviewed at DHHS for the open Financial Analyst position on June 18th. I started July 6th. I haven’t had one unsatisfying day at work since.

I’m reviewing budgets, I’m doing interesting things with spreadsheets, and I’m giving my professional opinion on various matters. My coworkers have been helpful and supportive. Management has made an effort to give me all of the tools and training I need. The work environment feels comfortable and inviting, which is amazing considering I work in a 15-floor building. You’d think there would be more “he said, she said” at a government office, but I feel like there’s actually less of it. I’ve also discovered that I like working downtown, because I can easily walk to eateries, my bank branch, and other State buildings. The pay is also pretty darn good. Not extravagant, but better than at my previous private-sector jobs.

I know that two months is too brief a time to form a true opinion of a job, but literally every aspect of this new position has been a win for me. I’m a government worker and I like it. Seriously.

I like it so much that I may shift around some of my educational goals. I still plan to take and complete the CPA exam sequence. Beyond that, though, I may forego the licensing process and instead go for a Master’s degree in professional accounting, forensic accounting, or a similar field. There are so many viable forks in the road now as a result of being in this position that I have to take a hard look at my options. It’s a good situation to be in.

It's crazy to me that a choice I made one year ago has completely improved my life. I just want to grab everyone that's in an unhappy situation and say, "believe in yourself, form a basic plan, and take the risk that will change your situation." It hasn't been effortless, but I can say that the rewards for all of the hard work have been worth it.

I haven’t filled this journal with anything of substance in quite some time because I’ve been focused on school and steering my career toward where I want it to be. During that time, it appears the U.S. economy has rebounded significantly, we re-established ties with Cuba, and, oh, look, our government now recognizes that marriage is between two people instead of interlocking reproductive body parts. Holy progress, Batman!

I, too, have found progress. I only have four classes left for my Associate’s degree in accounting and have already begun to practice for the four parts of the uniform CPA exam. When I started taking accounting classes, it was mostly in an effort to bolster my resume, but I’ve since found that I really enjoy the nitty-gritty work that goes into calculating amounts, recording journal entries, and producing financial reports. I’ve never had a love of math, but I do have an analytical mind. Accounting suits me well in that regard.

As for work, that’s been even more interesting. . .

Last summer, I took a job in accounts payable at Neogen Corporation because the company offered a nurturing environment and promised good upward mobility. I wanted those aspects so badly that I gladly took a pay cut to get them. For a short time, it felt like I’d made the right choice. Unfortunately, little things eventually piled up and made me realize that, despite the spectacular coworkers, Neogen wasn’t going to be for me long-term.

This May, I left my job at Neogen in order to focus on finding a position more in line with my skills, attitudes, and goals. My hope was to find a position that made use of my current skills, would put me closer to where the accounting-related “action” is, and would pay a meaningful wage. Finding a friendly batch of coworkers and a low-pressure work environment would be plusses. Above all, I was going to be particular in my search: I resolved that I wasn’t going to accept something simply because I needed a paycheck.

It took only six weeks to strike what I hope will turn out to be paydirt. I’m now a financial analyst responsible for vetting human services budgets and creating intricate Excel spreadsheets. Though it’s too soon to know for sure, my impression of my coworkers and the work environment is that it’s as nurturing and low-impact as you can get while functioning within the framework of a massive bureaucracy. One can never be truly sure of job fit until a significant amount of time has passed, but right now I am optimistic that I’ve landed where I both want and need to be. In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to soak up the knowledge and to enjoy the view from the 12th floor.

And, yes, for the first time in my life I’m actually making a wage that’s in line with what I bring to the table.

I still have more growing left to do, but now I have this palpable feeling that I’m closer to the end of my professional journey than the beginning. It’s a great feeling to have. Perhaps I should have arrived here sooner, younger, as many people typically do. I look back and I see two points in time where I could have made decisions that would have brought me to this point years sooner, but I also look back on the experiences that I’ve had as a result of my choices and I wouldn’t want to lose those. I mean, seriously, I wrote about video games for a living for like 8 years. How many people can say that?

Stay tuned.

Kawehi at The Crofoot Pike Room
Last night, Cindy and I traveled to Pontiac, Michigan to see Kawehi perform at the Pike Room at The Crofoot. I’ll kill the lede right now by saying that her performance and those of the two openers totally made the 90-minute drive worth it.

Opener 1: Eleanora
Twitter: @EleanoraLive

The first opening act was a Detroit-area group called Eleanora. Their twitter describes them as a mix of R&B, Folk, and Rock. I’m not even sure if that’s exactly accurate, but I am sure that Leah Dunstan and Julia Stephenson are a powerful vocal duo that don’t have any problem playing guitar or violin as the need requires. Their Bandcamp page linked above will let you hear some of their music. I think they’re going to get some exposure with their next EP because the tracks they played from it were sarcastic and emotionally resonant.

Opener 2: Cassaundra
Youtube: Cassaundramusic
Twitter: @Cassaundrafitch

Talk about not judging a book by its cover. The second act, Cassaundra, walks up to the stage and your initial impression is “This awkward 22 year-old that looks 16 is totally going to do bubblegum pop isn’t she?” And then, about 3 seconds into her first song you realize what an ass you were for underestimating her, because she’s a soul singer with pipes not unlike Joss Tone. I was floored and am incredulous at how a major label hasn’t picked her up. On the way home, we seriously had her 5 song acoustic EP on loop the entire drive.

Another audience member recorded this portion of her performance, and I think it sums up the juxtaposition of her demeanor and singing:

The Main Event: Kawehi
Youtube: VideoHalls - aka I Am Kawehi
Twitter: @iamkawehi

When Kawehi took the stage, the 50 or so of us in the audience were already amped up from the brilliant opening acts. Her first song was an original, “Like Her,” from her Robot Heart album. She quickly followed with her lusty rendition of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a waifish 5’6” woman of Hawaiian ancestry perform a song in which one of the main lyrics is “I want to f**k you like an animal; I want to feel you from the inside.”

If you’re not familiar with what Kawehi does, she is basically a modern one woman band. They call the technique “looping,” in which a performer records each portion of the song in bits until they’re able to sing over the whole thing. Kawehi will first lay in an electronic beat or perhaps some beatboxing. Then, she’ll record another vocal effect or a couple lines of background vocal. Ultimately, she’ll sing over the whole thing, often playing the guitar at the same time. She does it all on the fly and the end result is amazing. For an example, I snapped this very bad cell phone video of her original song, "Like Her":

You should probably go check out her own Youtube for clearer examples. Or just wait a few days until the folks who seemed to record THE ENTIRE concert on their phones finally upload their footage.

After “Closer,” she launched into two back-to-back mashups. The first primarily combined Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” The second incorporated so many songs and transitions that I couldn’t possibly name them all.

My two other favorites from her set were renditions of Sia’s “Chandelier” and Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box.” Her take on Chandelier is so much better than the original, it’s not even funny. You can find a recording of it on YouTube, and while that still doesn’t quite get across how killer it is done live, you’ll still understand why it’s an amazing cover. As for Heart Shaped Box, it’s pretty much in my genetic code as a Seattle native to take it right in the feels when anyone perform that song. That said, Kawehi manages to make it gritty, futuristic, and brooding without hurting the underlying angst that’s so key to its personality.

After the show, we stood in a very short line to get the chance to talk to Kawehi and buy some merch. To say she is gracious to her fans is putting it lightly. When I got up there, even before I had the chance to introduce myself, she said, “Frank, right?” I can only imagine the look of shock on my face. As it was, I could only respond with, “Yes, uh, wow…” She went on to explain that she tries to remember all of her fans. We’d never met before, but I have made a few posts on her Facebook page and backed three of her Kickstarters. She knew who I was based that, which is incredible to me given that she’s had thousands of backers and has more than 100,000 Youtube subscribers. We had a very pleasant conversation, though I have to admit it was more chit-chatty than substantive.

As I was picking out CDs to buy, she knew which ones I already had and gave suggestions on others. I mentioned that I wanted to get my friend Elle, who lives out of state, a CD. Kawehi remembered Elle from her own backer purchases and even commented on Elle’s recent Facebook posts, asking me how she was doing. And then, on top of all that, once she had picked out and signed two CDs for Elle, she wouldn’t let me pay for them! I’ve always loved Kawehi’s spirit as an independent musician but to see her exhibit in-person her attachment and generosity toward her fans was moving. I believe “dumbstruck” would be a good term to use for the gibberish coming out of my mouth by that point.

The night was totally worth $15 per ticket and a 90-minute drive each way.

Shenmue III
It appears Yu Suzuki has launched a Kickstarter to fund the third and final chapter of the Shenmue video game series. It's no secret that I thought the first one was unnecessarily overwrought, but I genuinely felt the second was on the right track. So, eh, I don't have any bad vibes toward this new effort. If it comes out and people enjoy it, more power to all involved.

I do feel the need to call "bullshit" on something though. This isn't a Kickstarter in the traditional sense: it's a PRE-ORDER campaign.

Look at the backer rewards. Except for the big ticket ones, they're all at retail-level prices for retail-level products: digital game downloads, a packaged version, some toys, etc. Look at the stretch goals: they're all the sort of thing you'd expect to be in every game anyway. Seriously, German, French, Spanish, and Italian language subtitles as a stretch goal?

And then consider that the first Shenmue games originally cost something like $70 million to make. But they're going to make the same thing, only with better visuals, for just $2 million?!?! No way in hell.

Even the pitch itself comes across like a one-sided beg. Recall campaigns for Mighty No 9 and Bloodstained that created communities and provided activities for backers throughout their campaigns. There was a lot of heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul interactivity in those campaigns. This one, not so much.

You'd have to be a fool to think this whole thing isn't a marketing ploy for a product that already has a publisher and a budget behind it.

Nothing illegal about that though. Nothing immoral in the strictest sense either. If people want to pre-order a game via Kickstarter, that's up to them.

Nevertheless, it does feel seedy to see Kickstarter being used in such a way--like a de facto GameStop--and for that reason I'm calling "bullshit."

Re: Retro Gaming shops in Lansing
Well... crud.... Disc Traders has overtly been punting its goods to a local-area re-seller lately. I've suspected as much over the past few weeks, but it was confirmed yesterday when I went in and they were holding a large amount of uncommon and shrinkwrapped items for a single customer.

The worst part about it is, some of the stuff had never made it to shelves to begin with. I know this because I pretty much go there three times a week as a side-effect of my mom's errands.

Time will tell if that kills its status as Lansing's overall best secondhand game store, but I admit I'm not optimistic. So now, the question is whether the stock ended up at a different local store or with someone that's an eBay re-seller.

Retro gaming shops in Lansing, MI
UPDATED: 6/16/2015
These days, retro gaming is a huge business thanks to the confluence of nostalgia-driven demand and entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on it. Every city has at least two or three stores that buy and sell used video games. Here in Lansing, we have four that are most prominent. I'm going to discuss and rank them in order of my personal preference.

1. Disc Traders (5831 W Saginaw Highway)

You may also know of Disc Traders as Disc Replay, a large regional chain that buys and sells used games, movies, CDs, and consumer electronics. The Lansing location is a total crapshoot when it comes to selection, but when it hits, it hits hard. Last week, they had Turtles in Time, Castlevania IV, Chrono Trigger, and Contra III in stock, among others. Their game selection tilts more to PS2 and recent consoles, but they do carry a good assortment of NES, Genesis, Super NES, PS1, and N64 as well.

Hardware isn't as plentiful, but they're clearly trying to stock more in the way of old systems and newer clones. The last time I was in, they had two Sega Genesis systems, two Super Nintendos, a Dreamcast, a Nintendo 64, a slim PS2, and a slew of PS3s/360s.

Their "buy" prices are very fair, especially with store credit, so they tend to get cool new things all the time. I frequently drive my mom around for errands and one of her favorite stores is in the same complex as Disc Traders, so I probably go there three times per week. It seems like there's always something new. I'm also a fan of the store's overall layout and atmosphere. While it's not a gaming mecca, it is bright and welcoming without looking like a giant advertisement (I'm looking at you, GameStop).

Their "sell" prices used to be below eBay, but now they're right on par. I'm not happy about that uptick, but I guess they have to pay for their "Visit ten times, get a 20% off coupon" promo somehow. That may also help discourage local resellers from using Disc Traders as a hunting ground.

Another thing I like about Disc Traders is that they won’t buy back a disc that’s scratched. Scuffs are fine, but one scratch and they’re likely to say “no.” Some people hate that, but it makes me feel safer buying there. Plus, let’s face it, if you can’t take care of your stuff or teach your children to take care of their stuff, you’re a worthless human being.

2. The Swap Meet (1803 E Michigan Avenue)

Don’t let the name fool you: the Swap Meet is just like any other buy/sell shop that stocks consumer electronics and video games. In terms of pricing, I’ve found them to be middle of the road. Some items are priced below eBay, some are priced above -- but the midpoint is about the same. They always seem to have some of the more popular games in stock though, like Super Mario Kart and Smash Bros. I like to go there because they are the only shop in town that sells original controllers for decent prices.

What I don’t like about the Swap Meet is the atmosphere: clutter with an aroma of weed. Granted, the latter could be because they’re located RIGHT NEXT TO a marijuana dispensary, but I'm not so sure...

Having said that, I still recommend them as a spot to check out because of the selection. When I wanted a copy of SF2 Turbo that day, they were the only local shop with a copy in stock at a fair price. They always seem to have Genesis and SNES systems in stock, as well as more recent disc-based systems. They're also the only place locally that seems to get TurboGrafx games, though you'll pay mightily for them.

3. Game Hits (4324 W Saginaw Highway)

They’ve been in the Lansing area for 15 years and somehow manage to stay afloat despite the fact that I never see more than one other person inside (besides myself) when I go there. Selection is generally pretty good: Atari, NES, SNES, Master System, Genesis, Sega CD, TG-16, yadda yadda yadda... you’re guaranteed to see at least one or two things that make you say “I never see that in the wild” with every visit. They also have the best local selection of Saturn and Dreamcast.

I appreciate that they announce their restocks on Facebook, strive to keep a decent selection of hardware in stock, and aren’t afraid to sell Japanese imports or “reproduction” games. Variety is a good thing.

What I don’t like about Game Hits is can be summed up in two words: atmosphere and pricing. The store is dimly lit, dusty, and just generally depressing. As for the pricing, you can find deals on Game Boy and Genesis, but everything else is pegged anywhere from 10 to 20% over eBay. While that helps to keep “flippers” away, it also means that Game Hits is not my first choice when I’m looking to add a retro game to my collection.

Nevertheless, the staff is nice enough, and like I said, they have a solid selection (including Sega CD, 3DO, and Saturn), so they definitely need to be on the radar of anyone in town.

4. Replay (1385 E Grand River)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. When I first wrote this post, they were near the top. But they kicked their prices in the ass and now I only recommend them if you're window shopping or have a rich uncle looking to buy your love.

Selection is good, no doubt because they want people to pay $40 for the NES versions of Castlevania or Contra. Want to pay $20 more than eBay for a third-party RPG on the Game Boy Advance? This is the place.

It's a damn shame too, because I love the vibe in there. They sell vinyl records, the walls have all sorts of artsy fliers and kitche, and they do screen printing in the back. I don't mean they have an order window; I mean they setup in back and you can see them doing it.

I know they must pay some killer rent since they're located so close to MSU, but that can't be the whole price driver because they're anywhere from 20-50% above eBay's already goofy prices. Add Michigan's 6% tax on top of that and you can imagine why I go there mainly to look.

Closing Comments

I think that’s pretty much it for Lansing area used game shops. The only other place I left out was Elite Gamers at 2709 W Michigan Avenue, because they barely have part-time hours and rarely have retro items in stock (usually at insane high prices). I didn’t mention second hand stores like Goodwill and Volunteers of America either because the locations around here almost never get video game items.

All told, I think we’re borderline when it comes to brick and mortar retro options. I’ve been to similar stores in Grand Rapids and the Detroit suburbs, and I always find better selection and pricing there. Still, I appreciate with the options we do have, because four stores taking away local marketshare from GameStop is pretty awesome.

My Retron 5 review
Hello again. I had planned to provide a complete, unbiased review of Hyperkin’s multi-platform retro-gaming console, the Retron 5... but I’ve been too busy playing a bunch of awesome games and enjoying the heck out of it to cultivate any semblance of balanced insight. While I know the Retron 5 won’t please everybody, I think it’s flippin’ sweet and light-years ahead of other clone consoles when it comes to compatibility and accuracy.

Concept: 10/10

“What is the Retron 5?” you ask. In a nutshell, it allows you to play Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy cartridges on your modern HD television without the need for a jungle’s worth of cabling just to get a decent picture.

On the unit itself, you’ll notice five cartridge slots: four on top and one in front. The slots on top are for (back-to-front) Sega Genesis/Megadrive, Super Nintendo/Super Famicom, Nintendo NES, and Nintendo Famicom cartridges. The slot in the front is for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance cartridges. In total, with five slots and no region lock, the Retron 5 actually lets you play games for 9 different game systems. If you buy a Sega Genesis Power Base Converter and insert it into the Genesis slot, you can also play Master System games. So, to be accurate, the Retron 5 supports 10 systems.

It’s hard to not be blown away at the outset by the concept of a system that rescues you from the storage and clutter associated with owning three, four… or ten different game consoles. Don’t even get me started on the cash outlay required to buy Japanese consoles or to modify US consoles to play imported games. The Retron 5 just plays them all; no fuss, no muss.

The way the Retron 5 works is that it downloads the game code from the cartridge and runs it on an emulator built into the system. Purists argue that this isn’t the same as playing games on the original hardware. I tend to agree, but the emulators that Hyperkin stole (er, borrowed) to make their console work are generally very accurate. If there’s an NES or Genesis game that you’re familiar with that slows down when there are too many characters on screen, the same thing will happen when playing that game on the Retron 5.

Ease of Use: 9/10

Setup is a breeze. Have you ever connected a BluRay player to your TV? The Retron 5 plugs-in the same way. To play a game, you simply insert the cartridge, press the power button, wait a few seconds for the game to load, and select the “Play” option from the main menu. Granted, that is one extra step than just pressing the power button, but I think most people can handle that.

When you’re done with a game, you don’t need to turn the system off to switch cartridges. The system will go back to the main menu when you remove a cartridge, and it’ll automatically load the new game a few seconds after you insert the new cartridge. Removing cartridges can be a challenge if you’re used to the loose connectors found on 20 year old game systems. I find that I have to hold the system with one hand while gently pulling up on one side of the cartridge with the other hand. This shouldn’t be a problem for most people, but it’s something to be aware of if you have weak hands. Hey, some people do!

On-screen menus let you access display options, saving options, cheat menus, and a host of other optional but appreciated features. The included controller has a menu button that brings you right to the system menu, but you can also reach it by pressing down+start on any plugged-in controllers.

Design/Build Quality: 8/10

I’m generally satisfied with the overall build quality of the unit. Early models apparently shipped with brittle plastic around the cartridge connectors and with metal cartridge contacts that could easily be rendered inoperable if you bent a game cartridge the wrong way. Hyperkin has been shipping improved models for months now and that’s what I ended up with. The plastic surrounding the connectors is solid and it feels like there’s reinforcement beneath. And, while the cartridge connectors do hold onto games for dear life, I haven’t noticed any bending or breaking after hundreds of swaps.

Since the front of the unit is occupied by the power button and the Game Boy slot, Hyperkin chose to put the controller ports on both sides of the unit (player 1 on the left, player 2 on the right). I am not a fan of this from a space-saving perspective, but can’t harp on their placement too badly since being able to use original NES, Genesis, and Super NES controllers is a huge win in my book. Better still, you can mix and match. So, if you prefer the Genesis 6-button pad for fighting games, you can use it with the Super NES version of Street Fighter 2.

You’re definitely going to want to use an original controller too, since the bundled wireless controller isn’t the best when it comes to actually playing games. It’s very responsive, but the micro-switch style directional stick is totally worthless for games designed for a cross-style directional pad. My timing in games like Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter II, and Sonic the Hedgehog is just garbage with the bundled controller. Nevertheless, the included controller is useful for quickly accessing the system’s menus (instead of pressing down+start on other controllers) and for that reason I suggest keeping it handy and storing it in the system shell’s docking area when not in use.

On the back side of the unit, there’s a mini-USB jack for charging the bundled controller, as well as an SD card slot which allows you to upgrade the system, maintain a Game Genie style cheat database, store save games, and apply “hacks” to your games (more on that later).

Features: 8/10

When you insert a game cartridge, the Retron 5 pulls the data off the cart and stores it in memory. In an effort to deter piracy, the system deletes that data when you remove the cartridge from the system. Those of you waiting to make a set-top ROM box out of the Retron 5 will need to wait until somebody hacks the system. In the meantime, after the game loads you have the option to play it or to adjust a variety of options that emulator users are already very familiar with. These include visual and audio adjustments, access to the cheat system, access to the save/load system, and an option to load IPS patches (a.k.a hacks) from the SD card.

You might wonder why you’d need to adjust the graphics and sound when the console already outputs clean video and audio, but the reality here is that the output is “too clean” compared to the way the games look on older CRT monitors. You might appreciate the blocky, crisp look. Or you might want to smooth out those rough pixels to give your games a modern style. Or, you might just want your games to look like they did on your old TV back in the day. Two scaling toggles, six different filter settings and a scanlines option allow you to adjust the visuals to your preference. There are also toggles to clean up the audio, boost the bass, and boost the treble.

I’m happy with these options, for the most part. When set to no filter, no scanlines, and “show overscan area,” the output for Sega Genesis games looks and sounds nearly-identical to the Sega Genesis I have hooked up via SCART RGB and a convertor box. The RGB output from the actual system looks richer to me, but that’s something I can match by tweaking the TV’s picture settings. My mom has a Sony Trinitron CRT TV in her room for her NES games. When I set the Retron 5 to the HQ2X filter with scanlines enabled, the output is frighteningly similar to the composite image displayed on the Trinitron. You might think it’s a bad thing that you can set the Retron 5 to look like a fuzzy composite image, but I think it’s actually a positive aspect since it mimics the true old school experience.

I am familiar with how PC emulators work, so I must admit that I’m disappointed by the absence of the xBRZ filter as an option. If one of the purposes of the filters is to transform the blocky pixels of old into the best possible image without sacrificing detail, then it’s a disservice to not include the xBRZ filter. See, the problem with filters is that they attempt to transform square pixels into rounded edges. That’s not a bad thing except when you have single pixels or single-pixel width diagonal lines. Most filters lose clarity when trying to interpolate these fine details. The xBRZ filter preserves these single pixel features and comes the closest to providing the “best of both worlds”: detailed pixel art with appropriately smoothed edges. Most people won’t mind the pure no-filter default or the HQ2X option, so I can’t malign the Retron 5 too badly for this oversight. It’s just a personal pet peeve of mine and something I hope they remedy in an update.

I don’t make use of the audio enhancements. They seem to work without negatively affecting the sound output, but I prefer to hear my games as they were intended. Since I’m a Genesis nut, I wish that they’d included an option to select which Genesis model the audio output would be patterned after. There are clear differences in the audio output of early model 1, early model 2, and late model 2 Genesis consoles. The Retron 5 sounds like a model 2 with the distortion fixed. That’s great, but I personally prefer the bass heavy output of the early model 1 consoles.

Two features I do use heavily are the save/load system and the cheat function. Playing a game that doesn’t have a built-in save feature? No problem, just pull up the menu and save a snapshot. You can pick up where you left off later. Want to play through Contra III with infinite lives and the best weapons always enabled? No problem there either. Just enable those options in a submenu and start the game. Back in the day, I was a huge fan of the Game Genie accessory since it let you do all sorts of zany things in your games. Sure, you might “beat” the game sooner than you otherwise would, but then you’d spend even more time doing goofy things like playing as a boss character or playing Sonic from the beginning as Super Sonic. Kudos to Hyperkin for integrating this into the Retron 5, even if the cheat database is a separate download.

Another feature I enjoy is the ability to load IPS “patch” files when playing a game. These files, many of which can be downloaded from, offer the opportunity to remove censorship, clean up translations, and even totally revamp the layout and graphics of your games. One of my favorite patches replaces the sound driver in the Genesis version of Street Fighter II with one that doesn’t sound like a garbled mess. It works flawlessly on the Retron 5 when I plug in my copy of SF2.

The Retron 5 also has the ability to grab the save data from cartridge that has a built-in save function and to later write the save data back to a cartridge. This isn’t just handy for shuttling cartridges from one place to another, but can also rescue you if the battery dies in your copy of Legend of Zelda and you don’t want to start from scratch when you replace the battery or buy a newer copy. In my experience, this feature works fine. If you pick up a Retron 5, make sure it’s running the latest firmware before you start ripping save data, as older models had a tendency to blank the cartridge after retrieving data.

Oddly enough, the thing that bugs me the most about the Retron 5’s feature set isn’t something you’ll find in the menus. It’s the inability to have more than one cartridge inserted in the system at the same time. If you attempt to insert two cartridges, the system puts up an annoying message and scolds you for doing so. But why? It’s clearly not any sort of electrical issue since the system can detect multiple cartridges. I just think it would be convenient to be able to leave multiple cartridges inserted, so you can switch between them without getting out of your comfy chair and possibly annoying the cat that jumped onto your lap and fell asleep 20 minutes earlier.

Compatibility/Accuracy: 8/10

My retro game library isn’t huge, so I can’t really say if the Retron 5 has issues with a significant portion of any particular game library. I'd say 98%+ of my two-dozen or so 16-bit games run at the proper speed with the proper graphics, music, and sound effects. I can perform dragon punches at will in Street Fighter II Turbo/SCE. Sonic flies across the screen in Sonic 2. Dracula X still has the beautiful flame effects and the horrible hit recovery. And the lava-themed stage in Lightening Force is just as hypnotic as it is on an actual Sega Genesis. The one 16-bit game I seem to have issues with is Castlevania Bloodlines for the Genesis, which resets the system on stage 2-5. Using a level skip leads to similar resets in at least three other stages. One out of 25 ain't bad.

I own approximately 80 NES games and have tried probably 30 of them. Of those, only one of the legitimate releases has had any issues. Unfortunately, the game in question is Castlevania III, which is one of my favorites. When I encounter the axe armor enemy for the first time, the game freezes. Strangely, if I perform a quick-save prior to encountering the axe armor, shut down the system, and then restart from that save point, I’ll be fine until I encounter the axe armors later in the game. The bizarre thing about this problem is it does not affect the Japanese Famicom release of the game, Akumajou Densetsu. That game works just fine even with the added sound chip.

Game Boy and Game Boy Color games work great. The Game Boy settings menu allows you to select various color palettes, such as green monochrome, black-and-white, and the Super Game Boy palette choices. Game Boy Advance games can take 10-20 seconds to load, due to their large ROM size, but the majority I tried worked fine. One exception I found was Final Fight One, which had an issue with “smudgy” visuals (for lack of a better term), typically in areas with a lot of blue coloring. The music also slows down and speeds up randomly. I haven’t experienced anything like that in other games, thankfully.

One thing I should mention is that the Retron 5 lets you choose to display images in the original console’s internal resolution or to display them as they’d appear formatted on a 4:3 ratio screen. You might think the internal resolution would be best, but that’s not necessarily true. CRT monitors have rectangular “pixels” and game designers drew their characters and backgrounds with that in mind. This is most obvious with the NES and Super NES, in which selecting the original internal resolution causes Mario to flatten out, almost as if he’s had gastric bypass done. My personal preference and recommendation is to set “Force Original Resolution” to off for everything except the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance. That way you get the proper aspect ratio and your timing won’t be thrown for a loop.

I own a number of homebrew games and hacked reproductions for the NES. Only some of these work on the Retron 5. DK Pie Factory and the translated Japanese version of Ninja Gaiden III ran fine, but Mystic Pillars and Recca Pure did not. I’m told that Hyperkin has been improving compatibility for these sorts of cartridges, so perhaps some more of mine will work after the next update. You can use the IPS patch functionality to "create" some of these hacks anyway, so it's not a horrible problem.

I only own one Sega Megadrive and one other Famicom game: Bare Knuckle III and Crisis Force. Both worked. That's pretty awesome since, much like Akumajou Densetsu, Crisis Force contains a special chip that was never used in North American NES games. That's also why you don't ever see reproduction copies of Crisis Force: nobody's cloned the VRC4 chip and the few Famicom donors you could use to make a repro cost about the same to import as an actual copy of the game.

Other clone consoles manufactured in the past could boast maybe 90% compatibility, so I can’t fault the Retron 5 terribly in light of what I’d call 98% compatibility with legitimately published retail games (based on personal experience and reading a list maintained by fans). Nevertheless, as my experience shows, you have to be ready for potential disappointment, especially if Castlevania Bloodlines is one of your favorites.

With regard to controllers, all of the original first-party Nintendo and Sega controllers I plugged into the system worked flawlessly. Third-party controllers also generally work, though I did have problems with one: the GN6 Sega Genesis controller made by Hyperkin. That’s right, I had trouble with a Hyperkin controller on a Hyperkin system. The Z-button is mapped to the up direction on the d-pad. Oops. You can change the layout of the buttons in the configuration menu, but the up direction will still be tied to whatever you bind “Z” to. Good thing I have plenty of controllers laying around. If you don’t, I suggest you stick with the name brand accessories.

Summary: 43/50

It’s not actual hardware, it’s not 100% compatible, and it’s missing some A/V tweaking options that’d greatly improve my enjoyment of the unit. That said, I am satisfied with the Retron 5 because it lets me play most of my favorite games with genuine controllers while solving two very real problems (storage and entry cost). You won’t find another option out there that packs numerous systems into two square feet of shelf real estate. And you’re looking at $100 to get just one system working via HDMI (or $300 in the case of the NES). The Retron 5 itself retails for $120-$140 depending on which retailer you purchase from and what stock quantities are like.

Hyperkin has shown competency at fixing issues with subsequent firmware updates. So it could very well be that my problems with Castlevania III and Final Fight One will be fixed in a few months. Maybe they will add more filters too…

If you absolutely need your games to look just like they do on an old CRT monitor, you’re probably better off sticking with CRT and dealing with the related clutter. Likewise, if money is no object and you want the absolute best picture quality and compatibility, you should invest in RGB modded systems and an XRGB Framemeister box (FYI, the Chinese made SCART-to-HDMI converter that Amazon sells with “HD Video Converter” printed on it is also a viable alternative if you don’t mind the lack of image adjustments or scanlines).

For everyone else, I highly recommend the Retron 5. You’ll be able to play your old games again on your new TV and you’ll probably have a blast if modern gaming hasn’t ruined you yet.

2014 in review
When I made my year-end post last December, I mentioned that I was "restless" and that I had a plan. In 2014, I put that plan in motion. First, by committing to the path of becoming an accountant. And second, by leaving the job that had been siphoning my joy for two of the three years I worked there.

As 2014 comes to a close, I've just completed the toughest accounting course there is (Intermediate II) and am four months into working accounts payable for Neogen Corporation. I don't think that the job itself is something I'll do for years and years, but I do very much love the company culture and the people I work with. I sure wouldn't mind my career there maturing as I mature in my studies.

Going into 2015, I will be studying my tail off for the first half of the year. Hopefully, I'll continue my run of 4.0 grades as I complete Cost Accounting and Advanced Accounting. For the first time in two years, I won't be taking classes during the summer. I'm sure there is something I could take, but I need the time off to regain some of that happy-go-lucky nature that makes Frank so awesome.

I don't like to count my chickens before they hatch, especially since I don't have any eggs, but my goal is to complete the accounting program sometime in 2016 and sit for the Uniform CPA exams shortly after.

Oh, I also turn 40 in 2015. I know, I know... don't hate me for aging so sexily. I should probably come up with something awesome to do that day, weekend, week... isn't that what people do?

Thankfully, I'm not the type to have any sort of midlife crisis. Some days, I hate life. But most days, I'm just happy to be alive.

Enough from me. I have to go cuddle the wife. :)


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