Nostalgia is a drug. You see one screenshot of Donkey Kong throwing barrels at Mario, and you’re instantly rummaging around in the attic for your old NES.
The NES Classic Mini did a wonderful job of giving reminiscent gamers their retro fix, but when Nintendo pulled the plug on its production earlier this month it turned a host of retro gamers sour.
Fortunately, the history-addicted won’t need to go cold turkey for long: Retro Freak has conveniently stepped into the void.
In what threatens to be an overdose of joy for 8-bit fans, the Retro Freak not only runs NES titles, but can also handle games from 11 other throwback systems.
With a RM1138 price tag, though - not to mention a raft of other frailties - is it capable of bringing throwback fun to the masses?
One ugly box
The Retro Freak doesn’t have a nostalgia-inducing design that harks back to the good old days. It’s just a grey plastic box with more slots than a Vegas slot machine.
Instead of chomping on your cash, though, it consumes your old game cartridges and spits retro delights onto your TV screen. Without a cartridge or controller plugged in, though, even the most capable of detectives might take a while to determine that this is a games console. The HDMI port on the rear is probably the best clue.
Otherwise, it just looks like a lump of plastic that stinks of cheap tack. Even the power cord feels flimsy and took a lot of brute force to lock the UK adaptor plug safely in place.
For RM1138 you’d expect a more premium design, yet it seems more like one of those forgotten relics that you stow away in the attic than a welcome addition to your TV setup.
Pad from the past
The one element of the Retro Freak’s design that will send you all dreamy eyed about the past is the controller. It looks almost identical to the SNES pad.
No attempt has been made to hide the fact that they just recreated the SNES controller and whacked their own branding on it, either. Even the diagonal “start” and “select” buttons feature.
But, while Nintendo’s pad had a splash of colour, Retro Freak has decided to go all grey – because we can’t get enough of that off-white tone.
Committed to the retro theme, the controller is also wired. While the wires are considerably longer than they were for the NES Classic Mini, I still wish that I was free of such constraints. Yes, it's a throwback machine - but it's also a 2017 throwback machine.
You can also use a PlayStation 4 controller, but you’ll need to keep it plugged into the system via a USB cable - and I found that the button configurations could be a bit of a faff, so it's probably as easy to stick with the bundled pad. Still, it’s a neat option if you want to play multiplayer.
A gamer’s dozen
The Retro Freak is ugly, then - but who cares if it does its job? Since it can play games from 12 different retro systems, even the most superficial of nerds will find it hard to resist.
In all, the Retro Freak Supports NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, TurboGrafx-16, PC Engine and PC Engine Super Grafx.
Its ability to run Game Boy Colour and Advance titles is particularly impressive, as I can play the likes of Pokemon Yellow and Advance Wars on my television. The days of hunching over a tiny games device are over.
I expected these portable classics to look stretched and warped on my 40in TV, but they were always displayed with clarity and little distortion. In fact, they looked as great as ever.