My Arcade's Retro Champ Is An Awesome Option For Portable NES Gaming

TJ Denzer,

June 26, 2019 7:11 AM

During E3 2019, we had a chance to talk with My Arcade about the Retro Champ - a portable and plug-and-play system that lets you play classic NES and Famicom games.

When the Nintendo Switch came out, it brought about some opportunities. The versatility of being able to take a console with you anywhere - hotels, planes, buses, etc. - and be able to play just by lifting it off the cradle was incredible. That said, what if you could take old NES games and do what the Nintendo Switch allows with them? Not just play on a TV, but also take a few cartridges with you and play wherever and whenever you feel like playing? What if you could also just as easily play Japanese Famicom games on the same system? My Arcade has worked to answer this question with the Retro Champ and it’s easily one of the more interesting classic-style gaming options we saw at E3 2019.

With a built in kickstand on the back, the Retro Champ is built to be played handheld or with wireless controllers comfortably.
With a built in kickstand on the back, the Retro Champ is built to be played handheld or with wireless controllers comfortably.

The Retro Champ is a portable gaming device with a slot for NES games and a slot for Famicom games. It features a 7-inch widescreen full-color display, built-in rechargeable batteries, and buttons to play handheld, as well as a kickstand and wireless support for existing My Arcade controllers. As much as the Switch changed things, we really haven’t seen anyone put together an option that combined the easy utility and mobility of the Nintendo Switch with a retro enthusiast’s library of games. That’s what My Arcade has put together in the Retro Champ as My Arcade Marketing Rep Erick Hernandez told us. 

“There wasn't something like that on the market,” Erick told us in an interview. “So we had to fill it up.”

During a hands-on demonstration, we had a look at the system in action. We played with the quirky classic NES version of Strider. Indeed, the game ran on the Retro Champ just as we remembered it from back in the day, strange glitches and all. Simply put, the system isn’t running games through emulation that systems like the RetroN 5 and other retro consoles often employ. It’s one-to-one style gameplay according to Hernandez.

“The Retro Champ doesn’t use an emulator,” Hernandez claimed. “It's playing the actual cartridges. You have the right pins for both the NES side and Famicom side.”

By NES and Famicom sides, Hernandez means the particular way the system is built to allow for both. The Retro Champ’s console slots are located on its back with NES slot facing upward and Famicom slot facing down. Where NES cartridges are tall and stick out of the top of the console, Famicom carts are smaller and can fit into the bottom slot. Hernandez told us this was actually one of the biggest challenges of designing the Retro Champ.

The thickness of original NES and Famicom cartridges give some depth to the Retro Champ, but it wasn't unwieldy during our experience.
The thickness of original NES and Famicom cartridges give some depth to the Retro Champ, but it wasn't unwieldy during our experience, and the top NES and bottom Famicom slot is a great design choice for form and function.

“The main issue was keeping the form-factor down,” Hernandez explained. “So what we ended up doing was just creating two different slots for the carts. It’s as big as it is because it has to be able to fit the Famicom on bottom and the NES on top. So I would say that was the biggest hurdle - just having those two features while still being a true portable handheld.” Being able to fit the two styles most certainly makes it about 2 times as deep as a Switch, but the Retro Champ still doesn’t look like it requires a surplus of space as far as we could tell.

We mentioned that the Retro Champ was capable of doing what the Switch does, and that’s on the portable and non-portable end. One of the more interesting aspects of this system is in both the HDMI slot located on the back, as well as a convenient little aspect switch at the top. With an HDMI cord, the system can connect to any modern TV easily, but for those who don’t want a stretched image, the aspect switch also easily switches the display settings between 16:9 and original 4:3 ratio as the player chooses.

“So you have the option to play with the original aspect ratio,” Hernandez further explained. “There switch on top of it makes it easy to scale up while in mobile and connected to TVs. Even so, we also know there's people that are really particular. They don't want to stretch the image. So, if you want the original screen display, you have the option for that.” As an aside, if you don’t feel like holding the somewhat bulky system, the Retro Champ is built to pair easily with My Arcade controllers that were built for use with the SNES Classic. It worked well with the NES games we played, but to that end, we asked if there was a possibility that My Arcade may also design something similar that could play SNES games down the line. To that, Hernandez claims it will likely depend on the wants of fans.

“I'm not saying ‘no,’ but that's not some kind of an Easter egg or anything,” Hernandez joked. “If this does well and people want it badly enough, I’d say it’s not impossible.”

With the Switch having opened the door for mobile/plug-and-play hybrid gaming and SNES controllers already built for the SNES classic, the Retro Champ itself opens some cool doors for retro gaming.
With the Switch having opened the door for mobile/plug-and-play hybrid gaming and SNES controllers already built for the SNES classic, the Retro Champ itself opens some cool doors for retro gaming.

Indeed, with the Retro Champ, there’s an opportunity that not many others are filling. The closest thing to it is Nintendo Switch Online’s NES library, but even that only has a small collection of games. From what we could see, the Retro Champ offers classic game collectors a good reason to dust off their collection (it even comes with a cartridge cleaning kit) and take a couple cartridges with them on the go with a relatively easy to use set-up and faithful gameplay. As players who are always looking for a good reason to explore the old games, we’d love to see more things like the Retro Champ offer renewed and convenient access to classic gaming libraries and collections. The Nintendo Switch opened a lot of doors for utility in gaming. My Arcade has shown with the Retro Champ that those doors are well worth exploring.

If you’d like to learn more about the Retro Champ, be sure to check it out on the My Arcade website along with other retro and portable gaming options.



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