Specials: Made of black plastic and its bulky. Classic 80's nostalgia.
The NES is pretty much THE standard for retro gaming. Most collectors have at least one working NES in their line-up (probably another dozen in their basement that they plan on fixing), the most hardcore possessing the re-designed NES 2.0 that was launched shortly before Nintendo ceased production on the NES. That being said, there has never been a mass-market portable machine akin to the Master System's and Genesis' SEGA Nomad, until Hyperkin
brought the FC Mobile to the masses in late-April.
Upon its announcement I was overcome with excitement. Having just kicked off the Retro Round-up series and enjoying my time digging through piles of old NES carts at the local flea markets, I could not wait to get some funds together and tear into the FC Mobile from top to bottom. Instead, Hyperkin was kind enough to donate a machine to us for review and dissection.
The included goodies for the FC Mobile are fairly common for the plug-and-play game devices that have been popping up in recent years. But the FC Mobile stands out from the crowd in numerous ways. Most obvious, is that the machine is a full hand-held, sporting a 2.4" LCD screen, meaning you don't need to be tethered to a TV. But you can tether yourself to a TV using the A/V Out port (cables included), if you wanted to do that for some reason.
The other more obvious feature is that the system isn't limited to a static amount of games. Okay, that isn't entirely true, you can only select from the 700 or so games released during the lifespan of the NES. Yeap, this puppy is cartridge-based so thank the heavens that you collected all those cartridges over the years and can play them on the go as well as on your spiffy NES 2.0.
Hyperkin actually left out one important fact in the press kit for their little handheld. Everyone knows that one of the most important features of a handheld is its battery life, as witnessed by the Gameboy's battery life helping it win the first handheld war versus the far superior, technology-wise, Game Gear. Seeing as technology has evolved substantially since the days of the NES, I figured that the NES should be fairly easy to reproduce, allowing Hyperkin to create a long-lasting product. This was the first thing I tested, managing to get just over nine hours of Mike Tyson's Punch Out!! and Dragon Warrior IV on three AAA batteries. Not DS quality battery-life, but respectable nonetheless.
The FC Mobile is just a tad wider than your DS Lite.
Handheld gamers are notoriously finicky about how their system feel in their hands. The DS fat felt awkward to many people who have finished growing, whereas the PSP felt more sleek. The feel of the FC Mobile is, without a doubt, its biggest drawback. The machine is incredibly bulky- in every dimension. Seeing as the machine takes NES cartridges, it has to be at least as wide as that, so we can't complain too much there. Mainly, it is the depth of the unit that took us off guard. The machine is more than double the thickness of a DS Lite when its closed. Blech. Again, this is a trade-off for having the machine play actual cartridges - as the pin connectors are the same as the NES'.
It also happens to be a tad taller than an opened DS, if you include the cartridge as part of the unit.
So it doesn't "fit" the hand that well, what about other user interface issues? The weight is off, making the item seem cheap (at ~$45 it is cheap) but the button placement is another big oopsie on the designer's part. The standard D-pad, A and B buttons are all fine. But the placement of the Start, Select and Reset buttons are pretty atrocious. Start and Select are on opposite sides of the screen, breaking the classic design of having them side-by-side on the NES controller. They are hardly used, so this is easy to write off. The reset button, oh man. The designer needs to go back to User Interface class as you should never have a reset or power button directly beneath the buttons you use as your main source of input. I have repeatedly, reset my game by accident, especially when playing something fast-paced or button-mashing friendly like Konami's Jackal or Hudson Soft's Bomberman.
Perhaps a FC Mobile Lite is in order.
So we know that the all important battery-life is up to snuff but what about being able to play all my old games. How does it hold up to year's of neglect and age of the cartridges that are going to be unceremoniously put in and ripped out of it?
For starters, you really do have to RIP the game out of the machine when you want to change cartridges. The FC Mobile holds on to the games incredibly tightly, although the jaws of life-like action will likely loosen up as you play the system more. On the upside, the pitbull grip ensures that the machine makes a solid connection with your dirty games. The new pins in the FC Mobile loaded most of my games without any popped blood vessels or "tricks" to getting the titles to work. Granted, it is probably a good idea to clean out the games before use so you don't gunk up the FC Mobile's pins over time.
The FC Mobile is not without its faults, but seeing as there are no other mass-market alternatives to a portable NES, you are pretty much stuck with it. Being the only option, it is unlikely that Hyperkin will ever bother re-designing the system for additional battery-life or ease of use.
That being the case, for roughly $40-50, the FC Mobile is a required purchase for any retro gamer that is on the go. As for collectors, well they don't need a review to tell them what to do. The item is worth the investment despite its flaws.
Here is the units biggest design flaw, it is short and stocky like Tolkien's dwarfs. More than twice as thick as the DS Lite.
Note to Hyperkin Engineers:
I have actually pitched this idea to many companies that make legal NES knock-offs and none of them have bothered following through with it. If you create an NES clone that can save game information to flash memory you machine would sell like hotcakes to the retro gaming crowd if it was properly marketed.
You see the issue is that with the games being 20+ years old sometimes, the batteries inside them that would keep the RAM active (where the save games are stored) have long since died. They are replaceable, but the process is annoying, and would be highly tedious for the amount of games many retro gamers own. The technology I am talking about is actually already available
, but not built into the system itself (and supports the morally grey Rom scene). Make it so.
Coming soon on our Retro Round-up series, Accessories to die for
Special thanks to L. Simon for the photographs.
Unit donated to GamingTarget.com by Hyperkin