Pros: Plays NES and Genesis games; useful controllers; flawless NES graphics; wonderful sound; gameplay
Cons: Genesis games have faint vertical lines; useless Slow button; some concerns over plastic quality
Retrogaming, as it is called amongst gamers, is the playing of older games on older hardware. Despite the presence of technically superior hardware, such as the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Sony PlayStation 3, and the associated software for those consoles, retrogaming has become a popular sub-genre of video game play. This is evident on eBay where bidding for used game cartridges can approach the suggested retail price of those games when they were new, as well as the proliferation of third-party consoles that are compatible with older systems' cartridges, such as the Gen-X Dual Station.
The Gen-X Dual Station is a kind of "clone" console that is produced by a third-party company and runs games through hardware that emulates the proprietary hardware that originally ran the games. In this case, the Gen-X Dual Station plays Nintendo Entertainment System (NES or "Nintendo 8-bit") and Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive) games. Manufacturing specifications for the Gen-X Dual Station are hard to find, but I discovered that a company called Innex (www.innexinc.com) manufactures this console. I will primarily focus on the graphics, sound, and gameplay aspects of the Gen-X Dual Station. These aspects are difficult to quantify, so my analysis will be largely subjective.
Console Design and Setup
The Gen-X Dual Station is shaped much like the third iteration of the Sega Genesis 16-bit console: it is a small, trapezoidal-shaped console with dedicated NES and Genesis cartridge slots located on top of the console. There is one gray switch on the left side of the console's face that toggles between OFF, 16-bit for Genesis games, and 8-bit for NES games, and one gray RESET button on the right. The two controller ports are located at the front of the console, and RCA and AC adapter ports are in the back of the console. Thankfully, along with RCA cables and the AC adapter, the Gen-X Dual Station comes with two controllers; however, the Gen-X Dual Station’s nine-pin connectors are specifically shaped to accommodate only its own controllers, so players with Genesis or NES controllers will not be able to port into the Gen-X Dual Station.
The controllers are slightly boomerang-shaped with a directional pad on the left side and six buttons (laid out 3 by 3) on the right; in the middle of the controller, there is a Select button (which featured on NES controllers, but not on Genesis controllers), a Start button, and a Slow button, which approximates pressing the Start (or Pause) button repeatedly, creating a slowing effect. The controllers closely resemble Sega Genesis six-button controllers from the early 1990s, but with Select and Slow buttons added.
Without referring to actual weight, the Gen-X Dual Station feels lighter than both front-loading NES consoles and Version 1 Genesis consoles. Consequently, the Gen-X Dual Station also feels flimsier and less solid than the NES or Genesis consoles.
Connecting the Gen-X Dual Station to one’s television is simple: plug in the associated sound and video RCA plugs into the back of the console, and then plug the other ends into the Video 1, Video 2, or Front RCA jacks in the television. Then, plug the AC adapter into the console and an electrical socket or surge suppressor. After that, put either an NES cartridge in the wider slot or a Genesis game in the narrower slot and toggle the switch to play the desired game. Conveniently, the Gen-X Dual Station can have cartridges inserted in both slots during gameplay; for example, a player does not have to remove an NES cartridge to play a Genesis cartridge.
Inserting cartridges into either slot requires the cartridge to be centered in the slot and then pressed down firmly to ensure a full connection. Considering the light weight of the console and the snug fit of the cartridge connectors, removing cartridges from the Gen-X Dual Station involves holding the console down with one hand and pulling the cartridge out with the other hand. However, easing and jimmying the cartridge free is preferable to pulling out with brute force, which could send the console and cartridge flying across the room!
The Gen-X Dual Station delivers graphical performance that is comparable to the NES and Genesis consoles with their respective games. Regarding NES game graphics, I have not found any artifacts or draw errors during gameplay, but there is some cropping that occurs with certain games; this may have more to do with the TV than the console, but games like RC Pro-Am are cut-off at the margins. Other than cropping, NES game performance on the Gen-X Dual Station is very similar to NES console.
Conversely, regarding Genesis game graphical performance, the Gen-X Dual Station generally performs well, but there appears to be vertical line patterns that occur across the entirety of the TV screen. Though it is barely noticeable, the lines do stand out when backgrounds are supposed to be painted with one uniform color, like sky colors. The lines are particularly apparent on the white start-up screens of EA Sports games. I cannot provide technical explanations for this, so I would conjecture that this is a draw error that is the fault of the emulator. In this way, reproduction of Genesis-like graphics is not fully analygous to Genesis console performance, but performance on the Gen-X Dual Station is good enough to not warrant using a vintage Genesis console.
Based on my personal experiences with NES and Genesis games on their native consoles, the sound reproduction of the Gen-X Dual Station is excellent for both systems’ games and almost indistinguishable from NES and Genesis console performance.
For Genesis games, the control elements of the games are accurately mapped to the six buttons on the Gen-X Dual Station’s proprietary controllers. For example, games that use buttons A, B, and C to actuate in-game actions are correctly performed when pressing their respective buttons on the controllers.
However, for NES games, the Gen-X Dual Station’s controllers, though correctly mapped to NES game controls, reverse the button layout of native NES controllers. Some experienced NES gamers may recall that NES controllers were laid out with the D-pad on the left and the B and A buttons on the right, with the A button closest to the controller’s edge. Because the Gen-X Dual Station’s controller is modeled after Genesis controllers (which makes sense because Genesis games feature at least one more button than NES games), this layout is reversed, with the A button closer to the D-Pad, followed by the B button. This button layout may prove problematic for those who have recently played games on a vintage NES controller; but for those who had past experience with NES games yet have not played those games for a long time, getting used to the layout of the Gen-X Dual Station’s controller only takes a short amount of time compared to the 10-button controllers that prevail for modern gaming consoles.
Besides the button layout, the X, Y, and Z buttons on the right side of the controller are unused because NES games only used two buttons (A and B); but, the C button serves as a macro button that actuates functions mapped to A and B simultaneously. The C button may prove useful for games that often require rapid, subsequent pressing of A and B, though I have yet to incorporate the C button into NES gameplay.
Generally, the buttons work as they should, as does the D-pad, though the controllers feel lighter and made with a lesser-grade plastic than native Genesis six-button controllers. As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of a Slow button ideally creates a slow-down effect, but this effect does more to annoy than enhance gameplay especially because most games either have a Pause screen or flash the word Pause each time the Start button is pressed.
This is highly subjective, but I have found both NES and Genesis gameplay to be just as I remember it being. In-game actions happen simultaneous to controller actuation, animations and screen draws occur as they should, and the fun and strategy associated with any particular game is fully realized with the Gen-X Dual Station, save for the controller layout, of course. In other words, games appear to work as one would expect them to work on their native consoles.
The caveat associated with most clone consoles is that not all games are compatible with them. Thus far, I have had no issues with compatibility and the Gen-X Dual Station, though I have only played somewhat mainstream games, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Dr. Mario, RC Pro-Am, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and a few EA Sports Genesis games. I have experienced difficulty with my Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt/World Class Track Meet NES cartridge, but this may do more with the cleanliness of the cartridge contacts (I bought this cartridge through eBay).
One aspect of the Gen-X Dual Station that I have been unable to test is the ability to play Mega Drive games from other countries. The Gen-X Dual Station lets players play both Genesis games produced for the North American market and Mega Drive games produced for the Japanese (and European) market by toggling a switch at the back of the console. Like DVDs today, game cartridges were often hard-coded to restrict play in regions outside the target market, but the Gen-X Dual Station can circumvent this for Genesis/Mega Drive games. That said, because Japanese Famicom games were manufactured for use with 60-pin cartridges and American NES games involved 72-pin cartridges, Japanese cartridges are unplayable on the Gen-X Dual Station without modifications made to the cartridge itself.
Besides cartridge compatibility, I cannot report on the compatibility with peripherals such as Game Genies or Sega Master System adapters (for the Genesis), but based on the design of the console, I can report that the Sega CD and Sega 32x modules are not compatible because required ports are not on the Gen-X Dual Station, specifically the board connectors needed for the Sega CD module and the video cable port for the Sega 32x module. Also, Nintendo’s proprietary controllers, light gun, and the Power Pad have seven-pin jacks, which the Gen-X Dual Station does not have.
The Gen-X Dual Station is an exceptional third-party clone console that successfully brings together NES and Genesis gaming into one console. The marriage is not a perfect one insofar as Genesis games are drawn with faint vertical lines and NES games were designed for a B to A (and not A to B) button layout, but the compromises made to accommodate both systems’ games were minimal enough to consider the marriage successful.
As of 2010, the Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii allow for downloading classic games, such as Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog. Despite the vintage programming, such games require players to pay $5 to $10 per game. In my opinion, I would rather spend $5 to $10 (or even $15 to $20, depending on the game!) buying the cartridges for those games on eBay or through Amazon and have physical software at my disposal than rely on an internal hard drive to preserve the games I purchased in a virtual form. The Gen-X Dual Station allows for this approach, as well as affords players the chance to dust off old NES and Genesis cartridges that they already own. I suppose this is one of the primary reasons why retrogaming is so popular now: to be able to save money and yet enjoy video game play, especially in today’s economy. Yet, I believe that the most important reason why retrogaming is popular is because people are realizing that, amidst the complexity and graphical intricacy of today’s games, the best and most fun games were the ones that only needed two buttons and 8-bits worth of graphics to play.