Today marks the launch of one of the most exciting game bundles of 2016: Nintendo’s mini NES Classic Edition, a tiny version of the original Nintendo console bundled with 30 classic titles.
It’s a tiny little console that, unlike the original, you hook up to your TV or monitor via an HDMI cable. Let’s take a look at what Nintendo gets right with this release, and where it falls short.
Overall, the mini NES is a wonderful little holiday diversion. Thirty games is nothing to sniff at, and when they include such classics as the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy, The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and Metroid you can count on many dozens of hours of excellent retro gameplay.
Many of these games are also really hard—frustratingly hard, even, compared to today’s offerings—which means you’ll get even more time out of the NES Classic.
And while these are all fantastic journeys down nostalgia lane for older gamers like myself, they’re also a great way for younger gamers to take a walk through history and play a bunch of fantastic video games that came out before they were a twinkle in their parents’ eye.
The games all run smoothly, though they’ll only occupy a square on your widescreen TV. Nintendo didn’t remaster them to display at modern resolutions, unfortunately.
You can also run the console off of USB power, which is awesome, so you can just plug it into your laptop and play it right there on your laptop screen (or desktop, etc.) It’s very portable and lightweight.
There are a few odd choices in the NES Classic’s design. While I love the form factor—it’s tiny!—I hate the fact that the controllers are wired instead of wireless.
I understand the desire to go retro, but even if Nintendo wanted to provide players with a more vintage gaming experience, they didn’t need to make the cables so incredibly short.
The original NES controllers had cables approximately 91″ long. The NES Classic’s are just over 30″ long. That’s just one-third the length. In other words, with the old system you could still sit a ways away from the screen and play. With the NES Classic, you’ll have a very difficult time sitting anywhere but on the floor right in front of the TV. For TVs mounted higher on the wall or on a taller entertainment center, this will requiring serious neck-craning.
In fact, the only way we could find a comfortable position to play the NES Classic was by hooking it up to a computer monitor at a desk. At this distance, the NES Classic works perfectly. Alas, it is not a living room console.
The second gamepad issue is the fact that there is no second gamepad. I understand this would have made the system a tiny bit more expensive, but it also would have made the system more of the genuine deal. The original Nintendo came with two controllers (and a Zapper gun for Duck Hunt). The whole point of many old Nintendo games was to play two-player and take turns. Granted, many games didn’t have two players, but all the Mario games did, and plenty of others.
So these are serious marks against the system. Cable length is worse, since you can always buy another gamepad but you can’t lengthen the cables.
The NES Classic is a quirky, clever idea and it’s great to see Nintendo leverage their old IP this way. Plenty of emulators already play these games (pirated versions of them, basically) so Nintendo may as well earn its cut.
But the design decisions are also classic Nintendo: Baffling, in other words. There’s no expandable storage of any kind, for instance. Why not include a slot for expansion cartridges? Nintendo could have released 10-game expansions for $15 a pop and made even more money selling its classics.
One also can’t help but wonder whether this would have been better as a launch title for the upcoming Nintendo Switch. A “Classic Games” pack would have been a great draw for gamers. (though admittedly this wouldn’t have had the physical charm of a micro-console).
Finally, there are already massive shortages of the console on day one. It’s going for upwards of $5,000.00 on eBay, though this is extreme and almost certainly will be sold for less (though still too much) by more reasonable price-gougers.
All told, this is a fun little system if you want to play NES games on a computer. It’s not what it ought to be, however, which is a classic game system you hook up to the TV and play with your kids from the comfort of your couch.
If you can find one, I still think it’s worth the very reasonable price-tag so I give it a Buy on my Buy/Hold/Sell scale. Don’t go buy one for tons of money on eBay, though.
NES Classic Edition
TL/DR: The NES Classic Edition is a fun little console that could have been much better with wireless gamepads and expandable storage.
Released: Nov. 11, 2016