Micro consoles are nothing new, so why is the NES Classic Edition – or Classic Mini NES as it’s named here in Europe – causing such a stir?
It’s a testament to the strength of the Nintendo brand – and the unwavering commitment of their fans – that this ‘throwaway toy’ is as hot as anything else right now. It’s easy to accuse Nintendo of constraining supply, but when the launch of a product brings Amazon to a grinding halt, it’s safe to say that demand must be significant.
Retro micro consoles have been around for a long time, but the Sega and Atari equivalents never caused as much commotion or panic buying. So what makes the NES so different and essential, and is it worth getting one?
The answer to the last question is a qualified yes.
The NES Classic Edition is a charming, nostalgia-soaked trinket that is right at home with any Nintendo fan’s Amiibo collection. In addition, it’s also the best way to play NES games on a modern television. But there are a few caveats.
Small but perfectly formed
The NES Classic Edition is tiny, really tiny. And tiny means cute. It’s an accurate, scale replica of the original Nintendo Entertainment System that looks and feels spot on; it’s just tiny. It gets all of the little details right, even down to the way the power button needs to be depressed on and off. Coupled with the exact copy of the NES controller (short cable aside), the NES Classic Edition is a beautiful object in its own right.
And when you plug it into a television, things get even better.
Goodbye Virtual Console
The NES Classic Edition comes bundled with 30 games. It’s a solid collection that contains all of the classics you’d expect along with decent smattering of third-party hits and other games of note. You’ll most likely have played – and own – many of the included titles, but there are still a few surprises. Games like Double Dragon 2 and StarTropics get a new lease of life by their inclusion.
The library can’t be expanded, however – the console has no online connectivity at all – but for the price it’s hard to grumble. For the majority of players, the included roster is enough to make NES Virtual Console on the 3DS or Wii U redundant.
The aesthetic appeal of the NES Classic Edition and its robust game selection are all well and good, but it counts for little if the games themselves are not well emulated.
The good news is that they run beautifully. The Options menu gives you the choice of three different outputs: Pixel Perfect, 4:3, and CRT. The first option displays every pixel as a perfect square. It’s certainly sharp but the image will feel slightly constricted if you are a long-time Nintendo player. 4:3 mode generates an picture shaped how you remember, whilst the CRT option adds scan lines and a little fuzz to replicate the feel of an old television. In Pixel Perfect or 4:3 mode the colours are vibrant and the picture quality is crisp. The CRT effect is perhaps a little too pronounced for my liking but it’s still a nice touch. The result is leagues ahead of the murky NES emulation on Wii U.
Using a QR code reader you can also download scans of the original game manuals to a phone or tablet. It would have been nice if they were also included on the system itself but it’s nice to have another slice of Nintendo history officially at your fingertips.
The long and the short
So the NES Classic Edition is a home-run? Well, not quite. There are a few well-documented problems.
The short length of the controller cable is an issue, there’s no denying it. Cable extensions are available (but in short supply) and some third-parties are producing wireless controllers, which kind of misses the point. It’s the one big failure on Nintendo’s part.
The exclusion of a AC adapter is also bemusing, although the abundance of compatible mobile chargers does mitigate the problem. The upside of the device using a USB power cable is that it will directly connect to many modern televisions for power, as well as the Wii U, PlayStation or Xbox you already have under your TV.
The tiny form-factor and USB cable also lend the device a degree of portability. My NES has already made the plug-and-play journey between the living room and bedroom multiple times. In fact, it’s just a delight to have the console around the house.
If you are at all interested in retro games, or Nintendo’s heritage, the NES Classic Edition is a recommended purchase. The combination of its design and build quality, excellent emulation and authentic controller compensate for the headaches caused by the short cables and absent AC adapter. However, it’s certainly not worth paying over the odds to get one, so have a little patience and avoid the scalpers and eBayers trying to make a quick buck.