Until now, if you wanted to play old-school 8-bit NES games, you had three options. You could find an old Nintendo Entertainment System in a video-game store or on eBay, where they run for anywhere from $50 to $850, and then assemble a collection of the game cartridges you want, which can either be relatively cheap or absurdly pricey. You could download the games to your Wii or Wii U for (usually) five bucks a pop. Or you could download an emulator and game ROMs, which is illegal and also means either playing Excitebike on your keyboard (not great!) or doing some controller workarounds.
Which is why (with a few caveats) Nintendo’s new NES Classic may be the best piece of hardware the company’s put out in a long time: a simple $60 box and controller that comes with a smartly curated set of 30 Nintendo classics. Power the system up with a USB cord, plug the system into your TV using an HDMI cord, pick up that reassuringly hard-cornered controller, and game away. It’s a lot like the retro plug-and-play games that have been popular for over a decade, but with a ton more value packed in.
There are some great touches here. The lineup leans heavily on the classics, but it’s hard to fault any of the games included: You’ll get every Super Mario Bros., natch, but also gems like Gradius, the original Final Fantasy, and Star Tropics. The box itself looks just like the NES, just shrunken down by about two-thirds (it’s smaller than an actual NES cartridge), and it weighs almost nothing. Pressing the reset button on the NES Classic creates a quick save of wherever you are — so if you’re on a killer run of Kirby’s Adventure, you can stop wherever and pick it back up. The re-creations are remarkably accurate — you’ll still get sprite flicker and some slowdown in action-heavy parts — and the Classic offers three video modes, including one that re-creates the scan lines of the CRT TV you used the first time you beat Metroid (or just entered JUSTIN BAILEY at the password screen). And the value is absurd: Buying the same 30 games for the Wii would cost $150, and much more than that if you were buying vintage cartridges.
It hits the right notes for a good holiday gift: It’s not absurdly pricey at $60, it’ll tickle anyone who has an ounce of nostalgia for Nintendo, and it’s small enough and so easy to set up (and put away) that it won’t take over anyone’s living room.
That said, it comes with some downsides. First off, while the controller’s action feels remarkably close to the original NES gamepad, the cord length is absurdly short — only 30 inches (or shorter than my arm). You’ll want to grab a controller extension cord stat. It’s also not wireless, period. There are some third-party workarounds in the works, but for right now you’ll be back to worrying about passersby tripping over the controller cable.
Second, as of mid-November, they’re very, very hard to find. In a statement to Select All, Nintendo wrote, “[The] NES Classic Edition system is a hot item, and we are working hard to keep up with consumer demand. There will be a steady flow of additional systems through the holiday shopping season and into the new year.” Which means, uh, best of luck? It sold out within minutes on Amazon, and right now is selling for absurd prices on the aftermarket. Don’t give in — this thing is a steal at $59, but not worth it for $240 on eBay (the price of the Wii U, in other words). Keep an eye on sites like nowinstock.net, and wait for Nintendo to get some more units to market.
Finally, those 30 games are all you’re going to get. It’s entirely possible Nintendo will release another version of the NES Classic with a different or expanded set of games, but there’s no way to add more to what they’re selling. Like I said, I think these 30 games represent some of the high points of what came out for the NES, but if you’re jonesing for some Rygar or Wizards & Warriors, you’re up the creek.
All that said, this is a straight-up-the-middle winner by Nintendo. For anyone who spent part of their childhood blowing Cheeto dust out of cartridges or memorizing the Contra code, or for kids who never had the chance to experience the first video-game system to break into the mainstream, this is the gift to get. The only reason I can imagine you might not grab one is because you can’t find it.
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