“That kind of inability to improve is really very rare. That kind of consistency is miraculous, in a way.”
I’ve been waiting to write this post since last July. That’s how long I’ve been waiting for the NES Classic Edition to be released, then subsequently looking for the plug ‘n play device, staying up late to catch online release, scouting for preorders, dialing up phone numbers, scouring local retailers, losing sleep over visiting those retailers at the wee hours of the morning only to be disappointed again and again for six months. The NES Classic will be remembered in one of two ways: as a delightful dream that nobody could find or as a self-inflicted thorn in Nintendo’s side which frustrated, alienated, and confounded their fanbase.
Well, no more! At least not for this 8-bit mage, because I finally found one. Let me rephrase that: I finally broke down and paid a second price scalper through Amazon after having my first order cancelled by a horrible gouger named GoodDeal Electronics. I had to pay sundry amounts of filthy lucre but this time I purchased from a more reputable seller who gave handling and storing responsibilities to Amazon itself. It was guaranteed to arrive last night at 8pm, and it arrived at 8:15. Longest quarter of an hour of my existence. But it’s heeeere!
I’m a happy retro-gaming collector. Broke, but also very satisfied. No more purchases for me for a while. This I promised my wife and two not-destitute children.
As I did with the Nintendo Switch, and as I expect I shall do in the future, I thought I’d record my impressions on my 12th and newest gaming system. For the lay, I’ve numbered my thoughts.
Not to be confused with gorgeousitiousness or cuteficatabilitiousity, adorability refers to the “aww” inducing quality of the NES Classic. It was the immediate first reaction of every single friend and family member I showed it to. It’s diminutiveness is especially apparent when it sits on top of “mommy” NES from 1985. The fact that the NES Classic captures the look of the original console makes it exceptionally endearing, right down to the teensy cartridge hatch (which, no, does not open because there are no compatible tiny cartridges).
Up to this point, I’d only seen online pictures of the box. In the wild, I’d caught a single glance of the actual box tucked under the sweat pit of a soccer mom leaving Target. That’s it. But now seeing it up close for myself, I’m delighted at the level of homageitude that Nintendo implemented into the NES Classic packaging to make it look like the original NES’s. Oh and it also comes with this poster, which is immediately going up above my side of the bed, thank you very much.
#3. Issue with sound right at startup
Marketed as a plug ‘n play device that’s easy to install via an HDMI cable and a USB cord, I was somewhat surprised when my NES Classic didn’t produce any sound. I thought that the main menu where you select the games could possibly just not having any music or sound effects, so I went into a game I was familiar with and hark… nothing. My next thought was that a gouger had sold me a faulty device for a salty price. Cool-headedness prevailed, however, and I never thought I’d live to say this but God bless Reddit. Several users there experienced the same issues. I just needed to restart my tv after connecting it and it’s played visually and audibly fine since. Weird but I’ve had no other technical issues with the miniaturized system.
#4. Controller cord length
Mark this down as a second “con” but the controller cord is shorter than you imagine based on what you’ve heard about it. It’s shorter than I thought it would be, even after watching several YouTube reviews and demonstrations concerning the device. I’m sitting only a few feet away from my flatscreen when I play any of these 30 games, since I have no coffee table and having the device sitting on the floor with wires hanging down from my entertainment shelf sounds like parental suicide with small genetic clones of myself shambling about. I’m not supposed to spend any more money for a while but I’ve already begun researching which are the best wireless controllers available. It’s like: why didn’t they just put the buttons right on the system itself if you’re going to have to sit that close. I get that it recreates the feel of being hunched around the tv with your friends like back in the day, but televisions were on average smaller three decades ago. On the plus side, the controller itself is virtually identical to the original NES controller.
The main menu is beautiful, made to resemble the front panel of an NES, where you would’ve originally inserted a cart. Various option icons are at the very top of the screen such as Display (switch between CRT filter, 4:3, and Pixel Perfect, the last of which I have it set to, of course!), Options for misc settings, Language, boring Legal Notices, and Manuals which can be accessed with a smart device or website URL. Below that are the games themselves which scroll horizontally, showing whether their one- or two-player games below their cover art. Below that is a miniature bar of cover images. Below that is the suspend point list.
#6. Screen saver
The screen saver is such a minor feature but it’s so awesome. Mario and Luigi run across the screen, seeming to quarrel over a question-mark box hovering in the middle of the screen, while behind them pixel art from the various games sails by. This eventually leads to the device’s Demo mode, if you have that setting set to on. The Mario brothers pick random games for you and show off a little bit of the music, title screen, and gameplay for you. This is at best pleasantly nostalgic and at worst passively informative for those who are unfamiliar with the majority of games included. A win-win!
#7. Suspend points
Less accessible than the typical save states’ instant saving and loading from any point in the game such as you find in nearly every retro collection nowadays, suspend points work slightly differently. When you exit a game and return to the main menu, a temporary suspend point is created which will be deleted automatically should you select a different game or turn off the system. You can manually save the suspend points into one of four slots for each game, after which they become permanent suspend points until they’re overwritten, allowing you to return to the point where you last left off. The biggest drawback to this seems to me so far to be the fact that you can only return to the main menu by pressing the reset button on the console. The controller cord is short but you’ve still got to lean forward every time you want to go back to save or load a suspend point. I guess that’s a slight inconvenience perhaps meant to persuade a player away from abusing momentary save states to get back every single jump and boss and enemy in a game. In the long run, this is good because preserving the innate challenge in these games is preserving part of what makes them so special.
#8. Game selection
Speaking of how special these games are, I’m really loving the choice of games included here. Nearly all 30 of them are games I’ve either loved or are greatly looking forward to playing. Except for Tecmo Bowl. Should’ve traded that out for Dragon Warrior or Mother. For a full list of the 30 games, check out our original coming-next-turn post, and for a list of 20 games that could’ve made the cut, or conversely represent a dream wishlist, check out the post “20 titles the NES mini forgot”.
#9. Emulation quality
More important than even its library, perhaps the most important element of the NES Classic is one which it nails flawlessly: accurately presenting these games the way that they were all those years ago with all of their responsiveness and tight controls and pixelated beauty. There is even the occasional sprite flicker intact but rest assured there’s no blinking red light or having to blow on cartridges!
Now I’m playing with power! I have only this word of advice for anyone who’s still on the hunt for a NES Classic of their own. Be very wise about who and where you buy from, especially if it’s a price gouger (which is virtually your only option now). If you’ll excuse me, I have scores of classics to plow through. I bet you can’t guess which of the 30 is the first game I plan to complete!
-The Well-Red Mage