I still feel genuine excitement whenever I reach the fourth world of Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES, and that rush of adrenaline is a testament to the power of the great classic video games of the 1980s and early 90s: We know almost everything about them but they can still entertain us almost 30 years later. Nintendo’s tiny retro console is a wonderful reminder that the great 8-bit classics will never die. It comes preloaded with a great library of 30 mostly excellent games from the NES era, with headliners like The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man 2, and Dr. Mario for an attractive $59.99 USD, and its high-quality emulation wipes the floor with the Wii U’s ugly NES Virtual Console. But, for all of its remarkable authenticity, the ridiculously short controller wires make it a pain to use.
Right out of the box, the attention to detail on the NES Classic is impressive. The small, lightweight console weighs a mere 6oz and captures the boxy-yet-iconic look and feel of the original black-and-gray Nintendo Entertainment System, right down to the soft, clickable power and reset buttons. Almost every inch of it is exactly the way you remember it, only at a much smaller 5 by 4 by 1.6 inches!
The attention to detail on the NES Classic is impressive
There are a few differences: the cartridge lid doesn’t flip open (because all the games are permanently pre-loaded on internal storage) and it has an HDMI port and a USB Micro power input on the back. But outside of that, this is a perfect miniature recreation of Nintendo’s first home console as it appeared on its North American debut in 1985.
The wired NES Classic Controller (one is included, and you can buy another for $10) follows the same reverent attention to detail, but the D-pad feels much smoother and lighter than the uncomfortably hard plastic Nintendo used on the original. Otherwise, the controller dimensions are the same, just slightly lighter. But the catch here is that the controllers connect to the system using painfully short 2.5ft cables though the Wii accessory connector. That’s a proprietary port, and Nintendo doesn’t sell extension cables or wireless controllers.
That means you either have to sit absurdly close to your television, purchase third-party extension cables for the controller, or invest in long HDMI and power extension cords. But the controller extension cables aren’t a great option because you have to push the reset button to pop back to the home menu and choose another game, so the console has to be within reach if you want to save the state of your game or jump into a different one. Why aren’t those buttons on the controller, and why isn’t the controller wireless? There’s no good answer for the first question, but it is true that wired controllers guarantee zero input lag when you’re playing demanding games. But if I had to choose I’d rather have a few milliseconds of lag than be forced to sit a few feet from my TV or have cords awkwardly stretched across my living room. The cable length is a painful inconvenience for the NES Classic.
Why isn’t the controller wireless?
Nintendo may have skimped on the cables, but it delivered on the NES Classic Edition’s ability to emulate video games. The colorful worlds of these 30 classic NES games have never looked better on a modern television. Whether you’re exploring the colorful and imaginative stages of Super Mario Bros. 2 or combing every corner of Hyrule for hidden secrets in The Legend of Zelda, this little console does a great job of displaying classic games on modern televisions. You can choose an original 4:3 aspect ratio mode that’s crystal clear on 1080p TVs, an artificially fuzzy CRT mode, and Pixel-Perfect mode that gives a thinner, more modern look. The high-quality emulation from the NES Classic can stand toe-to-toe with much more expensive setups, like the Retron series of consoles.
The biggest downside, though, is that the library of 30 games is all that this iteration of the NES Classic Edition will ever be able to play, because there’s no way to buy and load new games. If you want to play, say, Ice Hockey or Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, you’ll have to hope it’s on a hypothetical NES Classic Edition 2, at which point you’ll have to buy a whole new console and swap out the hardware whenever you want to play. That said, at least library of games Nintendo picked for this collection is strong and stretches across several genres. The fact that the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy is bundled with the first two Zelda games, Castlevania, Double Dragon II, and Bubble Bobble would be reason alone to pick this up if you don’t already own the lot of them on Virtual Console, and you still have 22 other games to choose from. A few games haven’t aged all that well, like Metroid and Ice Climber, but they’re in the minority relative to all the greats featured here.
Every menu screen is an elegant nod to the NES era
Every menu screen is also an elegant nod to the NES era, from the screensaver where Mario and Luigi fight for control of the screen to the custom menu screens that lovingly captures the original box art and ‘90s-style icons. The only thing missing is the original game manuals, which Nintendo says you can read online using an QR code the the game menus. Outside of that omission, there plenty of retro love tucked into the NES Classic.
The selection of 30 beautifully emulated, mostly classic games makes a strong case to own a NES Classic as a way to easily revisit old favorites and introduce them to new generations. Nintendo made sure to pick the visual filters that made the most sense for its first dedicated classic video game machine. I just can’t understand why somebody thought limiting us to 2.5ft controller cables was a good idea, because it really limits where and how you can enjoy these games.