The greatest retro love letter of our time.
The Nintendo Entertainment System — also known not just by its common abbreviation (“NES”), but for what cemented Nintendo’s presence in the Western sphere. Classics like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and Punch-Out!! took over the world by storm, inspiring countless games and genres for decades to come. Even through Nintendo’s ups and downs over the next thirty years, it would remain synonymous with the company ever since, right down the phrase “playing Nintendo.”
Enter the Nintendo Classic Mini, which has already been christened by fans as the NES Classic Mini. With the Nintendo Switch delayed into next year and no other must-have holiday product in the pipeline, why not bring back a famous legacy product and expand on it? With thirty built-in retro titles, HDMI capabilities, numerous display settings and save features all presented in an adorable package, it’s too much for any retro collector, Nintendo fan and the nostalgic wayfarer to pass up.
And why should they, when all thirty titles are expertly picked. Sure, some may raise eyebrows at Ice Climber and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (although you won’t find me complaining about the former), but who can complain about the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Galaga? It’s a stellar cast of straight-up masterpieces (The Legend of Zelda, Balloon Fight, Mega Man 2), arcade ports (Donkey Kong, Pac-Man), hard-as-nails sidescrollers (Ninja Gaiden, Ghosts n’ Goblins), and even an obscure cult hit in the form of StarTropics.
By itself, the Nintendo Classic Mini is a fascinating insight to an another era. The 80’s were known for being brutally difficult, and most of the titles present won’t coddle newcomers. Younger Mario fans may be shocked to discover the portly plumber (or carpenter, in those days) can’t survive mistimed jumps in Donkey Kong, whereas the labyrinths of Metroid may require some handcrafted maps (or, y’know, looking up maps online). And that’s not even mentioning the likes of Ninja Gaiden’s killer birds or Ghost n’ Goblins‘ endgame “surprise.”
And yet, the collection remains a wonderful variety in how it respects the player. Be it Kirby’s Adventure and its sugary sweet “I’m made just for you” directive for fledgling gamers or the pick-up-and-play nature of Bubble Bobble and Dr. Mario, a proper balance is established alongside the impregnable nature of Final Fantasy and Ninja Gaiden. Even some of those harder games yield results upon experimentation; yes, Tecmo Bowl is guaranteed to make you go “I have no idea what I’m doing” for maybe ten minutes, but gradual play reveals “aha!” moments as the mechanics grow clearer. (As an aside, my newfound fascination with Bubble Bobble makes me wish I could find a second controller for co-op!)
For those concerned about the dreadful filters and anti-aliasing found in the NES Virtual Console releases, fret not: these are all brand-new emulation jobs done by Nintendo of Europe’s NERD branch. These 8-bit classics are as bright as you remember them, and now youngsters or general newcomers alike can play them in their intended presentation. While it’s frustrating we had to wait this long for pitch-perfect restorations of legacy titles, that they finally delivered on such a loving package is the best apology we can ask for. Here’s to hoping we’ll see these versions on future Virtual Console offerings.
And not only is every game in HD, but they can all be customized according to three different screen filters. Pixel Perfect will display games in their intentional displays, while 4:3 Mode will emulate the proportional display of classic TVs. The CRT filter is particularly interesting in how it applies a wavy. fuzzy filter that mimics old television sets. Personally, it’s a little too outdated for me, but I imagine older fans will get a kick out of it.
While it’s already been mentioned how tough these games are, Nintendo was kind enough to offer four states for every game. These aren’t the one-and-done suspend points found on Nintendo’s previous home consoles; once the reset button is pressed, you’re offered to preserve your progress upon your return to the menu. In other words, you can save right before that aggravating Super Mario Bros. 3 level instead of working your way up to it. Too cool!
Of course, if you think this ruins the classic experience you’re more than free to check out the restored manuals via an included AR Code. That’s right: every one of those tiny booklets are presented in pristine condition, with Bubble Bobble comics, StarTropics‘ infamous letter and even The Legend of Zelda‘s artwork and maps all serving as a tremendous blast to the past. The electronic manuals from their respective Virtual Console releases are also available, but why bother when these oldie but goodies are too much fun? (And hey, don’t take it from me, they’re all available right here!)
It’s a near-perfect package with only one significant design flaw: the controller. While painstakingly crafted to resemble the look and feel of the original NES controller, we’re only left to wonder why they left the cord so short at only 30 inches. An official reason has yet to be given why, but while it’s been speculated it’s so the reset/power buttons are in easy reach, those with gaming couches and the like will find themselves struggling to gauge an appropriate sitting distance and console placement. Even now, I still haven’t found a good sitting location.
But it’s hardly game-ruining. Everything else about the Nintendo Classic Mini is a genuine love letter to the Big N’s beginnings. With an impeccable selection of games balanced between the famous and the obscure, the impenetrable and the approachable, it’s a package no fan of Nintendo or retro gaming can do without. I mean, where else can you play Balloon Fight for hours on end in HD?
(No, really, please send help.)
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Publisher: Nintendo ; Developer: Nintendo, NERD; Players: 1-2 ; Released: November 11th, 2016 ; MSRP: $59.99