The NES is back with the wicked-cool NES Classic Edition, and Nintendo sent us an early copy to check out.
The NES Classic Edition is a monument to Nintendo's past
The NES Classic Edition controller looks like a picture-perfect replica of the original Nintendo Entertainment System controller released in 1985. Only one controller comes with the NES Classic Edition, but there are ports for two controllers at the front of the unit.
You'll be able to purchase a second controller separately for $9.99. The ports on the front of the console also accommodate the Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro that were originally released for the Nintendo Wii.
Nintendo's controller design for the NES was so strong that it's been iterated upon for Nintendo systems ever since. You can even seen the DNA of the original NES controller in the new Joy-Con controllers included with the upcoming Nintendo Switch console.
The NES Classic console is a smaller-scale version of the original NES, and the attention to detail on the sculpt is fantastic. The cartridge door at the top of the NES Classic doesn't swing open, which is a shame, but fewer moving parts means fewer things to break.
The NES Classic feels sturdy. I wouldn't want to throw it against the ground to see if it could withstand the impact, but I'd have no worries about tossing the Classic into a backpack or messenger bag or suitcase and bringing it along with me. This is a very portable console.
Setup is easy. You just need to plug the NES Classic into your television via the included HDMI cable, and then plug in the power cord.
If you want to play the NES Classic Edition, you may have to sit on top of it
Cord length is the NES Classic Edition's glaring problem. The controller has a cord that's only around 30 inches, and in an era where wireless controllers are the norm, 30 inches feels preposterously short.
The NES Classic Edition will more or less be sitting right next to you while you play. This isn't necessarily a bad thing: You'll need to use the Select button to kick out of a game session and return to the Classic's home screen.
The NES Classic's power cable is around 60 inches long, though, and that's the real concern. If you plug your consoles into a power strip behind the television, like many people do, you'll have only 7.5 feet of cable to play with in terms of where you're going to sit.
The HDMI connection is standard, however, and that's what will give you flexibility in setting up the NES Classic. Because I only had the 60-inch HDMI cable that came packaged with the console, I had to put the Classic on a folding table in order to try stretching it out to my couch.
The game selection for the NES Classic Edition is superb
Thirty Nintendo Entertainment System games come pre-installed with the NES Classic Edition. When there were many hundreds of games released for the NES, even breaking a "best of" list down to 100 games can be a challenge, and it's a question Nintendo fans are more than happy to fight over.
Having to choose only 30 games for the NES Classic must have been a serious challenge, though Nintendo ostensibly also had data like Virtual Console purchases of NES games to see what the fans wanted. In most cases, I think Nintendo got their choices for the NES Classic right.
A lot of the games, like the original Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man 2 and the original Final Fantasy are no-brainers. Double Dragon II, Ninja Gaiden, Excitebike and Tecmo Bowl also had to be on the NES Classic if it was meant to represent the best of what the NES had to offer.
The arcade ports for Galaga and Pac-Man still feel like very weird choices, especially when there are so many other games Nintendo could have selected for these slots and real estate on the NES Classic Edition's hard drive was at such a premium.
The NES Classic Edition offers plenty of room for save games
There are four save slots for each of the 30 games installed on the NES Classic Edition. Consider for a moment that when the original Legend of Zelda came out it was a big deal that the cartridge had batteries so players could save their games at all.
You can also set Suspend Points for games by pressing the Reset button on the front of the NES Classic console, which pops you back to the home screen and allows you to save your Suspend Point in one of four different files for that game. So far I've been able to set Suspend Points whenever I wanted, not just in-between levels or at other specific points during gameplay.
Display options on the NES Classic Edition are a very nice touch
The NES Classic Edition has display settings that allow you to revisit the past, or see what Nintendo Entertainment System games look like presented in perfect clarity.
The 4:3 aspect ratio setting mimics the dimensions of the original NES display, and the "pixel perfect" setting cleans up the graphics as nicely as possible for a modern-day HD television. The CRT filter might be one of the coolest aspects of the NES Classic Edition.
When you turn the CRT filter on, you get the same kind of blurry effects the original NES had when the screen got busy. It does a wonderful job of replicating what the old-school graphics used to look like.
Get to the point: Should I buy this?
Old-school console games were really, really hard. If you play games for the challenge and you haven't tested yourself against the best games on the NES, the NES Classic Edition is your opportunity to step up and really test your skills.
If you're still using third-party emulator hardware that never seems to perfectly reproduce NES games — maybe because you're not willing to let your favorite NES games go — you ought to be thinking about the NES Classic Edition.
If you're a grown-up gamer with kids, and you want to show your offspring the comparatively stone-age gaming tech their parents grew up with, the NES Classic Edition should be high on your list of future purchases.
Two caveats to recommending the purchase: First, make sure you buy a longer HDMI cord if you need more flexibility for setup. Second, take a look at the Miniboss for NES Classic Edition wireless controller sold by Nyko, also being released on Nov. 11, for $19.99. If you know already that the NES Classic Edition is your jam, a wireless controller ought to eliminate any setup concerns.