NES Classic Edition Review: A Childhood in the Palm of My Hand

The Nintendo Entertainment System is arguably the most influential home console in the history of video games. Nintendo — an ambitious Japanese company who got their start by making Hanafuda playing cards — were able to take an industry plummeting to its death and revitalized it while paving the way for future content creators to mold the medium as we know it today. For children of the 80’s such as myself, the NES was the first experience we had with video games and as a result the console isn’t just a box full of resistors and fiber glass, but a bond that holds many of our best childhood memories with it. In hopes to tap into the love that many have for the NES, Nintendo has released a miniature NES micro-console pre-loaded with 30 of the best games from the platform’s library in a compact form, naming it the “NES Classic Edition.” Is this tiny Nintendo console worth fighting those hordes of holiday shoppers this season in order to obtain? Let’s take a look.

At first glance, the NES Classic looks identical to the NES console you know and love… except significantly smaller. The console is less than a quarter of the size of the original NES console released in 1985; it literally fits in the palm of your hand and weighs in around the same as an actual Nintendo cartridge. One original Nintendo controller is packed in with the NES Classic that uses the same port as the Wii accessories that plug into the bottom of a Wii remote (yes you can totally use this on Wii and Wii U Virtual Console games too). Two Wii connector ports are included where the original NES controller ports are located. The console is indeed compatible with Wii classic controller as well for those who prefer them. The backside of the console reveals a single HDMI port for sound and video along with a Micro-USB port that powers the unit. Even though the NES Classic includes a wall adapter and USB cable, a USB service port on the back of an HDTV will totally power the unit, making the need to plug the NES Classic into a power outlet unnecessary unless your television lacks a USB port. Included in the box is an HDMI cable as well.

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Hooking up the NES Classic is a breeze. Simply plug the console into any available HDMI input on your television, plug the Micro-USB cable into the back of the console and into a power outlet or USB port capable of powering the unit and you’re ready to rock. The system menu appears a quick second after pressing the tiny power button located on the front of the unit that greets the user with a plethora of classic NES titles to choose from. A fun little retro chip-tune jingle plays while browsing the collection of various games. Several options reside at the top of the screen that allows the user to change video, power and language settings. An option to scan a QR code on your smart phone is included here too, which allows you to view the classic game manuals on a phone or tablet. Video settings include the option to play in the original 4:3 aspect ratio with or without retro CRT scan-lines or in pixel perfect mode that displays the games in the aspect ratio they were originally developed for, avoiding any stretching of the image and thus creating a more pure resolution. Demo mode allows the NES Classic to act as a screen saver for your television by playing various demos from the games pre-installed on the unit. The NES Classic is fan-less and does not make a peep during operation as well, even powering itself off due to inactivity if you wish.

In terms of video quality, this is probably the best you will ever see these NES games presented visually without the use of hardware and software plugins from a PC emulator. All of the pixels look crisp and clean running on the hardware without making the games feel unnatural. All of the video blemishes you would expect from the original Nintendo are all present, including frame drops and screen tears, in order to make the experience feel authentic. All games are running off of software emulation — don’t fret though; it’s damn good software emulation! The sound chip inside of the NES Classic recreates authentic audio as well by presenting the original sound effects and chip tune music exactly as you would expect, unlike Sega’s own plug and play mini Genesis console which is mostly useless due to the poor sound emulation. Load times are quick for each game and exiting one to begin another is a fast process. The menu system is clean and includes many of the aesthetics found from the NES era including the grey color palette, pixelated icons and red text. Nintendo did an excellent job at making the experience of the NES Classic feel retro and comfortable to a typical gamer who grew up with the console.

The NES controller was a simple yet solid gamepad that did exactly what it needed to do in order to make the games in the NES library responsive and simple to control. Nintendo replicated the Nintendo gamepad perfectly for the NES Classic, feeling pretty much identical to the controller you know and love.  Buttons are very responsive and lack any mushiness while the d-pad feels just right. The biggest drawback from the gamepad is the extremely short cable length, which is a mere 2 feet long. Anyone who expects to sit far away from the console will be very disappointed with the cable length. I would try my best to obtain the longest HDMI and Micro-USB cables you can find in your home in order to prevent sitting right in front of your television while playing this thing. In my personal experience, my retro gaming room has a setup that works perfectly with the cord length of the controller but I know many, if not most, will find issue with the short length.

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Thankfully, Nintendo included a save-state feature in the NES Classic that is essentially a necessity when it comes to retro emulation, which can be found in Nintendo’s own virtual console offerings from the Wii, Wii-U and Nintendo 3DS. Save-states are incredibly useful when attempting to beat some of the extremely challenging games included on the console including Ghosts N’ Goblins and  Ninja Gaiden. Also, save states prevent us from having to write down passwords after each ‘game over’ screen. Each game is allowed to store up to four separate save states, which is quite generous. The issue here is that the player must lean forward and press the small reset button on the front of the console in order to pull up the menu and save those game states. If you plug a Wii classic controller into the NES Classic, the home button will act as a menu button here and make it a little easier to switch games and save progress, but it kills a bit of the retro feel as well if that’s important to you at all.

So the console itself is pretty rad, but what about the pre-installed games? Here’s the full list of included NES titles:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Castlevania
  • Simon’s Quest: Castlevania II
  • Final Fantasy
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Mario Bros. (arcade)
  • Kid Icarus
  • Star Tropics
  • Super C
  • Double Dragon II
  • Gradius
  • Ghosts N’ Goblins
  • Galaga
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Excitebike
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventures of Link
  • Ice Climber
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Punchout!
  • Dr. Mario
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mega Man 2
  • Pac-Man
  • Metroid

This is a fantastic list of games that hits just about every genre imaginable. Nintendo included a little something for everyone with the NES Classic; however, a few titles stick out like a sore thumb in terms of quality. Let’s be honest here; who care about Balloon Fight and Ice Climber? I would have much rather Nintendo have swapped out those two for something like Tetris or Marble Madness. Still, most of Nintendo’s biggest franchises are included here and all of the games are accessible enough for a wide range of players while also throwing a few challenging titles in the mix. How cool is it that Nintendo actually included and recognized Star Tropics here? Star Tropics is one of my most memorable NES titles and it is criminally underrated. My favorites here are Star Tropics, Kirby’s Adventure, Bubble Bobble, Simon’s Quest and Kid Icarus. I could totally see myself using the NES Classic to continue to revisit my favorites here instead of hooking up the old NES and spending 10 minutes blowing on a Nintendo cartridge.

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So who is the NES Classic Edition for exactly? Actually, this is a great gift for many types of people. Younger gamers who didn’t grow up with the Nintendo Entertainment System may find the NES Classic a great way to explore the roots of major franchises such as Super Mario, Metroid and The Legend of Zelda while also experiencing how these games help shape the state of modern video games. Fans of 80’s memorabilia will want this bad boy sitting next to their Back to the Future replica DeLorean. Those curious about gaming who want something inexpensive to tinker with will find joy in playing the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Pac-Man. Hardcore gaming nerds will want this sitting in their collections for sure. Ultimately, those folks out there such as myself who grew up with the NES will want one simply to relive those memories of their youth.

It’s apparent that Nintendo spent a lot of time making the NES Classic appeal to fans of the original console. The NES Classic looks the part, plays wonderfully and visually presents these titles the best we’ve probably ever seen them outside of an emulator. In terms of included games, Nintendo did a great job at building a list of titles that are well known, genre-defining and simply fun to play. Store shelves are littered with pricey game consoles that come in different varieties and variations this Holiday season and anyone outside of Joe Hardcore Gamer will love the simplicity and nostalgia that the NES Classic brings while also throwing a bone to gift-givers thanks to the $60 price tag. Even a couple of quirks such as the need to press the reset button so often and the oddly short cable length on the controller can’t stop this little box from shining. If you can find one this Holiday season, the NES Classic Edition is a fantastic item for collectors, young gamers, newcomers, 80’s fans or someone who simply wishes to relive those memories of sitting in their parents living room, wearing their G.I. Joe pajamas and playing The Legend of Zelda at a time where we didn’t have a care in the world.

Listen to the podcast episode dedicated to the NES Classic Edition here

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Josh Faulkner

Josh is a native Ohio-an who grew up in a small town that had very little for kids to do. As a result, Josh picked up video games at a very young age. Video games played a huge part in his childhood and continued to do so in his adult life. Starting out on an Atari 2600 when he was 3 years old, gaming has sort of grown up alongside with Josh and continues to be his biggest hobby. As an IT technician by day, Josh is an aspiring gaming writer by night who founded a few websites including 16 Bit Heroes and Too Busy Gaming, while also dabbling in retro gaming YouTube videos and live streaming events.