Given how stingy some companies are with their early review access these days, we were pretty surprised to see the miniature NES Classic Edition show up on our doorstep this morning ahead of its November 11 launch (after being announced back in July). We were even more surprised that Nintendo didn’t put the usual embargo on our coverage of the new hardware, meaning we could write about it immediately.
We’ll put together a more comprehensive review of the miniature NES re-release sometime next week. For now, though, here are our early impressions after a few hours with Nintendo’s latest piece of game-playing hardware.
This thing is really tiny
Sure, we already knew from previous announcements and preview coverage that this wasn’t an Xbox-sized system. Even so, it’s striking just how minuscule the hardware is in person. The pictures in this piece don’t do justice to the impression.
Part of the effect, no doubt, is the fact that I spent my youth getting used to seeing that very same form-factor in a case that’s significantly bigger on the original NES. It’s not a Raspeberry Pi or anything, but the overall effect still makes the physical system itself feel very cute and lovable.
Setup is incredibly simple
This is truly a plug-and-play system. There are only two ports on the back—one for USB power (a cord and adapter are included) and one for HDMI (a cable is also included). Plug those two in, turn on the TV, hit the power button, choose a language, and you’re immediately in a menu to choose from 30 different games. No Internet settings to fiddle with. No accounts to manage or updates to download. It’s refreshing, in a way.
The easy interface extends to the built-in save slot management. When you hit reset on the system, you’re returned to the main menu with a blinking icon telling you to hit down to save your progress. Tap the button, and you can slide a screenshot representing your save state into one of four slots. It’s a nice graphical interface that even a gaming neophyte can use.
The controller cord is incredibly short
I mean criminally short. Just 31 inches by my measurements. For reference, the original NES pads had a cord that measured about 90 inches.
The difference, to put it very mildly, is very noticeable. Just as we suspected.
If you’re sitting in a chair, and the NES Classic is sitting on the floor, the cord is already taut if you bring the controller up to your waist. If the system is on a living room coffee table, you’d better be ready for it to be perched on the edge closest to you (and be ready to run a very long HDMI cord to the TV).
The only situation where we could see a controller cord this short being workable is sitting on an office desk with a relatively small HDMI display. I doubt that’s the use case Nintendo envisioned most for this system, though.
Leaning over to change games is a pain
I know, I know, back in the ’80s we had to get up and turn off the system and plug in a new cartridge (and maybe even blow in it) every time we wanted to change games. Nuts to that. We live in the future now, and resetting and/or turning off a system from the controller has been standard practice for over a decade at this point.
Of course, with such a small controller cord, you’re never too far from the tiny power/reset buttons on the hardware itself. Still, I would have preferred a controller with a longer cord and a power button hidden in some out-of-the-way corner. Or you could make some underutilized button combination reset the system without the need to lean over (down+select+A+B simultaneously?).
All that said, if you decide to use a wired Wii/Wii U Classic Controller with the NES Classic Edition, the Home button will in fact reset the system and let you save and/or choose a new game. Still, it’d be nice if this was standard on the included, NES-style controller as well.
The emulation (and controller) are very authentic
In a few hours of testing, I haven’t seen any noticeable problems with the graphic or sound recreation on the NES Classic Edition. Even the flickering and slowdown issues that were a forced part of that original NES game design seem to be captured accurately.
Colors are rendered brightly and accurately (unlike similar NES emulation on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS), with big, sharp pixels by default. So far, I’m really enjoying the CRT filter, which adds a pleasant fuzziness to the edges of the sprites without being distracting.
You can stretch the game image out to the 16:9 ratio of a modern HDTV, but the games just plain look better at the 4:3 default. This aspect ratio can cause some problems in a game like Galaga, though, where it’s hard to tell the edge of the black background from the black border around the game itself.
As for that short-corded controller, it should feel very familiar in the hand to anyone used to the NES pads of old, both in terms of overall dimensions and the general springiness and responsiveness of the buttons. If anything, it feels a little weird to be playing on an NES pad that’s so new and unblemished after spending so much time with pads that have been broken in and worn down by years of use.
That’s enough early impressions for now. We’ll have more to say about this little piece of retro cuteness after we put a bit more time into it.