Forget PSVR, forget Xbox One S, forget PS4 Pro. For people of a certain age there’s only going to be one device under the Christmas tree this year to make a grown-up squeal with delight, and it comes from Nintendo.
The Nintendo Classic Mini: NES is that console; a tiny replica of the 1986 original, boasting thirty of the system’s best titles pre-loaded into its diminutive frame. The moment you see the small box that it comes in – wonderfully similar in design to the original’s packaging – you get a sense of just how mini it is, and once you’ve unpacked it you can easily hold it in the palm of your hand.
That iconic design loses a little something from the shrinking process, but it’s undoubtedly going to illicit cries of “Isn’t it cute!” and “Awwww” from onlookers. It retains the simplicity of the original’s controls and connections, though an HDMI socket replaces the RF out and power now comes from a micro-USB port. In an example of Nintendo’s recent cost-cutting exercises, there’s no AC adaptor included as they’ve decided that every household will have plenty of spare USB adaptors to hand. While that’s probably true, it’s still an annoyance.
In fact, I found though that it was able to draw power from the USB sockets at the back of my television, so it made for a nice and tidy set-up. Here’s where you’ll find the biggest problem with the NES Mini though, as when you come to attach a controller to one of the two sockets you’ll realise that the cable for them is ridiculously short.
Coming in at a paltry thirty inches, the only way to comfortably play is to sit right in front of the TV, and I ended up putting the console on the floor in order to get as much distance as possible. I still had to sit on the floor, and while this made the whole experience even more reminiscent of growing up, we’ve become used to rather more comfortable arrangements in recent years. All it needed was a longer cord or in an ideal world wireless controllers, but Nintendo have stymied this wonderful little machine with a fundamental design flaw. When they’re a company renowned for their smart, robust designs, it’s a confusing oversight.
The pads themselves are well made at least, reproducing the feel of the originals right down to the stiff D-Pad. You can also use them to play Virtual Console games on a Wii or Wii U by tethering them to a Wii Remote, which is a nice bonus, though a straight up USB connection would have made them even more versatile.
The cable isn’t actually this short, but it feels like it is…
Powering the console up you’re presented with a scrolling menu of those thirty in-built titles, with the box art for each presented in vibrant high definition. It is a NES greatest hits package, with Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Samus, Megaman and Pacman all present and correct, and franchises such as Final Fantasy and Ninja Gaiden appearing in their earliest form.
Undoubtedly there’ll be something missing from the list – my childhood favourite Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers is a clear omission in my own mind – but it covers a lot of bases. What’s disappointing is that this is it. You can’t expand on the library, and while the thirty games will keep you going for quite a while, they’re only going to provide a limited amount of longevity. Adding some kind of storage and internet connectivity could have made it a much longer term prospect, but pushing the cost up further would have taken it out of the gift or impulse buy bracket for many.
Or at least, it would be an impulse buy if you could actually get a hold of one. The diminutive console is meant to be sold for £49.99, but despite knowing that this would be an incredibly popular little device, there simply isn’t any stock left after it sold out in the blink of an eye when it released last week. Quite a few of those have ended up on a certain auction website with prices climbing north of £100…
Of course, the NES Mini boasts a few other advantages to sweeten the deal, and one of them is the ability to save mid-game. When you’re dealing with some seriously old-school difficulty levels it makes a huge difference, and hitting the reset button – which takes you back to the main menu – allows you to save to one of four slots for each game. You can also access digital versions of each of the original manuals by scanning an on screen QR code with your phone, and while though it would have been nice for them to be built in to the console, the ability to flick through some of the lovingly created booklets on your touchscreen device is welcome.
Heading into the other menus, you’ve got a choice of three visual filters to play with, from an authentic CRT filter, to an old-school 4:3 one, through to a pixel perfect rendition that captures all those bright, bold pixels crisply and cleanly. At 720p these games have never looked better, and being able to play them in such an easy way without dealing with the headache of plugging an original console’s RF lead into your flatscreen TV is wonderful. The CRT filter adds a decent level of authenticity, but for me the pixel perfect option is the way to go, and what these games deserve in the modern age.
The NES Mini Classic is a nostalgic trip down memory lane, but one that boasts some smart modernisation in its tiny casing. Despite a few design oversights and having to deal with some gamer’s sense of entitlement, it’s a great little success story for Nintendo that I can only hope continues. The idea of a shelf lined with miniaturised versions of the SNES, N64, and even the Gamecube, is just too delightful to pass up, and really it’s exactly the kind of thing we need Nintendo to be doing – creating wonder and joy whenever possible.