For those who grew up in the 1980s, three words will conjure up the very best memories: Nintendo Entertainment System.
Shortened to NES, this cartridge-based machine became the best-selling gaming console of its time, and was voted the best console ever by IGN in 2009. Its legacy cannot be underestimated.
Nintendo is hoping its popularity continues to this day. Appealing to gamers’ sense of nostalgia, the company is releasing a replica of the system, named the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition in America and the Nintendo Classic Mini: NES across Europe and Australia. With their Nintendo Switch scheduled for March 2017, the NES Mini (as we’ll refer to it, for brevity) seems the ideal gift for Christmas.
But what actually is it? Is it worth seeking out for the festivities and beyond?
In a Nutshell
The NES Mini is a miniature replica of the original 1980s console. You might’ve gathered that already. It looks beautifully accurate and comes in a retro box too. It’s also wonderfully tiny. It’s not called “Mini” for no reason: the console will fit into your palm. Naturally, there’s a HDMI port so you can play the console on modern TVs, and alongside that is a slot for USB, solely to power the system.
It’s not a perfect replica, however: the cartridge slot is just there for display. Fortunately, you’re not just spending money on a machine that doesn’t work. It comes with 30 games pre-loaded into its memory. Because it’s the NES, they’re all genuine classics. You might still have NES cartridges around your house, but you can’t use them here.
Similarly, you can’t download more on the Virtual Console. You get 30 games and that’s it.
Forget having to connect to the internet, or signing up for a Nintendo account. It’s plug and play. While the cartridge slot is moot, the two buttons on the front actually work: unsurprisingly, “Power” turns the console on; “Reset” returns you to the menu, where you can select the game you want to play.
Which Games Are Included?
There’s a solid mix of big names and lesser-known classics on the NES Mini, but titles depend on where you live — more specifically, if you live in Japan or not.
All units come with these 22 games, originally released between 1984 and 1993:
- Super Mario Bros
- Super Mario Bros 2
- Super Mario Bros 3
- Mario Bros
- The Legend of Zelda
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
- Donkey Kong
- Kirby’s Adventure
- Dr Mario
- Balloon Fight
- Ice Climber
- Mega Man 2
- Super C
- Ghosts n’ Goblins
- Ninja Gaiden
- Double Dragon II: The Revenge
These further games, originally available between 1983 and 1990, are exclusive to North America and any regions, including most of Europe, which used PAL:
- Final Fantasy
- Tecmo Bowl
- Kid Icarus
- Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr Dream
- Donkey Kong Jr
- Bubble Bobble
- Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
Meanwhile, Japan’s exclusives (from between 1985 and 1991) are:
- Final Fantasy III
- NES Open Tournament Golf
- Downtown Nekketsu Koshinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundokai (part of the Kunio-kun series)
- Atlantis no Nazo
- Yie Ar Kung-Fu
- Tsuppari Ozumo
- Solomon’s Keys
- River City Ransom
It’s fair to say Western audiences will be jealous of Final Fantasy III, NES Open Tournament Golf, and Yie Ar Kung-Fu, the latter proving highly influential in the Fighting genre, and a commercial success in Europe.
Aren’t Those Games on the Virtual Console Anyway?
Quite a few are, yes, but bear with us…
In fact, all but six PAL-exclusive titles are on the Wii U Virtual Console (Ice Climber, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr Dream, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Tecmo Bowl, Bubble Bobble, and Final Fantasy), and only the latter two aren’t on the 3DS eShop, just on the Wii.
If you’ve got your eye on some Japanese exclusives, you can buy a few of those through the eShop. River City Ransom was added to the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 (Japan) and 2013 (North America and Europe); Solomon’s Keys is on the Wii U, 3DS, and Wii eShops; while Final Fantasy III can be found on Android, iOS (albeit a port of the DS remake), and Windows Phone.
That’s just if we confine ourselves to the official channels: if you’re into Nintendo emulators, or enjoy playing ports on your PC, your gaming options really open up. Let’s take Bubble Bobble as an example. You can easily find that on 8bbit in just a couple of clicks.
You might be initially disappointed to hear the number of games you can get elsewhere, but there are a couple of great reasons to get the NES Mini regardless.
The first is price. The NES Mini costs $60. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s $2 per game.
To purchases the games through the eShop costs much more. Mathematics was never my strong point, so I’ve left it to CNET. To buy 28 games on the Wii U will set you back $139.72. 26 of those are on the 3DS, and are available for $129.74.
I’d rather just spend $60. Wouldn’t you?
What Will Games Look Like?
It goes without saying… but I’ll say it anyway. Games on the NES Mini look better than on the Virtual Console.
The 60Hz picture is sharper and brighter, and contrasts are superior to anything you can get through emulators, including the Virtual Console. This is the NES in HD. Those classic games look as good as they’re going to get. On the Wii U, you might’ve spotted some blurriness, but focusing solely on these 30 titles, Nintendo has given them their all.
It’s made for a standard HDTV’s 16:9 ratio, but nostalgia fans might be disappointed by this, preferring to see the graphics as they might’ve done back in the 1980s. Fortunately, Nintendo has you covered through different modes.
The 4:3 aspect setting is perfect for those wanting to simulate fullscreen, but hardcore gamers might want to try out the CRT filter, and “Pixel Perfect” mode, which makes every pixel an exact square.
Can I Save Games?
This is the big bonus of emulators. Back in the day, you’d have to spend a day (or a weekend) to complete a single game because — millennials, prepare to gasp — there was no save option.
Fortunately, Nintendo’s confirmed that these 30 games will have permanent and temporary save points, the latter likely so you can play on even after the console goes into sleep mode. In effect, permanent saves mean you can play again from the same point after turning the NES Mini off to go to bed — temporary files will be stored if you pause the game and go for dinner.
Each title only has four save points, however, so they’re not like Pokémon, where you can save progress wherever you like.
Which Games Aren’t on the NES Mini?
The original NES boasted over 700 games, so yep, this replica is missing quite a few.
There’s no sign of Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley, Mega Man (Mega Man 2 is there, but not its other five counterparts), Pac-Land, Donkey Kong 3, Tetris, Bomberman, and Battletoads — the good news is that you can buy all but the last three on the Wii U Virtual Console.
Look, a lot of quality games are notable by their absence. The most painful MIA titles are Duck Hunt and Bomberman, of course, but you could substitute those names for Super Pitfall or Action 52 if you’re a monster.
Nonetheless, Nintendo’s packed the majority of their heavy-hitters on the NES Mini.
What Comes in the Box / What Else Do You Need to Buy?
Inside the retro package, you’ll find your hand-sized console, a HDMI cable, and an AC Adapter.
The GamePad, also in the box, is sure to thrill and frustrate in equal measure. It looks exactly how the classic NES controller looked, complete with that wonderful D-Pad. However, the cord is ridiculously short.
The original NES controller was 232.4cm/ 91.5″, whereas those supplied for the NES Mini measure just over 77cm/ 30″. The reason is probably so that you’re always close enough to hit that “Reset” button, but it’s still annoying. “That’s fine,” you might be thinking. “I’ll dig out an old NES controller.” It won’t work, sadly, as they use different connectors.
A Wii Classic Controller Pro will also work on the console, so that’ll allow you an extra 11cm/4.5″. You can use it for 2-player games as well, but further Classic GamePads will be available for $9.99/£7.99/AU$19.99.
That’s all you need to actually play the NES Mini. Prima Games are also releasing a gorgeous hardcover book, Playing with Power: Nintendo NES Classics, which includes interviews, retrospectives, strategies, art, and other content from Nintendo Power magazine — just to complete your journey down memory lane.
Where Can I Buy a NES Mini?
The console will be widely available from gaming and entertainment stores… but you might still find it hard to find this side of Christmas. Amazon (UK), Zavvi, and GameStop have all sold out right now, so keep an eye out for deliveries.
The NES Mini is released on 11th November, priced $59.99/£49.99.
Is It Worth Buying?
That was easy, wasn’t it? 30 classic Nintendo games, all wrapped up in a neat package: Of course it’s worth it.
Have you pre-ordered the NES Mini? Are there any games you’d prefer to see on it? Or are you keeping your fingers crossed for a SNES Mini?