My birthday is November 10. Back in July when Nintendo announced the NES Classic Edition, red X’s started showing up on my wall calendar, counting down to November 11th, the day after my birthday. I knew it was my destiny to get one the day it came out.
I’ve never been one to wait in huge lines, and if something is so popular it’s causes multi-hour waits, I’m happy to pass on it until the hysteria has died down. Not this time. I grew up with a Nintendo controller in my hand. When this system was announced, the nostalgia was real. All I wanted to do was relive 1985, and share a piece of it with my kids. In other words, I’m in the heart of the system’s target demographic.
By now it’s very clear that Nintendo is up to it’s old tricks; trickling out just enough product to make everyone hot with pre-holiday lust. How did I score mine with relatively little fuss? It was part luck, part skill. I called around to local retailers the night before, asking them how many systems they had in stock. Most had between five and eight. Fine. I noted the opening times, which for most were 8 a.m. or before. One specialty retailer opened at 10,and for a bit of serendipity they also had 14 systems in stock, as well as three extra controllers. It should be noted that I live near a fairly compact commercial corridor. Most of the retail stores near me are within a three minute drive of each other.
I ignored the bigger retail stores, and went straight for the specialty store. I arrived at eight, noting the huge lines at nearby stores as I drove by. I made most of the wait in the comfort of my car, since the line didn’t start forming until almost nine, which was, I’m assuming, enough time for the bigger retailers to sell out. Everyone in line was calm, friendly, pleasant and even entertaining. We all joked about the responsibilities we were ducking to be there, and how we couldn’t even pretend this purchase was for our kids. Big kid toy, all the way. I was third in line. Before I knew it, I was home with my new system in hand. I’m not weird, but I literally knelt down on my living room carpet and yelled “Yes! Yes! Yes!” while laughing maniacally. This was mostly for my kid’s amusement, but not entirely.
So, how does it play? Exactly like the original. For a few heartbeats the controller felt way too small. I worried the controllers were built a little smaller in the same way that they shrunk the system itself. Then I remembered I hadn’t held one since I was about ten. I have big ‘ol meat hooks now. The navigation menu is very minimalist. A simple scroll left or right selects games. Press start to enter any game (duh). From there you are playing the games in their original form. Same menus, same screens, same bleep-bloop music that was the soundtrack of my pre-teen years. Even old cheat codes work, I’m totally not embarrassed to report. The only thing missing was an actual cartridge to blow into.
Dusting off those ancient gamer skills was an absolute blast. I crushed my 9-year-old son (who regularly destroys me at any given FPS out there) in a very satisfying way. He held up our XBOX controller saying, “I’m used to this. THIS (NES controller) is too complicated!” He later told me he likes playing my “grandpa games.” More super Mario Bros. 3 is in our future, I feel sure.
The best feature of the system is how minimalist it is. Nintendo added exactly what they needed to for practicality, everything else was hands-off. At first, I even thought they forwent any type save function for any game that did not have saved games originally. I thought this was a bold, and venerable move. It turns out there is a save feature of a sort. When you reset, you are taken back to the main menu. From there you get a one-time opportunity to log a “return point.” There are four per game. The return point more or less acts as a bookmark in the game.
A few other fun features include the “Manuals” option at the top of the screen. Clicking there displays a QR code you can follow on your smartphone to a site that holds a digital version of all the manuals. I thought this was a smart way to supply the books. There is also a screen burn-in reduction feature. I’m not sure if this was necessary, or added in for fun. Turning it on activates a screensaver featuring characters from each of the games.
I could find relatively few drawbacks to the system, but what few there are are rather glaring. For starters, those damn cords! The controller cords are comically short. I have a feeling a cottage industry is going to spring up around extensions. I’ve heard some grousing about how there isn’t a wireless option. That’s just absurd in my mind. This is a nostalgia piece. Wireless controllers are completely not that. It would have been nice if they saw fit to give the thing cords more similar to the original in length, however. I wonder if this was a cost-cutting measure, or if they under designed the system on purpose. The stocking-stuffer size and feel of the thing makes me a little more inclined to believe Nintendo didn’t expect the public to take it so seriously. I think they saw it more like their version of those “500 games in one!” things you see in drugstores sometimes. The ones that are literally just an old Atari joystick that you plug directly into your TV.
On the subject of joysticks, I didn’t realize how pampered we are by modern controllers until I played Gradius for a few hours. Now I know why the late 80’s and early 90’s were full of aftermarket controllers with “turbo” built into them. My fingers are bruised! I remember well the divots and calluses my thumbs used to bare. I don’t remember this level of pain while earning them. I wouldn’t call this a drawback necessarily. Maybe it’s just because my hands are borderline geriatric.
The NES Classic Edition is every bit as much of rush as I thought it would be. The lineup of preloaded games hits a perfect balance between games everyone has played, and games that made me say, “Oh! I always wanted to play that!” That was Kid Icarus for me. I’m a little sad we won’t be playing Duck Hunt or Battle Toads anytime soon, but there are more than enough worthy titles on here to make up for it. I recommend grabbing an NES Classic for yourself, when you get the chance. You might be waiting until January at this point, but it’s worth the wait. As for me, I’ll be mastering Double Dragon and Ghosts and Goblins waiting for news of the release of the Super NES Classic.