Reviewing NES Classic Edition

The old gray Nintendo Entertainment System is a console near and dear to many of us, and with the release of the pre-loaded $60 NES Classic Edition on November 11, we have the chance to revisit the halcyon days of 8-bit games and two-button controllers, albeit without dusty cartridges and blinking error lights.

The NES Classic is powered by USB and outputs video over HDMI at 720p. It comes with one controller that connects via a Wii Remote-style expansion port. So, while you can’t use original NES controllers with the system–additional NES Classic controllers will be sold for $9.99–you can use Wii Classic Controllers, and in the interest of give-and-take, you can also use your NES Classic controller in conjunction with a Wii Remote for use on Wii and Wii U.

Despite the modern conveniences the NES Classic provides–goodbye, bulky AC adapter and analog video–its new controllers have an unreasonably short cable at a length of 2.5 feet. If you miss sitting on the floor in front of a TV watching extra lives flake away in games like Mega Man 2 and Castlevania, for better or worse, Nintendo’s got you covered.

While that may not be your preferred way to play, the draw of having easy access to some of the best NES games is strong, and the NES Classic comes with a slick interface–drenched with retro flair–that lets you quickly boot up games and save progress at any point.You can enter the system menu mid-game by pressing the “Reset” button on the console itself. With that in mind, the controller’s short cable sort of makes sense, but neither the reset button nor the controller are optimal solutions. And if you’re so inclined, you can apply a visual filter that replicates the look of playing games on an old television, complete with blurred colors and simulated scanlines.

Out of the box, you’ll have access to 30 games, including Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Castlevania, Mega Man 2, Super C, Final Fantasy, Bubble Bobble, Donkey Kong, Ninja Gaiden, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream, Metroid, and many more (full list of NES Classic games). Thankfully, the emulation driving these games is a step above what we’ve seen from Nintendo’s Virtual Console ports on Wii and Wii U, which typically suffer from poor contrast and color saturation. Beyond looking sharper while upscaled to 720p, practically speaking, these games look and feel the way you remember them–flickering character sprites, slowdown, and all.

The NES Classic is a closed system, and no, you can’t use original NES cartridges. As Nintendo was quick to point out shortly after the system was announced, the company has no plans to add new games beyond the initial 30, and without a data port or the ability to connect to the internet, it’s officially set in stone. In a perfect world, the NES Classic would sync with your Virtual Console library, but the fact that it doesn’t isn’t surprising, given the price.

Speaking as someone who collects vintage games and owns original copies of almost everything available with the NES Classic, I had reservations about its release. There’s an undeniable allure in seeing my first video game system re-created in an adorable form factor, but would a dash of convenience make me excited about replaying games I’ve played on and off for the better part of three decades? It turns out, yes, not having to rifle through boxes of cartridges or struggling to get them to boot on vintage hardware strips away the hurdles to which I’ve grown accustomed. I may never ditch my CRT, NES console, and cartridges, but I will gladly turn to the NES Classic when I have the itch to play a quick game of Excitebike or Gradius.

Seeing the NES make a comeback is exciting, in part because the original console’s legacy is still felt today. Since the ’80s, Nintendo has become a household name, and while the company has done a decent job of making its best games from the past accessible on modern consoles, there’s joy to be found in the discrete NES Classic. It looks the part and allows you to play many of the games that made the system famous–with a controller that feels like the real deal. The short cable is an unfortunate annoyance, so much so that third-party manufacturers are already selling extension cables–but it isn’t a deal-breaker. The NES Classic is an affordable solution for playing NES games, and the fact that it outperforms existing Virtual Console efforts from a technical standpoint makes it the most attractive option to boot.