Nintendo Classic Mini NES review: Big mistakes in a little console
While I was born in 1995 – a full 12 years after the original NES was launched in Japan – I have fond memories of playing the console’s superb games catalogue.
The first videogame I ever played was the NES version of Super Mario Bros., albeit on Chinese knockoff console that had hundreds of other games packed into it. Over the years I also played most of the NES library thanks to other knockoffs popular in the country, emulation on Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and even online emulation through sites like the Internet Archive.
So I have to say I was excited to play some of my old favourites on a console that boasts the golden Nintendo Seal of Quality on it. But is the genuine article all it’s cracked up to be?
Classic Mini NES review: What’s in the box?
Opening up the packaging of the NES and you’ll find the console, a controller, an HDMI cable and a USB to Micro B cable. This is the same cable used to charge up most Android devices, but more on that later.
Measuring in at just about 13 cm X 10 cm X 4 cm, the Classic Mini NES lives up to its name. It’s small and light enough to hold with a single hand, and perfect to stuff in a bag to take to a friend’s house.
In the front you’ll find two ports for controllers as well as reset and power buttons. The back features DC in for power and HDMI out for connecting to a screen.
Apart from that it’s a solid piece of plastic. Unlike the original NES, this version cannot load cartridges or any new games at all for that matter. It comes shipped with 30 titles already loaded, so if they’re not to your liking, you’re out of luck.
Those games are:
- Balloon Fight
- Bubble Bobble
- Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
- Donkey Kong
- Donkey Kong Jr.
- Double Dragon II: The Revenge
- Dr. Mario
- Final Fantasy
- Ghosts ’N Goblins
- Ice Climber
- Kid Icarus
- Kirby’s Adventure
- Mario Bros.
- Mega Man 2
- Ninja Gaiden
- Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream
- Super C
- Super Mario Bros.
- Super Mario Bros. 2
- Super Mario Bros. 3
- Tecmo Bowl
- The Legend of Zelda
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
The locked down games are a real disappointment here. While many of the famous titles are included, there glaring omissions such as the Contra, Tetris and DuckTales.
The problems only continue as you’re setting up the console and realise that you need to provide power. As the warning on the front of the box will tell you, you do not get an AC adapter in the box. To hook up and play this NES, you will need to track down a 5 volt / 1 amp AC adapter with a female USB port.
Chances are you already own several of these. They’re the regular two-pin plugs that usually come in the box with a new phone.
I cannot describe what a stupid move this is. While it’s a much easier fix than that time Nintendo decided not to include a charger for the 3DS XL, it’s an unforgivable move on their part. I assume the reason behind the move was to save money as the current box can be sold in any market without fear of changing power standards.
If you are planning on buying this package, you better make sure you have an adapter on hand or it will be more disappointing than that time you opened a bunch of cool toys with no batteries to power them.
Those massive mistakes put aside for the moment, it would all mean nothing if the controller wasn’t good enough.
The full-size “original” controller is, as far as I can tell, is exactly the same as the original, in all its rectangular glory.
Like the original, the button presses are precise if not a little spongy. It’s well-made too, standing up the abuse of violent mashing and a white-knuckled grip as you try to navigate platforming puzzles in Mega Man 2.
Unfortunately Nintendo stays true to the original for the worse, and most of it revolves around the wired connection. In 2016 we really could have avoided this and gone with a Bluetooth option, which would make using the controller on other devices a breeze.
While some could argue that the lead peaking out of the top left corner is the authentic experience, it’s still annoying when you use certain types of grips. It’s also an incredibly short lead, measuring in at about 76 centimetres. You know the myth about sitting too close to the TV? Well you don’t really have a choice.
Even the connector at the end is irritating. It terminates in Nintendo’s proprietary controller connector meaning that it can work on the Wii or Wii U. A regular USB connector would have made this controller so much better, but it’s not here.
While the controller itself is great, the wire really does try its best to ruin it, and it may do so depending on your tolerance for such misguided decisions.
Classic Mini NES review: Software
When you first boot up this NES you’re given a sparse menu with the 30 games in a horizontal list, an options menu below that and your four available suspend point slots below that.
The biggest addition the Classic Mini NES brings to these titles is these suspend points. At any time, in any game, you can hit the Reset button on the console which will take you back to the main menu.
From here pressing down on the D-pad will save your suspend point which you can now visit at any time. These act as save points which you can revisit at any time. It’s a very welcome change and it gives you a chance of beating the games when you don’t want to dedicate the time into becoming good enough to beat it on a set number of lives.
The options menu is limited but there’s not much it needed to do. The most important part here is the display mode options. The CRT filter adds scan lines for that properly old school experience, pixel perfect is an exact emulation of how the games looked when original, and 4:3 displays the same pixel perfect option, albeit slightly stretched to a more modern aspect ration.
Other options include a demo mode, auto shutdown, screen burn-in reduction, language changes and legal notices. A nice addition here is a QR code you can scan which takes you to this link. Here you’ll find PDFs of the games’ manuals and instruction booklets.
Finally, the games. I’ve left this to last because, well, there isn’t too much to talk about. It’s the same games I’ve been playing all my life, complete with the bugs and problems such as framerate dips and screen tearing in certain games.
Like the compromises with the controller, it’s all been left as it was in the past. Sure, fixes and additions could have been made to the game, but many people buying this will actually prefer these niggles be left in.
Apart from that the games run at a buttery smooth 60Hz. The console outputs at 720p which is perfectly fine, even when you’re sitting close to the screen thanks to that short cord.
Once you’re in a game a lot of the problems mentioned above melt away and you really do enjoy your time playing them, but that’s because the games are good and not because of the package they’re in.
This really should have been a no-brainer on Nintendo’s part. From the limited number of games to the short controller cord, the lack of a proper power option and the proprietary connector… so many mistakes that should have never been made.
The cost is going to be divisive too. At R999 for the console and R189 for individual controllers (out in January 2017 locally, we’ve been told) it costs the same as a brand new AAA game. If you are going to sit down and beat one or two of the longer games, you’ll quickly get your money’s worth and I think it’s good value because of that.
On the other hand, as pointed out at the beginning of this review, you can play this software basically for free if you don’t mind dipping into the morally and legally grey area of unofficial emulation.
The problems with the console and the current stock shortages are classic “Nintendoisms” that a lot of people have learned to deal with. If you’re willing to forgive and forget then the Classic Mini NES is for you. If you’re not willing to let this mistakes slide, you’ll need to vote with your wallet.