Nintendo NES Classic Edition Review

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Nintendo NES Classic Edition Review: The Best Gadget Gift Since 1985

A $60 game system packs 30 original Nintendo games, though finding it is a game unto itself

The past, they say, isn’t as good as you remember.

Nintendo’s $60 NES Classic Edition game system proves that’s a big fat lie. It makes playing original Nintendo games just as great as those good old days of side ponytails and racing home to watch “Alf.”

Nintendo has made some pretty smart moves this year, but the best one yet? Releasing a miniature version of its popular, old-school Nintendo Entertainment System, which we children of the ’80s worshiped like a golden calf. Nostalgia Entertainment System, that’s what they should have called it.

No need to comb the attic for old game cartridges or dusty cables. The small, gray box connects to your HDTV and has 30 games saved in its internal memory. Your favorite 8-bit characters are here: Mario and Luigi. Zelda. Donkey Kong. Pac-Man. Mega Man. Samus from “Metroid.” Yes, cancel all plans for the foreseeable future.

In the time it used to take to blow in a cartridge and slide it into the old, stocky model, I had the tiny box set up in my living room. Indeed, the new system not only makes you feel old but ginormous.

The NES Classic Edition system includes 30 original Nintendo games.
The NES Classic Edition system includes 30 original Nintendo games. PHOTO: NINTENDO

Once it’s powered up, you can scroll through a carousel of games. The games themselves appear in that squarish 4:3 aspect ratio, just as they did on your old set. If you’re feeling particularly retro you can even turn on a “CRT” mode that applies a scan-line effect. This isn’t the only way to play classic Nintendo games—legal or otherwise—but it’s Nintendo’s best attempt at tapping the nostalgia of the hardware.

Since we’ve gone back 30 years, there’s no such thing as Wi-Fi. No, you can’t ever download new games, and you can’t play with friends remotely. But you can save your progress—no more having to finish in one sitting or pausing and turning off the TV. Press the Reset button on the console at any point during playing. You can have up to four “suspend points” a game.

Nintendo nails just about everything about the yesteryear gadget, until you realize that the hilariously stubby proprietary controller cords were created for a dollhouse. If you don’t want to sit on top of your TV, your best bet is finding a long HDMI cord and a longer replacement Micro-USB power cord, so you can at least place the system closer to you. (That, or sit tight for the arrival of these controller extender cables.)

The $60 Nintendo NES Classic Edition includes just one controller with a very short cord.
The $60 Nintendo NES Classic Edition includes just one controller with a very short cord. PHOTO: F.MARTIN RAMIN / THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Also, despite the abundance of two-player games, Nintendo only includes one controller in the box. You can buy an extra for $10 or use a controller from the Wii console.

Ready for Nintendo to take your money already? Just one problem: These things have become nearly impossible to find. While Nintendo announced that the NES Classic would be available at retailers including Amazon, GameStop, Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart, the initial stock immediately sold out. (It’s an all-too-common problem for Nintendo!) Wal-Mart took to Facebook the week before Thanksgiving to announce that it had such limited quantity, you could only buy it online during the hour of 5 p.m. ET for a few days.

Before you head to eBay or Amazon to pay four times the asking price, a Nintendo spokeswoman said there “will be a steady flow of additional systems through the holiday shopping season and into the new year.”

I hope that’s true, especially for the others out there who grew up around the clunky family room TV, trying to rescue the princess with the help of parents, siblings and friends. Three decades later, the reincarnated gadget sits in my adult living room attached to my thin 4K TV, with some of those same faces gathered around.

In a holiday season when isolating smartphones and virtual reality headsets figure prominently on year’s-best-gadgets lists, the NES is more than just nostalgia. It’s a reminder of the time we first fell in love with technology.