Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System Review

Big name, little console.

The Nintendo Entertainment System was one of the most successful entertainment devices ever to grace the surface of CRTs since the introduction of the VCR. Not only did it single handedly save a nosediving industry full of garbage ware from the brink, but popularised gaming across a much broader range of mainstream markets – most importantly the US and Europe. Its design and build quality were second to none at a time when most consoles were enormous, clunky chunks of creaky plastic and wood – exposed pins aside. But what truly made the NES great were its games, many substantial and deep experiences (such as Metroid, Zelda and Final Fantasy) unseen on home consoles and even PCs up to that point.


But it was the introduction of Mario and his brother Luigi that catapulted Nintendo into the household name it is today. The first 4 games of gaming’s most successful mascot were all on the NES, and still hold up in my mind as platform perfection. So it was with great excitement that a self-confessed Nintendo sceptic pre-ordered Nintendo’s first (and hopefully not last) hardware revival on the day it was announced. For me, the NES was more than a console – it was the true birth of an obsession that I have still not managed to flip 28 years later. Nostalgia bit hard with this one.


It didn’t help that the NES Mini – a shrunk down replica of its namesake about the size of a big fist – was probably the first unit of its type that didn’t completely suck. Old rival SEGA’s awful licensed revival gear suffered from lots of problems, from dreadful build quality, terrible emulation and poor game library – essentially, a lack of care. Nintendo generally takes a lot of pride in its products and the list of games alone was enough encouragement for a day one purchase. Add an original controller, made by Nintendo for the first time in 25 years, and, well, reason goes out the window.


The good news is that what you see is, largely, what you get. There are 30 fantastic titles on offer with this unit – arguably the best games on the system bare none – and the choices Nintendo made are striking. Mega Man, Castlevania and Double Dragon are there, but it’s the arguably much better sequels rather than the originals. Every single Mario title, including one of my personal favourites (Dr. Mario) is there. Excitebike. Zelda. Kid Icarus. Ghosts’N Goblins. Roughly half the titles are 2 players and all of them are carbon copies of the originals – no added extras, cheats or any other guff to poison the well.


Setup is a breeze. As seems to be the norm now, Nintendo include a USB cable but no power adapter, likely to avoid making a separate SKU for each region, but most TVs and consoles should be able to power it. There’s a HDMI cable in the box however, as well as a single controller. Thankfully, most Wii/WiiU controllers with cables work unless you can locate a second official controller, which currently seem to be rarer than Donald Trump’s ability to act like a compassionate human being. Plug everything in, click in the tiny little power button, feel the flood of nostalgia flow over you as you flip between the games.


Nintendo have thrown in a few clever options to deal with modern issues, such as high def displays and modern saving options. There are three display modes include – “Pixel Perfect”, which converts traditional “round” pixels square and flattens the picture to suit newer widescreen HDTVs and “CRT Mode”, which adds scanlines to emulate your crappy old Toshiba/Sanyo. But my personal favourite “4:3”, which removes the scanlines but keeps the games in their original ratio in the middle of your screen. Pressing the “RESET” button on the device takes “Suspend Point” and saves it to the unit, allowing you to pick it back up later – especially good for titles without traditional “battery backup”.


The emulation is perfect. No PC software or Nintendo’s own Virtual Console comes even close to matching the game speed and control latency of the original, but the Mini does. Every glitch, especially those terrible ones in Double Dragon 2, are still there. The benefits of native HDMI do wonders – graphics are now clean and crisp, and the sound is *perfect*. Its loud and in sync, without the speed and lag issues with many emulators and ROMS, which makes me wonder what Nintendo have under the hood – is there a reworked NES chipset or just a phenomenal emulator running on a SOC?


My only complaint, really, is that the controller cable length is less than a metre long. Seriously. Who is sitting less than a metre away from a 46-55 inch TV? Sure, there are extension cables and wireless controllers available but this was a big oversight. Sitting on the floor, that close to a mounted TV destroyed my back and I was only able to play for an hour before my wife and I felt like Quasimodo and gave up. If you manage to get your hands on one of these, make sure you pick up a couple of extension cables if you don’t want to emulate the experience of sitting in a backless chair in the front row of a movie theatre.


This isn’t much of a pro or a con, but the unit is completely offline. Which means no more titles can be added in future, nor can the unit get firmware updates or any cool little extras like leader boards or online multiplayer. I doubt anyone would have been crying out for this function, but since the unit can’t take cartridges, it would have been nice to see it being utilised as a standalone Virtual Console – especially since this doesn’t require sifting through the Wii or WiiU’s cluttered interface, plugging controllers into Wiimotes or using a large GamePad.

All in all, it’s a small price to pay for one of the best implementations of the Retro Revival concept yet. The hardware is good quality and works as a lasting time capsule, as well as a great way to introduce younger players to the early days of gaming. But honestly, Nintendo, if you do this again, make the controller lengths longer – we aren’t kids anymore.

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About The Author
James Pinnell
Freelance writer for @PCTechAuthority, @PCPowerplay and others

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