Everything You Need to Know about Retro Gaming on the NES Classic

We got some hands-on time with this insanely fun machine.
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We got some hands-on time with this insanely fun machine.
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Starting Friday, November 11, Nintendo is giving everyone a chance to relive the glory days of 8-bit gaming by offering 30 essential titles from the NES era on a new piece of hardware called the NES Classic. Fair warning, we’re using the word “new” lightly here because, short of setup and needing to blow in cartridges, this is a near-identical experience to the one Nintendo delivered 30 years ago.

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The NES Classic is about a quarter of the size of the original Nintendo and weighs almost nothing in your palm. It connects to your TV via HDMI and uses USB for power instead of a proprietary cord. Setup took roughly 30 seconds and was easier than making toast, a far cry from the original NES that needed to be hooked into the analog coaxial input of a TV tuned to channel 3.

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Pushing the familiar power button on the NES Classic immediately presented us with a simple, streamlined menu screen, one where all the games were readily accessible and a few menu items let us toggle settings like aspect ratio (4:3 was preferable to the other options, 16:9 is not available) and burn-in protection. There’s also a QR code that’ll direct your smartphone to digital copies of all 30 of the game manuals. Ours brought us to the Japanese version of the site, but we assume that will be redirected by the time of the North American launch.

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Then there are the games. Nintendo has done an exceptional job of curating 30 absolutely essential classic 8-bit titles. So much so that we can’t judge them for the closed nature of the NES Classic hardware or its lack of an internet connection for future expansion, though we sure wouldn’t mind that addition. Instead, there is moment after moment of unmitigated glee as you fire up Punch Out and Super Mario and Excitebike and Bubble Bobble and Metroid and Castlevania and… you get it. The game list can be found here and it includes everything from the aficionado-approved like Ninja Gaiden and Legend of Zelda to the universally beloved like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

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All the games play identically to how they did three decades ago, and the majority of them hold up incredibly well. The controller included in the NES Classic is a replica of the original and, while boxy compared to modern controllers, is instantly familiar and comfortable. Wrapping our hands around that controller simultaneously awoke all the long-forgotten strategies to beating the included games. The perfect time to throw a punch to knock out Bald Bull in Punch Out or the white box in Super Mario Bros. 3 that’ll warp you if you crouch on it for a few seconds all came back in an instant, like your brain was waiting for this opportunity to flex its memory muscles.

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Testing out 30 games is one thing, but genuinely beating all of them will take us a lot longer. Luckily, what the NES Classic has that the original didn’t is a terrific game save system, where each game has four data slots for user-generated game saves/suspend points. It’s a welcome improvement and the only change that impacts the games themselves, allowing us to forgo menial tasks like writing down game codes or replaying frustrating levels.

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Nintendo has accomplished something wonderful here. The NES Classic hits all the right nostalgia notes in a cheap, easy and official way. It’s bound to bring together different generations over the course of the next few months if you're lucky enough to snag one from stores before they're sold out.