Nintendo has had its problems of late, especially when it comes to home consoles, but things are looking up.
The forthcoming Switch is intriguing, full of potential and could turn the tide for the Japanese gaming giant when it releases in March 2017. The company has also pulled a masterstroke by drawing on its impressive past to present a cheap and cheerful machine in the interim.
The NES Classic Mini – or Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System, to give it its full name – is a tiny plastic box full of memories (if you're a given age, anyway) and we love it.
For a mere £50, it reminds us of our first forays into console gaming and represents everything that is great and good about videogames. Or it's the perfect opportunity for those young whippersnappers to get their heads down in a bit of retro gaming charm.
Can you buy games for the NES Mini?
- 30 classic titles built-in
- Can't buy new games
- 130 x 100 x 42mm dimensions
The NES Classic Mini is a games console - although you cannot buy additional games for it down the line. That's because it comes with a standard 30 pre-installed titles, all cleverly chosen from the original NES console's celebrated past.
The main unit is a diminutive version of the early 80s Nintendo Entertainment System (otherwise known as the Famicom in Japan) and therefore gives you access to an amazing line-up of games that made waves back then.
The first Super Mario Bros trilogy are all there, as is the original Legend of Zelda, Metroid and Kirby's Adventure. You also get excellent arcade conversions of Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Ghosts & Goblins.
They all play exactly as they did on the original console, except for the fact that, because the output is HDMI and upscaled to suit your modern TV, they look considerably better than when run on a fuzzy, old 14-inch CRT set.
Funnily enough, if you're really into the retro theme, you can change the display options to make your screen look like an old telly, complete with fake scan lines. But why do that when it looks excellent as it is, on especially on a big flatscreen?
We hooked up the NES Classic Mini to a 65-inch LG 4K OLED TV and it looked spectacular – Mario seemed to be the size of a house cat. Yes, the pixels are more pronounced and the 8-bit effects look more like Lego the larger the display, but the colour representation has never been better and other all-in-one retro machines we've tried in the past tend to have an element of picture ghosting. Not so here.
There is one specific issue amplified by playing on a big screen though: you have to sit so close that you can't quite see what you're doing.
How long are the NES Mini controller cables?
- One classic NES controller included
- 30in/75cm cable is short
- Wii Nunchuck extension cables compatible
Along with the shrinking of the console, Nintendo has taken the decision to dramatically shorten the controller cable too. You get one remade NES controller in the box and its lead, at 30-inches long (so 75cm), is stingy to say the least. The cables on the original controllers were also short, but they were about a third longer. And that was when tellies were about 10 times smaller.
It means you have to almost literally sit on top of the NES Mini to play. When it's connected to your TV using the HDMI lead that comes as part of the package, you are no more than two to three feet away from the screen. Fine for a bedroom TV, less so for a 65-incher in the living room.
Nintendo will no doubt say that you need to be close to the console as it sports a reset button on the front that pulls you out of a game and back to the main menu screen. There is also a clever freeze option, which halts and saves your progress as you do, ready to be picked up again from that spot later. However, we know that the controller is designed to be authentic, but surely that option could have been put on it rather than the front of the box? And if it's that authentic, why isn't the cable as long?
Thankfully, some accessory manufacturers are planning to release controller extension leads. And as the end connector is now the same as the one found on the Wii Nunchuck, if you find an extension cable for that still on sale, it should work too. Alternatively, you could invest in a longer HDMI cable and power lead, but that involves dragging the NES Mini around as you waggle the pad. Clumsy.
Does the NES Mini come with a power adapter?
- Micro USB to USB for mains power
- No mains plug included in the box
- HDMI out to connect to TV
The power lead itself is another bone of contention. It is a standard USB lead, with a USB at one end and Micro USB at the other, like the ones you used to get with Android phones (until USB Type-C came into play). The problem is that you don't actually get the power supply itself – you have to provide your own USB plug adapter.
Yeah, we probably have at least 20 of them per household these days, and many of us have started to change our wall sockets to include USB ports anyway. But, it's hardly plug and play. More no plug and no play. A bit cheeky given the £50 cover price. And while Nintendo has been taking this approach with "upgrade" 3DS machines, this NES Mini is no such thing, so no excuse.
The caveats could put some people off but, while annoying, the games and ease of use have drawn us back time and time again to the NES Classic Mini. The 30 games stored in its miniscule bowels are each worthy of the term classic and a joy to revisit.
Without the NES we would never have had the PlayStation or Xbox. Mario the plumber would have been someone you'd more likely see at the end of Watchdog. And Zelda would just have been a scary space witch puppet from Terrahawks.
For all its faults, the NES Classic Mini isn't just a games machine or toy, it's a reminder of what Nintendo was capable of before motion gaming and Balance Boards. And that you don't need fancy gimmicks, bells and whistles to serve up pure entertainment.
You just need a longer bloody controller cable. Then the NES Classic Mini would be retro perfection for 2016.