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REVIEW: NES Classic small in stature, big on retro fun

October 28, 2016 GMT

If you’re like me, video games have become a long, lost, relic of the past, a luxury not often afforded to those of us with barely enough time for work, family and fitness as is.

And that’s what makes the new mini NES Classic Edition such a sublime fit for the over-40, part, part-time gamer: Small in stature but big on classic video game fun, the NES Classic is the perfect early holiday gift for the casual, Gen X gamer, or even the avid arcade hobbyist who’s really into retro. It offers just enough to sufficiently satisfy the most nostalgic of gaming desires, but not too much as to revert to one’s former self, a 13-year-old boy with — I recognize now — a tremendous abundance of free time on his hands.

In other words, if you’re a serious gamer looking to upgrade your existing Xbox or PlayStation console — keep waiting. (The new Xbox One S was released in June with Microsoft’s upgraded Project Scorpio slated for late 2017; word’s still out on when the fifth iteration of Sony’s gaming system, PlayStation, will be released.)

But if you’re looking for some throwback fun on a rare Friday night off with some like-minded friends and a case of cheap beer (or, more appropriately, Jolt Cola), or you really just want to relive those teenage glory days of gaming then by all means — to borrow from 80s pop culture — you should, like, totally go for it.

Personally, it’s as though the makers of this reboot knew me intimately when choosing to include a wide range of instantly accessible, arcade-leaning 8-bit titles that happen to be among some of my very favorites: Zelda (I and II), Super Mario Bros. (1, 2 and 3), Donkey Kong (and D.K. Jr.), Metroid, Mega Man (1 and 2), Punch Out! (but not the original since, for some reason, Mike Tyson just isn’t the marketing asset he once was?), Castlevania (I and II), Final Fantasy, Tecmo Bowl and — my personal favorite — Grecian fantasy classic, Kid Icarus.

But if, somehow, the 30 games built into the NES don’t cut it for you, you’re out of luck. The hand-sized NES Classic Edition is not by any means designed to be a full-fledged gaming console. For starters, the mini NES doesn’t use any form of physical media — meaning the front flap or “chamber lid” is only for show. What’s more, aside from an HDMI port that allows for connection to modern, tubeless televisions, the console has no other means of connectivity. Since the Classic doesn’t go online, that also means there’s no way of downloading new games or upgrading the system at a later date. There is a USB port that connects to an AC adapter, but insiders say that port serves no other purpose.

On the plus side, at least there’s no need for an air duster or blowing cartridges to make them work, and storage for the tiny system will be a cinch.

Aside from limited titles, not everything else about the new NES is as it was, either — and in a lot of ways that’s a good thing. For instance, whereas you might remember in the 1980s leaving a system on for days, or even weeks, so as to not lose your precarious place in a game, the new, miniaturized console includes a “suspend point” feature that allows players to stop and start at any time, picking up right where they left off. Visually, the rebooted NES also offers three ways to enjoy those radical, 8-bit graphics: For the purists, the CRT filter provides an “old TV” look complete with fuzz, lines and other imperfections; the 4:3 is a cleaner version of the original, with a slight horizontal stretch for today’s wider, more modern TV; and “pixel perfect” makes every pixel a perfect square, for those seeking that blissfully hi-def-but-blocky look.

And don’t forget to throw in an extra controller for $10 for some fun two-player action. Games like (especially) Tecmo Bowl, Pac Man, Dr. Mario, Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Double Dragon II, Super C (Contra), Gradius, Ghosts’N Goblins and the old-school Mario Bros. (sans the “Super”) were always more fun played simultaneously with friends.

Besides, how else can you claim that Master Gamer of Yesteryear title? Better start touching up on that Tecmo Bowl touchdown dance.

Word is there’s no pre-sales, so you’ll have plenty of time to practice your moves waiting in line.