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Nintendo NES Classic Edition review: The NES Classic is back, but Switch owners should think twice

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The Good The NES Classic is a miniaturized, faithful recreation of the original 1980s Nintendo home console. It includes 30 classic 8-bit games, perfectly preserved. It connects to any current TV with HDMI, and has multiple save slots available to freeze progress in any game. Supports two-player games.

The Bad The one included controller isn't wireless, and the cord is really short. Many of the same games are coming to the Switch in September. The newer SNES Classic is arguably a better buy.

The Bottom Line The NES Classic is a great self-contained mini console that plays 30 of the best NES games ever made -- but Switch owners will be able to play many of the same titles later this year.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Ecosystem 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9

Review Sections

It's been a year and a half since the NES Classic first arrived, and over a year since one landed in my house. My son was in love with the little thing. He begged his friends to play its games.

I asked him again whether he still likes the NES Classic, which mostly sits unplayed in the living room. Now that it's available to buy again, in unclear quantities, is it worth getting?

"I like iPad games now," he says. He's referring to Roblox, not Fortnite.

Nintendo NES Classic and SNES Classic

Nintendo NES Classic, SNES Classic, and don't forget the Nintendo Switch, which will have NES games in the fall.

Sarah Tew/CNET

My son is almost 10. Kids get bored with games. Grownups do, too. I don't play the NES Classic much, but I'm still really glad I bought it.

It's like that Blu-ray box set of Twin Peaks I keep on my bookshelf, also mostly untouched. Or the nice art books I collect. It's a library thing, a Nintendo museum. As a $60 self-contained package of 30 of the best Nintendo 8-bit games, it remains a perfect distillation of childhood gaming nostalgia.

nintendo-nes-classic-edition-35.jpg

Just a reminder of the games on the NES Classic.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But hang on: NES games are coming to the Nintendo Switch in September, if you sign up for its upcoming subscription online game service, which costs only $20 per year. In addition to offering online multiplayer support for games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch online service will offer access to downloadable classic NES titles at no extra charge.

It will start with 20 NES games with upgraded online play modes, and promises of more to come. Eight of the ten already revealed mostly overlap with the NES Classic: Soccer, Donkey Kong, Tennis, Mario Bros., Balloon Fight, Super Mario Bros., Ice Climber, The Legend of Zelda, Dr. Mario and Super Mario Bros. 3. And odds are that at least some of the future titles may be duplicates, too.

Those games will be like the free games you get on PlayStation Plus: They're gone as soon as you unsubscribe. You'll never "own" them. (The Switch does, however, have a good library of retro games already available, sold a la carte or in more expensive compilations.)  But for Switch owners, it means the NES Classic isn't the only place to play these old-school games.

Nintendo NES Classic and SNES Classic

The Nintendo NES Classic (left) and SNES Classic (right) play different sets of games. 8-bit vs 16-bit: the SNES is probably the better bet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have a Switch, you might want to hang out a bit. But if you're really a die-hard NES fan, at $60, I doubt you'll regret getting a self-contained box set of NES games. It's still fun, and it's still as good as it was in 2016.

That said, I personally think that the SNES Classic, the 16-bit plug-and-play box that Nintendo is also restocking, is a better choice. There are no announced SNES games coming via the Switch online service, and the SNES Classic's best games -- including Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, and Super Metroid -- are generally better than those on the NES Classic.

The original review of the NES Classic is below.


"Dad, I want to save my allowance to get this."

My son played on the throwback controller easily: to him, it's like a Wii remote. And he already knows how to play Super Mario Bros. 3: he remembers it from Super Mario Maker, where he's created endless levels.

Nintendo's prepared him well.

If you love retro games, you're probably an obsessive over the culture. A collector, maybe. So the NES Classic Edition, a miniature replica of the system released in the US in 1985, that's also a plug-and-play box with 30 classic NES games installed, probably sounds like a geek dream come true.

It's available now, but it's already very difficult to find; it could well be the hard-to-get gift for the 2016 holiday season.

But it's not just Nintendo's move into a landscape well-traveled by lots of other all-in-one retro game boxes over the years. Finally, these classic games have been freed from their Nintendo console prison. Into, well, a small, very affordable box.

Nintendo's classic archive of games, many of which are flat-out legendary, have always existed behind a protective wall of proprietary hardware. Buy a Nintendo 3DS, or a Wii, or a Wii U, and download Virtual Console mini games. What you buy for one system doesn't necessarily carry over to another. This is how I've bought Super Mario Bros. 3 about three times.

nintendo-nes-classic-edition-37.jpg

It's smaller than an NES cartridge. Also, a Nintendo 2DS for comparison.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The stand-alone NES Classic Edition bundles 30 NES games in one self-contained package for $60, £50 or AU$100. As my son noticed right off the bat, it's 30 games for the price of one Wii U game, just about.

Is that a good deal? Well, yes, considering that Nintendo normally sells most of these games for $5 a pop via its Virtual Console service.

The included 30 games are all pretty good, too, and they all play perfectly, even down to the authentic sprite-flicker and slowdown. Super Mario Bros. 1-3 are here, and Zelda 1 and 2. Metroid, Kirby's Adventure, Castlevania, Super C. The whole list, in case you're curious:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Double Dragon II: The Revenge
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • Final Fantasy
  • Galaga
  • Ghosts'n Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby's Adventure
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out! Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

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