Why the Mini NES is Nintendo's best idea in years (hands-on)

A tiny bundle of retro games in a perfect miniature replica NES is geek gold, and Nintendo should do the same thing with SNES, N64 and GameCube.

I got to play with what will probably be one of the biggest toys of the holiday season, and it's made by Nintendo. It also costs just $60, £50 or AU$100.

The NES Classic Edition isn't a unique idea. This teeny little replica NES with 30 preloaded 8-bit Nintendo games is a riff on the "retro game in a box" product that's been showing up for years at Target and Urban Outfitters. Sega, Atari...but not Nintendo. Not till now.

Nintendo's finally realizing that its best retro games should be bundled and sold separately, and that's why this collection is so great. It's weirdly hard to play Super Mario Bros without downloading an illegal ROM or buying into a piece of more expensive Nintendo hardware.

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The NES Classic Edition is better than those old Sega and Atari boxes because its interface feels more polished. Just like the Virtual Console games on the Wii, Wii U and 3DS, every game can be paused and saved. The system also plays back games in 4:3, stretched mode, or a pretty awesome CRT-style mode that makes the game look appropriately fuzzy, like a throwback TV.

The box looks awesome, too. Sadly, that cartridge door doesn't open, though. Would have been nice to store some snacks in there.

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CRT mode!

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There isn't a dud game in the collection, which means the already-good game value pays off even more. And the NES controller felt exactly like an old-school original, down to the button clicks and slightly awkward angular edges.

I only got to play for about 10 minutes, but I did try Super Mario Bros. 3, Gradius, and Castlevania. I'd get one of these just to play throwback games with my son.

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You may have to sit on the floor or pull up a chair.

Scott Stein/CNET

The mini NES only comes with one controller, sadly. An extra costs $10, £8 or AU$20. The cable also seems oddly short, which means you might have to pull the NES console onto the floor to get enough room to sit on the sofa. But aside from the cable length, I'm already sold. And there's a little bonus: the controller can be plugged into a Wii remote to play Virtual Console games on a Wii or Wii U, if you have them.

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Solid line-up.

Scott Stein/CNET

Now of course, the best way to sell Nintendo and retro games would be to set up some sort of universal store where games could be bought once and played anywhere. But seeing as Virtual Games haven't been nearly as flexible (I've had to buy some of them several times already for new game systems over the years), maybe compilations like these make more sense. Why not a mini SNES, or N64...or even a GameCube? Or, even better, a Game Boy Advance with 40 pre-loaded games inside?

NES Classic Edition arrives November 11. Stay tuned for a full review once we get one in-house.