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Commentary Gaming

​My kid prefers NES Classic to Switch

Commentary: If you've got a kid, maybe skip the Switch and stick with the NES Classic for now. Retro works for kids, too.

Sean Hollister/CNET

A funny thing happened this weekend. I finally took home the Nintendo Switch and a bunch of its launch games and let them loose on my eight-year-old son, and he left them behind... for a $60 bundle of games from the '80s.

My kid was a bit on the fence about the idea of Nintendo Switch in the first place, and yes, that's an anecdotal tale about a tech reporter's kid. But my son's take on the Switch never seemed to focus on the portability. Or, its hardware design. He was always focused on the games.

Games are the reason he loves the Wii U: Games such as Minecraft, Mario Kart 8, Mario Party, Super Mario Maker and... well, at least a dozen more. And games are what made him fall in love with the NES Classic once I was finally able to buy one and bring it home.

nintendo-switch-console-5002.jpg

New and not-so-new.

James Martin/CNET

Kids like retro

"Pixel games," are what my kid calls the oldies on the NES Classic. He's seen a lot of pixel games already, between Minecraft, Super Mario Maker and dozens of iPhone and iPad games that adopt the same aesthetic. He's not as connected to NES games as I am but he understands them and gets into them. First, Super Mario Bros. But then he got sucked into Bubble Bobble, Excitebike, Castlevania II, Mega Man 2 and Metroid.

He likes the controls, he likes that there are so many games. And he chose to play NES Classic when his friend came over, picking it over the Wii U or Switch. They jammed for hours and never got tired of it.

Tons of potential but short on games

The Switch has some winning ideas right now, and a few fantastic games. Besides Zelda: Breath of the Wild -- which I think my son is too young to get into at eight -- many other games turned out to be great for multiplayer. We had a little fun with Bomberman R, but he got bored with the 2-player mode after a while. We danced and got silly with Just Dance.

1-2 Switch was a lot of fun, and turned out to be better than I expected. He didn't mind that some games seemed somewhat random and ridiculous. We threw our imaginary wizard wands at each other. We played invisible table tennis. We pretend boxed and did sword fighting. It felt like we were just playing, not playing a video game. I think I was wrong about 1-2 Switch. It's better with young kids than with adults.

Fast RMX is a fantastic F-Zero-alike, and might be one of my favorites on the system for a quick play. My four and eight year old even had fun playing that together. My little one mainly held the controller and watched.

Snipperclips is one of the most unique collaborative puzzle games around, and incredibly kid-friendly. It's smart, too, and has a cooperative vibe with just a dash of competition makes for a brilliant mix.

And yet, once my son's friend came to visit... the NES Classic was turned back on. The Switch was left behind. I asked my son why he wasn't playing Switch, and he shrugged.

Classic games on Switch would seal the deal

My weekend experiences with both consoles indicated that my son just found the Classic more fun, though he might change his mind once more Switch games appear. And more retro Virtual Console games, in particular. I asked him if he'd like the Switch more once it gets NES games, too. He said yes, but he still likes the proposition of the all-in-one NES Classic. Playing the Switch and all it had to offer didn't change his mind.

It's also my current recommendation for families: the Switch is fascinating, and clever, and possibly the doorway to tons of great games. It's a really good "return-to-Nintendo" system for adults, because it's a two-for-one console. But for families, and kids, you can get plenty of bang for the buck with an NES Classic if you can find one. But make sure you get some wireless controllers, they're a must.

It's simpler. It's less hassle than the slide-out, set-up, slightly awkward nature of playing Switch games, where I usually end up detaching the Joy-Cons from the Switch docked up on the fireplace mantle. And, yeah, right now it has more games. Maybe more recognizable games, or simple set-up-and-play quick-fix games.

That's exactly where the Switch needs to go, and why bringing a Virtual Console library of all these classic old games is so important. Doing so could finally make the Switch a fantastic retro "pixel game" paradise. As good as the NES Classic? Probably better. But right now, it's not quite there yet.

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