The design: Total collector's item
The NES Classic Edition looks exactly like a shrunken-down NES. But most of that design is strictly cosmetic: the front cartridge door doesn't open and the ports are all different. On the back there's HDMI to connect to modern TVs, plus its power adapter uses Micro-USB, meaning no proprietary adapter cables.
The box is light, about the size of an, and slid easily into a small bag. It's Nintendo's version of those plug-and-play retro game collection boxes (Sega, Atari, Namco and others) that have been sold at toy stores for years.
Only one controller, and it's not wireless
There's also only one controller in the box, even though the system supports two-player games (16 games in the collection have two-player modes). It has its own special connector port. You can connect a second controller, but it's not included. That's $10, £8 or AU$20 extra.
The included controller, while identical to a classic NES controller, isn't wireless. That's particularly annoying because it has an extremely short cable. You can buy an extension cord separately via Nintendo, but you'll probably have to pull the mini NES out from your TV and play while seated on the floor. The controller's special connector port is identical to the port on the bottom of a Wii remote, and can work with Wii remote Virtual Console NES games as a nice bonus.
Extra perks and quirks
The NES starts up with a power button, and can also reset. But to switch games on the NES, you need to press that reset button -- there's no controller button that brings you back to the home menu. It's odd, and annoying to keep going over to the box.
All the games can be found on a smartly designed built-in menu, and every game has four save slots -- something you could never do on most original NES games. Some, like Zelda, did it, but now you can literally save anywhere and pick up again later. But, to save, you need to reach over and press that reset button on the box again, which feels counterintuitive. You can't save from pressing the Start or Select buttons on the controller. But at least games will also auto-save if the system sits untouched for an hour, after which the mini NES shuts off to conserve power.
The games can play in three video modes, too: pixel perfect, which blocks everything off into a square on your TV; a wider 4:3 mode that stretches the game out a bit; and a clever CRT effect mode that fuzzes the pixels and makes everything look like it's playing on a basement TV from the 80s (my favorite for arcade games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man).
If you've ever downloaded a Virtual Console NES game on the Wii, Wii U, Nintendo DS or 3DS, the way the games load and feel is similar here. The games are great. But, they're also old...and maybe older than you remember. Some of Nintendo's best retro games were actually on the Super NES, none of which are here. Also, some NES classics are still missing (Blades of Steel, anyone? Battletoads?). But if you loved Nintendo's 8-bit days, this is still the best $60 homage ever made.
Would kids like it? My kid does. Sure, for $80, £75 or AU$150, a Nintendo 2DS is still a better gateway to all sorts of games on the go, including Nintendo DS classics and NES games. But this, per game, is the cheapest ticket to Nintendo nostalgia around -- and it lives up to expectations. Welcome to your nerd-gamer stocking-stuffer for 2016.
Wanna bet Nintendo makes an SNES one of these next year?
Editors' note: This story was originally published on Nov. 4, 2017. Minor updates have been added.