Nintendo's $60 retro NES Classic Edition is already at the top of many holiday wish lists -- but is it actually a good deal?
Spoiler alert: the answer is "yes."
But let's back up a bit. The product in question is a tiny shrunken down replica of the 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System with 30 of that console's classic games built-in. It includes a wide range of formative titles from Nintendo's back catalog, such as multiple Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda games. And a handful of games from third-party publishers -- like Konami's Super C and Square's Final Fantasy -- are also on board for the nostalgia-tinged ride. (See the full list of 30 games at Nintendo's site.)
The "catch" -- if there is one -- is that you can already get many of these games on existing Nintendo Wii U and 3DS consoles, thanks to the company's Virtual Console app store. And some of those non-Nintendo third-party games are available on rival platforms, such as iPhone, Android, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
But we checked the availability and pricing of each game, and it only makes the Mini NES look like an even better deal.
How the numbers add up
The bottom line is this: you'll spend more than twice the price of Mini NES to buy the exact same games on the 3DS and the Wii U -- and that's not including the handful of games that aren't available on either platform.
Looking for the games on non-Nintendo platforms? Your choices are slim.
Wii U: $139.72 for 28 games
Of the 30 Mini NES games, you can get all but 2 on the Wii U's Virtual Console -- but they cost an exorbitant $4.99 each. That's $139.72 for 28 games. The two games you can't currently buy? Bubble Bobble and Final Fantasy.
3DS: $129.74 for 26 games
If you buy a Virtual Console game on the Wii U, you can at least play it on your 3DS too, right? Wrong. Unlike Sony -- which offers the ability to buy some games on PS3 and PS4 and also have them playable on its portable Vita system, Nintendo's home (Wii U) and mobile (3DS) Virtual Consoles are actually two separate ecosystems. So any games you'll want to play on the go need to be purchased separately, also at $4.99 a pop. Interestingly, the 3DS also offers 26 of the 30 Mini NES titles -- $129.74. The missing four games are Bubble Bobble, Final Fantasy, Kirby's Adventure and Star Tropics.
iPhone/iPad: $16.96 for 7 games
Except for the handful of mobile titles Nintendo is experimenting with on phone platforms -- Miitomo and the global phenomenon Pokemon Go are out now, followed by Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem later this year -- you'll only find a few third-party classics on these non-Nintendo hardware platforms. iOS users can buy Double Dragon Trilogy ($2.99), the original Final Fantasy ($7.99), Mega Man 2 ($0.99) and Pac-Man ($4.99). But you can pick up Galaga for "free" -- with in-app purchases available, of course.
Android: $9.98 for 6 games
As with iOS, lower your expectations: Galaga and Pac-Man are freebies, while Double Dragon and Final Fantasy retail for the same $2.99 and $7.99, respectively.
Xbox One: $20.97 for 8 games
Get Galaga and Pac-Man for $3.99 apiece on the Xbox, and spend at extra $14.99 for the Mega Man Legacy Collection, which includes a total of 6 games including Mega Man 2. (You can also find Bubble Bobble and Castlevania titles that are similar to the originals, but not -- so far as I could tell -- identical.)
PS4: $11.98 for 2 games
Double Dragon II will run you a whopping $7.99 on the PlayStation 4, while Galaga will cost you $3.99. (You may have a bit of better luck with the PS3, which offers a few additional retro games, including Final Fantasy.)
Mini NES: Looking great on paper
If none of those listed above sound like great deals, it's because they aren't.
To be clear, our only "IRL" experience with the Mini NES was spotting it at San Diego Comic-Con, so we can't yet make a final evaluation on how it feels and how the games have translated. But we already know you won't be able to add any more games to the system (there's no online connectivity), and you're stuck using the wired controller (you can buy a second one for $10, or use some existing Wii/Wii U controllers). And don't expect some "Special Edition" HD overhaul of these games -- you're stuck with the original 8-bit experience, sans native widescreen.
But that's the point. And the Mini NES is just $60 -- 30 games for $2 apiece, in their old-school glory, all wrapped up in a plug-and-play box not much larger than a Roku.
Simply put, you won't find a better deal for classic gaming.
Updated July 22 with photos from San Diego Comic-Con.