Nintendo’s Classic Mini is a little bundle of joy that costs only US$60. If you took a first look at this diddy replica of the 30-year old NES console and thought twice about sticking it at the very top of your Christmas list, then reconsider. This adorable device works pretty much as well as you could hope, and it comes with 30 brilliant games pre-installed for you to play.
Whether you want to reacquaint yourself with Super Mario Bros, Excitebike and the like, or fancy playing those retro gems for the first time, you’re in for a treat. Just bear in mind gaming has moved on quite a bit since the age of these 8-bit creations.
Nintendo Classic Mini design: Tiny console, tiny leads
At less than half the size of the original NES, you can easily tuck the thing underneath your TV at home or just plonk it on top of your modern-day console of choice. Unlike an Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 Pro, the Mini has a certain je ne sais quoi that draws admirers to it like flies to a honeypot, or cosplayers to a Comic-Con convention.
The unit looks as though someone left a NES in the wash for too long, only in a good way. Time has been kind to its achingly '80s grey-grey colour scheme, while the d-pad and A, B, Start and Select buttons that make up the bulk of its controller seem adorably quaint. If you’ve played Shovel Knight and delighted in how much fun can be derived from these limited inputs, then prepare yourself for more of the same. And some sore thumbs when you spend too much time plugged into Punch-Out!!.
As much as the Classic Mini’s adherence to tradition can stick a great big grin on your face, the 2m controller lead is genuinely annoying and has us wishing for a longer lead or even a wireless alternative. Sitting on the floor in front of the TV was fun enough when you were a kid, but age has taught our sweet cheeks the virtues of a well-cushioned sofa. The Classic Mini forces you to use it as you would do when Phil Collins was in his heyday and shoulder pads were a fashion must-have.
Wondering why this review doesn’t have our full five-star rating? This is the reason. Unless you invest in a pair of super-sized microUSB and HDMI cables there’s no way to play this thing at a healthy distance from your screen.
Nintendo Classic Mini setup: Easy does it
Setting up the Classic Mini is a total doddle. You connect its supplied HDMI lead to your TV and hook up its microUSB cable with an AC adapter of your own. That one of these isn't supplied in the box by Nintendo is a bit of a pain, but any plug you've picked up as part of a smartphone charging kit will do the trick. Then just turn the console on and it'll work off the bat.
Yup, that's right. There's no lengthy installation process to be found here and, since the Classic Mini doesn't connect to the internet, you won't have to download any patches either. What comes on the box is what you get with the console. That means you can't add extra games at a later date, but aside from Tetris and Duck Hunt all our old favourites are accounted for here.
You're guaranteed hours of entertainment with the Classic Mini from the moment you first turn it on. The only extra tweak you may want to make is whether games are outputted to your TV in a Pixel Perfect, 4:3 or an ultra-nostalgic CRT filter mode that wipes fake shading lines over your screen. It's really that simple.
Nintendo Classic Mini games: All your old favourites
So what of those 30 games then? In truth, there are so many to enjoy that we've only managed to dig into about half of them. Every title we've played so far has been a faithful recreation of its original form, warts and all. Super Mario Bros. 3, for example, features the same strip of graphical discolouration along the right-hand side of screen that was present in its first incarnation. It's a bit off-putting, but that's how things were three decades ago. To call for Nintendo to have gone back and tinkered with history would be missing the point of this console.
Before we ramp up our praise to ‘breathless’ status once more, there is one more thing to bear in mind: a lot of these games are hard. But then that's because all games were super-tough back in the day. Why? Well for starters this was an easy way to ensure their longevity, but it's also that there just wasn’t the processing power available to add in standard player aids such as a detailed world map, adaptive difficulty and game saves. If you thought Dark Souls was a challenge, then try giving The Legend of Zelda a go.
In fairness, not all of the Classic Mini’s myriad titles are quite so challenging and Nintendo has engineered the Classic Mini so it can create save states for any game - even though this is a bit awkward at times. Foul afoul of too many Goombas in Super Mario Bros. and you’ll have to start again from scratch or reset your console to load up your save state again.
Despite the difficultly levels, the Classic Mini is an absolute treasure trove of brilliance. From Mega Man 2 to Castlevania to Final Fantasy, it gives you an almost overwhelming number of, well, classics to dig into. And that’s before you account for slightly lesser known gems such as Kid Icarus and Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
If you only play a handful of these titles before heading back to Battlefield 1 or Forza Horizon 3, you’ll have gotten your money’s worth. Plugging in a second controller and firing up Double Dragon II: The Revenge sent the Stuff office into shutdown for an afternoon.
Nintendo Classic Mini Verdict
That’s the magical thing about Nintendo Classic Mini: it captures the imagination like no other console we’ve seen this year. Big kids, actual kids and people who’ll claim to know better come flocking in its direction once they’ve seen Donkey Kong playing on a TV screen. Just like it’s 1986 all over again.
It’s this spirit of gleeful enthusiasm that the console captures so well. Even its ridiculously short controller leads can’t dent the joy of playing World 1-1 on Super Mario Bros. for the first time ever. Those colours. That theme songs. You feel an undiluted rush of innocence as they wash over you.
If you could do with some of that escapism, then US$60 is a small price to pay for it.