Hands on with Hardware: The NES Mini

This tiny box packs a hell of a wallop!

The NES mini has been the hot topic amongst the gaming community for quite a while now, with some glowing reviews and some scathing crticism (I even dropped my two cents in a while ago!) Anyway, with Christmas fast approaching, I think the timing is right to get my hands on one of these and let you know if it’s worth picking up!

No history lesson this time around, I’ll cover the NES legacy another time.

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The console

Nintendo have got the design just right. The NES Mini is adorable, with Power and Reset buttons working just as they should. HDMI video is a killer feature on this console, giving out wonderfully sharp graphics and sound. The console itself feels a little light, but I can live with that. Power is supplied through a USB cable, which you can attatch to a TV, your PS4, or a plug socket…. if you want to be old fashioned!

Once booted up, you’re greeted with a nice, clean menu and some wonderful 8 bit music, just to get you in the mood!

The controllers

nesm4These controllers are spot on, too. They’re the exact same size as the originals and handle much the same. They use Wii-style connectors to plug into the console, it’s a shame they didn’t keep the original connectors, but that would have thrown off the tiny console’s design. Mike and I gave them a rigorous playtest, swapping between the NES Mini and it’s great grandfather, and the only small gripe we had was that the plastic D-Pad on the mini’s controller felt a little sharp on the thumb. Whether the original pads were “worn in” after 30 years of game play we can’t be sure.

There is one flaw the NES Mini cannot run away from (Get it?)  And that is the length of the controller cables.

Measuring up at almost 31 inches, the controller cables are just not long enough. Want to sit on your couch and play your NES Mini? You’ll have to move your couch then! Cables on the older console are over 90 inches in length – three times longer! The Mini had to sit at my feet while we tested it out – Not exactly an ideal setup in a living room!

The Games

The NES Mini has 30 playable games. There won’t be any updates to this collection and I’ve berated Nintendo’s lack of foresight already. This console could have been a great cash-cow for them, we could have seen great new selections, but at the end of the day… these 30 are all we’re going to see. Makes me sad.

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But let’s try and be objective. The 30 games featured are mostly five-star fan favourites. You have Zelda, Castlevania, Mario, Metroid, and Final Fantasy, basically the cream of the NES crop. Some superb titles underneath these as well like Double Dragon II, Super C, Kirby and Punch-Out – there’s something for everyone.

The games are playable with three screen effects/filters: Pixel-perfect, 4:3, and CRT. Each filter has it’s strengths and weaknesses, but I preferred CRT. It gives everything a retro feel and you’ll see the scanlines across the screen like you did in 1989. Well done Nintendo!  Each game controls perfectly, I didn’t feel any lag. Sound is perfect too, It’s just like playing the original cartridge. Again, we compared to the the original. Using my everdrive we could compare each game on the mini to the original version. There were a few small colour differences, but not much else to write home about. The NES Mini stays very faithful to it’s roots.  Your on-screen character sprite even flickers like it used to, this is emulation on an impressive scale.

Two more quick things I wanted to mention: Being able to save your position in any given game is a GODSEND. You get 4 save slots per game, and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.  And thanks to a clever QR code mechanic, you can view and download all the original game manuals to your phone! Neat!

Is the NES Mini worth buying?

The Price is Great.
Controllers are very good.
30 great games, lot of fun to play.
Different display modes, original manuals and save games – great features!

Supply is scarce.
Those controller cables are a disaster.
Game limit permanently locked to the original 30.

If you grew up playing NES and want to relive a few of your old favourites, grab this if you can find it. It’s a lot more dependable than 30 year old hardware, and it’s a well presented retro package.  For me personally though, the limited library is a gamebreaker.

A working original NES and an Everdrive cartridge remains the perfect solution for replaying all those classics from the Nes’ huge back catalogue, but this is a great little trip down memory lane for around a third of the price!

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