Remember the NES Classic? Nintendo’s first effort at a stand-alone retro console was enthusiastically received and just about impossible to find after retail bots and scalpers sucked down most of the available inventory and left store shelves barren throughout the entire holiday season of 2016. By the time Nintendo announced the Super Nintendo Classic, the bad taste left in gamers’ mouths was significant enough that the company made repeated efforts to reassure gamers that sufficient numbers of consoles would be available, then announced that the NES Classic was so popular, it would make a return in 2018. This is that return, and the NES Classic goes on sale on Friday once again.
Demand was high enough last time that some stores are once again predicting shortages, though Nintendo has promised that it’ll keep stock available and flowing throughout the end of the year on both the NES and SNES Classic. GameStop has said it’ll have online stock and expects each store to have “at least 10 units,” while Walmart and Best Buy weren’t able to say how many units they expected to be in-stock. Target, meanwhile, won’t be selling online but will stock them in retail stores.
I was left more than a little disenchanted with the way Nintendo handled the original availability problem, but provided the company keeps its own hardware in stock for people to buy I can easily see the appeal. The question of whether you should invest in the NES is a bit more interesting with the SNES Classic also available — so let’s revisit it.
How you answer this question is going to depend on how you feel about ROMs, emulators, and aftermarket modifications. The SNES Classic and NES Classic are identical, architecturally speaking, and if you’re willing to mod your console, you can play games from both. This makes the SNES Classic the inarguably better choice simply because you can play every NES game on an SNES controller, but the reverse is almost never true. You can, of course, plug an SNES Classic controller into an NES Classic (or vice-versa), but we’re assuming that you’re looking to make one purchase, not two. (Note: Original NES and SNES controllers are not compatible with either platform).
SNES on the left, NES on the right. Image by Eurogamer
If you’re willing to emulate, mod, or otherwise build up a game collection through means that verge into gray territory at best, the SNES Classic is the superior choice to the NES Classic for the controller issue alone, and while you can absolutely roll your own solution via a Raspberry Pi 3 (and wind up with a more full-featured emulator for your trouble that can emulate classic titles from a great many systems, rather than just the NES and SNES), Nintendo’s own solutions are very solid systems. The games on the NES Classic are generally good and the loadout is worth playing through if you’re looking for a nostalgic slice of gaming.
The only major reason to hold off, we’d wager, is to wait and see if Nintendo is going to go for a hat trick and announce another major classic console — this time, presumably, focusing on the N64. The company has already trademarked a logo it could use for that system, but we don’t know yet if a launch is actually in the cards, and Nintendo would probably need to at least upgrade the integrated storage in its SoC this time around. Even if four Cortex-A7s, a Mali-400MP2 GPU, and 256MB of DDR3 is plenty of horsepower for N64 emulation, the 512MB of storage might not suffice. N64 games ranged in size from 4MB to 64MB, and while the 64MB cartridge was almost never used, at least Resident Evil 2, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Zelda: Majora’s Mask all used it. Depending on the games it hypothetically chooses, Nintendo might need a capacity bump.
But any hypothetical about a future N64 is, well, hypothetical. What isn’t hypothetical is that the NES Classic is finally back on sale. May the odds of getting one be ever in your favor, or at least more in your favor than they presumably were the first time around.