November 11, 2016 is a date that will live in infamy. The NES Classic Mini and Famicom Classic Mini debut in the country — and all hell breaks loose.
Nobody really knows what Nintendo had in mind when they released the pint-sized versions of their iconic 8-bit gaming consoles into the consumer wild. Both retro-designed platforms, faithfully recreated in the form factor of its older brothers, come with 30 pre-loaded games, the company’s greatest hits of the 80s and 90s. You’d think people would be well over this, considering how video games have advanced so much in such little time.
As it turns out, there’s nothing obsolete when it comes to nostalgia. The anticipation and demand was rabid, to say the least. You were smart if you bought one of these consoles on the first day — extremely lucky if you manage to get one a few days later.
I was of the latter. Waited three days before saying to myself that, yes, paying USD$60 (marked up to P3,995 here) for a console that contained a non-expandable roster of games from the 1980s made sense. Adult me was not fine with this, financially. Meanwhile, child me won any and every internal conflict by arguing that we simply had to have it.
I chose to get the NES Mini for the English language option, very important for the narrative-driven Role Playing Games in the roster. Despite being equally cool, I passed on the Famicom Mini which had games largely in Japanese.
Getting one of these toys had gotten extremely hard so quickly. “Chill out,” I said in my head as I walked in the store. “Don’t give in to the capitalist machine. These are just games. There are bigger problems in the world. Get out of your bubble and look at the bigger picture.” I was prepared to walk out and go about my day, expecting failure. I planned on failure.
“Here you go, sir,” chirped the saleslady. Just like that, on the counter sat the blue and yellow box for the NES Mini.
I rushed home, excited to see it in action. To be honest, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the thing. The gray and black unit mirrored the original NES design right down to the power and reset buttons. But it was the controller which struck a cord. I still have my original NES and looking at both of their controllers it struck me at how they have the same dimensions and weight. More importantly, the 2016 version felt the same. From the tension on the directional pad, to the satisfyingly soft clicks of the A and B buttons. Even the rubber surface of the Start and Select switches were the same.
The neurons in my brain started firing as I held that controller: watching my friend finish a game of Super Mario Bros. 3 in one sitting, getting my own Family Computer after a family grocery trip to Uniwide, getting the NES from an uncle abroad, spending three days cooped indoors on holiday break playing Rygar. This thing is more than just an expensive toy — it is a reminder of simpler and happier times.
It’s also cool as hell. There’s no buyer’s remorse whatsoever. Grab the nearest millennial and shove their faces into the first pixelated game that boots up. No need to download Day One patches that are 19 gigabytes big, no complex 3D textures or high-definition audio. Every game worked as it should before the developer shipped it out, ready to play the moment you brought it home from the store. On this machine, gameplay triumphs.
Aside from the special feels you get just by seeing the NES Mini, there’s also the games. We have to talk about the games. Thirty years on, spending hours after school and on weekends playing, you start to discover what it means to have muscle memory.
Super Mario Bros.? I bumped every box and smashed every Goomba on the way to hitting the top of the flagpole like a boss. Super C? Mega Man II? My fingers still knew when to press jump and fire the moment I hit start. In practically every game I fell neatly into a most familiar pattern of moves that kept me engaged for over an hour. Yes, even for games with noticeable input lag such as Ninja Gaiden and Punch Out!
We’ll probably never know what Nintendo had in mind by creating these two tiny monsters of childhood memory. But solid gameplay is timeless and we will play good games until the end of time — if we can get our hands on them in the first place.