If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you’ve probably seen me talk about the NES Classic already. When it came out I ranked the 30 games bundled with the device and also speculated on what could be included on a likely SNES Classic. What I didn’t do was actually come out and review the device. I figured I had nothing left to add to the general opinions that already existed across the internet. Which is to say, the NES Classic Edition is a fun little device, but it’s hampered by short controller cables and not every one of those games is really worth owning in 2016. Since then, the NES Classic became the hot holiday item and was also probably the hardest to come by. Nintendo evidently didn’t anticipate how popular it would be, as it couldn’t meet demand though it assured consumers more were on the way. Now we’re in April 2017, and the NES Classic has been discontinued.
If you were one of those individuals who got a NES Classic then you’re probably feeling pretty fortunate right now. It was never in stock to the point where you could walk into a store and take one-off the shelf. I suspect those who didn’t get one during the holiday rush probably expected them to eventually be in stock in reasonable numbers, just like Nintendo devices from years past. And while the fervor died down a bit following Christmas, consumers still needed to be vigilant in order to get one.
If you’re still pondering getting a NES Classic you’re probably down to third-party sellers as your only option. As of April 27th, the Nintendo store in NYC has stopped selling them and most big box retailers have either unloaded all of their stock or will do so this weekend. Online, no one has had stock since early April except Amazon’s Prime Now delivery service which has had flash sales sporadically and appears to be done as of this writing. And people selling Classics on Amazon or eBay know full well that the item is still highly sought after and essentially unavailable at retail and the prices reflect that. If you were lucky enough to encounter a Classic in the wild, you were likely charged 60 bucks to purchase the console which came bundled with one controller, a micro USB cable, wall adapter, and HDMI cable. A few places up-charged, and Gamestop offered mostly bundles full of other stuff no one wanted, but for the most part retailers stayed at the MSRP. During the lead-up to Christmas, prices climbed high enough to more than quadruple the MSRP with some even fetching around $300. After the holidays, the prices came down to the $120-$150 range, which was still a lot considering the MSRP, but perhaps not prohibitive. Now they’re back up to $300 and higher and who knows where they’ll settle at as they become more and more scarce.
At $60, purchasing the NES Classic wasn’t much of a dilemma. At that price point it could be considered a novelty. Had it actually managed to be well stocked it probably would have been a popular impulse buy. At the prices they’re going for now though, it becomes a much tougher proposition. I was fortunate enough to purchase two NES Classics. When the item was first announced, I got it in my head that it would make a great Christmas gift for my best friend, so I went to great lengths to acquire one eventually scoring one on Prime Now in a city that wasn’t my own. I had to pay extra to have the item shipped by UPS after having it delivered to one of its stores, but it was a small price to pay to secure a cool gift for my buddy. After Christmas, I happened to be at my computer at the right moment when Best Buy’s website put some up for sale and was able to get one for myself. I’ve had the NES Classic for months, so I feel well equipped to tell you what it’s worth.
To properly judge the NES Classic, you have to consider what it does well and what it doesn’t and why you want it. It contains 30 Nintendo games, about half of which are classics. Some of that lesser half is still playable, and some of it are titles you’ll likely play once and then never again. For sixty bucks, you’re getting each game for essentially $2, so it’s hard to get upset about Ice Climber when you also have Super Mario Bros. 3. None of these games are particularly rare, but you’d be hard pressed to find many for less than $2 if you were trying to get actual NES carts. This makes getting a lot of the best Nintendo games pretty convenient and pretty affordable. Of course, this ignores emulation piracy which I know a lot of people engage in. You don’t need me to tell you that you could probably download all of these games at no expense to you with probably minimal risk of actually running afoul of the law. Don’t confuse that statement as an advocation for illegal ROM downloading, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality. In other words, these games are all easy to come by and probably for really cheap. And if you were an early adopter of Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, you even received a bunch of these games for free from Nintendo itself.
What it all comes down to, you only have a few reasons to actually buy an NES Classic:
- The emulation is great and probably the best way to play these games. There’s no latency even when played on a modern television. You can play these games in crisp, bright, HD or opt for a filter that mimics a CRT television (my preferred mode). Nothing else I’m aware of does a better job, including Nintendo’s own Virtual Console service. Simply put, while these games are of limited value visually speaking, they’ve also never looked better and likely never will.
- The novelty of it all. And really, this is probably the big reason why people want this thing. It’s cute. It’s a tiny Nintendo Entertainment System that fits in your hand. It’s exactly the type of thing people get nostalgic over and want. Even people that know they won’t actually use this thing much still want it because it looks cool.
There’s also a third reason, though it ties into number 2, and that’s this thing has no protection built-in really what-so-ever. It’s a popular item for modders to hack, and its storage capacity is vast enough that some claim it could store the entirety of the N64 library on it. For those who are really into emulation, it’s kind of the ultimate device because it’s an official Nintendo product capable of playing every single NES game in glorious HD with save states to boot. Considering most that are into emulation do so because they just want to play the games cheaply and easily, they’re probably no longer willing to pay hundreds of dollars to get a novelty box for their illegal games. Especially when you consider that if you mess up the ROM dump you can brick your tiny NES and that just doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking considering what they’re worth.
The decision to purchase or not purchase the NES Classic isn’t that complicated: you either really value silly little niche products or you don’t. If you have a ton of money at your disposal, then have at it, but if you just thought it would be fun to play these games again on a novelty device then passing on it at quadruple the retail price should be pretty easy. That said, if prices come down over the coming months then I could foresee a price range that would have made me comfortable that exceeded retail. At $100 to $120, I could probably talk myself into buying this thing all over again (if I for some reason wanted two of them), but I’d probably stop at around $150. If you really want to play a game or games that are included with the NES Classic, it’s just too easy to go elsewhere for a similar experience.
This whole post also assumes that the NES Classic has truly been discontinued. It makes little sense for Nintendo to cancel the thing. It costs them very little to produce, it likely has little or no impact on Switch production, and Nintendo probably isn’t selling tons of copies of these games via its Virtual Console platform. It’s possible Nintendo just wanted to make a quick buck, but was afraid of cannibalizing its virtual shop. It’s also possible the NES Classic was a bare-bones test run of a dedicated Virtual Console set-top box. Perhaps Nintendo will just release a new version later this year that is capable of adding software and likely would be harder for modders to crack, as it would seem the ease of doing so with the current NES Classic was a big factor in its cancellation. At least, that’s the only thing that makes sense. A rumored SNES Classic is on the way, so hopefully the scarcity of the NES Classic wasn’t intentional and the SNES Classic arrives in far greater numbers. If I can’t pre-order it I’ll probably lose my mind, or I’ll likely just end up outside a gaming store hours before it opens to get what I want silently cursing Nintendo the whole time.