Nintendo Goes Retro: The Mini NES

Mini NES.jpgWe know that Nintendo has a new HD console in the works with the NX, but we don’t know a hell of a lot of details about said console. But this week Nintendo announced a different console, one that’s aimed in a different direction. Coming this November 11, Nintendo is bringing a Mini-NES to us, complete with HDMI video out, a classic NES themed controller and 30 pre-installed classic games. I think this is an excellent way to bring what made Nintendo so special to us older gamers to a younger generation, the kids just starting to play games now who never had the opportunity to play the NES. They’ve never had the joy of getting a cartridge to work after you spend 10 minutes blowing on it and the console; they know the names of the classics but haven’t (most likely) ever had the chance to play the originals. It’s also a fantastic way for us older gamers to reacquaint ourselves with our favorites, especially if you’re like me and gave your original NES away back in junior high and just haven’t been able to find another at the local retro shop since.

A lot of the games that will be part of the new Mini-NES are available already in other forms, mainly on the Virtual Consoles for Nintendos current group of consoles. That doesn’t mean that this is a rehash though – based on what Nintendo has said about the controller being based on the NES one, there’s something very different about playing those classic games on that controller, it’s a special feeling playing the games with the exact controller they were designed for. We don’t really think a lot about that these days, the controllers on the big two consoles are functionally identical, it’s just a few minor design and layout details that differentiate them. The NES controller is such a different feeling and looking controller compared with what we’re used to now – it’s blocky, almost uncomfortable in your hand; it’s incredibly simple in its design, two buttons and a D-pad. It’s actually something I’m really curious to see how the younger generation of players will react to – it’s a weird situation because there are tons of players who are familiar with the controller, but just as many who aren’t.

Mega Man 2 American Box

What they are familiar with, at least more so, are the games the Mini-NES will come with. The list of 30 games hits some of the biggest games that the NES had, including games that started franchises we’re still playing to this day. There are plenty of Nintendo favorites on there, along with a couple other third party gems. The full list includes:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Double Dragon II: The Revenge
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • Final Fantasy
  • Galaga
  • Ghosts’N Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out!!
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • TECMO Bowl
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Just looking at the list there are plenty of games that I’ve already played and beaten time and time again, but keep wanting to play another time. Games like Super Mario Bros 3, Mega Man 2, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid are some of the best NES games of all time. There are a couple deeper cuts in there that younger fans might not have ever played – StarTropics in particular jumps out to me. If you’re a new fan to gaming, or you’ve been playing for a handful of years, this is an incredible collection of games that forms the foundation of modern gaming. If you want to get a history lesson while playing some really amazing games at the same time, this Mini-NES is a must have this November.

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What Playing Old Games Can Really Teach Us

SNES Mario WorldI wrote last spring about how I went ahead and bought a used SNES. Sure we’re finally getting into the real meat of the true “next-gen” of games – the new releases look better than they ever have before, and we’re seeing some pretty cool approaches to gameplay too. But I still think that there is a lot of value in going back 20 some years to playing the classics. Some of those games are a bit expensive, so it’s maybe a little slower going if you’re building up multiple collections like I am (Xbox One, SNES and Sega Genesis).

As it stands right now, I still only have three games for the SNES – Super Mario World, Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For my Genesis, I have a few more, but I find myself playing the SNES way more, thanks to it having an A/V cable input, as opposed to the cable input. I just got Link to the Past, probably two weeks ago, and if I don’t feel like grinding in Destiny, I have a perfect single player experience now to fall back on. This might be a little weird to think – going back to the SNES for a single player game to play, instead of playing one of the new ones like Dying Light, Dragon Age: Inquisition or my Minecraft project. There are a couple aspects to why I do that. Partially, I just get burned out on certain parts of gaming – sometimes it’s shooters, sometimes it’s open-world games; and I look for something distinctly different. In this case, lately I’ve been burned out on grinding in Destiny – I recently hit level 32 on my main character, and just need a break before I start trying to really get my other two characters there. I’ve gotten back into playing Advanced Warfare a little bit, just to fill my liking for a competitive shooter online, but that’s more of a short burst game.

A Link to the Past

For the most part, my experience with the Zelda franchise really picked up with Ocarina of Time on my friends N64. I had played the original game years back, but I was too young to really understand the game’s mechanics and flow – I was more interested in platformers like Mario and Mega Man. And since I never owned a SNES, I never had the chance to play Link to the Past. I had of course always heard that it was considered one of, if not the, best Zelda game. Now that I have a bit more varied knowledge on the series, I feel like I can put my thoughts on it better now. Generally, people point to Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time as the best two. And really, they’re both incredibly similar. I think we’ll save the actual comparison for another day, because where they both really shine is in the same place – design. Both have a very easily identified difficulty curve. The initial dungeons are so much simpler than the later ones – partially because of the increase in amount of items that Link has on hand. There’s not a lot of hand-holding – that’s especially apparent in the Turtle Rock dungeon in Link to the Past. You are immediately faced with an interesting puzzle, which you need to use your new Cane of Somaria from the previous dungeon – but in a way that you didn’t in that dungeon. And unlike what might be the case in modern games, there’s nothing there to hold your hand and tell you what you might better do. It puts the impetus on the player, and as a result, whenever you figure out the puzzles, you feel a lot more prideful than in modern games. The entire success is on your hands and brain.

Mega Man 2 American Box

I don’t think that we necessarily need to completely go back to the old way – that’s the opposite of progress after all. But I do think that there is still a lot that we can learn from looking at the games that we consider classics – and apply those lessons with the new technology and ideas in design we have now. Capcom was on to something with the now cancelled Mega Man Universe – it featured a level editor using assets from Mega Man 2 levels. I think that the upcoming Mario Maker is taking that same idea – letting the devoted fanbase have access to the assets behind the levels, create their own, share them for others to play and let the cream rise to the top. It’s the basis behind Halo’s Forge mode. When you have players who grew up with these design principles, and then you give them the tools to apply them with their own imagination, you can get magic.