The NES Classic Edition is nearly impossible to find. Overwhelming demand from a generation of people who want to go back the video games of their childhood (and scalpers) has ensured that Nintendo’s limited supply sells out the instant it goes on sale anywhere.
But why is a throwback console with 30 baked-in NES games (our review) generating so much excitement? After all, it’s easy to find most of these games on a 3DS — hell, you can even play them on your smartphone using emulators that are readily available on Android’s Google Play store.
The NES Classic Edition is working for Nintendo because it’s an ideal excuse to put these classic games back where they belong: on the television.
Ignore that ROMs and emulators, software that enable you to run console games on a modern device, exist in an ethically gray area. I assure you that most people who use ROMs and emulators ignore that fact as well. Playing games on your PC or smartphone is easy enough that almost anyone can do it. It’s also significantly cheaper than spending $60, and it’s less of a headache than trying to refresh Walmart.com every day at 2 p.m. Pacific time. So why aren’t all these people using emulators?
Because many people treat gaming as a communal experience. We gather around the television and enjoy even single-player games together. It’s the modern version of early humans gathering around the proverbial fire to share stories (that eventually become proverbs). The NES was one of the first times American families put something on their television that they engaged with as active participants, and it’s one of the reasons the system is still so magical to so many adults.
Now, of course, you can put emulators on your television if you set up your Android or PC in the right way. You can also use a Wii U and buy a lot of these games. But those methods are either too much work for most people or not worth the effort.
But with the NES Classic Edition, Nintendo has done everything right when it comes to getting the 8-bit Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda games back at the center of the family room.
Unlike the Nintendo Entertainment System that’s collected dust in your basement for the last 30 years, the Classic simply works. You don’t have to blow on cartridges (there are no cartridges), and you don’t need to worry about an ugly, warped image because you are hooking up an ancient SD signal to an 1080p display. The NES Classic has an HDMI port, and that means it works just like all of your other modern electronics.
November is the perfect time for the NES Classic Edition to launch. Most people should be able to buy one in time for Thanksgiving, and what better way to deter your racist uncle from going on a Trump-inspired post-dinner rant than a few games of Tecmo Bowl? At my family’s house, the TV was always the center of the action throughout the holiday, and the NES Classic is ideal for that setting.
Familiar but cute form factor
And if you do bring the NES Classic to a family gathering, its adorable look should be enough to convince people to let you hook it up. When people see the system, it’s almost impossible not to get nostalgic. You’ll begin reminiscing about the time you played hooky from school so you could finish Metroid (I hope my mom isn’t reading this). And everyone else will start talking about their favorite games, and you can say, “we can play that; it’s on here.” And a few hours later, you’ll have beaten all three Super Mario games.
A reason to go back
If you’re like me, you always want to go back and play your old video games. But I almost never do because I’m busy with work or an embarrassment of other forms of entertainment. The NES Classic Edition, however, is a $60 way of convincing yourself and your loved ones to actually indulge in nostalgia. I actually do have all of my old games already set up to play on my television, but what I’m missing is the argument that taking the time to actually do that is worth taking minutes away from some dumb Netflix show or going out to see a movie.
But what Nintendo has wisely realized with the NES Classic is that for a legion of fans that grew up on its games, paying $60 to have a mental excuse to bring these games back into the center of my life — even for just a weekend — is a bargain.