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NES Classic and SNES Classic: Where to buy and what you need to know

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The NES Classic — aka the NES Mini — came back from the dead on Friday. Mind you, it already seems to be sold out, but you might get lucky. And we’re hearing whispers there will be more stock next week, too.

The miniaturized version of the 1980s game console was first released in November 2016, and instantly became the impossible-to-find gift of that year’s holiday season. Nintendo effectively discontinued it the following April, even as it drummed up anticipation for its sequel, the Super NES Classic that arrived in November 2017.

But you can’t keep a good retro console down: Nintendo announced in September of 2017 that the NES Classic would return to stores in 2018. The arrival date was more recently confirmed to be June 29.

What’s the deal with the resurrected NES Classic? How does it compare to its sibling, the SNES Classic? And can you get any of these games on the Switch?

Glad you asked! Here’s what you need to know.


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The NES Classic comes back from the dead


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Which stores are getting stock of the NES Classic?

According to our colleagues at GameSpot, you’ll be able to find the NES Classic at GameStop (no relation), ThinkGeek and Best Buy, among other stores. It should be available online and at brick and mortar locations.

As always, though, stock is expected to be limited — GameStop will apparently have only about 10 units per store to start. Online allotments will likely sell out immediately, and Best Buy plans to use a ticketing queue at its physical retail locations. But…

Update, June 29 at 1:35 p.m. PT: Major online retailers all appear to be sold out at normal retail price at this time, though you might luck out depending on where you live — and more stock may appear next week, too.

Besides…

Was the SNES Classic ever really gone?

The SNES Classic never really went away. But it’s never been particularly easy to find, either. It occasionally pops up and sells out on Amazon and elsewhere. As of the time of this writing, it’s out of stock at Amazon proper (but available from some third-party resellers for a small markup), and it appears to be in stock at GameStops in the New York metropolitan area.

GameStop SNES Classic

GameStop/Screenshot by CNET

Nintendo, meanwhile, says that both consoles “are expected to be available through the end of the year.”

Are there any changes to the NES Mini and SNES Mini?

Nope! This is the same exact hardware, same built-in games — and same short cable on the NES Mini controller. So if you already have the “old” versions, there’s no FOMO here — these are identical.

Both units include an HDMI cable and Micro-USB AC adapter. They’re truly plug-and-play: The games are built-in, and there’s no online connectivity.

The included games are faithful recreations of the originals. They’re not widescreen, but you can manipulate the aspect ratios from the settings menu.

The great addition to the experience are save game slots for each title, so you can save your progress at any point and return later. That’s a key addition, because these old games are unmercifully difficult compared to modern-day titles.

What’s the difference between them?

The NES Mini includes a single controller, and these 30 games for $60:

  • 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
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out! Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

The SNES Mini includes 2 controllers and these 21 games for $80:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • F-Zero
  • Final Fantasy III (known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan and by many fans)
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2 (a never-before-released SNES game)
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Do I need any accessories?

All you need is a TV with a free HDMI port.

If you get the NES Classic, consider a set of controller extension cables (third-party models are fine), as well as a second controller — but don’t pay more than $10 for either.

Note, too, that a spare Wii Classic Controller will work with both models. And the SNES Classic controllers will work with the NES Classic as well.

Third-party wireless controllers are available for both units, but we’d recommend them for die-hard players only.

Will these games ever come out on Switch?

Actually, many of the NES games are coming to the Nintendo Switch ($299 at Amazon.com) via the Switch Online service, which launches in September 2018 for $20 per year. That service — think Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus — enables head-to-head online play for Switch titles like the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. But it also gives you the option to download a selection of classic NES games at no additional charge.

The initial slate of NES games is 20 titles, half of which Nintendo has announced:

  • Balloon Fight*
  • Dr. Mario*
  • Donkey Kong*
  • Ice Climbers*
  • The Legend of Zelda*
  • Mario Bros.*
  • Soccer
  • Super Mario Bros.*
  • Super Mario Bros. 3*
  • Tennis  

The ones marked with an asterisk are also available on the NES Classic.

Nintendo says that these games come with “added online play for the first time ever.” That sounds great if it means head-to-head play on Mario Bros. or Tennis, but it’s unclear what — if anything — that means for single player games like The Legend of Zelda.

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Bored with Fortnite? Classic NES games are coming to the Switch in September.


CNET screenshot

Nintendo says that more NES games will hit the Switch online service eventually. So the short answer is: Yes, a decent chunk of the 30 NES Classic games may hit the Switch this year or later, and they’ll be accessible for as little as $20 per year.

But unlike the Virtual Console of past Nintendo boxes, you won’t be able to buy these games for a la carte for $5 a pop. Just like the “free” Games with Gold (Xbox One ($450 at Amazon.com)) and PlayStation Plus (PS3, PS4), they disappear if and when you stop paying your membership fee.

On the other hand, $20 a year is a pretty great price, and getting them on the Switch means you can play them on the go or your big-screen TV, while the Mini consoles are TV-only affairs.

It’s also unclear if or when any of the SNES games would hit the Switch — thus making the SNES Mini a “safer” buy for Switch owners.

How about the 2DS/3DS?

Many (but not all) of these games are available on the 2DS/3DS platform, but would cost you a lot more than $60 or $80 if you purchased them separately. For instance, we calculated it would cost $130 to get the 26 of 30 games available on NES Classic for the 3DS platform back in 2016.

Be honest: Will I be playing these after the novelty wears off?

OK, #realtalk: For many of the CNET editors who purchased one or both of these, the NES and SNES Classics have migrated to a bookshelf, more a nostalgic trophy than an active game system. And for some of you — the ones who buy the Ultimate Editions of games, and who can’t wait to get that helmet edition of Fallout 76 — that may be part of the point.

To be honest, some of these games haven’t aged well. Playing 10 minutes of F-Zero or Super C is probably all you need. But Super Metroid, Yoshi’s Island and Mega Man 2 — to name a few — still delight, and those game-save slots are lifesavers on other titles that you might want to take time to explore.

SNES Classic EditionSNES Classic Edition

It’s all about the games.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Parents will also appreciate kid-friendly games in a plug-and-play box that works without the need for downloading patches or ongoing membership fees.

Bottom line: There’s plenty of value in both boxes. Just gut-check that you’re actually going to play the games in question.

If I have to choose, which one should I get?

CNET gave both products high marks — read the NES Classic review and the SNES Classic review. But we gave the latter model higher marks because its 16-bit games have generally aged better, and the included second controller means it’s ready for head-to-head gaming. Its games also aren’t slated to hit the Switch anytime soon.

That said, if you love any of the original NES games, you can snag them in one handy package for the same price that you’d pay for a single title on a current-day game console.

Should I hold out for the N64 Classic?

That, my friend, is nothing but a rumor right now — albeit one that’s based in fact. But yes: We agree that it sounds awesome — assuming the rights to Goldeneye 007 can somehow be worked out.

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