Playing old video games in modern times is a weird experience. On one hand, we’ve been able to play older games on newer hardware for quite some time. However, I’ve always preferred the experience of playing games with original controllers on original hardware.
Going the other way, collecting and playing retro games in their original form is such a pain and only getting harder. Classic consoles are oftentimes difficult to hook up to modern TVs and the picture is often compromised. Worse yet, the prices for original copies has soared due to scarcity and demand.
When done right, the modern wave of retro mini consoles is proving to be a solid compromise between the two.
As superficial as it might be, having that form factor of the original devices matter. When I press the power button the NES Classic, it has the same springy feeling as my actual NES. There’s a chunky click that comes with powering up an SNES that’s replicated in its mini counterpart. The volume slider on the Genesis Mini may not actually impact the volume, but the fact that it slides up-and-down still gives me that sensation that I’m playing on authentic hardware. Even just seeing these devices on the shelf triggers my nostalgia. Sure, my Nintendo Switch can play NES and SNES games, but that’s not even the 5th thing I think about when I look at the Switch.
Authentic controllers are an even bigger deal for me. The NES controller may be as unergonomic as it gets, but playing Super Mario Bros. 3 with any other controller just doesn’t feel right. I’m sure this isn’t an issue for younger players who haven’t developed that association, but as someone who grew up with it, I’d prefer something that more closely resembles the genuine article.
Going the other way, I like the modern convenience of having dozens of games all on one console. Buying the games in these collections separately can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Relative to tracking down these games separately, this is a bargain. These compilations will never feature every great game from a console’s library due to publishing rights not rolling over for modern times, but the best retro minis still pack quite the punch. The SNES Classic and the Genesis Mini are filled to the brim with hits. The PlayStation Classic…could have been better.
Being able to run these games cleanly on modern televisions is also a huge plus. Unless you have a CRT just for the sole purpose of displaying retro games in their original form, those old consoles look rough on HDTVs. With these new mini consoles, you usually get options for displaying these games at their original resolution, stretched for widescreen, or even adding scan lines to replicate the original experience.
Retro mini consoles won’t ever replicate the full experience. But the combination of a familiar form factor, a solid collection of the console’s best games, and the convenience of being able to play these games on modern televisions at a reasonable price will always be a tantalizing proposition for me. I’ve got four of them now and I look forward to adding even more to my collection.