Case in point: the NES Classic Edition, a $60 plug-and-play unit that quickly became the holiday’s must-have gaming toy. Packing 30 great NES games, the pint-sized device captured everything people love about Nintendo nostalgia in an intuitive, affordable package (if you could actually find one).
But for purists, the Classic is just a tease. Sure, it’s cheap, and yes, it delivers a perfectly fine NES experience, but its intentionally closed design — you can’t add more games to it — only cracks the surface of the NES’ enormous games library.
If you still happen to own a ton of NES cartridges, the Analogue Nt mini might be the system you’ve been waiting for. Built for the NES connoisseur, it’s sleek, smart, and will make your ancient carts look and feel absolutely stellar even on a modern high-resolution TV. But at a wallet-busting $450, it’s a tough sell for anyone not clinically obsessed with playing old video games.
The Nt mini certainly looks cool. Its stark aluminum casing and solid body make it feel right at home alongside Microsoft’s Xbox One S (MSFT) and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro (SNE). It’s also much prettier than other throwback consoles like the Retron, and really aims for authenticity. Four NES controller ports compatible with original NES pads and peripherals line the front of the unit, though it also comes packed with the NES30 Bluetooth gamepad from 8Bitdo, a superb wireless option that beautifully mimics the real deal.
The top of the Nt mini has two slots: one for NES games, another for the Japan-only Famicom (which pre-dated the North American NES by a year and a half). It’ll also play Famicom Disc System games via a small add-on. Should that somehow not be enough, an SD card slot invites even more ROM experimentation.
Better still, an HDMI out lets you run games up to 1080p resolution (the Retron maxes out at 720p), though you can alternately hook up RGB, component, composite or S-Video if you’re angling for a more genuine experience on an older TV. I’m not sure who would ever opt out of HDMI, however, since one of the main reasons to get this bad boy is to play old games in glorious HD.
And glorious it is. Games look pixel-perfect, and all of the 30 or so NES carts I tried worked, though I had to clean the hell out of them first. The top-loading nature of the system also means the carts don’t quite lock in as firmly as they do on an original NES; many carts I tested required a bit of wiggling to find the sweet spot. Given, my old NES requires a lot more than that to keep carts in place these days, too.
Input lag, another common problem with other emulators, is hardly noticeable with the Nt mini. That’s contingent on your TV – input lag varies wildly from set to set — but provided your TV is a good one for gaming, lag won’t be a problem here (I tested with a 4K Samsung KS8000 and had no issues in Game Mode).
The Nt mini goes even further by letting you tweak an astonishing amount of options on the fly, including the resolution, a half-dozen color palettes, the intensity of horizontal scan lines, screen positioning and even a toggleable PAL mode. A built-in Game Genie option lets you input old cheat codes, a real boon if, like me, you are into impossibly hard and frankly bad games like the innovative dumpster fire, Deadly Towers.
Really the only thing holding me back from heartily recommending the Nt mini is that pesky price tag. It’s a well-built system, to be sure, but $450 is just really hard to swallow. That’s $50 more than a PS4 Pro, and unless you already have a significant library of NES games, you’re going to have to hit up yard sales, Goodwills, and the online auction circuit to dig up carts. The experience is cool, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the investment when an old NES still gets the job done (admittedly at a lower resolution and without any bells or whistles) at a fraction of the price.
Still, there is doubtlessly a market for the Nt mini. If NES gaming is your jam and you happen to have $450 burning a hole in your wallet, this will let you play with a great deal of power, indeed.
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Ben Silverman is on Twitter at ben_silverman.