The NES Classic is a huge hit. And if Nintendo’s mini-sized classic gaming box continues to be this popular, it could change the way the company looks at its huge library of classic games. (Hopefully for the better.)
Much of the NES Classic Edition’s success is largely theoretical at this point, since Nintendo released a tiny handful of units on its launch day November 11 and hasn’t resupplied them since. eBay prices for the $60 device, which plays 30 8-bit games from the 1980s and 1990s via HDMI, have shot up past $250. This will normalize once enough units are on the market, probably after Christmas.
But even once the demand and supply are in harmony, this could still prove to be a popular and long-lasting item. A similar device called Atari Flashback, which plays games from 1977’s Atari 2600 console, debuted in 2004 and is now in its seventh iteration, which you can still easily find on shelves at Target, Toys R Us, and other gaming retailers today. There’s no reason NES Classic couldn’t enjoy similar longevity.
Much like the runaway success of the mobile game Pokemon Go earlier this year, NES Classic illustrates how far apart Nintendo and its fans have been over the last few years: Its franchises are popular, but that potential audience simply wasn’t buying in to the actual products Nintendo produced. NES Classic is the answer to the oft-asked question, “Why can’t Nintendo just put the old Super Mario Bros. on my iPhone?” Answer: because that would suck, but letting you play the original Mario on a $60 box with an authentic NES controller is near-perfection.
So how will this change Nintendo?
If Nintendo’s smart, we’ll see more of these.
The 8-bit NES is not the end-all, be-all of Nintendo nostalgia. Today’s thirtysomethings pining for their childhood probably have stronger memories of the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System of the 1990s. A “SNES Classic” could actually be bigger than the NES version if Nintendo were to release it next year.
But actually, here’s the real hypothetical megahit product that Nintendo could make millions on: Game Boy Classic. Imagine it: compact, with a paint job like the classic Game Boy (which outsold every other game machine, back in the day), loaded up with Tetris, the original Pokemon, and who cares what else because that’s already the hottest thing ever.
Nintendo may pull back on releasing so many older games on Switch.
For the last decade, Nintendo’s home and portable platforms have allowed you to download older games under the “Virtual Console” banner. While I do expect Nintendo to ditch this clumsy moniker for the much better “Classics” branding, and while I can’t quite imagine a scenario in which it doesn’t sell the original Super Mario Bros. on its upcoming Switch console, I do wonder if the success of mini-consoles might not cause Nintendo to shift its resources.
Virtual Console games on Wii U are seen as a sideshow, not the main attraction. It’s tough to convince people to spend $300 on a console and $5-10 per game and play it on a controller that isn’t quite like the one they remember. NES Classic is cheaper (a Wii U with 30 NES games would cost a total of $450), far simpler to use, and the controller is perfect. I have a feeling these games will simply reach more people via these self-contained vehicles than they would on Switch. And Nintendo, historically, isn’t really into multitasking. It tends to just go all in on the thing that it’s most interested in at that moment.
This may help the reputation of “old games” significantly.
Cards on the table: I don’t think playing the videogames of 20 or 30 years ago is a pure nostalgia trip. Am I wallowing in nostalgia when I re-watch The Godfather? Does reading the first volume of Game of Thrones mean the reader is wistful for 1996? These are some of the best games ever made, and I like the idea of them being available in an inexpensive, mass-market format on store shelves. It’s nice to see them not have to play second fiddle to worse games just because they’re “old.”
Maybe Nintendo will drag some unreleased software out of the vaults?
When Atari released the second version of the Atari Flashback, it actually put some previously-unreleased Atari 2600 games on the unit. And it’s not entirely out of character for Nintendo to do this: remember that special version of Donkey Kong with the cement factory level restored that showed up on the 3DS a few years back, or that it released Earthbound Beginnings for the first time in the U.S. on Wii U.
“It can play an unreleased game from 1989!” doesn’t really sell a console like Wii U. But it would be a very enticing bullet point on the box for an updated NES Classic, or a SNES Classic. If there’s any more finished-but-cancelled games lying around Nintendo’s office (and you’d better believe there are), they might actually get shaken loose from the tree if Classic hardware sells well.
I can dream, right?
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