(Edit: This article was written prior to Nintendo giving more specifics on the Mini-NES, and as such should be treated more as a “what-if” scenario if Nintendo were to re-evaluate the Mini-NES’s capabilities.)
We’re all familiar with the plight of aging hardware that is no longer supported by modern HDTV’s and/or is no longer functioning correctly. All of those classic games lost to the passage of time. Backwards compatibility has long been a major selling point of newer systems, allowing us to carry these old games forward, even if its digital only. However, backwards compatible catalogues can be not quite as extensive as we might like. Sony and Nintendo cherry pick which games come forward and which ones are forgotten to time. Of course, it is costly to continually bring games to newer systems with architecture that is vastly different than it was ten or twenty years ago. How long they can keep this up before completely dropping it is up for debate. But perhaps there is a solution, and Nintendo has given us a glimpse of what that may be.
Just today, Nintendo announced the Mini-NES, the original Nintendo Entertainment System, but small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Of course, its not entirely the same. It supports HDMI and its conroller, which is a recreation of the classic NES controller, can be plugged into a Wiimote and used with the Wii U virtual console. The system itself comes with 30 games pre-installed on it, suggesting it has an internal hard drive. Since those older games aren’t nearly as big file size wise as newer games, its hard to say just how much memory the Mini-NES contains, but it likely wouldn’t need a whole lot if Nintendo plans to add more NES games to the system over time, hopefully quickly and not years down the line.
And here is where the point of this article comes in. Kotaku News Editor, Jason Schreier, suggested a Mini-SNES in the comments of his own article, found here:
And that got me thinking. The architecture of the Mini-NES can’t be that different from the originals. Changed just enough to support modern inputs and an internal drive. Since the games are pre-installed, there’s no way of knowing if old cartridges can be used with the system or if it supports a newer form of cartridge-based storage, because looking at the system it doesn’t seem to have a disc drive and with rumors of the NX being cartridge-based it makes sense that the Mini-NES wouldn’t ditch that. So here you have this new SKU of a 33 year old console, capable of playing NES games and that will likely never get new games, just games that the NES already has. The Mini-NES could be a dedicated “backwards compatible” console, leaving future hardware from Nintendo free to change as much as it wants without supporting past systems. You just pick up a $60 Mini refresh system and suddenly you have a whole library of classic games at your fingertips. And then the Mini-SNES and the Mini-N64 would follow suit. Each coming with a greatest hits collection of games pre-installed on the system with the promise of more coming down the line for $10 or less. And then eventually we’d get a Mini-GC. And here’s where I’d also suggest a Mini-Wii, but uh, they already have a console called the Wii Mini... so.... yeah. Maybe we could call it the Micro-Wii
Of course, this wouldn’t just be limited to Nintendo. A mini system would be cheap enough that Sega could produce versions of their older systems that are compatible with their older titles from the Saturn, Genesis, and Dreamcast days. No need to make them compatible with newer systems that Sega had no hand in designing, making them harder and more expensive to port. Sony could follow suit with a Mini-PSX which supports PS1 and PS2. And Microsoft could make a MiniBox which covers the original Xbox.
This could potentially be a really great idea. You have all the nostalgic gamers in their 40's, 30's, and 20's who would love to be able to play their old favorites as if they were new, and a whole generation of children who have never experienced these games and more than likely would not peruse the classics section of an online marketplace to find them. Having a system dedicated to them would put these games front and center in their living room and parents could share the joy of these old games with their children. Or parents who may not necessarily be gamers themselves could see this cheaper system and buy it for their kids as a sort of entry level console.
Now, to say that there isn’t another alternative would be a lie. There is. It’s called the Retron, a series of systems that, over time, have come to support more and more legacy consoles in a single system. You just insert your old catridges, plug in a compatible controller, and play. It supports HDMI and all that jazz, but I also get the distinct impression that they don’t necessarily have Nintendo or Sega’s permission to do it, but its an option I guess. They also have a few hardware issues so they also probably aren’t the ideal choice.
So what do you all think. Would you like to see Nintendo support the Mini-NES with more games, preferably the entirety of the NES catalogue? And would you like to see more of these mini consoles that could act as legacy systems for the modern era? A potential alternative to emulation and backwards compatibility problems?