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Nintendo's mini-NES is a tiny, beautiful dynamo

Welcome back to my living room

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Cynical people might look at the NES Classic Edition as just the latest instance of Nintendo selling your childhood to you and laughing all the way to the bank.

They wouldn't necessarily be wrong, considering the limitations of this diminutive console. But while the system's feature set leaves plenty to be desired, Nintendo's no-frills approach did its job during a brief hands-on demo in New York this week.

Let's start with the obvious: The NES Classic is small. I didn't bring a ruler with me to the appointment, and Nintendo representatives couldn't provide us with the system's dimensions. But as you can see in the photo above, the console fits in my hand (and I don't have large hands).

Because the NES Classic looks just like the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and we have an intrinsic sense of the scale of that console, photos of the NES Classic in someone's hand make it look like a giant is holding the thing. Eyeballing it, I'd guess that the unit measures somewhere from 5-7 inches in both width and depth, and about 2 inches in height. It weighs maybe a pound.

The front of the NES Classic is identical to the original NES, except for the two controller ports and the fact that you can't flip open the cartridge slot. There are only two ports on the back: an HDMI output for video and sound, and micro USB for power. No other ports exist on the console; it does not support expandable storage, so it's a static piece of hardware.

Once you boot up the system, you'll see a dashboard in which you can scroll horizontally through Bubble Bobble, Mega Man 2, Tecmo Bowl and the 27 other games that come preinstalled on the console. Each one offers four slots for suspend points. At any time while playing a game, you can press the reset button on the front of the console — with only A and B buttons on the gamepad, there's no controller input for this function — to go back to the home screen, and then press down on the D-pad to save your progress.

It's great that Nintendo made it convenient and easy to save your game. But the most wonderful feature of the NES Classic is found in its settings menu, where players can choose from three different display modes. None of them, thankfully, will reformat a game to fit modern widescreen televisions. (Nintendo representatives were unable to confirm the output resolution of the system, although when we captured footage of it, the video came in at 720p.)

The standard option is "Pixel Perfect," which makes these 30-year-old games look as clean and sharp as retro-style titles released today, and outputs them with square pixels. That produces an image that's narrower than the 4:3 aspect ratio you may remember from your youth, so "4:3" is also an option in the menu. But if you really want that nostalgic experience, the NES Classic offers a "CRT filter" setting that renders games with scan lines, presenting them as they would've looked back in the day. Seeing this mode instantly transported me back to my childhood living room, playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on a 19-inch TV as a 4-year-old in 1991.

For some people, that won't be worth $59.99, especially since the NES Classic is a relic in multiple senses: Without expandable storage or internet connectivity, there's no way for Nintendo to add games to the console in the future or expand its feature set. At the same time, it feels like the company is trying to do right by its fans with features like the video settings and controller support. (The console comes with one replica NES controller that is compatible with NES Virtual Console games on a Wii or Wii U, and you can buy additional ones for $9.99 each. You can also use a Wii Classic Controller or Classic Controller Pro with the NES Classic.)

While you make your decision, check out the 17 photos below to get a closer look at the NES Classic Edition, which hits stores Nov. 11.

Photos by Samit Sarkar/Polygon