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The NES Classic, and the wonderful novelty of ‘dumb’ devices

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Gaming needs to stop trying to be so smart all the time

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NES Classic Edition teardown gallery Polygon

One of the best aspects of the NES Classic — the detail that feels the most refreshing — is that you can plug it into the wall or a powered USB port, plug the HDMI cable into your television and everything works. You will be playing games in under 30 seconds.

That’s an advantage no other “smart” gaming console on the market, despite the huge number of connected services and advantages that moniker indicates, can even approach, much less beat.

It’s time to start taking the “dumb” aspect of the NES Classic — and I will admit to disliking those two terms as a way to indicate whether a device is connected to a broader range of services — a bit more seriously.

Why this matters

There are no firmware upgrades to worry about, and in fact no way for firmware updates to be applied even if Nintendo would like to do so. There will never be any more games released for this particular flavor of the NES, and there is only one edition being sold.

It’s one of the rare buying decisions in gaming that is actually simple. Is it worth $59.99 to play these 30 games on hardware that looks and feels like the original thing in most important ways? That’s all you have to worry about. And it seems like the answer for many fans is a whole lot of “yes,” as the lowest price I could find on Amazon from third-party sellers was $206.

What Nintendo may have stumbled upon, even outside of the question of whether the company is throttling supply or actively incompetent as they try to meet it, is that customers who buy systems and games may be starved for simple choices.

My mother asked which VR system a friend should buy for their family, and I was halfway done talking about video cards and the size of their basement before she gave up in despair. I have a feeling that’s going to be a common issue keeping people from investing in the technology, and in some cases, the complexity of the initial purchasing decision is more of a stumbling block than even the high cost of the hardware itself.

And buying is just the first step

The most popular activities on Christmas morning for families who have purchased a new console will be updating firmware for the hardware and downloading patches for the games. That’s assuming the bundle they purchased came with physical games at all, and they’re not stuck downloading an entire game before they have anything to play.

It’s likely that Christmas afternoon is going to consist of a series of progress bars for many impatient children and adults.

And even buying a game is a nightmare these days, and I say that as someone who is literally paid money to understand this stuff. I used to go into electronic stores and pick up the NES game I wanted to buy and bring it to the counter, and that was it. You picked your game and you were done.

This is the purchasing decision that greets you when trying to figure out the latest Call of Duty.

Activision via Polygon

OK, that’s not so bad, right? You just pick where you live, and your console and the edition shouldn’t be too complicated, right? So let’s just check and ...

Activision via Polygon

Here’s a secret: No matter what you pick, it will be $20 less in a week and you will feel like an asshole. But your Nana has absolutely no chance inside electronics stores, unless you write out what seem like obsessively specific details about which Call of Duty game you’d like for Christmas.

Everyone is chasing the next upsell, and the arms race to edition complexity and the highest possible maximum price to snag the whales isn’t getting ridiculous; it has been ridiculous for years.

And here’s Nintendo, with the hottest toy for the holidays that only comes in one flavor, that will work on every television with an HDMI input and doesn’t require any additional work or thought out of the box.

It’s one of the few “dumb” devices to gain this level of success in 2016, and I’m tempted to think there’s at least a little causation there. We’re tired of having to make so many decisions and navigate so many updates and options before buying and playing a game on our new system.

The NES Classic removes all of that and replaces it with blessed, blessed simplicity. You also get a cool poster with it.