I got one. Nintendo has just released the NES Classic, a miniature version of the gaming system that ruled the world in the mid-1980s. It’s a self-contained unit that costs $60 and comes loaded with classic video games such as Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Pac-Man, and Final Fantasy.
Demand for the NES Classic has been huge. People are responding to a nostalgia factor, yes, but it’s nostalgia mixed with a yearning for something timeless—namely, games that are fun, simple to use, and suitable for children. People may be growing weary of graphic games that leave users feeling isolated and depleted rather than joyful.
At least that’s the vibe I got when I got up early on launch day to get to my local GameStop store. I had been in the store the day before to try to bribe the clerk for an early copy of the classic. He would not be moved, but he did let me know that on launch day the store would be opening an hour earlier than usual.
Waiting in line for the store to open, I asked the other gamers with me why they thought the NES Classic has been so huge—I mean, we’re talking about a system that is more than three decades old. Without fail, everyone mentioned two things. First, the games included were the games that people who were kids in the 1980s grew up playing. Second, they like the NES games precisely because they are different than contemporary games. It didn’t take much to uncover a surprisingly sharp critique of modern video games in gamers’ enthusiasm for the classic games. “They’ve just become way too complicated,” a woman who was there with her two kids told me. “It takes a week just to learn how to play them.” They also can be grotesquely violent.
Some of us in line go back not just to Nintendo, but to actual free-standing video games—the kind you used to have to leave your house to play. Back in the day you’d go to the local arcade with a couple stacks of quarters and waste an afternoon playing Space Invaders, Asteroid or (my favorite), Tapper. Arcades could be run down and a little grimy, but they were also safe places for adolescents. The presence of other people led to healthy competition and a feeling of community, something quite different from the isolation that happens with many modern video games played at home.
GameStop quickly sold out of the Classic, but not before I got mine. I have to admit, I’m thrilled to plug it in and reacquaint myself with Kirby’s Adventure, Excitebike and the Mario Brothers. Not just because of nostalgia, but because there’s a timelessness to games that are joyful, easy, and safe for kids. If the NES Classic sells well, Nintendo should take the hint—the world wants more Super Mario and less Grand Theft Auto.