Review Time: NES Classic.

It was my 12th birthday in 1987 when my parents surprised me with the “Deluxe Set” version of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Among the games in my birthday hoard were Gyromite, Duck Hunt, Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins, and of course, Super Mario Bros. – It didn’t take long for me to dive into the 8-bit world with my friends as my gaming companions, playing all-night marathons and creating strategy guides. I read Nintendo Power and watched Captain N: The Game Master every Saturday, wishing that I could be so lucky. For a kid in the mid to late ’80′s, life was all about Nintendo. Or at least it was to me.

Systems have come and gone, and I even fulfilled a lifelong dream in ending up in the video gaming industry for about a decade. I was fortunate enough to have taken part in the waning era of the “pioneer days”, long before every single release of an multi-million AAA title would either make or break a company.

Classic game emulation is nothing new, whether purchasing a gaming anthology, playing on a digital download service, or even making use of an emulator. “Mini systems” that look like the consoles of old that house a handful of games are nothing new either. Nintendo finally got around to trying one of their own,

Enter the NES Classic.

The system is tiny, roughly about 5 inches wide (or the length of the original controller). Aesthetically, it’s well-designed, instantly creating a sense of nostalgia, and the controllers are completely accurate reproductions of the original controllers, which are responsive and feel great. I was initially surprised to see how “tiny” the controllers seemed, but the size is accurate. It’s the gamers that grew into bigger hands. The only real issue with the controllers are the exasperatingly short two foot controller cords, that were shorter than even the original cords. I get the idea of recreating the “sitting around the TV” feeling, but you need controller extensions if you want to play on your couch.

The system features 30 classic games from the 1980′s-1990′s era:

Balloon Fight
Bubble Bobble
Castlevania
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong Jr.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Dr. Mario
Excitebike
Final Fantasy
Galaga
Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins
Gradius
Ice Climber
Kid Icarus
Kirby’s Adventure
Legend of Zelda
Mario Bros.
Mega Man 2
Metroid
Ninja Gaiden
Pac-Man
Punch-Out!!
StarTropics
Super C
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 3
Tecmo Bowl
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

It’s a great selection of games from not only Nintendo, but companies such as Capcom, Konami, Namco, Square, and Tecmo, some of Nintendo’s best third-party offerings. There are some notable omissions in the line-up, such as titles like Rygar, Blaster Master, and Metal Gear, a few missing games from the featured series (no Mega Man 1, Double Dragon 1, or Castlevania III), or expectedly, no licensed titles like Batman, DuckTales, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They could have put 60 games on the system, and still not have covered all of those favorites on everyone’s list. Sadly, there is no option or ability to download new games, so holding out for Ice Hockey or Rad Racer isn’t going to happen here.

And yes, this is the Punch-Out!! sans Mike Tyson.

From a graphics and sound standpoint, this is the best that Nintendo has ever done for emulation. The original Wii stretched out games, and the Wii U inexplicably made games look dark and sound muddy. Here, the visuals are crisp and vibrant, looking better than you remember, and giving you a chance to really soak in all the pixelated details. The sound is full and and rich. There are also three video settings: Pixel perfect (recommended), one that stretches the games to fit more of your screen, and a CRT mode, to emulate what games looked like on old non-HD televisions.

Challenge wise, they are exactly how you remember, both good and bad. Every profanity inducing patterned respawning enemy that is perfectly placed to launch you into a pit based death, one hit kills, limited continues, restarting back at the beginning of levels, lost progress due to powering off the system, and of course the obtuse puzzles and “Engrish” translations of Castlevania II. Today’s kids might not “get” it, as there’s no tutorials, or convenient Nintendo Power strategy guides to page through. Fortunately, the system offers four save states for each game, so no forced overnight sessions until the sun rises to beat Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins… only to find that there is a second playthrough. *throws controller*

There is a downside to accessing the main game and settings menu from the “Reset” button on the system, which is an annoying walk over or reach to the system. But… authenticity.

I get it that it’s not “cool” to own mini systems like this, and one may as well turn in their gamer card if they don’t still own their original systems (which I do), or choose to access every title via an emulator on a PC. But there’s also something about a feeling. Something about that red light on the front of the system, or the feel of the original style controller in your hands, or how great these games look on a 60-inch screen, or how it felt to talk games at school, after school, or during sleepovers while eating Nintendo cereal, despite it tasting like fruity sawdust. This is something for people who lost their old NES system along the way, or for those who really want to see their games looking the best they ever have, even though your memory will tell you that they always looked this good.

Chances are (and hopefully), they will continue the trend with a tiny version of the Super NES and Nintendo 64, and until proven otherwise, something is telling me the new Switch might not support Virtual Console, and this may be Nintendo’s end-all outlet to (legally) access classic games. In any case, $60 is a fair price for 30 games, when Nintendo would otherwise charge you $150 for all this on their digital services, minus the controller and system.

It’s an enjoyable system. It’s going to be stupidly hard to find due to Nintendo’s perplexing underestimation for demand and limited distributions that they mandate. I may be missing the point of doing it the “proper” gamer way, and may have to turn in my card to the detractors before this run is over, but I’ve certainly had fun with it.

I wonder which side is truly missing the point of this after all….

Revisiting old friends.

Revisiting old friends.

(Dedicated to Aaron, Jeff, Jeremy, and Rondi.)

Actor’s Studio.

Did you know that I was once in the pilot for a reality TV show?

It’s true! About 2-3 years ago, I got cast as one of the leads for a “limo adventures” show based in Las Vegas on a popular cable network, but the show never aired past an initial promo clip (long since removed). I was one of a group of guys (all local hires) that were cast as a bunch of tourist/convention goers that was visiting the Strip and looking for a fun and crazy night on the town that only Las Vegas can provide.

There is no “reality” in reality TV. At least, not in the way you may think. It’s not a “one take and go” in some Ed Wood-style brush of spontaneity. There are characters. There are settings. While largely unscripted (think something akin to doing improv), there is a purpose to the scene and motivation. Even American Idol, with its seemingly “live” feel was the result of multiple takes and multiple “TBD” winner announcements during rehearsal. The winners are selected even before the show has started (the aired show, however, is one run through where said winners are actually revealed).

Each actor in our group were no different than the other, all on the same hierarchy level and chosen from a list of selected casting submissions. While we had just met and were getting to know each other, one guy was chosen as our “leader”. I was chosen as the “wing man”. The other two guys were there and contributed commentary, but weren’t as focal as the leader and I were.

At one point, we had a selection of limo drivers that we were to choose from for our night out. Even though we went through the same “What can you do for us” spiel with each one, the actual limo driver we’d use was already chosen for us: This very pretty, buxom blonde driver. While we could relatively say whatever we wanted to during the course of the conversation, there were a few key lines that we had to recite to move the plot along. We did multiple takes, trying to get the best and most dramatic delivery of our lines, but as much as it would have been televised that we were deliberating our best options, our female driver choice was already pre-selected.

The did “B roll” of our time at an arcade. They focused on me here due to how well I played video games. Later that night, the leader was to get a tattoo at a popular Vegas tattoo shop, which was really a professional quality “peel and stick” that he could remove later after we wrapped. During the drive around, they filmed us and our conversations the entire time to get the best sound bites and catch phrases. At one point, production admonished the other two guys for breaking character and talking about when the show was going to air, and how it compared to other shows. We were suggested by production to flirt with our driver, which the latter took to going into great detail as to how they’d like to spread her legs and bend her over. They were definitely unscripted here. During one break, I apologized to her for their behavior, as you could tell it was going above her level of patience, and her cheerful smile was becoming more forced as those comments continued. She appreciated me saying something, and said she was used to guys like that. I was embarrassed that they thought this was appropriate behavior, even for “acting”.

We later made our way downtown, where we met and picked up a selection of attractive “party girls” from a bar (also local hire actresses). Production supplied us with drinks in our limo to loosen us up as we drove multiple times around the block for the best takes of driving past some of the iconic casinos. After a while, we pulled over, did our “final thoughts” of our completely spontaneous and crazy night that definitely only happened one time, then went home back to our normal day jobs and to wash off tattoos. The hangover that I had the next morning, however, was real.

The characters that we portrayed on TV were not a real representation of our actual personalities. They were characters open to our interpretation, yet driven by several scripted key moments, dramatic deliveries, bold camera angles and cuts, and I’d assume equally powerful music to enhance the scene. To the viewer, you’d think this was an actual night. For us, it was a lot of takes and multiple hours on the editing floor to create the personas that you would see (and hopefully enjoy) on television.

I’m not a party guy visiting Las Vegas while attending a tech convention. I only play one on TV.

Last night, a friend texted me that my Dad is currently rolling in his grave. I’d have to believe that he absolutely is.