When Nintendo announced the NES Classic Edition four months ago, many Nintendo fans rejoiced on the Internet, signaling high demand for the miniature console that would be released right before the holiday shopping season. Editors from Wired, Kotaku, Ars Technica, and many other gaming sites noticed abnormally high visitor traffic after sharing the news. I admit that the hype gave me high hopes of buying one for myself without issue. Nintendo surely must've noticed the overwhelmingly positive reaction to its viral marketing.
Unfortunately, last week's low supply across the board left myself and many others disappointed and frustrated that the NES Classic sold out within minutes at all major American retailers: Amazon, Best Buy, Target, GameStop...it didn't matter. You can't find it anywhere now. Polygon's Christopher Grant blamed Nintendo's incompetence for its scarcity: "So either Nintendo is constraining supply, in order to drive hype and awareness and the allure of exclusivity — a holiday narrative as applicable to the NES Classic as it was for Tickle Me Elmo — or Nintendo is just consistently bad at assessing demand and then meeting it."
For diehard Nintendo fans, buying and collecting amiibos is an all too familiar experience. The figures were seemingly relatively easy to manufacture at large quantities, yet some were impossible to find at launch in North America. History repeats itself with the NES Classic Edition, as our buying options now include signing up for never-ending email waiting lists, or succumbing to price gouging from scalpers on sites like eBay.
However, if you're eager for a retro gaming fix while the NES Classic is nowhere to be found, there are some other options to consider that could be even more affordable.
Buy Virtual Console Games on the Nintendo Wii U, 2DS, or 3DS
Nintendo's downloadable classic games store, or Virtual Console, has more than 200 NES titles and nearly 150 SNES titles to choose from. There are many games to choose from than the NES Classic Edition offers. Also available is a huge library of games from other platforms, including Game Boy, Game Boy Color, N64, Game Boy Advance, DS, and even Sega's Game Gear. If you already own a Nintendo Wii U, 2DS, or a 3DS, checking out the store is a no-brainer.
Believe it or not, buying Virtual Console games is the most affordable way to play Nintendo games conveniently right now. For $80, you can buy a Nintendo 2DS (which comes preinstalled with Mario Kart 7 as a bonus) for retro gaming on-the-go. From there, you can browse and download classic games via the Nintendo eShop, under Virtual Console games.
One of the downsides here is that game prices start at $5 each, which can add up quickly. Also, if it matters to you, you can't connect the 2DS to display on a TV. Still, it's a great way to play the same NES Classic games on a portable console.
A more expensive step-up option is Nintendo's New 3DS XL. The real reason to go for this version is its exclusive access to Virtual Console Super Nintendo games, which aren't playable, oddly, on the 2DS. You need the New 3DS to play SNES games, where Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and other gems are available for $8 each.
Build a Raspberry Pi Game Emulator Console for $35
For those of you with time to spare and tinker around, consider the low-cost micro computer, the Raspberry Pi, and its capabilities. For $35, you can easily build an all-in-one retro game console, even if you have minimal experience with video game emulation. LifeHacker's Thorin Klosowski posted a great step-by-step beginner's guide on how to build it yourself.
As a disclaimer, we can't link to sites where you can download free game ROMs. So we’ll leave it to you to come up with the ROMs on your own. Video game emulators exist in a semi-legal gray area of Internet and copyright law, so you should own a physical copy of a game if you download its respective ROM.
Buy a Clone Console like the RetroUSB AVS or Hyperkin Retron 5
For savvy retro game collectors out there, owning physical cartridges are a must. If you fall in that category, then buying a modern clone console like the RetroUSB AVS or Hyperkin Retron 5 is an excellent option. Think of them as unofficial hardware refreshes for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. They both support original NES cartridges and controllers, but everything else about them is brand-new. Both display crisp, high-definition signals over HDMI instead of the original NES' fuzzy, ancient composite cable.
The AVS costs $185 and boasts two very special features: built-in cheat codes and an integrated scoreboard. The hardware itself is beautifully made from original parts, paying homage to the NES' iconic design. It authentically replicates the original console without the legal ambiguity of emulators.
The Retron 5 is a $160 Android device that runs cartridges through onboard emulators, but it includes more modern features like save states, graphic filters, and screenshot captures. It also plays Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Famicom, Super Famicom, SNES, Sega Genesis, and Mega Drive cartridges.
However, keep in mind that neither the AVS nor the Retron 5 have the 30 built-in games that come with the official NES Classic Edition. Also, if you're a purist who insists on playing NES games on original hardware, you have other options in the expensive Analogue NT or a Hi-Def-NES mod kit.
Buyer beware: I don't recommend other clone consoles besides those mentioned above, even if they're sold at lower prices. Based on my research, they break quickly, ship with terrible controllers, and will more than likely not support HDMI output.
Import the Famicom Classic Mini
Nintendo is selling the Famicom Classic Mini as the tiny console counterpart in Japan, and it's still possible to import it for less than what American scalpers are trying to flip the NES Classic Edition for. As long as you don’t mind waiting a bit for it to arrive, Amazon Japan's third-party lowest price options are currently set at about $105, which can ship to the U.S.
The Famicom Mini includes two controllers instead of one, so you do get the pair at no extra cost, but they can't be removed the same way the NES Classic’s can. It also does not come with an AC adapter, but it can be powered via a micro USB cable, meaning most smartphone chargers should work okay.
Wait it out
Last week, Nintendo issued the following statement to press, and later tweeted the same message:
"The Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition system is a hot item, and we are working hard to keep up with consumer demand. There will be a steady flow of additional systems through the holiday shopping season and into the new year. Please contact your local retailers to check product availability. A selection of participating retailers can be found at www.Nintendo.com/nes-classic."
That's somewhat promising for collectors, but it's unlikely you'll be able to find one before the end of this year, especially given Nintendo's track record with amiibo launch sales: it took the company more than a year to finally meet American amiibo demand. Don't count on the NES Classic being available before the holidays' end.
Whatever you do, don't buy the NES Classic Edition on eBay. Scalpers are banking on the fact that this item is on many gamers' holiday wish lists for 2016. Some eBay sellers completed sales as high as $500 for the $60 item. Third-party Amazon listings for the extra $10 controller averaged $250 as of last week. At those prices, you have better options for playing the games included on the NES Classic Edition, most of which will be cheaper.