Portable NES

Portable NES

I really want to live this thing. I really do. But… but….

As I mentioned previously, I’m a sucker for nostalgia. When I heard there was a consumer available portable NES, I had to own one. Here’s what you get with the package, plus a power adapter (not shown):

What You Get

 

Of course, Super Mario Bros. 3 isn’t included though. To start off, does it work? Well, yes – and no. As you can see, mine is working below:

SMB3

But if you wiggle the device at all, you get a nice scrambled screen:

Scrambled Game

One thing that’s not evident from the pictures alone is the sound. Every-time I turn on the console, it’s muted. I have to firmly flick my finger on it to get the sound to come in. I took it apart and checked the wires. I didn’t see a short, so I think the actual volume potentiometer is bad. Usually a flick gets it to come on and stay on for a while though.

So, it does play the games – as long you’re ginger with it. And it does play sound – as long you flick it. It’s important to note that, when I first got it sound was working fine. The intermittent sound problem started happening after owning it for a month or so.

But when I got it, there was a different problem – a cosmetic one. The clear plastic screen overlay was glued on crooked and had a mild scratch on it! A scratch on a factory new product! I contacted the manufacturer, hyperkin, and they mailed me a replacement screen guard which I super glued on after prying off the scratched one.

Speaking of the screen, the resolution … sucks. Now, NES games aren’t that high-res to begin with, but somehow the manufacturer picked a display thats actually less than the resolution of a NES. The pixels are large and coarse, and instead of anti-aliasing the graphics while down sampling, it simply omits pixels. Check out these SMB3 screens, and pay attention to the black border around the “Super Mario Bros.” text:

Screen_01

Screen_02

Now it’s by no means unplayable, but it does create weird artifacts. Those screens are static, so they don’t look too bad, but when moving, certain sprites and patterns will create a flickering effect. Because the screen is omitting pixels, on some frames it will omit different pixels than other times. Certain sprites and patterns will look DIFFERENT depending on which pixels are omitted. Because of this parts of the screen will have a weird interference effect that is distracting. Ultimately it’s background noise, so you can play the game, but it’s distracting.

 

Now, I said I want to love this thing, so I suppose I should mention the good things about it.

The controls are decent. They’re pretty stiff actually – but not the bad kind of stiff. Not the kind where you have to push infinitely hard to register a button push. No, these are a comfortable stiff. You do have to push harder than most Nintendo controllers, but after you reach the threshold it bottoms out nice and satisfyingly. Almost like a mechanical keyboard, but without the springy sound. Even better, they included turbo-buttons for A and B! How thoughtful! It’s just weird that they made start a rectangle and select a triangle…

Another positive about this machine is that it can play some (but not all) of the unlicensed Nintendo game paks:

Playing Dizzy

Another cool feature is that it can be turned into a TV console. It comes with an AV composite cable, two wireless controllers, and even a wireless Zapper gun for light-gun games. I’ll have to say, including the Zapper was going the extra mile. I doubt many people would be disappointed if it was lacking the light gun, but it does have one which is pretty cool. It’s even wireless! Unfortunately it doesn’t make the awesome SPRANG sound of the originals, but I’m not gonna fault them. However I’m obligated to mention, that the light gun only works on classic CRT televisions – just like real NES light guns. This wont work on a flat screen of any kind, but that’s not a fault of the manufacturer. The console also comes with an AC adapter, so you can play games without batteries. This is pretty useful if you want to play it on a big screen.

In fact, if you aren’t using it as a portable all the problems go away!

  • Playing on a big screen eliminates the potential to jiggle the cartridge causing a freeze / garbled mess.
  • Sound comes from the TV, not the console, so sound works.
  • The TV can display the full resolution of the NES!

But I should mention the wireless controllers:

Controller

Back of Controller

They’re OK. The buttons feel stiff, but great like the console itself. They also have turbo buttons for A and B – neat. They even have L & R buttons! Buttons the NES itself doesn’t even have! It’s obvious they recycled the mold for a Super Nintendo Controller here. I forget what those buttons do in fact, it’s been awhile since I used the controllers.

The downside to the controllers though, is that they use infrared wireless, as opposed to radio wireless. This means that they must have a line-of-site to the console for it to register their input. This is less than ideal. However, infrared is an order of magnitude cheaper to implement so I’m sure that’s why they went with it. Let’s assume your coffee table is uncluttered and the NES is sitting on it. If you’re legs can reach the coffee table, this should work. But don’t get crazy with the angles you hold the controller – keep it facing forwards and don’t block the LEDs.

Also, who wants to keep around 2AA batteries to make their controllers work?

All in all, I’ve come to realize that I DO love this console. Despite being janky and fiddly, the mere fact that it exists makes me smile. I’m sure not all of them have broken sound and come with a scratch from the factory. The main problem is that wiggling the cartridges causes it to freeze, but if you’re like me, you can play pretty gently and it will be fine. Other than that, the resolution of the screen is the biggest disappointment. But for me, I’m glad it exists, I have it sitting on my shelf of NES games:

NES Shelf

It’s a great conversation piece, and it works well enough that you can pull a random cartridge from the shelf, blow in it (required), and play it for a few minutes. Hell, if you want to test games at the used game-shop you could bring this with you, though it doesn’t support all titles. I’m glad I own one, despite it’s many flaws. If you’re the type of person who demands perfection from their electronics, you can safely pass this one by. But if you have a strong appreciation for novelty, this is a neat little thing.

Here’s some package shots:

In The Box Back of Box

January 4, 2015 at 11:50 am | Technology Reviews

 

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