This article originally appeared at Den of Geek UK.
Nintendo have something of a reputation for not making enough of their products. The Wii, amiibo, and now the NES mini were all rarer than hen’s teeth upon launch.
Received wisdom is that scarcity drives demand for their products but, if I live to be 100, I’ll never understand why you wouldn’t try to make enough of your things so that everyone who wants to buy your things can buy your things. I only did the one business degree, so what do I know?
If you were one of the many people hoping to get your hands on a NES mini for yourself or a loved one this Christmas, but missed out on the initial launch stock, despair not. You can actually pick up the original consoles on eBay (other second-hand retailers are available) for pretty reasonable prices. The setup might be a bit more complicated than just plugging the NES mini’s HDMI cable straight into your shiny new TV but, with minimal faff, and the right kit, you can soon have a truly retro setup in your lounge.
As with everything online, look for trusted sellers, and I’d advise only snagging stuff that’s been tested/refurbished for peace of mind that it’ll actually work. Sending back faulty stuff you bought online is utterly tedious.
Here are a few examples to get you started, based on things I’ve treated myself to…
Earlier this year, I snagged an original NES console for $82. It came with all the wires and one controller, so I grabbed a second one for a $12. The console had been refurbished, with a new 72-pin connector – they can get a bit shonky at this age, so that’s worth looking out for.
Of course, you have to buy the games for this (rather than getting the 30 included in the NES mini), so it’ll cost you a bit more in the end, but there’s something really satisfying about having the actual cartridges. Again, they’re not too expensive, unless you want to go down the route of mint-condition, boxed ones, rather than unboxed. But, if you really want to do that, you’ve probably got enough money to not mind spending the extra. I grabbed unboxed Mario 1, 2, and 3 for around $50, including postage.
So, an original NES, with two controllers and all three Mario games will set you back about $150. Not too shabby!
2. Super Nintendo
You can grab a SNES and its controllers for a similar price to the NES. Games-wise, Super Mario World or Super Mario All Stars will set you back around $25 each, while Super Mario Kart’s a bit more expensive: around $38.
A word of warning for this, and the NES, though – both consoles have a tendency to ‘yellow’ with age – make sure you take a look at the pictures of the one you’re buying if you want to avoid it looking like someone urinated on it. There are plenty available that haven’t aged badly.
A quick search online tells me there are various ways to de-yellow the consoles with chemicals and whatnot but, frankly, who can be bothered. Just buy one that doesn’t have wee on it.
Anyway, back on track, an original SNES, with two controllers and three Mario games will see you spending just shy of $190.
3. Sega Genesis
If it’s a Genesis you’re after, you’re in luck – they are dirt cheap on eBay. I grabbed one, with all the controllers, and the original Sonic, for $45. Sonic 2 goes for about $6, and Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic 3D go for about $12 each. A second controller will set you back about $6, too. So, an original Mega Drive, with 2 controllers, and 5 Sonic games will only cost you around $95. This is clearly the best bargain ever.
Of course, Sega have been flogging something similar to the NES mini for years, which will set you back around $50, and that includes 80 games so, if you’re not excited by having the original hardware, you can grab one of those instead.
4. Sega Master System
I grabbed a Master System, with Alex Kidd on board, for about $65. Games like Wonder Boy tend to go for about $12, controllers slightly more. So, a Master System with 2 controllers, Alex Kidd, and Wonder Boy will set you back around $95.
A word of warning on this one, though. The Mark 2 only outputs via RF cable (the hole taken up by your TV aerial cable). The Mark 1 has the ability to output via composite (red/yellow/white) which is much handier. Why? Let’s have a chat about wires, folks…
Wires! Wires! Wires!
You can buy RF switches so you can switch between your TV aerial and Master System’s wires at will, but they’re notorious for weakening the signal of both, and can be a bit fiddly/unreliable. All the other systems I mentioned above can output audio/video via composite cables and, as luck would have it, most modern TVs have a composite input that you’re probably not using.
Of course, assuming you now want to buy all of these consoles, you won’t want to be messing around the back of the TV every time you fire one up. Fortunately, there are some simple, cheap switches for precisely this situation.
For $25, you can put up to eight consoles through this (I’ve got my old N64 and GameCube going through it too), and changing between them is as simple as pressing the relevant button. You’ll need to grab another cable to run from this to your TV (another red/yellow/white composite cable), but they’re only a few bucks.
So, there you have it! Without breaking the bank, you could be enjoying a genuine retro experience this Christmas! Of course, what you really want to do is pick up a proper old CRT TV, but that’s another can of worms we won’t bother opening now…
Before I go, there’s one more thing to tempt you with. If you’ve got money to burn and you want the ultimate retro experience, you might want to treat yourself to… an arcade machine!
There are various places that offer traditional upright or cocktail cabinets, but the one that’s caught my eye recently is the Apex Play. It’s got over 800 pre-installed classic games, has the ability for you to add loads of additional games too if you know your way around an emulator, and you can grab a refurbished one for just $1900. I say ‘just’.$1900 is a lot of money, but it’s also a really good price given what you’ll be getting.
I’ll never get one though. My wife would, quite rightly, leave me if I spent that much money on games instead of clothes for our daughter. If I had to choose, and I really do, I’d pick a family and a SNES over an arcade machine in a bedsit. Your mileage may vary.