This article originally appeared on VICE UK
The Nintendo Entertainment System was everywhere in the 1980s. It was the best-selling console of its (third) generation, with over 60 million people worldwide welcoming the system into their homes. It had Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Bionic Commando, Punch-Out!!, Metroid. It revolutionized the gaming industry. Today, you can find NES-themed branding adorning T-shirts, pants, drinks, cans... anything: The system, and so many of its titles, are completely iconic.
One company wants to turn the NES tide back to its roots, though—away from all the cutesy imagery, and centering on the pure gaming experiences the system had to offer. And it's doing this by bringing out a NES all of its own.
Analogue Interactive is launching its Analogue Nt in 2015 (pre-orders have been running since the spring of 2014, with shipping due to commence in February). The Seattle-based company has a record for reviving old systems in no little style, with its Walnut Analogue CMVS, housing an authentic SNK MV1C motherboard inside solid hardwood, a $650 home console based around the early-1990s Neo Geo Multi Video System.
But while the Neo Geo was always a machine out of financial reach for most kids, many of us had a NES to call our own. They never cost the best part of $530, though.
That's what the Analogue Nt is selling for—but if you fancy one, it's worth knowing that you're not simply getting a contraption for emulation. The Nt plays original games, for the (American, NTSC) NES and also the Japanese Famicom (as the NES was known in said territory) and Famicom Disk systems. And it runs them in high definition, on today's big-screen TVs. It can also display your old games in crisp RGB on an old-school CRT TV, if that's what you're into. Some might deem that the purist's way. On the outside, the Nt is incredibly sleek—it's formed from a single block of 6061 aluminum. But it's what's on the inside that's going to pique the attention of retro-gaming enthusiasts.
"For us, the quality and aesthetics of a product should be carried all the way through," says Analogue Interactive founder Chris Taber. "The Nt is designed and manufactured with an extraordinary focus on quality, through the entire product." To achieve this, Analogue built its own motherboards for the Nt—which you can gawp at below (VICE is the first place you'll see these images).
Says Chris: "The Nt's motherboard is an exceptionally beautiful and high quality PCB (printed circuit board) crafted from true black substrate, produced through a careful step-by-step process to achieve a pearl-like sheen. You'll notice visible and raised copper traces. This is the real material it is manufactured from.
"Our lead designer, Ernest Dorazio, hand-routed each and every connection on the board. The electrical signals are painted on the PCB like a piece of art, integrated tightly with the Nt's design. Putting this much effort into designing something that most customers will never end up seeing may seem superfluous—but we couldn't imagine making something any other way."
If it all sounds like a love letter to the system Chris grew up with, let me stop you there, because the man behind the Nt didn't have a NES at home. "I grew up as a Sega kid," he says. He did play some of the Nintendo console's classics, though—the likes of Zelda and Contra. It proved inspirational enough: "I wanted to fully explore this entire piece of video game history, with no compromises."
Chris considers the Nt to be "something so good that it's almost unbelievable," a "legacy product," which "could be appreciated from virtually every angle, from its features to its design and quality." That it plays the original cartridges, rather than digital downloads of the titles in question, is of vital importance to the whole project, as he explains:
"For those that grew up with physical media, it's painful to pay for a digital copy of music, or a game. You can't hold it in your hands, let a friend borrow it, or even resell it. It sort of feels like you don't even own it.
"Maybe that's why vinyl is having such a big comeback. I think a lot of people really do love owning the real thing, in any medium. The thing that makes owning vinyl appeal to people is the exact same thing that makes owning NES games appealing. Just like there's a genuine satisfaction to sifting through your records and placing one on your player, the same feelings exist for looking through your NES collection and plugging a real cartridge in, powering up, and playing a game. You're playing a real, physical thing.
"And just like vinyl, there really is something to be said about hunting games down—it makes you appreciate it that much more. I prefer the approach of learning about the games and developers, hunting down original cartridges—and when you get that game you've been looking for, it means that much more to you. You are going to treasure it. You'll sit down and play it and experience it right. It's a purist's way of looking at it, but it's worth it."
Exactly how many people feel the Nt is worth its asking price of $500 remains to be seen—and that's before you add extras, like an HDMI adapter for $78, or a (new, original) NES controller for $50—but the press for the system so far has been terrific. "We've been humbled by the amount of interest there's been," says Chris, "and we couldn't be more excited to get it into everyone's hands."
Ars Technica called it "a perfect, no-compromises aftermarket NES," and Eurogamer wrote that it's "the NES James Bond would buy." Which is great, but James Bond isn't a real person. You are. So, really, why should you care?
"You don't have to deal with the virtually incessant updates that are unfortunately the norm today in digital gaming," says Chris. "The Analogue Nt is not a media centre to surf Facebook and watch Netflix. It's just a video game system. There is no downloading, updating, or installing. No patches or DLC. No bullshit to deal with. It's made to play games. That's it. Sit down, plug in a game, press start, and play."
Which sounds like some kind of sweet relief from the hours spent waiting for my PS4 to finish downloading whatever it needs to run the game I wanted to start 30 minutes ago. With thousands of games playable on the Nt, you might look at $500 as pretty decent value for money. But then, of course, comes the hunt. Best hope that fucking dog doesn't show up and laugh at your weak eBay game.
Find more on what Analogue Interactive is up to at the company's website.
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