Hands-on with Nintendos weirdest, and maybe rarest, classic console yet
The collectability of Nintendo's "classic mini" consoles cannot be overstated. Even after restocking the NES Classic Edition's original limited supply this year, the company has barely been able to keep up with demand for both its NES– and SNES-flavored dips back into the nostalgia pool, in the West or elsewhere.
But if you thought those systems were limited and coveted enough, you ain't seen nothing. This week, Nintendo went one further by releasing a special-colored, new-games version of one of these systems, designed and marketed specifically for fans of Japanese Shonen Jump manga series like Dragon Ball, Captain Tsubasa, and Fist of the North Star.
Shortly before Amazon Japan sold out of its allocation on Sunday morning, we slammed down $87 USD and placed an order to see what the Shonen Jump 50th Anniversary Famicom Classic Mini was all about. We quickly learned that this official Nintendo product is far from a slapdash release with a logo painted on.
Differences, Kanji, and disks
Nintendo's latest classic product, announced in May of this year, marks the manga magazine's anniversary milestone in a few remarkable ways. The biggest is that its emulated ROM library is completely different from either the original Famicom Mini or the NES Classic (whose game libraries mostly overlapped). Instead of 30 international hits like Super Mario Bros. 3 or The Legend of Zelda, the Shonen Mini comes packed with 20 Shonen-related games, and they're all littered with Japanese text.
Soccer RPGs, Dragon Ball adventures, and side-scrolling action games dominate the selection, while Nintendo throws Shonen fans a bone with one tangentially related game: Dragon Quest, known in the West as Dragon Warrior. (Shonen wasn't involved with the game, but DQ lead artist Akira Toriyama is inextricably linked to Shonen history, and DQ had never appeared on a classic Nintendo console before this one.) At any rate, your mileage with this software collection is largely contingent on familiarity with these series or the Japanese language.
From all appearances, the games are emulated with the same hardware-software combination as the original NES Classic and Famicom Mini, complete with identical menu options. But that's not to say the system works in exactly the same way. Shonen Mini owners can look forward to a completely Shonen-ized interface, with a total palette swap on the game-sorting menus and with different menu music. Instead of hearing the original brand-new ditty coded for the classic consoles in 2016, the Shonen Mini rotates through the opening songs from many of the included emulated games. (You'll hear the theme for Dragon Ball: Shenron no Nazo a lot.)
The Shonen Mini, like its predecessors, also includes an optional "screensaver" demo reel of various games when players leave the system idle. But this one has a unique twist: before that screensaver starts playing out, unique fanfare plays and pixellated Shonen faces fill up the entire screen, surrounding a giant Shonen 50th anniversary design.
There's one other huge twist inside the Shonen Mini: built-in support for the Famicom Disk System. One of Shonen's games, Kinnikuman: Kinnikusei Oui Soudatsusen (based on the franchise that was licensed in the US as the M.U.S.C.L.E. comic/cartoon series), was a Disk System exclusive that was never ported outside of Japan, and booting it on the Shonen Mini means sitting through the Disk System's Mario Bros.-themed loading interface. Enterprising homebrew users have previously gotten all of Nintendo's classic consoles to load disk-only games, but this is the first time Nintendo has officially enabled them in a plug-and-play console.
Thats gold, Jerry! Gold!
There's also the sheer matter of how this thing looks, which is likely enough to make Shonen a coveted nerd-shelf option. In short: it's handsome.
Nintendo's Famicom design has always included some golden touch-ups, since its built-in, wired controllers debuted as red-and-gold pads in the '80s—and the first Famicom Mini applied that style to its tiny replica controllers. For this Shonen edition, Nintendo went ahead and replaced all of the gray-white on the console's box itself with the same shiny shade, as well. Since its plastic exterior has been brushed with a very slight texture, the golden color catches light impressively, and it pairs with Famicom's iconic dark-red tone in a way that screams "expensive '80s toy."
Unfortunately, everything else about the Famicom Mini is identical, which means its controllers are comically small—because, for authenticity's sake, they fit into little grooves on the console's sides. You do get two hard-wired controllers for the price, at least, though their cords are also ridiculously short (32-inches), and hilariously, that custom selection of Shonen games only includes three two-player games. To get the most out of this built-in double-controller rig, you'll need to run homebrew software to add more ROMs, though we've yet to see anyone successfully use existing homebrew options on this Shonen Mini and its slightly updated menu system.
Nintendo has played nicely with Japanese media properties for decades for the sake of limited-edition releases, with Super Mario Bros. having the most famous example in the form of an official Fuji TV crossover in 1986. But the Mini marks Nintendo's loudest tie-in with Shonen in its history, and it also perhaps sets the stage for more branded, limited-edition classic mini consoles in years to come—especially if the company wants to kill time before introducing a Game Boy Mini or N64 Mini. Whether the Shonen Mini will prove to be the rarest Nintendo classic-mini system remains to be seen, but an immediate sellout on Amazon Japan, followed by jacked-up reseller listings, suggests that this golden box may be quite limited yet.