While Nintendo's U-turn on discontinuing the NES Classic Edition means that the thousands of people who missed out last year will now get a better chance of owning one, for a time it seemed like the Japanese company really was going to walk away from a profitable revenue stream. In that void came the clones; cheap knock-off replicas of the micro-console produced in the hope of catching out buyers desperate to get their hands on this slice of 8-bit history.
It's hard not to see the fascination of this sector of the gaming industry; granted, it's little more than shameless (and legally questionable) profiteering but "fake" systems are nonetheless interesting. During the Famicom and NES era there were countless clone consoles which supported Nintendo cartridges, and throughout the decades these have been hilariously clad in different shells to make them appealing to a new generation of unsuspecting parents (a PlayStation that runs NES carts, anyone?)
So, put aside your prejudices and preconceptions for a moment and join us as we dive into the often worrying world of the CoolBaby HDMI HD Video Game, a totally shameless replication of the NES Classic Mini. From the box design to the actual console itself, it's a blatant attempt to capitalise on the success of Nintendo's resurrected 8-bitter, but the difference here is that it comes pre-loaded with 500 games, as opposed to the 30 which ship on the real thing.
The console itself is a close match to the real deal, although it boasts old-school 9-pin controller ports (fitted upside down, charmingly) instead of Nintendo's proprietary controller interface. Two pads are included, and they're surprisingly robust – the only real giveaway that something is amiss is the fact that they have four buttons instead of the traditional two.
The image quality is quite fuzzy, despite the use of HDMI; it's nowhere near as sharp as the NES Classic and looks more like a composite signal. The 500 games are, somewhat predictably given the origin of the console, composed mostly of unofficial ROM hacks of varying quality. Alongside legit originals such as Mega Man 3, Adventure Island 2 and Gradius we have Teletubbies (which turns out to be Mario Bros) and Hot Mario, which simply takes the main sprite from Super Mario Bros. 3 and places it in Data East's Joe & Mac. Elsewhere we have such NES "classics" as Harry Potter, Lattice Winner and Utmost Warfare. Rifling through the amusing titles is actually more enjoyable than you might suspect, especially when you unearth something that offers a fair degree of playability.
The end result is a library of titles that holds a few pleasant surprises as well as some solid-gold classics. There are enough authentic releases included for you to extract some enjoyment, even if wading through the weaker offerings does get a little tiresome. Still, any system which offers Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, Bomberman, Galaga, Bubble Bobble, Power Blade, Paperboy and Double Dragon can't be all bad – putting aside the rather troublesome point that the manufacturer hasn't obtained the legal right to include such games, of course. As such, the CoolBaby HDMI HD Video Game is a curio rather than a recommended purchase. While it's tempting to pity any child who ends up with this in their stocking this Christmas instead of a NES Mini, they may well end up having so much fun being a Teletubby in Wrecking Crew that they won't even notice. It's the stuff festive gaming memories are made of.
Thanks to Tom's Retro Shack for supplying the CoolBaby HDMI HD Video Game console used in this review, and opening our eyes to the wonderfully bonkers world of clone hardware.