Recently, the NES Classic became available (again) alongside the new SNES Classic. Having missed out on the NES the first time it was available, and being unwilling to pay huge eBay markups, I sprang for both systems.
A note for those interested in buying both: the NES only comes with one controller, but the SNES comes with two. This works out, because the SNES controllers can be used on the NES just by plugging them in. There's no need to buy a second NES controller in order to play the 2-player NES games. You can even choose to use the SNES controller for 1-player NES games, if you want something more comfortable to hold.
The NES comes with 30 games, and the SNES comes with 21. Of these, I think I'd played only a few of the non-arcade ports: the original Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. I was interested in most of the catalog, though. I know most of these games by reputation (especially if they're represented in Super Smash Bros), and while it's possible to emulate all these games or buy them on another official Nintendo system, it's nice to have them all together in one place.
Both consoles have the ability to save snapshots of gameplay at any time by pressing the physical reset button on the console. These snapshots work just like save states on other emulators. For games that allow you to save, or for score-chasing games like Galaga or Pac-Man, there isn't much point to this. However, for games that have passwords (Metroid), for games that don't have save points at all (Castlevania), or just for saving your progress mid-level to skip a difficult part (Mega Man 2), it's super useful. You can save up to 4 different snapshots per game.
There's a few other options you can tweak in the menu, including the resolution you play at. I recommend pixel perfect for the most accurate display, even if it leaves a border around the edges.
Nintendo has also made the original manuals available in PDF form for both the NES and SNES. Depending on the game, the manual can function as a control reference, tutorial, map, strategy guide, or all of the above - for example, the Earthbound manual is actually the 135-page player's guide. If you haven't played a game before, these are great to pull up on your phone or laptop. I have been trying to figure out a nice way to print them that doesn't take up too many sheets of paper to no real avail.
The only real downside of the consoles is that the controller cords are short. Like really short. The NES controller cord is less than 3 feet long. The SNES controller cords are almost 5 feet long, which is OK but is shorter than the original SNES controller cords. This is kind of a head-scratcher. I've solved it by sitting on the floor in front of the TV and leaning against the couch. At least I can hit the reset button with ease this way.
Regardless. If you're interested in playing these games using their original controllers and don't mind messing around with short cords, this is a pretty good package.
Below the break I'll record some thoughts I have on each game as I get around to playing them.
Castlevania: Yup, this game is difficult. It's well-designed, though, which you'd know if you followed the works of Arin Hansen. Save states make this game a little more playable, though I still haven't completed it.
Donkey Kong: While this version doesn't eat quarters like the original arcade version, it's not super compelling as either a single-player or 2-player game alongside other games on the NES.
Dr. Mario: One of the best 2-player competitive games I've played. Ever. Seriously! Clear all the viruses in rows of 4 without filling up your board. Clear two rows of 4 at once and you'll drop some random pieces in your opponent's board. You can set the difficulty independently for both players, too, which was really nice for learning the game. I still lose more than I win, but it's really fun regardless.
Final Fantasy: This one isn't bad as long as you have the manual next to you. There's a pretty decent RPG in here, complete with character specialties, varied weapons and armor, distinct enemies, and some certain sense of getting better at the game even outside the levelling up, i.e. mentally figuring how many party members you need to dedicate to attacking each enemy. The manual walks you through the entire prologue and helps you reach the next couple major milestones. It's cool, though it might be a little too much mental math relative to the amount of "game" there is for me to invest too much more time into it.
Galaga: This is one of my favorite arcade games. It's nice to have this on a home console, even with the controller's limitations.
Kirby's Adventure: This game is not overly challenging. This is a really nice change of pace for a NES game. Copying enemies is interesting and satisfying, and there's enough variety in enemies and level design to keep you moving and exploring. There are some really interesting levels in the final world, including some stellar (hah!) boss fights.
Mega Man 2: Possibly the game I was most interested to try based on reputation alone, having never played a Mega Man game. Fighting the robot masters across the first 8 regular levels was really enjoyable. Being able to do levels out of order if you were having trouble was satisfying: you can come back with better weapons or just a better attitude for taking on the challenge. Organically finding the weaknesses of all the robot masters is interesting, too. However, some of the bits in Wily's Castle are unendingly frustrating, requiring you to dodge one-hit environmental kills or grind to restore energy for weapons required to finish the level. I did beat the game, though I used save states to avoid grinding for energy or replaying certain segments in the final few levels.
Pac-Man: Where the lack of an arcade-quality joystick doesn't seem to hurt Galaga too much, it utterly ruins Pac-Man for me. My one attempt was full of wrong-way turns. I think I've been spoiled on arcade and PlayStation joysticks for too long to enjoy this.
Super Mario Bros.: I didn't remember that you're expected to beat this in one go: there are no save points, though there are warp pipes that jump you through worlds. Not being able to backtrack while playing is something I sorely miss from playing later games in the series. It's still fun, though, and I expect I'll eventually use save states like checkpoints to get through to the final world.
The Legend of Zelda: Tracy played through this one with some hints from me to keep her on the right track. There's some really satisfying exploration to be had here, and the game is difficult but feels fair overall: if you die, you always keep all the items you've accumulated, and you start in the starting area (or at the beginning of a dungeon if you're in a dungeon). I wish you respawned with full health, though: there would be a lot less wasted grinding that way. The PDF manual for this game includes a partially-filled in map with general directions for finding the first 4 dungeons, a nice touch.
Zelda II: A strange game, to be sure. The overworld reminds me of Final Fantasy (well, technically it's the other way around), and the platforming/combat reminds me a bit of Castlevania, though not as satisfying in the opening sequences. Also, Link has a limited number of lives in this game? I dunno man.
Donkey Kong Country: I actually owned this for Game Boy Color when I was a kid. Seeing it on a big screen is really enjoyable. Not every obstacle in this game feels obvious or even fair, but the levels aren't too long and there's plenty of extra lives to be had in the first parts of the game. The two-player team mode is a fun way to share the game with a partner, something that other platformers could take a lesson from.
Kirby's Dream Course: I think there's a decent game in here, but when we tried playing it blind, it fell flat. We stumbled through learning the controls as well as the game mechanics, which are not exactly the rules of real golf. I imagine we'll revisit it later.
Mega Man X: We only played the intro stage, and really that was just to incessantly quote Sequelitis. Now that I've played all the way through Mega Man 2 I'm interested to try this one out.
Star Fox: I'd previously only played Star Fox 64, and I wasn't very good at it. I'm super impressed with the graphics in this one - the SNES had decent capabilities if you knew how to take advantage of them. This wins a "game that makes me yell at the TV in a good way" award for all its exciting moments.
Super Mario RPG: I wanted to play a game that was a bit slower than all the Dr. Mario and Mega Man 2 I'd been playing, so I started a campaign here. I'm not very far - only up to the first town - but I'm having fun. I recognize some of the timing elements from later Mario RPG games: press the attack button when you're attacking to make it stronger, press a button when you're attacked to have a chance to defend yourself, etc. Some of the story elements are genuinely funny. If the relative monotony of the gameplay doesn't manage to overpower the story, I could see myself playing this for a while.
Super Mario World: There's a lot to like about this game. It's a super tight platformer. Being able to save is really nice. The expectations for your skill can be pretty high even with the save points. We've been alternating levels for the most part. We're only through the first world for now.