Every gamer has an inner picture of what the pinnacle of video gaming looks like. We all have some hallowed memory of the gaming experience in its purest form, an experience we seek to find echoes of in every game we pick up. Personally, I picture booting up A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: watching the golden Triforce form, hearing that satisfying “chink” as the Master Sword falls into place, and preparing for a thrilling adventure. Needless to say, I was quite excited when the SNES Classic was first announced this summer. A couple months of waiting and a lucky Best Buy preorder later, I finally had the reimagined retro console in my hands.
The Super Nintendo system was the centerpiece of one of the greatest eras in video game history. The jump from 8-bit to 16-bit gaming opened up a new world of technical possibilities, and game developers responded with an explosion of ingenuity and imagination. It made perfect sense for Nintendo to return to this era the year after their original NES Classic became a hot (albeit almost nonexistent) commodity.
The Super NES Classic boasts an impressive array of faithful ports for many of the era’s best games. Platformers, RPG’s, two-player games, action-adventures, and more constitute hundreds of hours of potential play time for retro Nintendo veterans and newcomers alike. There is also the never-before-released Star Fox 2, which I will cover later. The mini console also serves well as a collector’s item or aesthetic piece.
As soon as I hooked up the SNES Classic, I rushed to launch Link to the Past, followed soon after by other games from my childhood like Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World. Nostalgia is one of Nintendo’s strongest allies, and they certainly know how to milk it. While that nostalgic, retro feel is certainly a major part of the SNES Classic’s appeal, there are many other traits that make the console an attractive buy, as well as a few problems.
The Classic’s innate sense of wonder begins with the box itself, sporting familiar typeface, colors, and original game box art. Upon opening the box, my eye was first drawn to the controllers. Not only is the Classic controller a faithful replica both in appearance and feel, but there are thankfully two of them included, rather than the solo controller included with the NES Classic.
Finally, attention is turned to the console itself. The SNES Classic is an adorably tiny but accurate copy of the original console, down to the purple sliding “power” and “reset” buttons that function in the same manner. There are even miniature versions of the cartridge and controller slots, but these serve no function and are merely aesthetic features.
Speaking of controller ports, herein lies the console’s first problem. Although the main body of the console seems pretty sturdy for its light weight, the front panel is annoyingly flimsy and obtuse. The fake SNES controller slots compose a thin panel of plastic that must be popped out and folded down to reveal the real controller ports. This panel is connected to the console body by one tiny strip of plastic, a feature which seems silly and flimsy compared to the rest of the Classic’s hardware.
The worst part of this controller slot structure is the difficulty of popping it out. I spent a few minutes working my fingernails under the panel to finally gain enough leverage to reach the actual controller ports. Since a large part of the Classic’s value is as a collectible item, owners may often want to close the panel back up to retain the retro aesthetic when not playing. The difficulty of popping the panel back out is a crippling shortcoming for a console that is half for play and half for show.
The box also includes the USB charge cable, AC adaptor, and an HDMI cable identical to that of the Switch. When the console is fully set up for use, its appeal as an aesthetic piece becomes apparent. It radiates a sense of belonging and provides a feeling of authenticity to the surrounding entertainment setup. However, another problem soon emerges with the controller cord length.
The SNES Classic controller cords are thankfully not as short as the three-foot NES Classic nightmares. Still, at about five feet, they are much shorter than those of original SNES controllers. In the age of large HD screens and wireless controllers, the average entertainment setup is not equipped to accommodate such a distance from player to TV. Depending on TV size, such a distance may also be downright unhealthy. One can argue that this distance preserves the feeling of sitting close to a CRT during the glory days, but I still would have preferred controllers more hospitable to modern setups.
With all that being said, the main appeal of the SNES Classic is obviously not the hardware. It’s the games. Since receiving the console, I have spent time with all 21 titles built into the Classic, including many I grew up with and many more I never had the chance to play. The full list can be found here. As expected, the library is an incredible collection of major players in gaming history, many of which are still a blast to play today.
Nintendo strove for authenticity in their ports of these games, and they mostly hit the nail on the head, for better or worse. For the most part, the games run smoothly and handle exactly as they did on the original console. Resolution options include a crisp 4:3, a slightly claustrophobic pixel-perfect mode, and a retro CRT filter mode. The framerates are usually fine, but some games can take a noticeable dip when too much action enters the screen. Chief among the framerate culprits are Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts, the mouthful of a Street Fighter title, and Super Castlevania IV.
The SNES Classic is not quite as multiplayer-heavy as the first Classic console, but a few enjoyable competitive options still exist in the likes of Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter, as well as co-op experiences like Donkey Kong Country.
Instead, Nintendo chose to focus more on single-player adventures this time around, especially RPG’s. Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy III, and Secret of Mana compose a huge portion of the library’s total play time. Some of the best platformers of all time are also present, including Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Mega Man X.
The collection is marvelous, but with so many amazing SNES games out there, there were bound to be some snubs. Notable among the absentees are Chrono Trigger and the Donkey Kong Country sequels. Including all three DKC games might be overkill, but I would at least have liked to see Diddy’s Kong Quest make an appearance.
Of all the games in this amazing collection, I found Super Metroid the hardest to put down. I just had to see what lay in the next room! Playing Super Metroid on the SNES Classic is an altogether better Metroid experience than even the brand new Samus Returns can provide.
The only comparatively poor entry I could find in the Classic’s repertoire was Kirby’s Dream Course, a Kirby mini-golf game that isn’t exactly bad as much as unnecessary. Who really wants to play a Kirby mini-golf game two decades after its release? If this was Nintendo’s attempt to bolster the Classic’s sports game presence in the face of licensing rights on much better sports titles, it was a pitiful attempt.
The library’s home interface is a clean, straightforward presentation, complete with happy retro music and the occasional appearance of Super Mario World sprites running around. The Classic also adds an extremely convenient suspend point mechanic, allowing the player to create up to four save points for each game outside of the game’s internal saving system. The organic save system and the Classic suspend points don’t mix very well, so players should choose which system to use for each game and deal with that one exclusively.
In addition to saving your game, the suspend points also allow the player to rewatch around a minute of gameplay leading up to the suspend point. Players can even jump back into the game at any point in the replay, allowing for save-scumming on a whole new level. If saving and loading on such a precise level isn’t really your cup of tea, you can still use the system to save and view your favorite replays for each game.
The only problem with the suspend point system comes from the action of resetting the game. The only way to return to the console’s main menu is to get up and hit the sliding “reset” button on the system itself. I know Nintendo wanted the controllers to emulate the originals as much as possible, but an option for remote resets would still have been a welcome addition.
Since the only real problems in the Classic’s games were also present in the originals, and since the Classic adds these cool new software features, I consider the SNES Classic ports to be the definitive way to play most of these games, if not all. Yes, there are cheaper ways to play them. Many are on Wii U virtual console, but the experience of playing them with the original controller is certainly superior. Yes, emulators exist for these games, including ways to play with SNES controllers. Still, there’s something to playing the games on an official, tangible Nintendo console that gives the Classic the edge for me. Plus, the Classic has no legal shadiness, and it brings all the games you could emulate into one place at a reasonable price point.
Let’s not forget Star Fox 2. This 1996 title was never released due to the impending emergence of the Nintendo 64 console. It takes the characters and core combat ideas of the original Star Fox and completely changes the rest of the gameplay. Star Fox 2 is a free-roaming space combat adventure that operates in something close to real time. Players must protect the planet Corneria from numerous threats that don’t stop moving when the player is engaged in a mission. The concept is absolutely brilliant, but much like the original, the visuals are incredibly clunky. Awkwardly flying a little origami starfighter around may have been groundbreaking at the time, but it’s certainly one of the hardest gameplay experiences on the console for modern gamers to swallow.
While this piece is a review of the product itself, I’d be remiss to not address the elephant in the room: availability. The original NES Classic was produced in pitiful numbers, with stores seeing only about 10 units on the shelves. Since then, scalpers have made the console nearly impossible to come by without an exorbitant price tag. Despite a reassurance from Nintendo that “significantly more” SNES Classics would be produced than its predecessor, fans were still worried about scarcity and adopted a sort of “pre-order or bust” mentality. Sure enough, when pre-orders finally rolled around, they were snatched up in a matter of hours at most.
Thankfully, launch day for the SNES Classic was much improved. Stores were reported to have received as many as 100 copies, and availability persisted (at least in some places) throughout opening weekend. With shipments reportedly being extended into 2018, there is hope that most fans willing to pay for a SNES Classic will be able to do so.
Verdict: All things considered, I am overjoyed with this retro console. There are definitely some hiccups, but the nostalgic feel and enduring play value of the game library are well worth the $80 price point.
- Faithful Library
- Accurately replicated hardware on a miniature scale
- Injection of pure nostalgia
- Excellent aesthetic
- Interface features
- Flimsy and frustrating controller port panel
- Framerate issues
- Manual reset only