Following up last year’s much-coveted miniature NES, Nintendo has released a Super Nintendo version that fixes some of the issues with last year’s machine, packs some of the greatest video games of all time and, importantly, seems like it will be more readily available in stores.
The Super Nintendo offered a mighty upgrade over the NES in terms of visuals, audio, control and complexity when it released in 1990, and purely on the strength and number of classic games it includes the Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System offers an incredible value proposition.
The diminutive console goes for $120 and includes 20 Super Nintendo games — none of them less than excellent — which works out to $6 per game. This is an order of magnitude less than what it would cost to track down the original cartridges, and a little more than half what Nintendo charges on its own Virtual Console service.
Like last year’s machine, this console is adorably tiny and impeccably detailed to look just like a shrunken version of the original machine. On the SNES this includes a working power slider and reset button as well as perfectly miniaturised vents and paintwork. The wide control ports on the front are present as well to complete the illusion while sitting on your shelf, but these open up on a hinge to give access to the real, less attractive modern connectors when you need to actually play it.
Nintendo’s biggest franchises had some of their best entries on the iconic console, including Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid and Kirby Super Star. Hooking into your TV by HDMI, powered by USB and including two full-sized reproduction controllers, the SNES Mini provides an accurate and clean recreation of these games and many more, outputting at 720p.
You can play in a ‘Pixel Perfect’ mode that makes each pixel a square to give the tidiest image on flat-screen TVs, or you can opt for a 4:3 mode that stretches the screen slightly wider just like the original SNES did. The NES Classic suffered from some distracting stutter issues when stretched to 4:3, making Pixel Perfect the only way to play. This has been fixed for SNES, so it’s up to you whether you prefer a cleaner or bigger and more accurate representation. A third mode, CRT filter, is good for a chuckle but too blurry to be much use.
Alongside familiar classics like F-Zero, Mega Man X, Super Punch-Out and Star Fox, and some deeper cuts like Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Kirby’s Dream Course and Castlevania IV, two games stand out as technical achievements.
Yoshi’s Island is one of my personal favourite games, but as it originally used a special version of Nintendo’s “Super FX” chip to enable its ground-breaking graphical effects, it’s been difficult to emulate without the physical cartridge. This is the first time Nintendo has made this version available since its 1995 release, and while I’d stop short of saying the emulation is 100 per cent (I noticed some subtle visual issues in one specific level) it’s certainly near-perfect and absolutely beautiful.
The other game, which is not counted in the 20 and comes as a “bonus”, is another Super FX game called Star Fox 2. The game was cancelled ahead of its official release and this is the first time it’s been made available to play. Though interesting in a historical sense and in terms of pushing the Super Nintendo to its limit, the game isn’t on par with the rest of the collection. Sluggish and hard to control, it’s thoroughly outclassed by Star Fox 64, the game that released two years after Star Fox 2‘s cancellation.
And it wouldn’t be a Super Nintendo experience without role-playing games. Publisher Square Enix has contributed some of its best for the Mini, including Final Fantasy VI (titled III here, as it was for its initial Western release), which features music, characters and storytelling still among the best video games have to offer. Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG and Nintendo’s EarthBound round out a quartet of stellar RPGs that alone offer hundreds of hours of incredible gameplay.
Multiplayer fans also have plenty to get excited about, with Contra III, Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Mario Kart included. These games have all been superseded in various ways by their descendants, but are no less enjoyable to play now, especially if you have a degree of nostalgia for them.
The 20 games (plus Star Fox 2) are all taken from the American cartridges, meaning some have different names than you may remember from the 90s. In-game representations of the SNES controller are also notably of the ugly grey-and-purple US controller, not our multi-coloured one. Still this is a small price to pay for the related benefit: all games run at a buttery smooth 60Hz, which they never could in Australia back in the day.
If you’ve never played some of these games before you’ll almost certainly need to read the manuals. Helpfully Nintendo has provided some very nice reproductions, but you’ll need to grab them from a website rather than through the Mini itself.
Fixing a common complaint with last year’s machine, Nintendo has greatly increased the length of the controller cable this time around. Still, at 1.5 metres, it probably still isn’t long enough to reach across your loungeroom. Meanwhile jumping between games isn’t as easy as it should be, as users need to physically hit the console’s reset button. The machine’s interface allows for save states and includes a nifty rewind feature to make getting through tough games a bit easier, but having to get out of your seat to change the game is something we should have left in the 90s.
If you want to sit back on your couch and still have the console nearby (to hit that reset switch), you’ll need to get extra long USB and HDMI cables. Alternatively there are several third party wireless control options available. I recommend the Retro Receiver from 8bitdo, which gives both of Nintendo’s mini consoles Bluetooth capabilities and also lets you access the menu without getting up by hitting the down and select buttons together.
By far the biggest concern fans have over the SNES Mini is whether they’ll be able to get their hands on one. While it’s obviously too early to know how stock will look come Christmas time, early signs are positive. Most of the initial stock was absorbed by early pre-orders, but a day after release a couple of stores still had a healthy supply. Several further shipments from Nintendo are expected, with the company reversing its original decision to stop manufacturing them by the end of 2017.
Short cords, reset buttons and potential undersupplies aside, the actual product here is kind of monumental. As a long-time collector of SNES games, this list of 20 is extremely close to the bunch I would have picked as the best the machine has to offer, while also offering a good breadth of genres. Presented as accurately as you’re going to get without original hardware and all the cartridges — and at a fraction of the cost and effort — this is an awful lot of magic in a tiny, nostalgia-fuelling box.