Riding high on the success (and mind-boggling scarcity) of the NES Classic Edition, Nintendo surprised no one with the announcement of the SNES Classic Edition, a tiny version of the classic Super Nintendo console that comes with 21 of its greatest hits built in. But a few new features and departures from the original make it a distinct product — and one very much worth your $80.
At a glance
- 21 games built-in
- HDMI out
- USB powered
- Comes with two controllers
- $80, available September 29
All the bits
So. I’m an SNES guy.
I’ve had the same SNES since I was a kid — it’s all beat to hell, pieces missing off the back, bite marks on the controllers, and yellowed with age, and of course filthy. But it still works like a charm, and I still play it regularly. I love that thing, and I’m as familiar as one can get with the hardware and feel of the games.
I’m happy to say that the SNES CE (as we’ll abbreviate it) nails it, with a few mostly aesthetic exceptions.
First, let’s talk about the device itself. It’s a miniature SNES, obviously, and very like the original it is, though considerably smaller. But as with the NES CE, the imitation only goes so far. The power button is the same as the original, and the reset button also works.
But the eject button is fake, and the cartridge slot doesn’t actually open. I mean, why would either of those things work? Still, it’s a little disappointing that Nintendo didn’t think of some creative way to include them in the device’s function.
The only major problem I have is that the front of the device has to flip off in an awkward way to expose the controller ports. I suppose this was done to preserve the SNES shell, but what’s the point if it has to ruin that whole look any time you actually use it? Not only that, but it isn’t even properly hinged — just a plastic snap and a plastic strip that flexes and holds the front piece on.
I predict a wireless setup that fits here, replacing the front piece and connecting to both controller ports. If someone isn’t making it already… better start now.
Fortunately, the controllers aren’t subject to the same form-over-function criticism. The truth is you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from the originals — they probably went back to the original molds. And like the NES CE’s controllers, the feel is spot-on: the buttons and gamepad have the same look and feel, although the latter is a bit stiffer on the new ones. Probably because it hasn’t been mashed for 20 years straight.
The only real difference is the cord, which is longer and thinner than the originals’ (6 vs 8 feet) — much better than the 3-foot cords on the NES CE. And, of course, you get two. Two. Two controllers in the box. This was a huge oversight with the NES CE and has been remedied here.
Playing with super power
If you’re not familiar with the device, here’s how it works. You plug it in, connect the HDMI cable, and turn it on — after a basic initial setup of language and time, you’re in.
Pick a game by sliding through the list and it launches immediately. Power off when done, or hit reset to return to the menu, where you can save the current state of the game down to the frame in one of four slots for each title. That way you can keep a save state of before you go into a dungeon and one you use right before a boss, and one before a part you want to play with a friend. They’re all independent of one another.
A new feature in the SNES CE is the “Rewind” function. Select a game suspend state (say the boss one) and instead of hitting start, hit X. The game will start up some amount of time before you hit reset. You can then skip forward and back in time with the R and L buttons. This is in case you want to go back to before an enemy encounter you messed up but don’t want to load up your save from half an hour back.
How much time you have to peruse, and the granularity of the jumps, differs by game. In Kirby Super Star and other action games, it gave me 40-50 seconds to skip through, 10 seconds at a time. But in Final Fantasy III and other RPGs, I had a full five minutes, and went through a minute at a time. Probably because mistakes play out at a slower pace in those games.
It’s a handy feature, but a bit cumbersome to activate if you’re just looking to redo the last minute or two. Those of us who have played on emulators for years are used to unlimited rewind and constant quicksaving, which Nintendo could probably do — but it kind of goes against the spirit of the thing. They want you to play these games like you did on the original, minus some headaches.
Speaking of emulation, I haven’t spotted any unusual artifacts, and those I did spot I could replicate on my original SNES — so it seems the emulator Nintendo has put together here is of equal quality to the NES CE. The palettes seem bright, and there are no changes to the games themselves (e.g. fixing glitches).
As with its predecessor, the SNES CE gives you a choice between three graphics modes: 4:3, which is the ever-so-slightly wider view you likely experienced the games in originally; Pixel perfect, which doesn’t distort the view at all and shows the pixels as squares; and CRT filter, which adds scanlines to a 4:3 picture.
Now, on the NES CE, I preferred either 4:3 or Pixel Perfect, depending on the game. The analog TV filter on that console seemed to me overly heavy, degrading the signal more than was strictly necessary.
On the SNES CE, however, I find that both of those modes make the art look far blockier than I remember. I know it’s just an illusion, but the scanlines to my eye actually appeared to enhance detail rather than obscure it. I switched back and forth in a particularly rich scene in Final Fantasy III, and it was like night and day. I can’t really explain it; it may be as much the art styles used (more detail, more colors, more curves) but whatever the case, I urge you to at least try scanlines. You mileage, of course, may vary.
There are also backgrounds you can choose, since no matter what you do, you can’t get an SNES game to fill a whole 16:9 TV. Some are static, and I wasn’t really into it. But others act like bias lighting, changing to reflect the dominant colors of the scene. For some games this might be distracting, but you should at least give it a try to see if it’s your thing. Since the games only take up a bright square (or 4:3 area) in the center of the screen, I though it helped take the edge off (literally).
One last feature worth mentioning is Your Demo. If you let the console sit for a minute or so, it’ll switch to an attract mode showing off a game — in fact, your actual gameplay. While this is entertaining, it doesn’t have much logic, and you’re as likely to see yourself sitting in a pause screen while you looked up a FAQ as you are to see some triumphant boss fight. It would have been nice to be able to save the last 30 seconds as one of these demos when you hit reset.
Who is this for? Why not use the original SNES?
I ran into this when I was comparing Mario Kart controls. It just looks so much better in HD (with scanlines of course). And I’m the guy who fiddles with the video options in the emulator for 15 minutes getting the right weight of scanlines, blitter options, bloom and distortion, analog input simulation, and of course filter methods (honestly, bilinear is fine). The SNES CE has a good look that will work for most TVs out of the box.
And because it looks good, because it’s portable, because it has a variety of the most well-known games and a few I can work through over months or years, it’s likely going to replace my SNES except on special occasions, or at least until I can figure out how to get a nice signal processor for it. I think this is an easier, better way for most people to revisit these 16-bit classics. I care more about whether people experience Super Metroid in the first place than whether they’re seeing it truly as it was back in the day.
I’m going to go over the games individually, because it’s fun — but let’s just get this out there: this is a fantastic selection of games, comprising hundreds of hours of fun in both single- and multi-player modes. While there are some high-profile absences (Chrono Trigger, Ogre Battle, Super Mario All-Stars), what’s here is more, much more than enough to justify the price.
Also, there’s obviously one standout here, and that’s Star Fox 2. Developed just after the original but never officially released (Nintendo focused its efforts on the N64 and Star Fox there), Star Fox 2 is an ambitious reinvention of the game.
I don’t want to spoil it too much, but I can tell you that Star Fox 2 is a very interesting game, albeit one that runs smack up against the limitations of the console from the get-go. Don’t expect Star Citizen — but be ready to be pleasantly surprised at a game that was clearly ahead of its time.
That outlier dispatched, here we go through the rest, roughly by genre:
Super Mario World
Pro tip: Yellow dots on the map mean a straightforward level, while red ones indicate a secret exit or two. Use this to focus your exploratory efforts.
Super Castlevania IV
Pro tip: You get a multiplier for your sub-weapon by killing 10 enemies in a row and then a candle with it.
Donkey Kong Country
Pro tip: Play as Diddy for best results, and practice your roll-jump.
Mega Man X
Pro tip: Aim to get the dash first (Chill Penguin stage), both to speed up other stages and get out of bad situations.
Kirby Super Star
Pro tip: The sword is the weapon of kings.
Pro tip: Switch your control mode to “hasty” and let fly the eggs of war.
Super Ghouls & Ghosts
Pro tip: Prepare to die.
Racing and sports (ish)
Pro tip: Use Toad for GPs until 150CC, then switch to Bowser. Master the power slide or die.
Pro tip: The red ship looks dorky but corners well and has the best top speed. Don’t forget to soften your landings by holding down!
Street Fighter 2 Turbo
Pro tip: Learning Ryu or Chun Li is a good start, but get to know an unusual character to mix it up and surprise an opponent expecting the usual.
Kirby’s Dream Course
Pro tip: Soft touch to drop it in the cup.
Pro tip: Suspend the game before each fight and burn a few rounds learning the opponent’s patterns. Better than losing and having to play through again.
Action and Adventure
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Pro tip: Get bottles ASAP and fill them with fairies for insurance.
Pro tip: You can (and will occasionally have to) turn various features of your suit on and off in the menu. Get the x-ray beam and shine it everywhere.
Pro tip: Do a barrel roll! (Really, you’ll need to do it a lot, so practice)
Contra III: The Alien Wars
Pro tip: Spread still rules, but your default weapon is actually decent in this one.
Final Fantasy III (VI)
Pro tip: Don’t spoil anything for yourself! And do NOT leave the… let’s call it the magical island… until the very last moment. Like literally the last moment. You’ll know when it happens. Trust me on this.
Secret of Mana
Pro tip: Practice with all the weapons, because you never know which will be your most powerful during a given scenario.
Super Mario RPG
Pro tip: Use Mario’s Jump “spell” as often as you can early on to power it up, and it’s a life-saver later.
Pro tip: Tell Nintendo to bring the sequel over!
Did you scroll down here looking for a recommendation of whether or not to buy this thing? My recommendation is hell yes. There are hundreds of hours of amazing gaming here for just about every taste (as long as your taste is 16-bit Nintendo games). $80 for all this is a steal.