As a kid who grew up playing video games, there’s a special place in my heart for Nintendo. I’m not going to say they can do no wrong, though I will say that a lot of words are split and wasted trying to condemn the company for perceived iniquity. I was a Nintendo kid through and through, growing up with a NES, a SNES, and a Nintendo 64, so a lot of their old games bring to mind some beloved memories and I think that’s worth something.
Nintendo must think it’s worth something too, what with their release of last year’s wildly popular NES Classic Edition and this year’s destined-to-be just as popular SNES Classic Edition. I’m calling it now: expect a Game Boy Classic Edition next year. It’ll probably have Pokémon. I’d buy it.
To get the obvious out of the way: yes, it’s hard to get one of these, yes, supply is a problem, yes, you’ll pay a lot if you want to get one from a reseller. The scarcity of the SNES Classic Edition has been a cornucopia of me-too thinkpiece ideas for games writers and an endless well of outrage for the usual set, just like all the best products. That said: would you rather get one of these or win the lottery? Why not both? That’s what we’re here to discuss.
The device itself is fairly tiny, about a quarter of the size of the original Super Nintendo, with an HDMI-out port and a micro-USB port used for power on the back and two controller ports on the front in a hidden compartment; much to my dismay, the controllers don’t plug into the actual SNES-style controller ports on the front of the machine. Hook the thing up to a power supply via the micro-USB port, connect it to your HDMI screen of choice, figure out how to open that compartment to plug in a controller and away you go! Setup is simple and you’ll have the wonders of the Super Nintendo library at your fingertips in seconds.
Well, around twenty selected titles from the Super Nintendo’s library, that is. Your $80 (yes, I know, you’ll need to pay someone a kidney to get one of these) buys you a selection of games released throughout the lifespan of the beloved gray box. There’s a solid variety of genres and playstyles available here; Nintendo fans since childhood are sure to find some nostalgic moments awaiting them and newcomers to the system’s ecosystem are basically getting the best of the best here.
Best of the best though it might be, there are definitely some highlights that stand out above the rest. Super Mario World is a no-brainer, of course, as one of the premier games released for any console. Can you believe that they used to pack games in with consoles – full games, not demos? What’s more, can you believe that this was one of those games? Outlandish, but true. Mario’s adventures have generally followed the groundwork laid by this game and its predecessor Super Mario Bros. 3, encouraging exploration and discovery along with rock-solid platforming.
Indie developers have made sure that the Metroidvania formula has been well-stocked over the last decade or so, and while there’s some solid contenders among them, none can stand up to Super Metroid, a game that continues to shape game design to this day. Again, exploration and discovery are the orders of the day as we follow Samus Aran in her search for a missing baby Metroid. on the planet Zebes. Samus’ powers grow as you find and collect power-ups, eventually turning her from a mere one-woman army to a force of destruction, and the sense of progression is palpable and satisfying. With multiple endings based on completion time and percentage you’ve also got a reason to replay this one.
You’ve got several other classic action games to check out as well, including Contra III: The Alien Wars, Kirby Super Star (itself a collection of multiple games comprising a huge amount of content), The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and graphical tour-de-force Donkey Kong Country, but I found myself most interested in the selection of RPGs included on the device. Squaresoft contributes the most to this genre: Final Fantasy III (or VI) is an absolute classic that I spent many fond hours enjoying as a kid, for instance, and it’s got my vote as one of the best entries in this long-running series.
That’s a more traditional turn-based game using Square’s beloved Active Time Battle system, though, and more action-hungry players should check out Secret of Mana; notably, that game’s going to see a full remake next year, so if you’re planning on checking out the game for the first time you might want to wait for that instead.
The Square-crafted Super Mario RPG is another heavy hitter, one with its own unique style that’s never really been replicated – the Mario and Luigi and Paper Mario series would go on to continue Mario’s role-playing legacy, but Super Mario RPG’s never seen a true sequel and remains charmingly weird in its own special way.
And EarthBound…well, that’s no Squaresoft game, but it’s a contender for the best game on this device. Even today, this game’s modern-day take on the traditional save-the-wrold adventure feels fresh and relevant, and we can see hints of its design philosophy in games like Undertale. Creative concepts like being able to skip fights you’d effortlessly win, minimizing pointless grinding, have yet to really be topped and ought to show up more often in today’s games. This is one that shouldn’t be missed. Oh, and it’s got a sequel, Mother 3. That’s never being localized, so don’t get your hopes up.
Perhaps the most notable inclusion in the SNES Classic Edition’s library, though, is the heretofore-unreleased Star Fox 2, which is available along with the original Star Fox. This is only a “new” game if you’ve somehow managed to go this long without figuring out how an emulator works, though the version we’ve got on this machine has been cleaned up to a significant degree and even has its own new online manual. Unlike the original game, Star Fox 2 incorporates strategy elements revolving around protecting the planet Corneria from missile strikes and enemy forces. It’s a fairly unique experience even today, though players of the DS release Star Fox Command are sure to recognize some of the same ideas here.
As with the original Star Fox, players who have grown used to modern takes on 3D graphics and gameplay might find this one a little tough to swallow, as the framerate bobs between “hilariously slow” and “PowerPoint presentation” and the environments and characters are about as low-poly as low-poly gets. Still, it’s fascinating to see some of the concepts that Star Fox 2 is able to finagle into working on the Super Nintendo, including a primitive take on Star Fox 64’s free-flying All-Range mode. 3D graphics running on this thing at all would be impressive enough even without the ability to fly a ship anywhere you’d like!
All in all, the 20 games on offer here really do represent much of the best of what the Super Nintendo’s library had the offer. There are a few classics that probably should have made the cut – Chrono Trigger, Pilotwings, Final Fight – but one imagines that licensing issues might have caused some problems there…well, except for Pilotwings. Not really sure why it doesn’t have Pilotwings.
Anyway, your money’s buying you many hours of gameplay that’s reproduced about as well as can be done outside of just playing the games on an actual SNES. You’ve even got a couple of convenience features as well, including save-state support and rewinding; if you want to have any hope of making it through Contra III, you’d do well to become familiar with these! As for the controller, so far as I can tell it looks and feels just like a SNES controller should; it certainly tickles the nostalgia receptors in all the right ways.
That nostalgia is really why you’ll want to go out and try to get one of these things. Let’s not kid ourselves here: if you care enough about playing video games to read reviews, then you know what an emulator is and how they work. You’re not buying this thing for the great selection of games, though that’s a plus. You’re not buying it because it allows you to play these old titles on a modern television or monitor. No, you’re buying it because you want to remember being a kid and waking up early on Saturday morning to see if you can finally get Mario through the last Special stage. That’s where the SNES Classic Edition really excels and it’s why the system’s worth the money if you can find it, especially considering the inclusion of a new, previously unreleased game. Hell, I’d even say it’s worth a kidney. You don’t really need both, do you?