Nintendo Classic Mini: SNES review - A delightful recreation of gaming’s greatest ever console
he day I got my Super Nintendo is one of my most endearing and enduring memories. After an almost certainly draining regime of pester power from both me and my older brother, I unwrapped my SNES on my eighth birthday with a childish glee that part of me would like to claim I haven’t felt since.
That isn’t entirely true. I still get that frisson of excitement now –new games, new gadgets, new experiences– but I can trace it back to those moments; sitting cross-legged in front of the CRT TV playing Street Fighter II at home, getting lost in Super Mario World, or taking part in wheel-to-wheel battles in Super Mario Kart.
The SNES, and its healthy rivalry with Sega’s Mega Drive, cemented an adoration of video games so that twenty-five years later (blimey), I would be writing about this retro re-release in a national newspaper.
What’s in the box?
Safe to say, then, that the nostalgia is strong with this one. The SNES Mini is a tiny version of the original console, pre-loaded with 21 games of the 90s era. It is a lovely little thing, light as a feather and fitting into your palm. It is an exact replica of the European console, with functioning power and reset buttons and sadly static copies of the eject button and cartridge flap. That eject button was a wonder, popping cartridges out like a toaster. There would be no practical use for it now, what with all the games on the machine itself, but still…
The replica controller ports come away as a flap, with the real ones, which connect via USB, sitting underneath . Unlike the NES Mini released last year, the Super Nintendo classic comes with two controllers packed into the box. Quite right too, as firing up Street Fighter or Mario Kart without a second pad on hand is an untenable thought.
The cables are a little on the short side, asking you to sit fairly close to the machine, but at around 4ft aren’t as comically stunted as the NES Mini’s. You get a HDMI cable to connect to the TV, but you will need to dig out one of your mini-USB cables to power the thing. A large proportion of people buying the SNES Mini will have a suitable power supply lying around (a standard phone charger would do the trick) but, like with the NES Mini, it still seems odd to not pack a plug in as standard.
The controllers are perfect replicas of the originals, right down to the texture of the chassis and the clickiness of the shoulder buttons. They are considerably smaller than most modern video game controllers, so those with bigger hands might find them a little cramped. But it is important to remember the SNES controller’s legacy, laying the blueprint that, save a few extra buttons and the addition of sticks, is largely adhered to today.
How does it work?
After flicking the power switch, you are greeted with a side-scrolling selection of 21 games and an infuriatingly catchy menu theme. You can dive into a game at will and when you have had your fill, you can press the reset button and return to the menu. (There is an argument that not finding a way of fitting a reset onto the controller is a little inconvenient).
Once out of the game you can save up to four resume points for each title. Similar to the NES Mini, this is essential for both keeping the SNES games pick up and play while acknowledging that the older games were hard as nails. A new feature here is that you can also rewind that save, leaving you able to clear up any mistakes before you hit reset.
Elsewhere you are able to choose from three display filters. 4:3 is the default, pixel perfect cleans up the image and sharpens edges, while the CRT filter emulates the scan lines you used to get on old televisions. I tend to stick with the default, but some games benefit from one filter or the other.
The pixel perfect image can sharpen text but can highlight some of the old games’ less charming visual features, whereas the CRT filter can hide some of these with a nostalgic wash. You can also choose from a variety of artworks to border the 4:3 image on your widescreen TV.
It’s these kind of things that make the SNES Mini a pleasure to play around with. The extra incentives, along with that tiny console and authentic pads, make the £70 asking price worth it when faced with other options to play the games.
And it is a fine selection of titles. The 21 games, while not exhaustive of the era, cover off a wide gamut of the kind of titles that the SNES would host. Something you could level at the NES Mini was that, fascinating as it was, it was more of a novelty. With a few exceptions, many of the games didn’t stand up to lengthy play sessions, providing more of a fun history lesson.
The SNES Mini is different, with a host of highly playable games. This was an era that video games were starting to carve their identity, with the technology to bring developers ideas to bear. And few were as good as Nintendo.
There are some bona fide timeless classics here that still stand up to scrutiny. Super Mario World is still the best 2D platformer ever made, with its pinpoint controls, varied design and constant sense of inertia and fun. It has lost nothing in the intervening years since its release in 1991. Similar could be said of The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, a glorious, deep action-adventure that laid the template for one of the greatest video game series of all time. Super Mario Kart has been bettered, sure, but is still a lot of fun in two-player. Flight based shoot ‘em up Star Fox is still challenging and kinetic. You even get the chance to play Star Fox 2 for the first time, the previously unreleased game making its debut on the SNES Mini.
Then you have the oddities that are well worth a fresh-look. Goofy real-world RPG Earthbound never had a European release, while Super Mario RPG offers a glimpse into the smart humour that would proliferate later games like Paper Mario and Superstar Saga.
And that’s just Nintendo’s own offerings. Capcom, Konami and Square Soft were all making their names in the 90s too and are reassuringly well-represented. Street Fighter has come a long way since Street Fighter II Turbo, but it remains one of the most pure and competitive fighting games ever. Super Castlevania IV is a little on the ugly side these days, but still plays a terrific action-adventure. And if you really want to lose yourself, JRPGs Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy III still hold up to.
It’s a terrific indication of the breadth of quality at the time. Some games do feel like they are there to make up the numbers, I’m not sure anyone is going to be spending too much time playing weird Kirby-based golf game Dream Course, for instance. And there will surely be favourites considered missing. Chrono Trigger, anyone? But largely this is a splendid selection.
It’s not just the nostalgia talking either. I started this review looking back on my own experiences with the SNES, recalling a time when I was beginning a lifelong obsession. The SNES Mini does a lovely job of bringing that flooding back and its appeal for the retro crowd is obvious.
However, in my house at least, the SNES Mini has captured the imagination of another generation. My five year old son has dived into the classics, eschewing more modern offerings to explore an alien planet in Super Metroid, fly a Starwing or whizz around the F-Zero track. I had a mildly disconcerting moment the other day, being told how to play Mega Man X by my offspring.
I can think of few higher compliments to both the longevity of these games and the chance to play them as they were intended. Fun for all the family was always the SNES’s mantra. And oh, how it holds up today.