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Nostalgia Trip: SNES Classic Hardware Review



What’s old is what’s in right now it seems, with popular, and occasionally unpopular, pop-culture from the 80’s and 90’s roaring back into style through the last few years. Nintendo, always one to ride the goodwill afforded by rose-tinted glasses, fueled these flames of nostalgia last year with their release of the NES Classic, an emulator housed in a miniature version of their seminal console. This year they’re back with the obvious followup in the form of the SNES Classic, but is this the definitive 16-bit experience, or just another cash-grab on good memories?

The console itself is surprisingly small and light, weighing less and taking up slightly less space than a PS4 controller. Like its predecessor power is delivered via Micro USB, meaning you can use either the supplied AC-USB adapter or any USB capable device. For video out the device uses HDMI and comes with a short cable if you don’t have one already. While these may seem counter to the old-school style of the device, it actually lends itself quite well to a modern living room where you probably already have all of these cables available, meaning there are no more buying replacements on eBay when the cables get lost somewhere.

The SNES classic comes with two controllers as well which appear to be the same dimensions as the original. Unfortunately, while Nintendo has heard the complaints about the cord length on the NES classic, they weren’t listening very hard and the cords for the controllers are still criminally short, around half of the original SNES cable length. This does help make the system more portable, but it begs the question why they didn’t opt for wireless controllers instead or at least the option of extensions.

A comparison of the SNES Classic VS a Classic SNES. Note the cable length on the controllers.

The controllers themselves are excellently built, feeling exactly like the original SNES controllers, albeit with decidedly better quality plastic. The buttons are responsive and feel right, and the D-Pad feels more responsive than that of the original controllers. Playing games that require quick button presses felt better on the SNES Classic, and it also felt easier to nail diagonal presses, something the original SNES occasionally struggled with. The only major complaint about the controllers is that plugging them into the system requires you to open a front flap, which slightly ruins the look of the console. The upside is the system uses the same port as the NES classic, meaning not only will those controllers work (should you desire that for some reason), but a variety of other controllers work as well.

Operating the console is just like you remember, powering the device on with the power toggle and using the Reset toggle to bring up the operating system at any time. While it would’ve been nice to have that function available on the controller, the decision to map it to the otherwise useless Reset toggle fits well with the retro vibe. As expected the top-loader doesn’t actually function and is merely there for aesthetics.

Turning the device on takes you to the menu screen where you select from one of the 21 games available. This is where you can also setup save-states on a game in progress, or activate the rewind feature for a game. There are also a few options, like selecting a CRT filter and what side options you want around the screen. You can select your language and adjust the screen burn-in timer. Strangely there’s an option to read the manuals for the included games, but all this does is display a URL and a QR code that takes you to Nintendo’s website, rather than actually showing you the manuals.

The menu lets you choose games, change settings, and load saved states

As for the game selection, your enjoyment is going to depend heavily on whether or not the games you wanted made the list. There’s a fairly decent cross-section of the system’s strongest genres, although there’s a noticeable lack of brawlers like Streets of RageFinal Fight, or TMNT: Turtles in Time. There’s also the exclusion of a few notable titles like Chrono TriggerMario All Stars, nevermind more obscure classics like ActRaiser, Wild Guns, Demon’s Crest, or Harvest Moon. Still, the titles included are arguably some of the system’s best and are sure to sate your appetite whether you’re looking for a good RPG, action game, or some classic platforming.

While some of the system’s more obscure titles failed to make the cut, there’s the noticeable inclusion of three titles many won’t be able to play anywhere else. First is Earthbound, whose inclusion is great given how hard the game can be to emulate, never mind how expensive original copies go for online. Often regarded as one of the greatest JRPGs ever made, Earthbound sold incredibly poorly due to a disastrous marketing campaign. Second is the inclusion of Secret of Mana, often regarded as a better game than even Legend of ZeldaMana is notable for being an action RPG with possible 2-player co-op, a concept largely unheard of at the time. Not quite as rare as Earthbound, but prices for original cartridges can exceed $100. It is worth noting that Mana is also receiving a full HD remake early next year on various newer systems.

The first official release of Star Fox 2, although the game itself might not be worth the fanfare

Finally, there’s the much-discussed release of Star Fox 2, the original sequel canceled due to the impending release of the N64. As SF2 was never actually released, this is the first time anyone can play it without the use of a reproduction cart of a hacked ROM file. With the exception of several unlicensed fan games, this is the first officially released SNES game since Frogger in 1998. Gameplay uses a combination of the original game’s space shooting mechanics, as well as a strange real-time tactical map of the galaxy, and tasks you with saving Corneria from Andross’ invasion fleets.

Where possible the games have been tested against their original releases, and for the most part, the emulation is spot on or better. More action-oriented games like Star Fox or Contra seemed to run a little better, with the former having noticeably better frame-rates at times.  It is unfortunate that the experience is pillarboxed, meaning that true fullscreen isn’t possible, however, older games running on new TVs don’t always upscale properly.

Compared to emulators or everdrive carts, the SNES classic is a pretty good choice for anyone looking to relive the glory days of Nintendo. While the system’s game selection may be limited (for now anyway) the games included are a fantastic cross-section and include many of the system’s best titles. It might not work for anyone that didn’t grow up with these games, but for anyone into retro gaming and can’t always afford the sometimes costly and hard to find original games, this is the perfect addition to any console collection.

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.