I’ll be honest: I’m not particularly fond of the Nintendo Entertainment System, and by extension, its modern counterpart, the NES Classic Edition. Oddly enough, I own both, but I feel like most of the platforms’ games have not aged particularly well, and I can’t bring myself to play either one for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
The Super NES is an entirely different story. I’ve never owned one myself, but have enjoyed much of its catalog thanks to an abundance of ports and re-releases on various other platforms. When Nintendo announced the (inevitable) SNES Classic Edition, I immediately took it upon myself to track one down, no matter what the cost.
Speaking of which, we should probably address the elephant in the room: supply. For anyone familiar with the NES Classic Edition and its scarce supply, you probably had little faith in being able to get your hands on the SNES Classic. Oddly enough, it seems like Nintendo has pulled a 180 in this regard; while specific retailers had more than their share of pre-order snafus, I was able to pick up one on launch day without reserving one in advance. Sure, I got to the store five hours before opening just in case, but many who showed up when the doors open walked away with one as well. I imagine it will be sold out for a bit until the next shipments arrive, but if you’re worried you won’t be able to get one for yourself, don’t fret.
Design wise, the SNES Classic Edition bears a lot of similarities to its predecessor from last year. Taking up a fraction of the space of the console its emulating, it’s small frame and footprint is both a blessing (for those with cramped media centers) and kind of endearing. It’s also a very clean looking system; there is no cartridge flap to speak of, and the two controller ports are hidden behind a small plastic flap. On the top, you’ll find Power and Reset switches, though they don’t move around as much as the original hardware. At the back, there’s an HDMI out port, and a micro USB port to power the micro-console. A USB wall adapter is included alongside a cable, but you can forgo the wall adapter if you have a nearby USB port to plug into. While I don’t have any specific figures on power draw, I was able to run mine off my TV’s USB port, saving me from having to find a wall outlet, which has become a precious and rare commodity in my apartment.
When you boot up the system, you’ll be treated to a very similar looking interface (assuming if you’ve tried the original NES Classic). Each included game can be immediately booted up (save for one, which I’ll address shortly), and a small icon lets you know if a game supports multiplayer. There are very few options and settings to tinker with, though this plays to the console’s strengths, emphasizing plug-and-play over anything else.
Outside of language options, you can pick from one of three display modes: pixel perfect, 4:3, and a CRT mode. The pixel perfect mode does exactly what is says it does: as opposed to trying to render the non-square pixels that SNES were usually presented as, it maps the game directly to the pixel grid of your TV. As a result, games look less wide compared to a 4:3 aspect ratio. I normally used this mode when playing the NES Classic, simply because the standard 4:3 mode suffered from some scaling issues which produced visual artifacts when a screen was scrolling.
However, it seems like Nintendo has tweaked the 4:3 mode this time around, with new interpolation and post-process effects which essentially eliminate the problems that plagued this display mode on last year’s system. I recommend this display mode, and while old-school gamers might be intrigued by the CRT mode (which attempts to add in scanlines and other artifacts you might see on a CRT TV), I find that the quality of the effects to be lacking, especially when compared to upscalers such as the Framemeister or Open Source Scan Converter.
Where the SNES Classic Edition really shines is in its 21 included games, and how well it handles emulation. I spent time with each title, and while I noticed some minor sound inaccuracies (and an even smaller amount of audio lag), the entire experience feels exceptionally fluid, and is leagues ahead of unofficial machines such as the RetroN 5. Better yet, the SNES Classic marks the first time that games such as Star Fox and Yoshi’s Island have been re-released officially, presumably due to past licensing issues surrounding the Super FX coprocessor.
Speaking of games, the SNES Classic includes some of the best titles from the original system’s catalog, with little to no filler to be found. Super Metroid? Check. Link to the Past? You bet. Secret of Mana? That too. Sure, there’s a few notable absences (mainly Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country 2), it’s hard to complain about what you get, especially since these games fetch a pretty penny on the secondhand market. As an added bonus, this marks the first time that gamers can get their hands on the previously unreleased (cancelled) Star Fox 2. It’s a neat inclusion for those who appreciate video game history, and it even comes gift wrapped on the system’s main menu (you need to beat the first level of the original Star Fox) before you can give it a go.
So, what’s the catch? Oddly enough, there’s very little to complain about. The retail price of the console is $80 (up from the NES Classic’s $60), though that can be attributed to the extra controller, meaning that you won’t have to hunt down an extra one for late-night Super Mario Kart sessions. This time around, the controller cables have been slightly increased to around five feet. These are still short by modern standards, though extension cables aren’t too hard to find (nor are they terribly expensive).
Still, my main complaint is the lack of a shortcut to reset the system. In order to change games, save or load save states, use the newly introduced rewind feature (which allows you to rewind a game by around a minute), or change display settings, you’ll need to hit the reset switch on the system. It’s a minor inconvenience; while it doesn’t affect me too much (since I tend to play one game at a time), those who like to switch things up will have to either sit close to their TV, or be prepared to get up from your couch a little too often.
Still, it’s hard not to be enamored with Nintendo’s newest micro-console. For just a bit more than the standard price of a retail game, you can have access to some of gaming’s best offerings, all wrapped up in a pint-sized console that’s easy to setup and use. While I’m still hoping for a revival of the Virtual Console service on the Switch, the SNES Classic Edition will keep me entertained well into next year and beyond.
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