Gear Review: Super NES Classic Edition

Disclosure: SNES Classic Edition was purchased by VGBlogger.com for review purposes.

For many gamers the SNES Classic is primarily a piece of nostalgia to add to the collection. Getting the chance to revisit a bunch of classic games on a dedicated console, remodeled to a size so small it literally fits in the palm of your hand, stirs up that warm and fuzzy feeling in the tummy, like going home again. I certainly got that childhood rush of remembrance when my SNES Classic–ordered from ThinkGeek–was delivered and I proceeded to tear open the box and hook up the system. But nostalgia was only a part of the reason why I decided to make the launch day impulse buy.

During that era, my best friend owned an SNES while I, already a proud owner of the preceding NES and Atari 2600 consoles, decided to go the Sega Genesis route for my 16-bit pleasure. So while I got the chance to play or watch many of the SNES’s best games, I never was able to enjoy the system as my own, to play many of its games thoroughly enough to form a lifelong bond, as I was able to do on the NES, Genesis, and subsequently, early PlayStation era games and franchises. So, after the initial jolt of nostalgia and faint familiarity, the SNES Classic has been like experiencing a brand new console, not just a plug-n-play toy to hook up for a quick trip down memory lane and then let sit around to collect dust.

I’ve only had the little guy for a couple weeks now, but I’ve loved every second I’ve spent with it. And when I say little guy, I mean it. Seeing the official Nintendo product shots of a disembodied human hand holding the SNES Classic in its palm doesn’t really have the same impact of opening the box, unwrapping the console from its protective packaging sleeve, and literally witnessing it fit in the palm of your hands in person. More amazing than the miniature stature, is how feathery light, verging on damn near hollow, the system feels. An Xbox One controller or DualShock 4 feel bulkier and heavier by comparison. From the size comparison pic I took and uploaded below, you can also see that the system is roughly the same size as controllers and portable devices like the 3DS and Vita.

Out of the box, the SNES Classic includes two wired controllers, an HDMI cable, and a USB charging cable with an attachable AC adapter dongle. Adorably diminutive size notwithstanding, the system itself is modeled in the likeness of the original SNES hardware, grey-and-purple color scheme included. The Power and Reset buttons are fully operational, but the cartridge slot and Eject button are engraved on just for show. The front-facing controller ports are also for presentation–they’re actually carved into a tethered trap door piece that pops off to reveal the real controller ports. The connector on the SNES Classic controller is in the style used for the Wii Remote, which simultaneously means that the SNES Classic controller can be used for SNES eShop games on Wii and Wii U while the Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro are compatible with the SNES Classic. (For the sake of full disclosure, I don’t have any Wii hardware on hand at the moment to test such cross-system support.)

Although the absurdly short cord length of the NES Classic’s wired controllers have been extended for the SNES Classic, the “upgraded” 4.5ft cable’s reach is still woefully inadequate. For reasons I’ll explain in a minute, Nintendo purposefully built the console to be played within arm’s reach. In this modern age of big screens and high definition, though, the cords should be long enough to accommodate playing from an extended viewing distance without being forced to buy extension cables or wireless alternatives on the third-party accessory market. There’s also the simple fact that the original SNES controller’s cord is almost twice as long. To be saddled with such a limitation nearly three decades later is a rather disappointing oversight by Nintendo, doubly so after all of the negative feedback from the NES Classic about the same issue.

Moving on to the software side of things, the SNES Classic features 21 pre-installed games, including:

Contra III: The Alien Wars
Donkey Kong Country
EarthBound
Final Fantasy III
F-Zero
Kirby Super Star
Kirby’s Dream Course
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Mega Man X
Secret of Mana
Star Fox
Star Fox 2
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
Super Castlevania IV
Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario World
Super Metroid
Super Punch-Out!!
Yoshi’s Island

It’s a true library of classics, that’s for sure. The emulation maintains the authenticity of the original game states which means, for better and worse, that technical quirks like pixel flicker and sluggish framerates during moments of high screen activity remain intact. Star Fox and Star Fox 2 are the weakest games; the controls are lousy, the framerates are sluggish, and man those Super FX 3D graphics are just hideous. Star Fox 2 is at least somewhat of a curiosity since it was never released until now, but playing both for a handful of minutes each was enough for me. Super Mario Kart hasn’t aged particularly well either due to slippery controls and muddy-looking track environments, but there is still a certain charm to it that at least keeps it playable.

Other than those three titles, whenever I turn the system on I find it hard to settle on which game to play at any given moment, because surprisingly they all hold up so incredibly well. To no surprise, A Link to the Past has received the majority of my play time so far; the shine never seems to fade on that jewel no matter how far removed we get from its release. Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and Donkey Kong Country exemplify what all 2D platformers should aspire to be like in terms of level design, creativity, and genuine fun. Mega Man X, Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts, and Contra III bring that old-school arcade level of difficulty that you love to hate and hate to love at the same time. Super Punch-Out isn’t as memorable as the NES original, but even judged by modern standards it’s a damn fine game of boxing that is deceptively complex despite having such simple mechanics.

Two Kirby games strikes me as a little odd (or maybe that’s just because I’ve never cared for Kirby as much as Nintendo’s other mascot icons), but in general Nintendo did a splendid job curating the game lineup. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some missing gems–21 games is only a fraction of the SNES’s amazing library after all. As an avid JRPG nut growing up, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV (aka Final Fantasy II for its original US release) are noticeably missing in action for me. (Part of me also wishes a spot was carved out for Mystic Quest, though that’s all nostalgia talking as that was a game I watched my friend play a ton of during sleepovers and whatnot. I realize it’s not a very good game.) King Arthur’s World, Final Fight, Super Smash TV, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors are personal favorites I have fond memories of enjoying on my friend’s SNES back in the day and would have loved to have been able to revisit. Killer Instinct is another unfortunate omission, but I’d imagine Nintendo purposely kept its lineup choices wholesome to maintain an ESRB rating at Teen and below to hit the broadest audience. Same goes for Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter II Turbo by itself is a solid representative for the fighting game genre; something about playing that game with an SNES pad just feels right to me.

Accessing and getting in and out of all of these legendary games is a breeze thanks to a clean and intuitive interface. The main menu displays the game library as a series of side-scrolling windows. Each window displays a game’s box art, as well as icons denoting open and used suspend points, and a game’s support for 1 or two players and in-game save function. Scrolling through the windows doesn’t take long, but for convenience pressing the Select button sorts the games by title, 2-player support, recently played, number of times played, release date, or publisher.

A menu bar of icons above the game window carousel is home to various system settings. The SNES Classic features display options for 4:3, Pixel Perfect, and a CRT filter for full on nostalgia. During gameplay, all games are displayed inside a window centered at the middle of the TV screen. Aesthetic customization is offered in the form of a dozen frames that fill in the surrounding empty black screen space with visualizers like curtains, wood grain, a city skyline, speakers, colored polka-dots, and starry skies. Some of the frames even change color depending on the game. After one minute of inactivity, the main menu can be set to switch on a gameplay demo video of your previous sessions, beginning with the most recently saved suspend point. This is a nifty way to offer a screensaver, as well as a means to get a quick refresher of where you last left off.

While the SNES Classic’s feature set is pretty barebones overall, the Suspend and Rewind functions absolutely are system-selling features that pull the aged hardware into some semblance of the 21st century. Sliding the Reset button at any time during gameplay exits back to the main menu with a quick-saved suspend point of wherever you are in the current game. From here the temporary save can be locked into any of the four save slots allotted for each game. After creating a suspend point, the Rewind function allows you to rewind back through approximately 45 seconds (or a few minutes in RPGs) of play time directly preceding the chosen suspend point. The actual time span saved for each rewind point seems purely arbitrary.

In tandem, the immediacy of the Suspend and Rewind options helps to shake off a lot of the crustiness of these old games that were originally designed like old arcade games with limited save options or dated continue systems that led to a lot of progress lost. Games like Mega Man X, Contra 3, and Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts are a whole lot more palatable when you can manually save before tricky jumps or boss battles, so you can experiment with boss strategies or scope out cheap death points without burning through lives and inevitably being forced to replay an entire stage over from scratch. I honestly don’t think I would even bother to play these games otherwise. Sure it’s a form of cheating in a way, but I already bested the brutal difficulty of these games when I was a kid. Call me a softie all you want, but nowadays, in the spirit of this tribute console, I just want to enjoy these games without the hair pulling and controller smashing.

Getting back to where I mentioned earlier that Nintendo seemingly designed the SNES Classic and its short controller cord for arm’s reach usage, the one downside to Suspend and Rewind is the need to be right up on the system to hit the Reset button. Every. Single. Time. It truly baffles me that Nintendo couldn’t or simply didn’t bother to come up with a more intuitive way to access the main menu. Best case scenario would’ve been a dedicated Home button built into the controller, but if preserving authenticity to the original hardware was important I can understand Nintendo’s decision to not go that route. However, at the very least a button shortcut should’ve been programmed in so you could, let’s say, hold Start and Select on the controller to call up the main menu. Hell, the games already have the Start + Select + L + R Software Reset, so why not just reprogram that to serve as a home menu shortcut? The transition from game to main menu at the press of Reset is smooth and near-seamless (there’s a delay of maybe a second or two, but that’s it), but the hassle of needing to be right up on the console creates an unnecessary barrier to taking consistent advantage of Suspend and Rewind.

I also feel like Nintendo missed some other opportunities to go that extra mile above and beyond the bare minimum to treat the SNES Classic like a true celebration of the past. For example, with the screen framing feature, it would have been a wonderful touch to have frame graphics themed to each specific game. I was also disappointed to discover, upon clicking on the manuals icon along the top menu bar, that the system doesn’t actually have the manuals installed directly, but rather gives a QR code to access them on a smart device, as well as a URL to find them online via web browser. This is fine, but it just seems a bit lazy and inconvenient to not offer reference material right on the device. Lastly, I was hoping Nintendo would load up the system with some form of bonus content, but alas there is none. My mind drifts to retro compilations from the past like the Capcom Classics Collection for PS2, which contains a museum of unlockable goodies for each of the titles, including concept art, historical data, music tracks, character profiles, and gameplay tips.

I could also argue in favor of things like wireless controllers by default, expansion framework for future eShop downloading of additional games, as well as a functioning cartridge slot to support physical SNES games for collectors who still own original copies. However, integration of these features would’ve surely led to a higher price tag, so I’m not going to boohoo too much about not having such modern hardware amenities.

Nintendo could have been bolder with the SNES Classic Edition in certain respects, but overall the mini-console without question hits the mark as a nostalgic plug-and-play time capsule tribute to perhaps the greatest era in gaming history (it’s right there with the PS1 and PS2 for me). By all means please avoid the scalpers, because paying anything over the official retail price only encourages poor practices and ultimately just isn’t worth it. Thankfully, Nintendo is promising a greater supply of the SNES Classic compared to the NES version, so keep an eye out for restocks and absolutely jump on any opportunity you can to snatch one up and feel in 2017 what it was like to play with super power back in the 90s.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!