At the tail end of last year, before it introduced the all-new Nintendo Switch to the world, Nintendo took a dive into its archives. It resurfaced with the NES Mini, a micro-console packed with retro delights from the software library of its first home console.
It was a massive, unexpected success – so much so, stock shortages continue to this day (not helped by Nintendo cancelling production at one point), and sellers can effectively name their price on the secondary market. It’s little surprise then that a second generation micro-console based on the NES’s own successor, the Super Nintendo, has followed suit – just in time for this year’s holiday rush, and with promises of higher stock levels to match eager gamers’ cravings for some 16-bit nostalgia.
The SNES Mini – or “Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System” to use its full, unwieldy title – doesn’t cram in quite as many games as its predecessor, but makes up for it with some shining examples of gaming history and the sheer amount of play time owners are likely to get out of it.
There are 21 games here, versus 30 on the NES model, but they’re bigger, more absorbing games reflecting the power the original Super Nintendo offered developers of the day. The likes of Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Super Castlevania IV, and Super Metroid alone make the SNES Mini worth its £79.99 RRP, representing some of the mechanically finest platformers ever crafted.
Then there are five massive RPGs – EarthBound, Final Fantasy III (actually Final Fantasy VI, but with the original western title), Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – each providing dozens of hours of gaming, while the likes of Contra III: The Alien Wars, Mega Man X, and Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts prove as addictively challenging as they did in the ’90s.
What will make the SNES Mini a must-have for many players, particularly in the UK, is the availability of titles that were never released here on the actual SNES. Earthbound and Super Mario RPG are hidden gems that previously needing importing (or, years later, illegal emulation) to play, making their inclusion alone worth picking the hardware up for.
There is a slight quirk to consider though – those games are based on the American releases, without any alterations. This means onscreen command prompts are patterned for the US model SNES, with two shades of purple for buttons. Playing Super Mario RPG, which matches menu commands to the face buttons, the X and Y buttons appear faded out as if not used, when in reality they’re just meant to match the lighter purple of the uglier colour scheme.
The real standout though is StarFox 2, which was never released on the Super Nintendo anywhere in the world. It’s a bit of a triumph too, showing just how much power could be squeezed out of the 16-bit behemoth even late in its life cycle. Visually, it far outclasses the original StarFox (also included, and you’ll need to clear the first stage of it to unlock StarFox 2), while providing a deeper tactical experience. You’ll choose a main pilot – from the four classic StarFox heroes, plus never-before-seen new characters Miyu and Fay – and a wingman, and then chart your own way through defending the planet Corneria from a new threat.
StarFox 2 has become something of an internet legend since its cancellation in 1996, existing only in the form of rogue ROMs shared illicitly. Of course, Nintendo could see fit to release the game on Virtual Console in future, but for now, having it available to play legitimately for the first time ever is another massive positive in the SNES Mini’s favour.
Functionally though, the SNES Mini isn’t a huge departure from last year’s model. Games are selected from an inelegant scrolling bar of original box art, with a software suspend feature allowing you to create bespoke save points in any title. Once again, you can apply visual filters to games, from a CRT flicker to pixel-perfect presentations taking advantage of the full 1080p high definition afforded by HDMI output. A slight tweak here now allows you to add frame designs to the pillarbox borders that maintain the original 4:3 aspect ratios, filling that off-putting black space – a minor improvement, but a welcome one.
I’m pleased to see the SNES Mini at least attempts to correct one of the biggest problems suffered by the NES Mini though, that of cable length. While the replica SNES controllers are still corded, the cables are a more respectible 140cm, rather than the 79cm the NES Mini pads were saddled with. You’ll still have to sit relatively close to the screen, but not quite as retina-searingly so. Including two controllers is a particularly nice touch too, especially for multiplayer titles such as F-ZERO, Street Fighter II Turbo, and Super Mario Kart. That they connect to the console through ports hidden behind the outline of the original connectors is a beautiful bit of design, too.
Elsewhere though, some of the same concerns raised with the NES version persist. Nintendo again opts not to include a plug, so you’ll need to source a spare micro-USB cable and mains adaptor to actually power it. There’s also still no way to exit a game and return to the title selection screen short of physically hitting the reset button on the base unit. A complaint borne of laziness, yes, but one that still irks.
Ultimately, the games are what counts in such retro bundles, and here the SNES Mini doesn’t disappoint. It’s hard to think of it purely as a “retro” product, even – pixel art has enjoyed a resurgence over the last decade thanks to the indie gaming scene, making the titles here feel less inherently dated, and the games Nintendo has packed in still stand up as some of the best ever made. As with the NES Mini, the inability to (officially, legally) download or otherwise expand the software library continues to disappoint – and the absence of Chrono Trigger is unforgivable – but this still provides literally weeks of brilliant gaming time in a tidy package.