The Super Nintendo Classic is a miniature blast of nostalgia, a sleekly packaged piece of hardware that will transport you back to the days of denim jackets and the Spice Girls. Although one could certainly complain about some of the choices Nintendo has made here, this is a mostly great package that highlights how well the 16-bit era’s classics hold up, especially compared to those of the generation before.
Editor's note: this review is of the North American release of the SNES Classic. The UK release operates exactly the same and comes with the same pre-installed games, but looks a lot nicer thanks to its sleeker European design. You can see a review of the UK version over on our sister site Gizmodo UK.
For £70, you get a tiny replica of the Super Nintendo, two controllers, a short HDMI cable, and a power plug. You can’t put any cartridges in the SNES Classic, but it comes pre-installed with 21 ROMs, including five all-time classics, a lot of very good games, and Super Ghouls’n Ghosts.
In the late 80s, the NES (or, as millions of parents and children would call it, “the Nintendo”) saved the video game industry from catastrophe. With 2016’s NES Classic, we got to relive that pivotal 8-bit era, though those games have grown crusty with time. Today, sadly, most NES games are not worth playing. They are full of poor translations, inconsistent physics, and artificially inflated difficulty inspired by arcades. With a couple of exceptions (Super Mario Bros. 3), the NES Classic’s library consisted of games you’d load up, play for a few minutes, and marvel at how poorly they’ve aged.
The Super Nintendo is a different story.
Super Mario World is as fresh and challenging as it ever was. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past remains the pinnacle of 2D level design. It still feels fantastic to roll around as a Morph Ball in Super Metroid, and the labyrinth of Zebes is still deliciously mysterious. Earthbound and Final Fantasy VI (originally released, and shown on the SNES Classic, as Final Fantasy III) continue to feel like top-notch JRPGs that designers are still trying to emulate, all these years later.
Whereas the NES Classic was mainly a novelty item, the SNES Classic is a legitimately good console. It’s got a few problems—and, practically, I just wish these games were on my Switch—but whether you’ve never touched a Super Nintendo or you’ve memorised how to get to Bowser’s Castle in 11 levels, you’ll likely find reasons to enjoy this machine.
The most remarkable thing about the SNES Classic, on first glance, is how small it is. You can fit it in the palm of your hand or stick it in a jacket pocket. It’s light and adorable.
For comparison, here it is next to other gaming hardware:
And here it is next to some book:
It is a faithful recreation of the North American Super Nintendo, complete with sliding purple power and reset buttons. The reset button does not reboot the SNES Classic, though; it opens up the menu. So if you’re playing Contra and you want to switch to Castlevania, or if you want to suspend your progress while you go out and grab dinner, this is the button you’ll use.
What that means is that you’ll have to either A) position the SNES Classic close to you; or B) keep getting up every time you want to swap games. This is not ideal. The included HDMI cable is also surprisingly short ( 5 feet), which doesn’t make for a great setup if you want to keep the box close.
The NES Classic had that same problem, and it could have been remedied with the addition of a tiny home button on the controller, but Nintendo clearly didn’t want to mess with nostalgia. Indeed, the SNES Classic’s controllers are perfect recreations of the ones that came out in 1990, for better and worse. The L and R buttons are still mushy, the A/B/X/Y configuration is still satisfyingly clicky, and those damn wires will still get tangled every time you want to play Mario Kart with a friend. At least the controller cables, which are also around 5 feet, are longer than they were for the NES Classic.
Though the hardware feels retro, the SNES Classic’s interface is sleek and modern. Bubbly, Wii-like music plays as you navigate the main menu, and you can swap between games quickly and easily. Each game lets you save up to four “suspend points”—save states—that also let you rewind anywhere from a few seconds to a minute (depending on the game) in case you screw up. (Yet another reason you’ll want the box next to you as you play.)
As far as I can tell, all of these games are emulated perfectly. Nintendo chose not to make changes or enhancements to any of the ROMs, which means you’ll get the same quirks, glitches, and frame-rate drops as you did in the 1990s. (This is a good thing.) You can switch between standard, “CRT filter” (with scanlines!), and “pixel perfect” modes as you play, and you can also add borders to spice up the parts of your screen that aren’t covered with delightful 16-bit sprites.
There are 21 games included with the SNES Classic, and there’s no way to buy more. With each mini-console you will get: Contra III, Donkey Kong Country, Earthbound, Final Fantasy III (VI), F-Zero, Kirby’s Dream Course, Kirby Super Star, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, Star Fox, Street Fighter II Turbo, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls’n Ghosts, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out, The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, and Yoshi’s Island, plus the never-released Star Fox 2 (which, like its predecessor, chugs along at a beautiful 10 frames or so per second).
On one hand, this is a great lineup. There are at least 10 games on this list that are worth playing in their entirety today, and even the ones that haven’t aged particularly well, like Star Fox, are important pieces of history.
On the other hand, there are some serious omissions here. Where is Chrono Trigger? Couldn’t they fit in a couple of the Super Nintendo’s clever action-RPGs, like Actraiser or Illusion of Gaia? Did anyone really want two Kirby games but just one Donkey Kong Country? I’m sure the license for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time was too expensive, but surely they could’ve snagged Soulblazer?
Still, most of these choices are stellar (and we’d no doubt find reasons to complain no matter what). If you’ve never played the likes of Final Fantasy VI or Super Mario World, you are in for a treat with the SNES Classic. And if you have played them before, but want a cheap and efficient way to replay them with an authentic-feeling Super Nintendo controller, you’re in luck. The coolest thing about the SNES Classic isn’t just that it gives you easy access to these games, almost all of which can be emulated or purchased on other consoles. It’s that the SNES Classic lets you play these games the way they were meant to be played.
THE FIVE SNES CLASSIC GAMES THAT ARE MOST WORTH PLAYING IN THEIR ENTIRETY
- Final Fantasy VI
- Super Mario World
- Super Metroid
- The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
The SNES Classic does everything it promises to do. It runs some great games and helpfully makes them a little easier to play with those save states and rewind function. The lack of a home button on the controller is frustrating, and you’ll probably want to snag a longer HDMI cable if you don’t want to have to get up to swap games, but this is a great piece of hardware. As both a collector’s item and a regular addition to anyone’s gaming rotation, it is superb.
Now if only we could play these games on the Switch.