Predictably enough, the SNES Classic Mini is receiving a warm reception. But only one thing matters about this product — its complete failure when it comes to a key feature of the original machine: the eject button.
The SNES's clickable eject button was never a necessary part of the design. Cartridges could be pulled in or out of the slot (when the machine was off), with no need to push down on the delightfully sproingy grey curve. The eject button was there because the console's designer, Masayuki Uemara, was one of the many Nintendo employees who'd had as much experience building toys as games. He saw that this addition to the machine was fun to play with, and gave the hardware a much more tactile feel.
That strain of thinking persists in Nintendo's hardware to this day, even if its products are now unimaginably sleek and sophisticated next to the gorgeously chubby SNES. Perhaps this is why nostalgia for Nintendo remains such a marked theme among the gaming audience; it's not just that we played them when young, but we also remember the toylike qualities of the company's hardware. No moment in my life will ever top the day I got a Game Boy, and I remember the ridges of its lower back and the clacky power button as much as any software.
Nostalgia is also, of course, the major factor powering the SNES Classic Mini, following the commercial success of the NES Classic Mini. This is a product for people who owned a SNES and, in that sense, it's more of a toy than the original machine ever was. Regardless of appearances and eject buttons, the SNES was serious hardware designed to win a console war (which in the end, it arguably did). The SNES Classic Mini is a fetish, a trinket for those of us who were there, and most of all a toy.
So it seems unbelievable that the most toylike aspect of the original hardware has been removed from this redesign. The SNES Classic Mini appeals because, well, it's a mini SNES. That's why people will hand over £70 for some basic tech and 21 games they could easily emulate, it's about owning the object. And let's not beat around the bush here: Nintendo's profit margin on this thing has got to be absolutely enormous, and the eject button has been abandoned because it saved some money.
The first thing I did, upon taking the SNES Classic Mini out of the box, was feel the eject button. When I realised it was just a hump on the same piece of moulded plastic, I could've wept. Who designed this, I thought, and how could you possibly think that would be an acceptable replica? For this reason the first thing this console does is disappoint; it's not a SNES, not really.
Compromises have to be made when manufacturing anything, and perhaps the very thought of an eject button brings Nintendo's accountants out in hives. It's not the end of the world, and indeed many might not even notice it — some will wonder why I'm bothered about an eject button at all. I suppose it's that I feel, if a company's going to cash in on past glories, then customers should expect that object to bring back good memories. When I pick up the SNES Classic Mini all I notice is what's missing and, daft as it may be, how that makes it feel like a cheap knockoff — rather than a Nintendo product.