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SNES Classic Edition review — Nintendo makes another magical box

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Assuming you found one, the NES Classic Edition is a great device. The miniature console makes it easy to play all-time-great games on modern TVs. It’s success made an SNES Classic Edition inevitable. The machine comes out on September 29. It was also inevitable that if Nintendo followed the same formula, it would make another successful console.

That’s what Nintendo did, and — no surprise — the SNES Classic Edition is fantastic. It does inherit some of its predecessor’s design problems. A better library of game makes it the better retro machine.

Check out our Reviews Vault for past game reviews.

Above: So many great games.

Image Credit: Nintendo

What you’ll like

The games

The SNES Classic Edition comes with 21 games. That’s fewer than the 30 the NES Classic Edition has, but this library is superior. It includes fewer filler arcade games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong (which you’re not likely to play them for more than few minutes here and there). Games from the 16-bit era tend to age better than their 8-bit predecessors. This makes sense. Aside from graphical improvements, studios had a console generation (about five years) to improve design philosophy and gameplay mechanics.

Just look at Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid on the NES. They’re great games, classics, even. Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid outclass all of them. They’re prettier, less obtuse, and have more depth.

It’s incredible how many of these 21 games aren’t just fantastic but also among the best ever made. We already mentioned the big three, but you also classic side-scrollers like Mega Man X, Super Castlevania IV, and Contra III: The Alien Wars. You have multiplayer majesty in Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II Turbo, and Kirby Super Star (and since the SNES Classic Edition comes with two controllers, you can enjoy two-player gaming). You have some of era’s best role-playing games with Final Fantasy III (also known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan and all other releases in the U.S. besides the SNES one), Earthbound, and Super Mario RPG. And you have more Nintendo hallmarks like F-Zero, Yoshi’s Island, and Star Fox.

The library doesn’t include any duds.

Above: So cute!

Image Credit: Nintendo

The aesthetics

The system itself is as handsome as the original Super Nintendo but smaller (I love that gray-and-purple color scheme). Just moving that switch up and down its little slider to power the system on and off fills me with nostalgic delight. The controller is a perfect recreation of the original. It’s wonderful to enjoy a clean, crisp SNES control pad again.

The system’s menus and interface are similar to the NES Classic Edition’s. You scroll through a horizontal game library that you can arrange alphabetically, by release date, or by publisher. You have access to a few options, most of them just change the display or border image. You can’t customize the experience much, but the home screen and the menus are attractive and efficient.

Like with the NES Classic, you can use the home screen to save your game at any point. This makes it easy to quickly duck in and out of multiple games. Morally, you should only do this to mark your progress if you’re going to stop playing. You’re a horrible cheat if you make a save before a difficult boss and keep reloading it every time you die. The same goes for the new rewind feature, which makes it possible to go load points slightly earlier than when you saved. I know these features are popular with players who dislike the high difficulty of many older games, but it’s more fun if you earn your victories fairly.

Above: Star Fox 2 is a cool bonus.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Star Fox 2

So outside of games, you won’t find a lot of “extras.” But it does include one cool bonus. Star Fox 2 was a SNES game that Nintendo cancelled late in its development. Until now, you could only play it by downloading a ROM. But now Nintendo has officially released the sequel as part of the SNES Classic Edition.

As someone who remembers the disappointment of Star Fox 2’s cancellation, it’s cool, interesting, and a bit bizarre to finally get to play this space shooter. It doesn’t feel some disaster or incomplete project. I almost feel like I’ve fallen into some weird alternate dimension when I play it, one where there’s somehow a major SNES game made by Nintendo that I had never experienced before.

Now, set your expectations accordingly. The game is good, but it’s not on the level of a Super Metroid. Like the original Star Fox, it suffers from poorly-aged 3D graphics. The visuals were impressive for the SNES’s limited hardware, but it was quickly outclassed by the next wave of consoles (which is part of the reason why Nintendo cancelled Star Fox 2 in the first place).

But it is fun. More importantly, it’s fascinating. I can’t recall another experience like this. I’ve played retro-style games. You know, things made in modern times that try to replicate the look of older titles. But playing Star Fox 2 feels different. It doesn’t have to fake being a new old game. It is a new old game.

Above: Maybe a home button would have fit OK about the Start and Select buttons?

Image Credit: Nintendo

What you won’t like

Familiar problems

This is Nintendo’s second classic edition machine, so it’s a bit infuriating that it still has some of the same problems that the NES Classic has. The controller cable is longer … but not much. In an age where we’re used to setting up our TVs far away from where we sit thanks to wireless controllers, you’d think that Nintendo would at least make the cords longer than the originals. But they’re still, for whatever reason, shorter.

It can also be annoying to access the system’s home menu. Like with the NES Classic Edition, you do this by pushing the reset button on the console itself. You’ll want to access that home menu every time you want to switch to a new title or save your game state. I understand the desire to keep the controllers faithful to the original, but adding a small Home button would have been more convenient.

I’ve fixed both issues by putting my system on a small table right next to my couch. That way, the small controller cord reaches me fine, and I can hit the reset button without having to stand up (because I’m 30 and deserve to sit as much as I like, damn it). Not everyone will be able to comfortably put together a similar setup.

The bottom line is that third-party accessory makers are going to make more money selling extenders and wireless controllers.

Above: Super Mario World is still a blast.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Conclusion

The cable and home screen issues aside, this is a wondrous machine. The SNES is one of the greatest systems of all time. Having access to so many of its best games is convenient and glorious. I can destroy a boss in Mega Man X, switch over to Super Mario World for a few levels, then clear a dungeon in A Link to the Past, and then work my through a tough level in Super Castlevania IV.

The games are what make this such a fun system. Decades after their releases, there’s still something so pure and addicting about these 16-bit masterpieces.

Score: 90/100

The SNES Classic Edition comes out on September 26. Nintendo sent us one for this review.

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