It's only natural that the Super NES Classic should draw comparisons to the NES Classic—the retro console that took the industry by storm this time last year.
Nintendo's second retro console is much like the first: It's a faithful miniature recreation of one of the most beloved consoles in gaming history, and it brings with it many of the games that made it famous. Even the packaging is meant to evoke the halcyon days of the 16-bit era.
But in many ways it's also a very different system from its predecessor. It includes fewer games than the NES Classic—21 to the 30 included by its sibling—but almost all of them are miles deeper than their NES counterparts. The SNES represented a period where console games were increasingly moving away from their arcade roots, and it's reflected in a library that can be enjoyed over the course of days and even months.
More than that, Nintendo has learned some lessons from their first attempt at a retro console. In addition to making the cords a bit longer and adding the complete master version of Star Fox 2, they are introducing three new features that represent a nice little bit of added value for retro fans.
The SNES Classic's Three New Features
While the SNES Classic doesn't address some of the major complaints from the NES Classic—the cord is still kind of too short, there's no way to get new games, and manuals still have to be acquired through QR codes—it does include some neat new bells and whistles.
1. The Rewind Feature
This is by far my favorite new SNES Classic feature. Save states still exist, but now the SNES Classic also automatically records gameplay that you can scroll through at your leisure. So if there's an exact moment you want to pick up from, you can use the L or R button to quickly scroll through where you left off and jump in at whatever frame you want.
While it's not much more than a faster, smoother way to save scum your way through a particularly tough section of a game, it could have also have practical applications for speedrunners looking to hone their craft. It's also kind of cool to be able to just sit back and watch yourself play without having to use capture equipment.
Personally, I don't feel like I've really beaten a game unless I get through it without save scumming, so I don't anticipate using this feature much. But it's an interesting addition, and I'm glad it's there.
2. Border Frames
The NES was designed with old CRT televisions in mind, so its games necessarily output in 4:3. As a consequence, all NES Classic games are framed by a black border on a widescreen television.
The SNES Classic is much the same, but it takes a page from the Super Game Boy and includes special dynamic frames. They include Super Mario Bros. 3-like curtains; a wood frame with a Super Nintendo logo in the corner; dual stereos, and more. They can distract a little from the game itself, but if you don't like them, you can always turn them off.
Both Digital Eclipse and M2 have been doing this for ages, so it's nice to see Nintendo finally take a page from high-quality re-releases like the Mega Man Legacy Collection.
3. Gameplay Demos
This is a comparatively small change, but one that's still somewhat noteworthy. Like the NES Classic, the SNES Classic will show gameplay demos when left idle. But now the gameplay demos will be based on your gameplay. So if you're really bad at Super Mario World, you'll get to see yourself die over and over again. Neat!
My Super NES Classic Impressions
I sadly had to skim through the SNES Classic's amazing library in the fairly short time I had with the console. I played a round of Street Fighter II Turbo (still awesome) and dabbled in Final Fantasy VI, which sounded a tiny bit distorted to my ear. Listen to the clip and tell me what you think.
I also played the first couple battles of Star Fox 2, which was of course a big thrill for me. Forget for a moment that it's a dated looking FX Chip game from 1996: How often do you get to play what amounts to a brand new Super Nintendo game? Not that often! Even better, this is the full, unaltered version with a heretofore unrevealed localization from the '90s, making it especially significant.
Of course, once the initial thrill wears off it's still by far the most dated game on the system. Even its predecessor holds up a bit better simply by virtue of the fact that it doesn't try to do too much. Star Fox 2 is a massively ambitious game—a fully 3D shooter that is simply too big for the SNES.
Which is not to say that it's necessarily a bad game. It builds on the original in practically every way possible, introducing two new pilots—Fay the dog and Miyu the Lynx—and giving everyone different ships to fly. It also includes full range of action; dogfights against Star Wolf, and a non-linear level structure. Basically, it's a totally new game.
I played through two of the encounters at the beginning of the game. In one, I was intercepted by some enemy fighters as I headed toward an enemy base, which I had to battle and shoot down before I could proceed. I have to say, all-range mode isn't the most graceful thing in the world on the SNES—it made me kind of understand why Nintendo decided they didn't want to invite negative comparisons to the then-new 32-bit consoles. But it was still a novel feeling to have so much freedom in a 3D game on the SNES.
In the second section, I got to play as a walker—a vehicle that only recently made its official debut in Star Fox Zero. It's interesting playing without a true analog stick: you have to move with the d-pad while rotating the camera with the L and R shoulder buttons. It's not a perfect replacement for dual analog control by any means, but it's nevertheless a surprisingly serviceable set of controls.
Will Star Fox 2 be fun to play once the novelty wears off? Well, that's a good question. As I mentioned earlier, its ambition might actually be a strike against it, since its smaller, more discrete encounters and wide variety of vehicles make for a game that feels choppier and less intricate than its predecessor. I expect a lot of people will boot it up to play a level or two, then quit immediately.
But am I happy it's there? Oh yes. Yes I am.
With the inclusion of Star Fox 2 and a pretty stellar library, the Super NES Classic figures to be even better than the NES Classic, which was well-liked but still incurred some criticism for the games that it omitted.
From what I managed to play, the SNES Classic mostly seems to match the emulation quality of the NES Classic, which itself was pretty solid (certainly better than the Wii U). I also loved how faithfully the controller recreated the look and feel of the old SNES. The Super Nintendo's controller isn't quite my favorite—it feels kind of light and flimsy in the hand—but using it to play Street Fighter II and the like certainly brought me back.
For me, the most important difference is that the SNES Classic is apt to have much more staying power than its predecessor. Final Fantasy VI, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG, and Earthbound are worth hundreds of hours of gameplay on their own, and they aren't nearly as widely available as the games on the NES Classic. That alone makes me more inclined to spend the extra cash that it will undoubtedly take to get a SNES Classic from a scalper.
It could still be so much more—it makes me sad that you can't connect to the Internet to download more games, for instance—but it's still shaping up to be a fantastic collector's item for Nintendo enthusiasts. I can't wait for next month.
The SNES Classic will be out September 29. Go here to read our ongoing series of reviews of the SNES Classic's games. And for additional info, here's a link to everything we know.