Maybe it’s just the whim of our modern-day Internet culture, but the fact there were already rumors circulating about the possible existence of a SNES equivalent to the then-recently released NES Mini, could be read in a number of ways. The one most preferable — outside of [understandable] opportunism, pessimism and other such indignation — is the very objective fact that the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is by far one of the greatest video game consoles from a purely software perspective. Boasting games what many consider to be the pinnacles of their genre, the SNES was a special moment in video games — liberating itself from the restrictive 8-bit visuals and limited inputs of previous generations, using that natural evolutionary step to wow us with improved graphics, sound and most importantly of all, gameplay.
The SNES Mini is as much a tribute to the official fourth-generation of video games as it is a well-crafted emulator with a few notable added bells and whistles thrown in. Cleverly devised proof of how timeless and impressively-aged a sizeable chunk of its 21-strong roster can be at times — the delightful-yet-accessible gameplay of Super Mario World; the anxiety-laden atmosphere and tone of Super Metroid; the pastoral art-style and aesthetic of Yoshi’s Island; the witty and cleverly-written narrative of Earthbound. While Nintendo’s own first-party behemoths do take up most of the space, third-party offerings via Mega Man X, Super Castlevania, Street Fighter II and even Secret of Mana only go to further demonstrate the original system’s wide and diverse library of games that to this day, still hold up as those — more than twenty years on — one can easily thrust themselves into with little-to-no recalibration. That said, it’s hard not to look at other notably acclaimed, third-party releases — Chrono Trigger, Harvest Moon, R-Type III — and feel they more-than-deserve a spot in the roster.
As the promotional artwork so boldly portrays, the SNES Mini is as portable and as compact as a physical emulator can get; fitting atop one’s palm and clasped between the fingers — finished with a prevalent matte finish, save for the interactive spots which, obviously, come in the form of the POWER & RESET buttons respectively, on top of the controller ports hidden behind the flap at the front of the machine. While there is a cartridge slot spaced in-between these buttons, sadly just like the eject button is purely an aesthetic presence, the system not allowing for the use of original SNES cartridges. Unlike its [at the time] competitor Sega, whose own Sega Genesis emulator offers a slot to run original cartridges and indeed accompanying controllers. Both top buttons though take little effort to interact with, the power button especially providing a nice, easy-to-slide click as opposed to the original’s chunky, thud of a slide. The load time for the system upon powering on is surprisingly immediate, literally at the flick of the button the home screen comes to life with not a shred of a loading screen, hidden or otherwise.
The two bundled controllers too come with a complete matte covering with the main interface relatively untouched from the original in both look and feel. Like the console itself, providing some small but noticeable minor touches; the middle Select & Start buttons being rubber-textured standing out especially as a nice attention to detail, with the four colored face buttons of A, B, X & Y retaining that same glossy but clean functioning, with little strain even after many a repeated use. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s lack of foresight when it comes to wiring for their emulators sadly rears itself with their SNES equivalent. While the short HDMI cable provided may not be as much of a hassle for those who sit their Mini close to the TV, the limited couple of feet of wiring for the actual controllers, though sounds a lot, will seldom satisfy those whose set-up includes a couch or seating area spaced more than two feet away from one’s TV.
Upon boot-up then, one is immediately introduced to an interface that is as much smart in its delivery as it is charming — accompanied at all time by a spry, bubbly menu theme that is very reminiscent of the Wii Shop jingle, in all the right ways. One that has been clearly built for ease of navigation, even then the home screen still manages to throw up a few interesting additions that make the overall system just that bit more charming on the aesthetic front. The fact that the main hub where the library is presented is sharp and clean, whereas the surrounding screen furniture is pixellated — to obviously match the original 16-bit limitations — is a surprisingly nice fit despite its conflict. As far as features go, while the DVR-esque replay ability does limit your choice of restart points up to fifty seconds, the instantaneous shift upon selecting a desired point, much like the creation of a suspension point, is instant and of course a helpful way to correct any mishap or mistake one makes in-game.
In regards to suspension points especially, each game can hold up to four separate points and can even be locked should you want to prevent accidental overwriting or deletion. The fact that you can only do so by pressing the system’s physical RESET button though, does seem like another frustrating oversight — one desiring of a much simpler in-game button prompt. But again, it’s the quirky little ways that the system employs such data, that again rustles up another wide smile; the console’s idle mode if you will, using your gameplay to create a demo mode reel of sorts, as opposed to simply reverting to the default footage packaged in. This is of course ignoring the fact 16-bit Mario pops up beforehand, hitting the randomly-selected game tile as if it were just another “?” block.
Add to that the small cosmetic features, be it the option to switch between pre-loaded backgrounds to fill up the remainder of your screen (given these games still run at their native 4:3 aspect ratio) not to mention the ability to switch between CRT filter, original and even pixel-perfect clarity and it’s clear the SNES Mini is prime if not substantial proof of Nintendo’s extra mile-like method of thinking in injecting character and personality into what might be perceived as cold if still aptly-built software. Even when removed from the main pull that is of course the game library itself, while a lot of the system’s joy is in its nostalgic glisten of such past glories, it’s nice to see Nintendo demonstrating that very same creativity (even in something as insignificant as a demo reel) that has built them up to be pioneers of the industry.
Some games however do show their age and possible performance mishaps on occasion — Star Fox notably coughs up an odd frame-rate drop and unresponsive control input now and again — with the SNES Mini itself even adding entirely new ones like the weird swing of audio that crops up now and again (audio mixing sending the volume of particular sound or musical layers up and down at odd points). Another nuisance showing is that despite the many things the SNES Mini provides regardless of it being requested or not, the one thing it does not come bundled with is a manual or electronic equivalent — a mere QR code requiring you to use an external, smart device should the need arise.
If the list of minor grievances and temporary annoyances would make you believe this is a system heavily flawed, you can rest assured that the SNES Mini is undoubtedly the closest we will get to paying fine tribute to one of the best (if not the best) generations of video games that’s ever existed and an undeniably golden era of game creativity. What would have been a great product on its catalog of titles alone, the SNES Mini goes one further in providing a smart, charming and personality-brimming experience that even now, showcases some of the best traits Nintendo has as a game developer as much a hardware creator. Though these gripes will likely remain, it’s but a speck on a system bundled with neat features, a thoughtful user interface and above all else an aesthetic principle that those lucky enough to experience the original two decades previous, will only delight in seeing return in all its neat little call-back’s. Arguably one of the best emulators on the market and showcasing some of the greatest examples of video game design, scope, story-telling and delivery, through hardware and software alike, the Super Nintendo Classic Mini is an absolute must-own piece of kit.