It’s been a year since I looked at Nintendo’s last foray into the world of plug and play retro consoles when they launched the Classic Mini NES. This time I was fortunate enough to receive it’s successor, the Mini version of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System as a Christmas present from my wife (hence the belated look at the console here!). Have Nintendo struck gold again or is it simply another cash-in on the fond memories held by retro gamers across the globe…
As with it’s predecessor, the SNES Mini is a small form factor plug and play microconsole. At the heart of the console, as before is a USB powered Allwinner R16 SoC device with an ARM processor at the heart of the system – the same as the NES Mini so essentially apart from the exterior finish it is the same device as many of us purchased the year before. There are two physical designs to the console and three variants. Two are based on the Famicom / SNES moulding that we are used to here in the EU and the third is based on the more angular American release of the console.
In terms of games, this time the console comes with just 20 built-in titles (with an extra unlockable game – the unreleased Starfox 2) bringing to grand total to 21. For those wanting to be completists, there are five games exclusive to the EU/US, and five to Japan so to get everything you need to own both the Japanese and either an EU or American version of the console this time but again it’s the EU model I’m concentrating on. Inside the box itself is the console, two controllers, a HDMI lead and USB lead to power it. As before, it can be powered from the mains or from a TV with a suitable USB port.
Looking at the console itself, there are two controller ports at the front, hidden underneath a flap that resembles the ports for the original SNES controllers and on top are smaller versions of the original power and reset buttons (performing the same functions here), and a dummy cartridge slot. Once again, original cartridges can’t be used and there’s no SD card port so you can’t add additional games to it (although units have been hacked to be able to do this) so out of the box it’s 21 games and nothing else.
Onto the games themselves and it’s no surprise to see that the line-up is filled with plenty of expected favourites from the SNES’ extensive library. Included amongst the collection are racers Super Mario Kart and F-Zero, an abundance of RPGs including Final Fantasy III, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, Secret Of Mana, Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars amongst others, numerous platformers headlined by Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts… definitely no shortage of quality. Oh, there were one or two other games as well that might have been familiar to SNES owners back in the day – Star Fox, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, and something called Super Metroid to name but a few more…
Probably the strangest omission from the list of games would have to be Super Mario Tennis. Another iconic game for the SNES and a great two-player game yet its total absence is beyond me. Certainly there are no issues when it comes to acquiring the license with it being a first party Nintendo release so does seem odd. In fact, there’s nothing at all included on the console covering sports other than Super Punch-Out and the crazy golf based Kirby’s Dream Course and I can’t see this appealing to the casual gamer who would have received this as a gift from a friend or family member.
Comparisons to the NES Mini are bound to be made, especially on the games and pricing front. This time it’s selling for £79.99, significantly more than the original RRP of the NES Mini yet offers substantially fewer games. Many in the online retro gaming community were up in arms over this, citing the cost of creating a similar Raspberry Pi based emulation system and comparable USB controller being substantially less and with this using the same hardware as the NES Mini. That being the case, many felt that it should have cost much less than it does. Ignoring the fact that this is a commercial release and needs to be sold at a profit (not to mention the fact that different companies each need to make a profit on it at every step in the sales and distribution chain) there are other factors to take into consideration.
Beyond that, this console ships with a second controller when previously the NES Mini controllers sold for around £20-£25 each and many forget that all of the third party games included with the console incur a license fee before they can be bundled with the machine. Even though there are only 20 games, the ones that need to be licensed include big hitters from Capcom, Konami and Square Enix and wouldn’t have been small change, especially considering the commercial success of the first console.
That aside, what do I actually think of the SNES Mini? As with the NES Mini before it, the emulation side of things is rock solid and performs admirably and from a players viewpoint you’d be hard pressed to tell that you’re not actually using a SNES during gameplay. As before there is a choice of graphics modes allowing to to customise the output from the standard 4:3 resolution of old-style televisions, stretch the image to the full size of your TV, or apply filters for a simulated CRT look for that real old-school look. Personally, while I never had a SNES first time around, I found that the games looked their best running under a combination of 4:3 mode with the CRT filter applied and that looked stunning on a 42″ LED TV.
The controller has been recreated perfectly although whether you think that this is a good thing or not depends on your views on the original SNES controller although sadly the console isn’t compatible with the superior Competition Pro controller that was releases for the SNES back in the 90s. It is compatible with the WiiU Gamepad if you’d prefer something a little more ergonomical.
Nintendo have listened to critics and the cable between the console and controller is now longer but sadly still not long enough. Gaming has come on a long way from the 80s and 90s and it’s no longer a case of kids sitting on the floor in front of the television playing games. We own larger televisions and by necessity we HAVE to sit further away to be able to see what we are doing and we’re certainly more aware of the need to sit further away for the sake of our health. Consoles with wireless controllers have allowed us the freedom to sit a comfortable distance away from our screens but the same consideration must be given when it comes to other consoles as well. Unfortunately, unless I’m using an extension lead I’m still resigned to sitting on the floor playing this for now.
But this is a plug and play console so the most important part is the games themselves. Despite the capacity of the console, I was disappointed by the quantity offered. Seeing the hacks made to the NES Mini, it’s clear that the console has a lot of spare storage internally for additional games so it’s strange as I said earlier that Nintendo hasn’t taken advantage of this and I think that the lineup has suffered as a result. The SNES has such a rich library of games, both first and third party releases, but what’s presented here seems to be lacking in diversity. There is a bias towards RPGs, action platform games and tried and tested favourites using established Nintendo favourites. With such a small number of titles offered, there’s too much reliance on the likes of Mario, Yoshi et al and there’s limited variety in the games on offer.
I’m not trying to fault the quality of the games as there are some genuine classics here and I’ve already put an immesurable amount of time into games such as Final Fantasy III already and been having a blast playing the original Super Mario Kart but its lacking a certain something… With the NES Mini I could spend an hour engrossed in an RPG, then jump straight into a platform game, an arcade shoot-em-up, a puzzle game – the variety was immense considering the relatively small size of the lineup. In the case of the SNES Mini I just feel that the console needs something more than what is being presented here to gamers.
Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is notoriously difficult and thus becomes frustrating rather than fun to play and other titles can – for the casual gamer not familiar with many of the games on offer – prove equally so. There’s only so much you can tolerate of repeated death at the same points in a game before you move onto something else never to return and in the case of the SNES Mini there were more than a couple of titles that I could see leaving players with that feeling. For a console like this to appeal to the wider gaming audience and beyond those who were hardcore SNES owners back in the 90s, it needs to offer a mix of games to appeal to hardened gamers and those who can enjoy more relaxed gameplay and that’s where the SNES Mini struggles.
The addition of the second joypad is extremely welcome, but only a few games make use of it and the console really screams out for two player arcade games, sports titles and more but even this felt like a wasted opportunity unless you were a die-hard Street Fighter II fan and truth be told, that’s one game that has always divided fighting game fans. While many love it, there are just as many who have no interest in Capcom’s long-running franchise and would rather play one of the myriad of alternatives out there instead.
Prior to getting the NES Mini I sold my original NES as it was gathering dust unused. I had only picked it up a few months earlier and being honest hadn’t quite had the chance to buy any games for it. When the NES Mini was announced and I saw the lineup, it offered a diverse enough selection of games that meant that I didn’t feel that I’d want the original, or at least for some time. I had the same high hopes for the SNES. I only owned one game for my SNES – Super Star Wars – and when a pixel perfect port was released for the PS Vita it negated the need to keep the console but after using the SNES Mini for a while now I am regretting my decision to sell it.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the SNES Mini is a great piece of kit and considering the quality of the games that are included it IS fantastic value for money and worth getting to experience a taste of what the console has to offer, but utlimately it’s not offering me the long term variety that I crave as a gamer and what the NES Mini was able to. I’ll still use this console a lot for the fabulous RPGs that are included and the Nintendo favourites, but beyond that I think an original SNES is calling to me once more…