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SNES Classic Mini review: The retro competition is heating up

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
70
inc VAT

Party like it’s 1994 with Nintendo's Mini SNES Classic

Pros 
Good selection of games
Cute as a button
Wonderfully nostalgic
Cons 
A touch pricey
You can’t buy extra games
No plug in the box
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Back in 1994, I really wanted a SNES, and everyone else had one. The irony is not lost on me, however, that by 2017, that shoe was firmly on the other foot. As the SNES Mini prepared to launch in the UK, the hype it generated made it incredibly hard to find, with pre-orders going for a fortune on eBay. And yet there I was with one sitting in a living room where it struggled for attention against the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. How times have changed.

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SNES Mini review: What you need to know

In 2016, Nintendo released the NES Classic. A compact plastic box with 30 classic games from the 8-bit era. The control pads were identical, and the console itself looked exactly like the original, only far smaller and with an HDMI port. It sold like hotcakes and sold out everywhere. For at least a year after launch, it was really hard to find without spending a fortune.

The SNES Mini is the sequel: a teeny-tiny version of Nintendo’s 16-bit entry to the console race, resplendent with 21 games including Mario Kart, Super Street Fighter 2, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World.

SNES Mini review: Price and competition

The SNES Mini goes for £70, at least in theory. It sold out everywhere as soon as pre-orders opened, and stayed sold out for quite some time, meaning it’s pretty tricky to find at that price. These days, it retails for closer to £125.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, the competition has gotten pretty fierce of late. Both Sony and Sega have issued forth their own teeny retro consoles: the PlayStation Classic (£90) and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis Mini (£70). The PlayStation Classic is often on sale, having failed to make the same splash as the NES or SNES Classic Mini; the Mega Drive Mini, on the other hand, is shaping up to be a real gem of a machine, with a total of 42 pre-installed games and two controllers included in the box.

SNES Mini review: Design

While the original SNES would have been bulky for a ten-year-old Alan to carry, the new model lives up to its Mini name, fitting comfortably in a single hand – and I’m pretty sure I haven’t grown THAT much. It’s tiny and, at 200g, it weighs only slightly more than the smartphone you carry around with you everywhere (or less, in the case of the iPhone 8 Plus). This shouldn’t be surprising but, somehow, it still feels like witchcraft. There’s something about the SNES Mini’s miasma of nostalgia that makes you overlook reason.

It looks exactly as you remembered, only smaller, and some of the details are purely for show. The old seven-pronged controller ports are moulded into the plastic, but they’re an illusion: the whole front panel actually comes off to reveal a pair of connectors for the pads, which use the same port as you find on Wii remotes. Likewise, the cartridge slot doesn’t actually open, either – the 21 games included are all onboard, and there’s no room to add any more. In that respect, it’s much more locked down than a Raspberry Pi with an emulator – or indeed a vintage 1994 SNES off eBay with a car-boot sale’s worth of games. Especially as the 21 included here are all first-party Nintendo-fare.

SNES Mini review: How it plays

But that does a disservice to the experience offered here. Not only are the games all stone-cold classics, from Super Mario World to Street Fighter II Turbo, but they’re also immaculately presented in a world where they could look like garbage on a 4K curved screen.

Like the NES Mini before it, you can play the games in their original 4:3 format or a 1:1 “pixel perfect” mode. You can even add a CRT filter to proceedings to make them look worse but more authentically nostalgic. And unlike in the 1990s, you can quickly save games without having to pay attention to specifically designated saved game slots.

In fact, you can do a bit more than just save. The SNES Mini is designed to make the infuriating difficulty of old school 16-bit games that bit more palatable, by also including a "rewind" option. If you press reset at any time, the system will remember the last 45 seconds of gameplay, letting you try that tricky bit where you died over and over again until you get it right.

It's an interesting feature and, while you may think it should be built into the pad itself, you can't imagine it being possible without a redesign breaking that retro vibe. In any case, the leads on the gamepads are so short that you'll never be that far away from the reset button anyway. They're not as short as on the Mini NES, though.

There are 20 games included that you may or may not have owned back in the 1990s, but there’s one extra freebie that you definitely won’t have: Star Fox 2. Unreleased in 1995 because of the N64’s imminent arrival, it finally makes its debut here, 22 years later. All you have to do to unlock it is complete the first stage of the first Star Fox game to unlock it.

Unfortunately, in 2017 it doesn’t play brilliantly. In some ways, putting the game behind a wall of completing the first level of Star Fox is a smart move: it works to dampen expectations by reminding you how tricky the original was. But while the first Star Fox has a film of nostalgic reminiscence to remind you of its 1990s greatness, the sequel is a tough sell – mainly because the combat takes place in first person mode, which is a bit of a mess.

That’s a shame because it has some neat ideas – including an early stab at making it an open world game where you pick and choose your battles – but the truth is that if this was a brilliant game, Nintendo would have found a way to release it years ago. Here, it’s a nice bonus but probably not one you’ll spend that much time with.

SNES Mini: Verdict

The SNES Mini is pretty easy to endorse, overall. It’s cute as a button, a nice homage to Nintendo’s past and the games are – for the most part – winners. It’s the best way of playing these retro games, both in terms of frame rate and resolution, these feel like they’ve been built for the system in a way you don’t get with emulators or even Nintendo’s own virtual console.

The fact that you can play these with official SNES controllers is just the cherry on the cake. Yes, there are missteps. It’s annoying that you won’t be able to buy games to add to the collection, it’s a little pricey and they could have thrown a USB plug adapter in the box. But these are powerless to the overall joy it is to use: it’s well worth buying if you’re a Nintendo nut.

The SNES Mini may not revolutionise gaming the same way the original did back in 1994, but its simplicity is hugely welcome for those who found 16 the perfect number of bits for gaming. As a nostalgia trip, it’s hard to beat.

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