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SNES Classic mini review – a small box full of nostalgia

In recent years nostalgia has become the main export of the entertainment industry. Films, games, even music… suddenly it became clear that our past can be exploited for profit. We’ve seen the movies and TV shows. The NES Classic mini, released last year, was a massive hit. The success was so obvious that I couldn’t but ask how Nintendo haven’t figured it out sooner. That company has a huge list of well-known franchises (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Smash Bros, Fire Emblem, Pokémon), and all of these franchises have been selling well over and over again on the Virtual Console. If you can re-sell the same game over and over again, why can’t you sell consoles, too?

It makes sense. We all love these games, but we also tend to have warm feelings towards console themselves. After all, Nintendo have always been making the cutest and most recognizable consoles out there – and the most bizarre controllers as well. So why not recreate a smaller version, pre-install a lot of classical goodies and ship to stores? Naturally, it sold well, and became a breakout hit of the holiday season. The demand was so high, there was not enough consoles. Some claimed it was Nintendo’s fault, some blamed retailers. To this day a lot of people didn’t get to have their smaller NES.

SNES Classic mini fits neatly on a palm

In 2017 the public was warier. In the USA a lot of people are skeptical of Nintendo’s ability of build enough consoles, but the news about the releases of SNES classic still made a lot of gamers happy. That’s the thing about nostalgia – you can’t fight it. And Nintendo have been masterfully using it against us for decades.

SNES reincarnate

There’s no reason to ask what SNES Classic mini is for. It is a toy – for playing. A tiny box full of vintage gaming. So, let’s take a closer look. Let me be clear: we’re talking about the PAL version of the console, which means that it has a different design than the one released in the USA. Otherwise they are identical. Also, the PAL version is a lot prettier. Yes, I said it.

SNES Classic mini comes in a neat colorful box which is both informative and nostalgic. In many European languages it tells us what exactly is and isn’t inside. Console? Check! AC Adaptor? Nope!

On the back there’s a list of pre-installed games.

The box looks great. In fact, it looks like it’s been waiting for me to buy it for twenty or so years. Very, very neat.

Let’s open it, and we’re greeted with a manual and the console itself. You can’t plug it into an outlet, though – there’s no power adapter. Bizarre, sure, but it hardly matters. You can easily plug the USB into the TV.

The console itself is tiny. It doesn’t even look like its real – it looks more like a toy than a real piece of technology.

It appears that SNES Classic mini has a slot for cartridges, but it’s only a fake. Deceptions don’t end there: controller ports look authentic enough, but they, too, do nothing. They merely conceal real ports for two controllers. These are Wii ports – exactly like in NES Classic mini.

In fact, a lot of things here are just like in SNES Classic mini. NES controllers work on SNES. Technically, the processor inside is exactly the same. You buy the same thing twice, only now with different controllers and design.

The console has two working buttons. The power switch is used for turning SNES Classic mini on and off. When it’s on, you can tell it by a red indicator light.

The controllers look completely identical to the ones released almost thirty years ago. Even battleworn veterans, who spent hundreds of hours playing the SNES, can’t really tell the difference. And, as was expected, these are authentically wired controllers. When we first found out about it, we freaked, because the cords on the NES Classic were so short. Thankfully, Nintendo promised to fix this ridiculous problem, and they did… kinda.

The thing is, the cords are longer. You can even reach your sofa if you try really hard, But is this a comfortable way to play? Not at all! I get that people miss older games and consoles, but wired controllers? Man were we happy when they were finally gone. Don’t bring them back, Nintendo. And by the way, the cords of the originals are still longer.

That was the one thing they had to change. Everything else is pretty much perfect for these kinds of games. You can hold the controller comfortably. Each push of a button is very satisfying – you can tell it is the real deal, not some knockoff.  The rubber Start and Select buttons are as tight as ever, but, come to think of it, Nintendo should have added another, Home button.

You see, the original consoles had no Home screen – you insert a cartridge and play. Here we have a Home screen with a wide variety of games, but there’s no way to go there unless you physically touch the Reset button on the SNES itself. The same thing happened with NES, but why persist with this? This is crazy inconvenient. But more on that later.

Using the SNES Classic Mini

Setting up the SNES Classic Mini is pretty straightforward – you won’t even need a manual. Just like in the good ol’ days you take the console, connect the cord to it and the TV, turn it on and play the game. No upgrades, patches, Wi-Fi passwords and other modern nonsense. The console turns on instantly (but takes its time to power off). The UI looks a lot like in NES Classic Mini, but with minor tweaks and additions. In the center of the screen are games. Underneath are slots for save states. Settings are located above.

Remember the times of the cartridge? How durable, but, most importantly, lightning fast it was? No load times, to wait between the levels. Same here. The console is very fast, and so are the games. Even your saves load in less than a second. It’s like you’re playing a portative console and never turn off any game at all. Crazy convenient.

The box from the past

In the settings there are some goodies. There are three video modes – a standard for good balance: pixel perfect for the truest picture quality; and CRT-filter, which recreates perfectly all imperfections of older TVs. You may not miss the times before High Definition, but some games definitely do. There were times when the CRT filter felt not like a gimmick but a necessity for smoothing out some rough parts of games that didn’t age particularly well. Especially when we talk about the 3D pioneers like Star Fox which felt like a breakthrough when it first came out, but now looks more like a sorry mess, pleasant only to the most nostalgic of eyes.

So yeah, playing is a blast – until you need to change the game, there is. Then you have a problem. Unless you want to use the Wii classic controller, which totally works here, you have no real way of changing the game without touching the console itself. Once again, remember the old days, but why? Wasn’t this supposed to be a neat way of playing the old games, not the most infuriating?

It sures looks like a cartridge slot, but don’t be fooled

The games

Now, the real stuff. The games are here, and they’re every bit as rad and tubular as you might expect. There’s not much of them, though – only 21, including the brand new previously unreleased Star Fox 2. NES had more games, but what can you do. Also, it’s kinda sad that the one new game is Star Fox which, as I was saying, aged badly. SNES Classic Mini marks the first time this game was officially released. Cool? Cool. Let’s move on.

All other games are everything you think of when talking about the best of the best of SNES Classic Mini – with some exceptions.

Here are all the games:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-Zero
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania 4
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

Neat, huh? Pretty, pretty cool, but curb your enthusiasm – some titles are in fact missing. There’s no Chrono Trigger here – sorry.

Every single one of these games plays perfectly. They start up fast and run as good as you might expect. We in Europe may even feel an improvement because there are no more European/American differences. Some games even use special effects that were thought to be impossible to fully emulate. In short, SNES Classic Mini does its job – no surprises here.

The games themselves are left completely untouched. Nothing has been changed, nothing has been altered. Princess Toadstool remains while Princess Peach is nowhere to be found.

SNES Classic mini looks great without the contoller, but with it plugged in it looses some of it charm

I am glad to see the return of save states which allow to quickly save at any time. Considering than many of these games feel a lot harder than they used to, this feature is a necessity. But it’s not exactly new – we’ve seen it all on the NES Classic. This is what I desperately needed in Sonic Mania.

What’s new is a rewind function. Now death is even less scary because you can in fact rewind your every save state. Stupid mistake? Fix it. Fell into a pit? Unfall into a pit! What a great little feature – too bad you’ll use it rarely because every single time you have to touch the console for it to work. Some might think this rewind feature is a form of cheating, but I think that’s exactly what inexperienced players and old-timers with limited time will appreciate. Once again: these games can be brutally hard. Toss your controller into the window hard. So yeah – thanks Nintendo.

Now, the games are all great. Some of them are not only classics, but look surprisingly well considering their age. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid haven’t aged at all. Some, though, look a little rough around the edges, but that’s to be expected. Still, this is history, people. These are not only the best games on the system, but some of the best games of that generation. Like some classical pieces, a lot of the games may not interest you. Like a good old science fiction movie, they lack the special effects but have the soul. Some games are just a bit outdated in terms of the level design. What can you do. There’s nothing nostalgia can’t fix! Put on your pink glasses and spring into action.

In the past, not only the cartridges were great, but the packaging always had cool design and very detailed manuals. So where are the manuals now? On the Internet, of course! Yeah, Nintendo repeated their nonsense from the NES Classic mini and once again failed to add actual manuals to the console itself. Take your smartphone, snap a QR code and read. Kinda silly, if you ask me. I don’t want no QR codes in my retro console.


So here we are – SNES Classic Mini. Like a guinea pig, it’s small, cute and doesn’t do much. But it has its audience. Millions of gamers in their forties miss the golden times of gaming when Nintendo was the king. If you haven’t been around by then, you might never understand what’s all the fuss is about. But you just wait – nostalgia comes for us all.

SNES Classic Mini was created with one goal in mind – to, once again, sell us the games we’ve played a dozen times. You had it on the SNES, you bought it for Wii Virtual console – why not buy it again, third time’s the charm, right?

Some may be angry about it, I get it. After all, maybe SNES Classic Mini is the reason there are still no signs of virtual console on the Switch. Who knows. But for what it’s worth, SNES Classic Mini is a neat piece of tech – a great gift for a gamer or a nice collectible to keep on the shelf. It looks the part and plays even better.

Denis Koshelev

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