If you're seriously into audio visual entertainment then chances are you'll have gone through the exciting (yet mildly scary) process of blowing an entire month's pay cheque on the latest television, Hi-Fi or associated piece of audio visual hardware. Like everything in life, how much you want to spend on this kind of thing is often limited only by the size of your available budget, or how comfortable you are living off cold beans for the rest of the month. Dedicated tech-heads will think nothing of blowing a few thousand on a single Hi-Fi separate if they think it will enrich their listening experience, and that's fine – society in general doesn't bat an eyelid and the world keeps turning.
Strangely, this tolerance for massive expenditure doesn't seem to extend to the world of video game hardware. One of the most common things we hear at Nintendo Life when we wax lyrical about the work of Analogue is "I'd love to own one of their systems, but their stuff is too expensive". It's hard to argue with that stance on one level; the company's unique line of systems is unashamedly aimed at people with big wallets, like the (sadly discontinued) wooden Neo Geo CMVS or the Analogue Nt Mini, a majestic product fashioned from a single piece of aerospace-grade aluminium.
With price tags that exceed even those of the modern gaming platforms, it's little wonder that so many players have been reluctant to part with their cash – despite the fact that these machines provide the very best way to play Neo Geo and NES software. With the company's latest venture however, such reservations should vanish (almost) entirely; the Super Nt marks Analogue's first genuine foray into the world of affordable gaming gear. With this highly-anticipated console, the company is bringing down the cost of ownership so its stunningly-engineered tech is within reach of more players than ever before.
Analogue Super Nt: The Hardware
The Analogue Nt and Nt Mini were handsome machines thanks to their graceful design and robust metal frames, but the company has taken a different approach with the Super Nt. Expensive aluminium is replaced by a cheaper yet admittedly high quality plastic casing which not only brings the construction cost down considerably, but also – in our humble opinion, at least – results in a more attractive system. The Super Nt is clearly inspired by the rounded edges of the Super Famicom and European SNES systems (sorry North American fans, there's no 'tissue box' design on offer here) and to the untrained eye could even pass as an official 'downsized' edition of the real thing which outdoes the SNES Jr. in terms of svelteness and pure desirability.
The top of the unit is home to the universal cartridge slot (which accepts games from any region) as well as the power and reset buttons. There's also a multi-colour power LED which can be customised using the console's settings. Around the back things are surprisingly clean, especially when compared to the Analogue Nt and Nt Mini. Again, this is part of Analogue's drive to make the hardware more affordable; there's no RGB / Component / Composite multi-port this time, which could come as a disappointment to some but we imagine most buyers won't care one jot. Instead, we have single HDMI-out and a Micro USB socket for power, which means you can use your smartphone charging block, if you so wish (the Nt Mini had a bespoke PSU).
Despite losing the allure of a metal case, the Super Nt feels incredibly robust and sturdy; this is a premium product, even if it is made of plastic. It's engineered to perfection with no unseemly gaps or joins in the case design. It's rare for gamers to really express any real emotion towards console design these days – not like in the past, at least – but the Super Nt is downright gorgeous. As you can see, we opted for the Super Famicom / EU SNES design, but it also comes in grey-and-purple (mimicking the North American colourway), black and transparent.
Unpacking the console reveals the first big shock – there's no controller in the box. This has to be ordered separately for $40, which pushes the cost of ownership – already a considerable $190 – up a little more. It's a rather cheeky move without a doubt, but it does make sense on one level. If you're a keen follower of Analogue then you may already own an 8Bitdo controller; the two companies have been bedfellows for some time and 8Bitdo pads have been pushed as viable alternatives to Switch Pro Controllers in recent months. If you already own a SNES30 and a SNES Retro Receiver then you'll be able to use those with the Super Nt, potentially saving yourself some cash. If not, then you can order a SNES30 pad which matches the colour scheme of your chosen case design. Alternatively of course, you can just use your original SNES pad, as the controller port is exactly the same as the one on the authentic console; this could be another reason for not including one in the box as standard, as the kind of person who buys this system will more than likely have a SNES controller in the house somewhere.
The only other design element of note is the SD card slot on the side of the console. This is used to install firmware updates, a process which is utterly painless and ensures that Analogue can keep adding to the functionality of the system post-launch. Those of you who followed the development of the Nt Mini will know that it received "official" jailbroken firmware – created by Kevin Horton, the same person who designed the internal architecture – which introduced a slew of new features, including the ability to emulate a whole host of different systems and run games from an SD card. While we can't be sure, we'd imagine the same abilities will eventually be extended to the Super Nt in the future via firmware installed using the SD card slot.
Analogue Super Nt: Features and Performance
The big selling point of Analogue's new range of consoles is that they harness the power of Field-Programmable Gate Array chips to replicate the performance of vintage consoles on a hardware level; in Super Nt's case, it's packing an Altera Cyclone V, one of the most sophisticated FPGA chips available. There's still some debate about whether or not FPGA tech is truly superior to the very best software emulators available, but in our experience, systems equipped with these chips have always proven to be more reliable, accurate and responsive than their rivals. Products like the Hyperkin Supa Retron HD and Retro-Bit Super Retro Trio Plus use a 'system-on-a-chip' approach which is more akin to emulation than recreating these systems via pure hardware; as a result, there are usually slight differences, such as slowdown, visual mistakes or off-key audio – and, most annoying of all, a small amount of latency. Because FPGA is all done entirely on a hardware level, you get unparalleled accuracy, total compatibility and zero-lag input.
To say that the Super Nt provides an experience that's just like the real thing is perhaps doing it a disservice; what we're getting here is better than the real thing. In terms of accuracy it's faultless; games run as they should, sound as they should and play as they should. However, because you're viewing the results in 1080p over HDMI, it's like seeing these classics with a totally fresh pair of eyes. Everything looks razor-sharp and moves beautifully. Compared to the HDMI output seen on other retro clones, there really is no comparison; this is visual perfection. Every single game we ran on the console loaded perfectly and performed without any issues; we even tried prototype carts and various Super FX-powered titles, and they all worked fine. It's also worth noting that it works with the Super Game Boy and the Super Everdrive flash cartridge. This shouldn't come as a massive shock as the Super Nt is, to all intents and purposes, a real SNES on a hardware level.
However, Analogue isn't content to simply offer you the best experience it can – the console's UI, which was created by none other than Phil Fish, maker of the seminal indie platformer Fez – hides a plethora of options and settings which let you refine the experience even further. You can change the aspect ratio of the screen, apply a scaler effect or even introduce CRT-style scanlines for that true old-school look (along with an optional gamma boost mode which brightens the image once these scanlines are applied). Switch on the "Advanced Mode" and another layer of settings is revealed. You can get as deep as you like with this hardware, and even go as far as to switch on a 64 sprite mode, which doubles the number of sprites that can be on-screen and effectively removes the "sprite flicker" which plagued some SNES titles. There's also a "pseudo high-res blending" feature which makes visuals that look odd in HD appear as they would have done on an old-fashioned CRT – their original target display, lest we forget. It's hard to describe how this works but there are some elements in games which used the idiosyncrasies of CRT screens to achieve certain effects; running on modern LCD TVs these effects sometimes appear as lines. This blending method solves the problem, but it can be toggled off if you so wish.
The user interface is worth discussing a little more, because it's genuinely brilliant. It can be accessed at any time by pressing down and Select (you can change this shortcut if you want) and comes packed with features. The console's boot animation – also created by Fish – randomly spews a handful of 30 different Analogue logos, set to a short audio cue by the legendary British electronic artist Squarepusher. It's like booting up a console from an alternative universe, where Analogue – not Nintendo – won the 16-bit console war. As for the rest of the UI, it has all been built within in the limitations of the SNES hardware; unlike the Hyperkin Retron 5 and Cyber Gadget Retro Freak – which use Android as their foundation – what you're seeing on the Super Nt could actually have been done on the original SNES back in the '90s.
There are other neat little touches, too, like choosing to have the menu text 'bounce' in from the top and bottom of the screen and the ability to choose between a North American SNES or Super Famicom / EU SNES theme for the menus. However, there are some omissions worth mentioning; there's no support for save states (something that is present in PC-based emulators as well as on the Retron 5 and Retro Freak) so if you're playing a cartridge with a dead battery or you simply want to retain your progress in a game which lacks battery back-up, you won't be able to do so with the Super Nt. This might not be a massive issue for everyone, but if you've made use of save support on other clone consoles (or on the Virtual Console, for that matter), it could be a disappointment. There is a chance, of course, that this feature will be introduced via a later firmware update.
The system comes pre-loaded with Super Turrican: The Director's Cut and Super Turrican 2, the former of which has never been released in any form previously. You even get a flat-packed Super Turrican box with the console, should you want the "complete" experience of having it on your shelf with the rest of your collection – even if there's no physical cartridge inside.
Analogue Super Nt: The Verdict
The Super Nt is an astonishing piece of gaming equipment. Analogue hasn't simply replicated the SNES on a hardware level with amazing accuracy; it has also created a slick user interface bound by the limitations of the console, and has wrapped it all up with some excellent branding which – we hope – will be used on many other systems to come. The asking price of $190 may well be an issue for some – especially when you consider that you don't even get a controller – but if you absolutely have to play SNES games in the best way possible, you won't mind paying for quality.
Analogue already has a sizeable group of fans and convincing them that this excellent system is a must-buy was never going to be a challenge, but more casual buyers might be less easy to get on board, especially as a hacked SNES Classic Edition offers a very similar experience without the headache of having to track down original cartridges, many of which are slowly creeping up in value. Even lower down the scale, those who simply want to see what all this SNES fuss is about might find it easier to stomach the asking price of the Supa Retron HD, or even track down an original SNES system and achieve total accuracy (along with sub-HD visuals). Ultimately, there are multiple entry points if you want to get into the world of SNES gaming in 2018, but as far as we're concerned there's only one champion – and that's the Super Nt. It's hard to see how anyone – even Nintendo itself – can possibly better this product.
The Analogue Super Nt costs $189.99 and is available direct from the manufacturer.