Image: Nintendo Life

When the NES Classic Mini was first announced, it caused shockwaves in the world of Nintendo (and gave this very site one of its busiest days in terms of traffic, fact fans). The resultant stock shortages soured what was, in all honesty, a dream hardware release for the company. While Nintendo certainly wasn't first to the table with the idea of "plug and play" vintage hardware, as usual it did it so much better than its rivals, giving fans pixel-perfect replications of the games they grew up playing via a premium-feel device equipped with faithful controllers, save states and crystal-clear HDMI output.

As great as the NES Classic Mini was, for many players it simply got them more excited about what was to come. Logic dictated that if Nintendo was willing to lovingly repackage its 8-bit home system, then surely it would perform the same trick with its successor, the SNES? Rumours abounded for months before the news was officially confirmed, and now we actually have the Super NES Classic Edition in our very hands.

While this is clearly a matter of personal taste, it's fair to say that although the NES laid down the foundations, it was the SNES which truly took 2D (and, in some respects, 3D) gaming to new levels. Series which were established in the 8-bit era were drastically refined on the SNES, with the likes of Metroid, Zelda, Castlevania, Contra, Mario, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Fire Emblem and many, many others receiving 16-bit sequels which – in the eyes of many fans – truly solidified the classic status of these franchises. The NES may have been dominant during the 8-bit era, but the SNES – despite (or perhaps because of) stern competition from the Sega Mega Drive / Genesis – played host to what could be considered some of the best video games ever produced; for that reason, it's easy to understand why anticipation for the SNES Classic Mini is so much higher than it was for its forerunner.

But is that hype justified? Can this wonder-console really live up to expectation? Let's find out.

SNES Classic Edition Mini: The Hardware

Image: Nintendo Life

Like the NES Classic Mini, this latest system is a Linux-based console running pre-installed games via emulation. The console itself is an almost identical miniature replica of the real deal, complete with functional power slider and reset button. The key differences are the fact that the controller ports on the front are simply there for show; to access the real ports you have to pull the front flap out, which means it doesn't look quite as clean and neat as the NES Mini – when it's being used, anyway. The ports use the same proprietary connection previously seen on the NES Mini and the Wii Remote. On the back there's a Micro USB socket for power (you don't get a PSU in the box but we found that our Sony Bravia TV set's USB port was perfectly suitable) and a HDMI-out port.

Unlike the NES Classic, you get not one but two controllers in the box – something which will no doubt please those of you who still bear the mental scars of trying to source a reasonably-priced second pad for the NES Classic last year. The only other item in the box is a USB cable for powering the unit, as well as some instructions.

The controller itself feels suitably authentic, with the D-Pad and buttons proving to be responsive and faithful to the original. The only disappointment is the short length of the cable; even though it's longer than the one seen on the NES Classic's controller, you'll still need to sit almost directly in front of your television set to play. Wireless options are already hitting the market, and if you've got an 8Bitdo Retro Receiver for your NES Classic then you'll be pleased to know that it works perfectly with the SNES Classic and 8Bitdo's superb SNES30 Bluetooth controller. If you have original SNES pads lying around the house then you can use one of Hyperkin's adapters to hook them up to the system, which gives you the benefit of extra cable length.

SNES Classic Edition Mini: The Games

The SNES Classic comes preloaded with 21 games, 20 of which are available from the moment you boot it up. To access the 21st game – Star Fox 2 – you have to beat the opening level on the original Star Fox.

If you decide to order to Japanese version of the system, then EarthBound, Kirby's Dream Course, Super Castlevania IV, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting and Super Punch-Out!! are replaced by Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, Super Formation Soccer, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja / Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyūshutsu Emaki, Panel de Pon and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers.

Star Fox 2 is perhaps the biggest news here; originally scheduled for release in the '90s, the Super FX 2-powered title was canned despite being practically finished. While seasoned SNES fans may be intimately familiar with the other 20 games on offer, Star Fox 2 is a curious proposition; it's a retro game which nobody has played before – in this totally finished and mastered form, at least.

While everyone has their personal list of best SNES games, it's genuinely hard to argue with the quality of the pre-installed titles on this console. Sure, we'd like to have seen Axelay, Super Tennis, ActRaiser, Pilotwings and Cybernator make the cut, but you'd have to be particularly mean-spirited to claim that any of the 21 games featured here didn't justify their inclusion; there's a good mix of platformers, action titles and RPGs, as well as plenty of titles which support two players. You can't download any additional games officially, but – like the NES Classic – evidence suggests that it's possible to hack the system and install hundreds of ROMs, if you're that way inclined.

Most buyers won't feel the need to resort to this practice, we're guessing. The SNES Mini offers some incredible games which, it could be argued, still haven't been bettered in their respective genres. A Link to the Past is a near-perfect action adventure which boasts challenge, loads of secrets to find and timeless presentation, while Super Mario World remains the pinnacle of the 2D platforming genre. Contra III is often cited as the best entry in that particular franchise, while EarthBound, Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy III (released in Japan as Final Fantasy VI) are titles which defy the passage of time and will continue to offer compelling experiences for many more decades – as is evidenced by the fact that we've seen high-profile re-releases of all three in recent years.

Unlike the NES Classic, which we're sure many hardware Nintendo fans will admit contained a few games which were of limited entertainment value, this new machine is positively bursting with genre-defining pieces of software.

SNES Classic Edition Mini: Performance

Image: Nintendo Life

We've witnessed an explosion in the number of clone systems available on the market in the past decade, with many modern options now using advanced Field-Programmable Gate Arrays to simulate the performance of vintage systems on a hardware level, paving the way for incredibly accurate gameplay. However, to the untrained eye, decent software emulation is more than adequate and that's what we have with the SNES Classic. The console is Linux-based and does an excellent job of imitating Nintendo's 16-bit platform, right down to accurate emulation of the Super FX and Super FX 2 chips which made games like Star Fox and Star Fox 2 possible.

If you decided to compare them close enough we dare say you'd be able to pinpoint very subtle differences between the SNES Classic and authentic SNES hardware, but the only obvious one we could spot was in Yoshi's Island on level 1-7, where hitting a 'Fuzzy' cloud causes the screen to flash white briefly – something that doesn't occur on original hardware. Needless to say it has absolutely no impact on your enjoyment and this minor issue aside, the graphics and audio in all games are spot-on; we didn't encounter any irksome slow-down during gameplay, either.

The SNES Classic boasts a menu system which is very similar to that seen on the NES Classic; games are presented in a scrolling horizontal menu (which can be sorted by release date, publisher, title, 2-player support and how many times – or how recently – you've played by tapping the 'Select' button) on the middle of the screen, with tiny icons denoting how many players the game supports and if it has a native data backup system. You can at any time during gameplay press the reset button and create a save state for every single game, including those which lack a built-in save game system. Four slots are available per game, and if you're concerned about someone coming along and unwittingly overwriting hours of progress, you can lock a save slot simply by pressing down on the controller.

A new feature for the SNES Classic is the ability to rewind gameplay; tap the reset button and dive into the save state menu, and by pressing X you can watch a replay of a short segment of your current game, choosing to jump back in at the time of your choosing. Using this system you can avoid unnecessarily losing lives in Donkey Kong Country, restart a race in F-Zero or backtrack to gain a valuable item in Final Fantasy III. It's a surprisingly useful tool to have at your fingertips, as are the various screen borders which can be applied in the options menu. Our personal favourite is the wood-grain effect, complete with SNES logo. We're not quite as sold on the CRT-style scanline filter, which makes visuals appear muddy and ill-defined. You're best leaving this option off and basking in the glory of the colourful, pin-sharp 720p graphics.

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The SNES Classic offers three screen settings. Default offers a 4:3 image — Image: Nintendo Life
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"Pixel perfect" gives totally square pixels, but makes the image more square-shaped — Image: Nintendo Life
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Finally, the CRT filter option applies imitation scanlines like those you'd see on an old-fashioned TV set, but sacrifices definition (click for more detail) — Image: Nintendo Life

SNES Classic Edition Mini: The Verdict

Image: Nintendo Life

While the SNES Classic doesn't come with an (official) means of expanding its library and the 21 games included won't be to everyone's tastes, for such a modest asking price it's hard to really fault this second micro-console release from Nintendo. The SNES is home to some undeniably incredible video games, a great many of which are included here. Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Final Fantasy III and Super Metroid are rightly considered to be the zenith of their respective genres – even after all these years – and being able to play them alongside other AAA SNES games on a single console which costs only slightly more than your typical modern video game represents remarkable value for money, and that's before you take into account the fact that Nintendo has kindly included a second controller with the machine this time around.

The fact that this machine is also the first place you'll officially be able to play Star Fox 2 is the icing on the cake. While the famously canned 3D epic would arguably made more of an impact back in the mid-'90s, its open-ended structure and slew of interesting gameplay ideas – some of which have been appropriated by subsequent sequels – makes it fascinating from both a historical and gameplay perspective; we dare say that for many Nintendo fans, it's worth the price of admission alone just to play it. Even if you have no interest in Star Fox 2's place in Nintendo's history, the SNES Classic is a wonderful little console which deserves to find its way beneath your TV, alongside the equally likable NES Classic – assuming Nintendo keeps its word and creates enough units to satisfy demand, of course.