The world is going mental for Nintendo’s latest little retro box – they seem to be near impossible to find, if you listen to the reports online. People are actually queueing in the streets for the things. Which is odd, since I just waltzed into Musica at Canal Walk and they had a pile of them, just lying there, all nonchalant-like. Of course I snapped one up.
Lets get the obvious bit out of the way. The SNES Classic Mini earns its name. These things are seriously mini. Photos don’t do it justice, it’s like your eyes and brain just can’t accept that it’s as small as it looks. In the plastic, in your hand, it’s bloody tiny. It’s like the size of your dad’s first mobile phone, and it weighs less than an Xbox One controller. I’ll be honest, I expected it to have a bit more heft to it – I know it’s plastic and it’s small, but it feels cheaper than I had imagined. I guess at R1250-odd we can’t expect Apple industrial construction here.
The two wired controllers weigh about as much as a baby hamster, but you just know these things will take a pounding. I had no concerns letting our resident toddler bash away at one next to me – she thinks she’s playing Donkey Kong Country with me, bless her heart. She really isn’t. The controller cables plug into slots on the front of the console hidden by a plastic cover, which unclips and then soft of just hangs there looking awkward. They’re quite short, though. So are the HDMI cable and USB power cable (which comes without the USB power adapter bit). Be prepared to pull your couch closer to the TV.
It’s all really cute, though, when you look at it. The Super Nintendo never saw an official release in South Africa, so for many this will be the closest they will have come to Nintendo’s 16-bit console. For those of us who drowned ourselves in CVG and Nintendo Power and whatever other gaming magazines we could find hidden in those magazine stores which sold old import mags by the kilogram, the SNES was the thing of dreams. I cut out screenshots of The Secret of Mana and sticking them on my school books, and I remember reading terms like “Metroidvania-like” and slowly having to figure out what it meant through context. To finally have something like this plugged into my television, to drive a Super Mario Kart first hand, to whip my way through Castlevania, it’s been quite a trip.
Are you waiting for the “but”? Because here it comes.
But… I don’t even know how to say this. Let’s put it this way: these games, for the most part, have not aged well. You can (and probably will) disagree and swear at me and fling bits of poo, but I am really struggling to spend more than maybe an hour at a time with the SNES Classic Mini. I swear, these games looked significantly more sexy in those magazine screenshots I used to obsess over. The menu system is also a little hard on the eyes, but Nintendo has never been great at user interfaces. Many will disagree, but deep down you know it’s true. Remember, this is an opinion piece, and it’s my opinion and not automatically NAG’s opinion, so don’t burn down NAG HQ because you have a Mario tattoo and had your whole house done up in printed wallpaper of 16-bit Nintendo classics and I have no idea what I’m talking about.
I understand the heritage. I understand these games in the context of the time they were made. There are examples of magnificent gameplay here, which make even the shoddiest graphics seem irrelevant. Super Mario Kart is as ugly as sin, yet it controls like magic – it’s Forza without the fat and bullshit. Castlevania, get over the look of the thing, and it is pure game design art. Many of the geriatrics here still serve as inspiration for the games we play today, and that can’t be overlooked.
That Nintendo decided to revive the NES and now SNES for a younger generation of gamers shows a company who loves the industry they helped create. It’s also terribly clever, because people are suckers for retro anything. But, cynicism aside, there’s value to be found in a package like this. Some of these games showcase franchises really finding their stride for the first time – their NES debuts acting as a testing ground for the real deal to come along once gaming hit 16-bit. I doubt I’ll use it often, maybe just whip it out when other older, greying gamers come over. Alternatively, I’m going to make this my go-to console when it comes to brainwashing teaching children about the wonders of gaming.
Is it an essential bit of kit? No, not for everyone. You could emulate this stuff, and far more, for free. But there’s something special about owning this little plastic re-imagining of something that holds such high esteem in gaming lore. Oh, and here in South Africa, we get the far cooler looking European version, instead of the naff North American one with the purple bits.