Review – SNES Classic Edition

SNES Unboxed

I’ve been pondering recently on what I would consider my best console to date. A tough ask as it’s tricky to balance the nostalgic charm of older consoles with the power and efficiency of modern consoles. Then I started to think about which console I would consider the most important in my life. The answer was there instantly, it always had been – the SNES.

The SNES (or more formally: the “Super Nintendo Entertainment System”) was the first video game console I ever owned. Arriving on Christmas morning in the early nineties I could never imagine that what was in that tightly wrapped box would spark a life-long love of video games.

I don’t intend to sound like a reminiscent old fool, but times really were simpler then. Especially for video game fans. The early nineties saw a division carve its way through school playgrounds around the world – you were either Nintendo or SEGA. The “Console Wars” were in full swing and the battle lines were drawn. Phrases such as “blast processing” and “16 BIT” were thrown around with reckless abandon. Those days are for another post however, I bring them up to emphasise the power of Nintendo, and the SNES, at that time.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and I still own the original cartridges I had back when I had a lovely head of hair. The problem is that these days older games look dreadful on modern TV’s and the hardware of the consoles themselves is starting to deteriorate. I’ve tried to store my original SNES the best I can by wrapping it up in an old carrier bag. Maybe not the most dignified way to treat such a beloved family member.

So imagine my joy when Nintendo announced that they were following up the success of last year’s NES Classic Mini release with the SNES Classic Edition. I could barely contain my excitement. The truth is, I’ve been waiting for something like this for years. I remember being at MCM Comic Con back in 2013 and seeing the Retron 5, but after almost a 2 year delay I finally lost interest.

So, after getting very lucky and managing to secure a preorder, I picked up my SNES Classic on release day and I can finally report that it’s everything I expected it to be – a nostalgic trip down memory lane via HDMI!

The box is compact and small and I must admit that I didn’t want to open it (I’ve already decided to buy a “spare” when stock becomes available once again”) and had to fight the urge to lock it away like a highly valued piece of treasure. Once I did open the box I was greeted by the SNES itself, albeit a miniature version. The shrunk down console is light and sturdy. The “feel” of the plastic will be familiar to anyone who owned the original. This feeling is only compounded once you un-package one of the controllers. Unlike my original SNES controllers, these are crisp and brand spanking. The buttons click and press like a dream. They feel much lighter too.

SNES with Pad

That’s side by side! Controller bigger than console

The NES Classic last year was notorious for having extremely short controller wires. Nintendo have rectified this and I find the length perfect for me. However, I have already had to jump off the couch a couple of times to stop the dog from tripping over the wire and pulling the console of its perch.

The SNES has two ports in the back – HDMI and a DC in. That’s it. Nice and simple. No fannying around. Yet, even thought the console does come with a HDMI cable and USB lead, it doesn’t come with a plug to connect the USB to the mains. I had to scramble through my drawer of electrical bits in order to find an adaptor.

Once we were all hooked up I flicked the familiar power on switch and we were in business! The menus are responsive and simple and the layout is as intuitive as you’d want. In the display settings menu you can alter the way the screen looks; old TV, 4:3 and Pixel Perfect. You can also add a frame to the edge of the screen if you like or just stick with black. These additional options are a nice touch.

The games themselves are a who’s who of some of the greatest games ever released on the SNES and indeed some of the greatest games ever made, full stop. There are 21 in total with classics such as Super Mario Kart and Donkey Kong Country included. I won’t go through them all, but it’s safe to say that even a handful of these are worth the price alone. Firing up Super Ghouls and Ghosts was like playing it yesterday.

With a limited number of games on the console there was always going to be some argument over what was included and what was omitted. Personally, I would have liked Pilotwings and Legend of the Mystical Ninja to have made an appearance, but I understand that it would have been impossible to please everybody. Hopefully I can play these again once Nintendo get a move on and finally make the Virtual Console available for the Switch.

There was a big deal made over Star Fox 2 finally getting a release on the SNES Classic Edition over 2 decades after it was originally canned. Personally for me, I find it hard to  muster any excitement as I thought the original was overhyped crap back in the nineties. A controversial view maybe, but a valid view nonetheless.

All in all I am very impressed with what Nintendo have achieved here and I look forward to many more years of playing these classic games.

Long live the SNES.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The State of Play – The End of Nintendo?

I write this article with the realisation of a man who can no longer ignore the inevitable. Like a doomed passenger onboard a slowly sinking ship, I can do what only one can do in times like these: embrace the end, remember better times and try to fathom where it all went wrong.

Snes.jpg

I, like many gamers, began my journey into video games with Nintendo. I’ll never forget unboxing my first console – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System – back on a Christmas morning at the beginning of the 90’s. My young mind could never comprehend the path my life would take as video games would become my favourite way to spend my free time. The console itself is my most treasured, and some of the games released on the platform I count amongst the greatest I have ever played. I have many things to say about the SNES and its accompanying sublime titles, but that is for another day.

Long before the powerhouses of Sony and Microsoft arrived on the console scene, the video game world was dominated by two console manufacturers – Nintendo and Sega. The legendary rivalry between these two titans of gaming needs no introduction, anybody growing up in the 90’s knows all too well the history of this classic feud. As a gamer you picked a side. And you stuck with them, to the end.

Last week details emerged about Nintendo’s newest offering into the console market – the Nintendo NX. News like this to my 90’s self would no doubt have sent me babbling to my parents and informing them that I know what I want to be on my Christmas list in a year’s time. But reading the news today I was left feeling a little empty and for the first time I felt sorry for Nintendo. The general feeling from the gaming press and fans alike is one of disappointment.

The news that the NX won’t be as powerful as this generation of consoles was the first nail in the coffin. Nintendo say that they won’t compete with Sony and Microsoft in the power department. Not since the N64 (for me, the Japanese company’s last great offering) has Nintendo lead in the power department – that was 20 years ago. The design of the system seems to be causing a certain amount of confusion too, much like it’s dog turd of a predecessor – the Wii U. The general consensus is that the system will be some kind of a vague “hybrid” between a home console which is can also be used as a portable. What this means for the 3DS is anyones’ guess. Seeing as the 3DS is Nintendo’s most lucrative product within the market, it would seem like suicide to take the focus away from it.

Then there is the release of the worldwide phenomenon that is Pokemon Go. Nintendo’s stock rose through the roof as opportunistic investors jumped onboard the Pokemon train. Stock prices shortly plummeted to a 20 year low as those same investors suddenly realised that Nintendo had actually very little to do with the record breaking app. A fact anybody who actually had played the game could have told you.

The sense of shameless opportunism hit a new low when I was perusing the Nintendo Store on my 3DS to see what “new” Virtual Console titles were available (telling that isn’t it? Searching for 20 year old games to play). There in the catalogue were all of Nintendo’s available Pokemon releases – on sale. The blatant cashing in on Niantic’s worldwide phenomenon caused me to cringe as I added Contra 3: Alien Wars to my download list.

So; a falling share price, an extremely tepid response to their new console and a general feeling of pity towards the once glorious console manufacturer. The question is: how can Nintendo be successful once again? For that, we have to turn to their oldest adversary. We have to talk about Sega.

Sega.jpg

After the Mega Drive (Genesis), Sega decided to teach the new kid on the block – the Sony Playstation – a lesson, with the release of the Sega Saturn. Unfortunately for Sega, the Playstation was an astonishing success – selling over 100 million units and establishing Sony as the one to beat. The Saturn sold less than 10 million units and was widely regarded as a very expensive disaster for Sega. Meanwhile, Nintendo had decided to sidestep a 32bit disc based console altogether, opting for the aforementioned N64.

The bosses at Sega could see the writing on the wall and decided to go for broke with the release of the Sega Dreamcast before the turn of the millennium. The Dreamcast is the only Sega console I have ever owned and I can honestly say it was fantastic. The system itself sold just over 9 million units but ask any owner of a Dreamcast what they thought of it and they will regale you with mythical tales of VMU’s, Shenmue and ChuChu Rocket! whilst giving off a feeling that you “really had to own one” to know what was so special about it. Looking back you can clearly see it was well ahead of its time. It’s a cult classic of a console. It was also the last system released from Sega.

A decision was needed. Decisive action was to be taken in order to prevent this historic icon of gaming from heading into the abyss. Sega would no longer make consoles and would focus on producing and developing games. By doing this they could remain part of the industry as a whole, with their reputation in tact, and still contribute to making titles for old and new gamers alike.

This is what Nintendo need to do.

They have an arsenal of first party titles that they can focus on to bring in revenue whilst at the same time showcasing them on the most powerful consoles on the planet; Mario, Zelda, Metroid etc. all could be brought to a wider audience who would never touch a Nintendo console as it’s “for kids”.

It has to be done. I have a feeling that the Nintendo NX will be the final system Nintendo make. I just don’t want it to financially cripple them. I don’t want to live in a world where new gamers look at you with the mystified gaze of a time traveller when you mention the names Nintendo and Sega.

The next few years will be pivotal for Nintendo’s future, yet they have to look at their past and identify their strengths and focus on them in order to survive and become great again.

Over 20 years ago I picked my side and I’ve stuck with them ever since. And I will to the very end.