Undoubtedly loaded with some of the best games of all time, the SNES Classic Edition is an incredible package; Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Final Fantasy III — the list of classics released on the original Super Nintendo is long and storied. But how does a gamer who hasn’t played many of these games growing feel about the SNES Classic Mini?
The Super Nintendo released in 1991 as the successor to Nintendo’s industry saving Nintendo Entertainment System, just a year before I was born. My mother played video games occasionally, and I actually still have her original Super Nintendo safely hidden away in a storage unit until I move somewhere with the room to store it. The list of games she had, and thusly I had, were bizarre and ultimately bad. Scooby Doo Mystery, Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron, Batman Forever, Jurassic Park, and Primal Rage are games I have memories of playing extensively, and all of these games are atrocious (Primal Rage may be passable, but it’s no Street Fighter II). The only redeeming cartridge I owned was Super Mario All Stars, which featured updated visuals for Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3., and Super Mario Bros. the Lost Levels — it’s an excellent collection of some of there best Mario games and the only good thing I was playing on the SNES. This experience painted the Super Nintendo as a box less welcoming than the Playstation and Nintendo 64, which I was playing much better games on at the same time. It’s truly an odd thing to look back on, especially as I began to learn more about the industry.
The reverence many gamers older than myself hold for the Super Nintendo is how I feel about the Nintendo 64. As my interest in video game culture grew, I found myself constantly running into these weird situations where I played a sequel to a Super Nintendo game before playing the original. Yoshi’s Story, Mario Kart 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Star Fox 64 are all examples of follow-ups to Super Nintendo game that I was led to believe were entry points in a series — I had never played their predecessors on Super Nintendo (Zelda obviously existed before the Super Nintendo). Having little to no nostalgia for many of these games has given me a unique perspective on them. So what does this mean for my appreciation for the Super Nintendo Classic Mini? Well, it’s a little complicated.
The most interesting thing I found in my time with the SNES Classic Mini was how much of the music I already knew, despite not having played many of the games themselves. Hearing the Big Blue theme from F-Zero or Jungle Japes from Donkey Kong Country immediately tossed me back to playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. Being a video game music obsessive, I have heard more music from games I haven’t played than the other way around, and putting faces to some of the tracks I have listened to dozens of times is a fulfilling experience on its own.
The first game that truly grabbed my attention was Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, one of the games on the SNES Classic I had never played, but always wanted to. Immediately I found it to be excellent; the art design alone is spectacular and unique to that game and it stands out among its peers. The gameplay is so tight that it feels as though you are playing a modern, 16-bit throwback to the Super Nintendo. Unfortunately, this experience is the exception, not the norm.
Many of the games were very time and place and do not hold up nearly as well. Star Fox and Star Fox 2 (being officially released for the first time with this collection) are two of the most egregious examples. In their attempt to push the limits of the Super Nintendo hardware to new realms, they managed to achieve 3D graphics on a console that was never meant to do so, but at the cost of an art style and polygonal visuals that are nearly indiscernible. Moving Fox McCloud’s Arwing around a 3D space with the SNES d-pad doesn’t feel great, and I have to imagine it didn’t in the 90’s either. That Corneria theme is still damn good, however, and since you have to play the first level of Star Fox to unlock Star Fox 2 anyway, at least there is something to enjoy.
Some of the games I haven’t played sit atop my pile of shame and I am hoping this device will push me to scratching them off. The top 3 are Super Mario World, Final Fantasy III and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, all of which I have meant to complete at one point or another. A Link to the Past is the most damning, as it is one of the most beloved entries in my favorite series of all time — my first attempt was 5 years ago, with a busted SNES cartridge and I made very little progress. Luckily, there is no cartridge to worry about derailing my experience this time around.
Nostalgia is a powerful device, and I think the SNES Classic’s success can primarily be attributed to it — nostalgia can polish a rock into a diamond, and something like F-Zero needs that kind of polish. This product exists to tap into a time in gaming that is no longer, and every aspect of how Nintendo has marketed the SNES Classic further drives home the point that without the endearing love many players have for the 16-bit generation, the SNES Classic doesn’t work. There have been countless attempts at similar collection-bundle consoles before, but until the NES Classic Edition released, all of them flopped. Now, with even more companies attempting to tap into the vein of gold Nintendo struck last year, I feel they will all suffer a similar fate.
These companies, such as Intellevision and Atari, can’t establish the emotional connections with players that Nintendo managed, in the 90’s and still maintain today. There is a Sega Genesis “classic” in stores right now that no one is buying. There are several revered games in that package: Sonic the Hedgehog 1, 2, and 3 and Knuckles, Mortal Kombat, and Altered Beast, and yet just including great games isn’t enough. Nintendo has survived by carefully curating their brand and mascots, guaranteeing they remain as beloved today as they always always have, elevating them beyond the competition, and people love them for it. With intense fanbase devotion and an unrivaled arsenal of classic games at their disposal, Nintendo is basically untouchable in the “classic” market.
As someone who greatly respects that games that were before my time, I can also acknowledge this doesn’t make them particularly fun to play. Without nostalgia to provide me a pair of rose-tinted glasses, I can only truly enjoy that which is still fun today, and I think that’s the greatest takeaway from my time with the Super Nintendo Classic Mini — it’s a showcase of the 16-bit era’s finest gaming, and proudly wears its age on its sleeve. Even if every game hasn’t turned to fine wine, it’s an interesting opportunity to learn and experience Nintendo’s roots.