Of the 783 games officially released for Nintendo’s 16-bit console in the west, an impressively high number are now considered classics.
The SNES Mini takes 20 of these games, adds one that was never released, and bundles them all in a self-contained miniature tribute to that glorious grey box that shaped the ‘90s for so many gamers.
The result is a solid piece of kit that does a good job of showing what the SNES was capable of… even though the number of games included does sort of undersell that a bit.
Much like the NES Mini released last year, the SNES Mini is a dinky recreation of the original hardware, made out of the similar plastics and what have you.
It looks like a SNES and, importantly, feels like a SNES. It’s just noticeably smaller than one. Essentially, it lets you discover what a SNES felt like in Andre the Giant’s hands.
As with the NES Mini, it has an HDMI out (a cable is included) and no other video or audio output ports, so if you’re planning on playing it on an old TV for authenticity you’ll need some sort of HDMI adapter.
Once again it’s powered by Micro USB. A cable is supplied but only the cable: you’ll need to find your own power source.
This shouldn’t be a massive problem, as most households have a phone charger or something with a USB port, and many modern TVs even provide enough juice from their USB ports to do the job. It’s just something worth bearing in mind.
Sadly (and rather oddly), if you have a Switch it seems the dock won’t do the trick: I plugged the SNES Mini into its USB port and it only managed to power on for a couple of seconds before turning itself off and trying again.
The NES Mini’s controller was both one of the best and worst things about it. Although it was a perfect recreation of a vintage NES controller, its cable was so short you’d have been forgiven for thinking someone at Nintendo had accidentally dropped it in the company’s Shrinkifier after they’d used it on the NES hardware itself.
The SNES Mini manages to remedy this to some extent, starting with the controller itself which once again feels exactly like it should.
The pleasantly loose D-Pad is just as perfect for throwing fireballs in Street Fighter as it was back in the early ’90s (I still can’t do a bloody spinning piledriver, though).
The L and R buttons rest under the fingers as naturally as they ever did, and the pleasantly shiny plastic of the multicoloured A, B, X and Y buttons still feel like you’re resting your thumb on glossy gaming luxury.
It even has the weird notch on the bottom-right corner that always used to annoy me when I was younger because I could never figure out why it was there.
Long story short, then, this is pretty much an exact replica of a brand new SNES controller (‘brand new’ is the important factor here: I’m sure you could dig out your old SNES pads and claim they feel a bit different, but that’s what thousands of hours of use will do to it).
As for the cables, NES Mini owners will be delighted to hear they’re significantly longer this time around. We’re still not talking 25-foot beasts or anything like that, but at least they’re nearly double the length of the NES controller cable, which should make things a lot more comfortable for gamers with all but the largest living rooms.
One other important thing to note is that while the NES Mini came with just one controller, the SNES Mini comes with two as standard: ideal for games like Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Mario Kart.
Be warned: I’ve seen some shops trying to sell SNES Mini bundles with extra controllers. None of the games here support more than two players so they might as well be selling you jaggy condoms for all the use they’ll be. Avoid what’s essentially a completely pointless scam designed to shift stock they can’t sell.
The operating system
NES Mini owners will be immediately familiar with the SNES Mini’s menu system for the most part.
It’s got a similar main menu – complete with another catchy new chiptune theme – in which you scroll your way through the boxes of all 21 included games (although Star Fox 2 only appears once you beat the first level in the original Star Fox).
This opening menu also tells you whether each game is for one or two players, and whether it originally had a built-in save function back in the day.
If not, don’t worry: the Restore Point feature from the NES Mini is back here, letting you save an instant snapshot of your current position so you can come back to it again later.
The SNES Mini does have a few new features of its own, mind. As well as the standard three screen sizes that were also in the NES offering – a faux CRT TV effect, a 4:3 aspect ratio and the ‘pixel perfect’ mode with a more square aspect ratio – there are also a bunch of frames to choose from to decorate the unused edges of the screen.
The best new feature, though, is the rewind. If you fuck up while you’re playing, you can hit Reset on the console, select the game again and press X to enter rewind mode.
This lets you travel back in time to when you were less shit (how far back depends on the game but it’s usually at least 30 seconds) and try again. It’s a great addition for newer players who may not be familiar with these 20+ year old classics and who may not yet be conditioned to dodging a laser at 10 frames per second in Star Fox.
Game emulation is pretty smooth as far as I can tell. I haven’t gone all Digital Foundry and counted frames or anything but after playing through a variety of games for 40 or 50 hours using little more than my experienced human eyes, I haven’t noticed anything of any concern.
Response time also appears to be spot on. Many of these older games relied heavily on split-second reactions, and on modern televisions input lag is almost always an issue. However, after plugging the SNES Mini into an old CRT television (using an aforementioned HDMI adapter) I could see no noticeable input lag through the system itself, meaning any lag you get will be dependent on your own TV.
The only main problem I have with the SNES Mini is how important the Reset button on the console is. Any time you want to change a game, save your state, load a state or rewind you have press the physical Reset button on the SNES Mini.
This means if it isn’t sitting right next to you (and given the longer controllers there’s now a good chance it isn’t), you have to get up and walk over to it every time.
Yes, I appreciate this makes me sound like an extremely lazy man, and to some extent that’s true, but if you’re stuck in a particularly tricky part of a game that you feel you’ll need multiple rewinds for, it can get quite annoying when you’re up and down more times than a pair of drawers in the red-light district.
A button combo would’ve been a better way of doing this. It could be a complex one to avoid accidental restarts: most Game Boy games back in the day could be reset by pressing A + B + Start + Select, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t have been possible here.
That niggle aside, I’m happy with the way each game is handled here. They look great – even though it only outputs at 720p, on my 4K TV they still look crisp – they sound great, and they play great.
They’re great, is what I’m saying.
There are 21 games on the SNES Mini, one of which has never been released before. Here’s a recap of every game on the system and why they’re worth playing. A wee bit of housekeeping first, though.
It just so happens that 14 of these games already featured on my 30 Best SNES Games feature last year. What can I say, I’m a man of taste.
As such, I’m going to be repurposing some of the text from that feature for this article. Hey, they’ve been my opinions for 20+ years, they didn’t suddenly die in 2016 along with every famous person ever.
Essentially, all I’m saying is that if you recently read my 30 Best SNES Games article and you think you’re experiencing some deja vu, you aren’t: I’m just copying and pasting some stuff. Relax.
Contra III: The Alien Wars
It’s one of those games that at first seems ridiculously difficult. You’ll die countless times on the first level and bosses will seem unbeatable.
Then, slowly but surely, you’ll learn all the tricks – where to stand on this bit, the routine you need to beat that boss – and over time you’ll master it. Nothing is more satisfying.
Incidentally, the only main difference between the European version and the US one (other than the name and the usual speed difference you used to get between NTSC and PAL video modes) is that in Super Probotector you played as a robot whereas in Contra III you play as a human soldier.
Donkey Kong Country
It’s a testament to just how revolutionary Donkey Kong Country was at the time that even now, more than 20 years later, the game still looks and sounds beautiful.
(Want to know how they managed it? It’s a good job I recently digitised the promo VHS video from back when it first came out.)
Mere beauty will only get you so far though (as my eventual autobiography will explain), so it’s a good job it’s great fun to play too.
A little warning, though: don’t expect it to be a walk in the park (well, the jungle). Some of the most knuckle-gnawingly frustrating platforming moments are to be found in this one, but as with the best of difficult games it’s rare (ahem) that it’s ever anything but your own fault.
Because of this, there’s a large chunk of Nintendo fans out there whose only exposure to the game is the presence of Ness and his pal Lucas in the Smash Bros series. If you’re one of these people, remedy that pronto by giving Earthbound a go.
In many ways it was so ahead of its time it’s unreal, particularly with regards to the localisation: its dialogue was completely rewrittten for a western audience and as a result is pleasantly funny, charming and mad in equal measure.
Final Fantasy III
A seminal title in the RPG genre, Final Fantasy III/VI has a powerful, epic story that some claim is the best of any Final Fantasy.
If you’re an RPG fan and you’ve never played it, that’s a gap in your knowledge that really has to be filled as soon as possible.
And then you’ll suddenly realise the trick to turning, and you’ll practice the technique of tapping the accelerator as you swoop round bends, and you’ll fall in love with it.
When most people demand a new F-Zero game they’re usually thinking of the N64 or GameCube offerings when they do. I think of the SNES original.
Kirby Super Star
In fairness, some of these are mini-games, but most are bite-sized platform adventures involving some of the best Kirby gameplay you’ll find.
A particular highlight is The Great Cave Offensive, which is a sort of Metroidvania type game in which you explore a cave trying to collect all 60 treasure chests.
As is the Kirby way, the whole package is pretty bloody easy, but it’s a relaxing and fun time nonetheless.
Kirby’s Dream Course
The aim is to fire Kirby at a number of enemies – the last of which will turn into the hole – and then sink him to clear the stage.
With 64 levels (well, holes) it’ll keep you busy for a while, but of the 21 games on offer here it’s probably the only one that didn’t hold my attention for long.
But hey, you might like it. I’m just saying. Get off my back.
The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past
It’s also got one of the finest ‘oh shit’ moments in gaming history, when what you thought was an already large world is revealed to only be a small part of the game.
It’s no surprise there’s still a group of Zelda fans who insist it’s the best in the series despite everything that’s come since.
Mega Man X
Mega Man X was the result, and it’s brilliant. It’s maybe a bit easier than other games in the main Mega Man series, but that means those new to the wee man’s adventures will find it a perfect place to start.
It’s also packed with hidden items and power-ups: see if you can find out how to unlock the ability to throw a fireball like Ryu from Street Fighter.
(You probably won’t, because the sequence is ridiculous. Just look it up online.)
Secret Of Mana
Rather than featuring turn-based battles like other RPGs of its era, Secret Of Mana instead went with a real-time battle system which used timers instead to determine your attack power.
This, combined with some brilliant visual touches and some of the best music you’ll hear on the SNES, makes for a great adventure.
The fact you can even play it in co-op multiplayer – something very rarely seen in RPGs even today – is the icing on the cake.
As the first game to use the Super FX chip, it was also one of the first console titles to use polygonal graphics instead of sprites, giving it a uniquely futuristic look.
This would be a bit pointless if the game itself was rubbish, but it wasn’t. This was Miyamoto and Eguchi’s Star Wars and every element – from picking off enemies as they tailed your teammates, to lobbing bombs at the huge boss enemies and triggering them at just the right moment – was a treat to play.
Star Fox 2
Star Fox 2 was all but completed before Nintendo decided to ditch it in favour of starting work on Lylat Wars (Star Fox 64) instead.
As such, this is the first time ever that Star Fox 2 is available to play in its entirely completed state, and it’s a very interesting game.
Rather than consisting of a bunch of on-rails stages like the original, it actually shares a lot more in common with the DS game Star Fox Command, with a tactical map screen where enemies and missiles fly around in real-time.
The aim is to move around the map and defeat all the enemies on it while making sure your home planet of Corneria isn’t destroyed by rogue missiles while your attention is drawn elsewhere.
This makes it a very different game to Star Fox and Star Fox 64 so purists may not like it as much. While I still believe the first game is the best in the series, though, this is definitely worth a look – if only for the novelty of getting to play one of Nintendo’s ‘lost’ games.
Street Fighter II Turbo
Of the numerous versions released on home consoles during the ‘90s, Super Street Fighter II is the best of the bunch because of the addition of four new characters.
Sadly, the SNES Mini instead gives us its predecessor, Street Fighter II Turbo. It’s still a cracking game, but with only 12 playable characters instead of 16 it’s a shame we get the lesser version, especially because the Japanese Super Famicom Mini will indeed be getting Super.
Super Castlevania IV
After the first game was a success, the sequel Simon’s Quest tried to be too clever and turned into a weird RPG hybrid thing which was a poorly translated mess. The third game, Dracula’s Curse, returned to its action platformer roots but continued to complicate things with branching paths and assistant charaters.
Super Castlevania IV flicked a middle finger to all that nonsense and just gave us eleven levels of straight action, complete with brilliantly detailed levels and memorable set-pieces like the famous rotating room. Cracking stuff.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
More than 25 years later, it’s still an absolute bastard to play through, but in the best way possible.
This is a game that takes great pleasure in booting your arse up and down the street, and it’s got the gall to do it well enough to make you enjoy it.
Give it a go, tape the swear jar shut, and be ready for one of the catchiest theme tunes in gaming history.
Super Mario Kart
Try to imagine a time when there were no karting games. For the past two decades we’ve been practically swimming in the swines, but when Super Mario Kart was announced the idea of taking a bunch of well-known characters and sticking them on go-karts was actually a novel one.
It pretty much nailed the concept on its first try too (indeed, maybe it’s just as well, as the genre may never have caught on if it didn’t): the CC speed settings, the cup structure, the shells and bananas, all were there right from the beginning.
Of course, over the years the series has evolved drastically and everyone has their favourite Mario Kart, of which very few people say is the first. But its Battle Mode is still a thing of glory and its Mode 7 trickery still looks nifty.
Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars
As a massive Mario fan, it was heartbreaking that American and Japanese gamers got to enjoy this fantastic game and we didn’t. Eventually though I did get my hands on an import copy and it was incredible.
It’s still a fun game to this day, and is a great entry point for gamers who may not be too familiar with the RPG genre because it’s easy to get used to the mechanics.
Super Mario RPG’s success spawned Paper Mario (originally codenamed Super Mario RPG 2), which in turn led to the Mario & Luigi games. So if you’re a fan of either of those series, this is where it all began.
Super Mario World
A massive connected world map, a new cape power-up that let Mario fly for lengthy periods, the introduction of the Koopalings and – most importantly – the debut of Yoshi all contributed to what is still one of the greatest platformers ever made.
Even better was the wealth of hidden goodies that were made available to skillful players. Not only was there a hidden Star Road with five super-hard levels, but beating these granted access to the mythical Special World, complete with eight more stages and the ability to transform the entire game’s sprites and palettes.
Look, I could be here all day. You really should own some version of this by now. If you’re a younger gamer reading this and you’ve never played Super Mario World, do it now. And sorry about all the swearing so far: don’t be a grass.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Its beautiful visual design, in which the entire game looks like it was hand-drawn with felt pens and watercolours, made it stand out from the sea of standard platform games hammering the 16-bit systems at the time.
It’s still one of the most charming games you’ll ever play and has more ideas in a single world (the infamous Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy level being a personal highlight) than many games have in their entirety.
It’s a brilliantly claustrophobic experience and does a great job of building an atmosphere despite the limitations of the system.
The original Metroid was great too, but by adding new features like the ability to fire in all directions and a map that filled itself in as you played, Super Metroid let you concentrate less on not getting lost and more on enjoying the adventure.
It’s a fantastic title and while it wasn’t the one that invented the ‘Metroidvania’ genre it’s sure as hell one of the games (along with Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night) that made it popular.
At its core it doesn’t really offer anything too different from the Punch-Out!! games before it. Once again each opponent is essentially a boss fight, whose patterns and telltale weaknesses you must learn in order to beat them.
But if it isn’t broken you shouldn’t try to fix it, and Punch-Out!! certainly wasn’t broken. As such, more of the same – complete with enormous screen-filling boxer sprites – was perfectly fine by me.
The SNES Mini is another wonderful piece of kit, like the NES Mini before it.
Anyone lucky enough to get the NES version last year will know exactly what to expect here: other than the new rewind function and the screen borders, this is pretty much more of the same.
Luckily, that’s a very good thing: of the 21 games on offer here, 19 are stone-cold classics, one is a curio that will be new to almost everyone, and one is Kirby’s Dream Course.
The only real downside is that it’s a shame there weren’t even more games on there.
The likes of Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3, Pilotwings, Chrono Trigger – even Super Mario All-Stars, as a way of making up for those who couldn’t get an NES Mini – would have been welcome additions and their absence is a shame.
Still, going by current prices, it would cost you £115.29 to buy 21 SNES games on the Wii U Virtual Console and £150.99 on the New 3DS Virtual Console, so £69.99 with an extra controller chucked in for good measure is bloody good value.
Long story short, if you’re lucky enough to be in a position to buy one of these, do it pronto. Many of the greatest games of the ’90s – nay, of all time – are on there, so missing out would not be in your best interests.
The SNES Mini is out on 29 September (in theory), priced £69.99. You can try to buy it from Amazon UK, if you own a lucky amulet or something.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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