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SNES Mini (hands-on) review: A hard-to-find hit of nostalgia

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SNES Mini (hands-on) review – Back in 1994, I really wanted a SNES, and everyone else had one. The irony is not lost on me that in 2017 that shoe is firmly on the other foot. A month before release, the SNES Mini is sold out everywhere, with pre-orders going for a fortune on eBay. And yet here I am with one in a living room where it struggles for attention against the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. How times have changed.

While the original SNES would have been bulky for a ten-year-old Alan to carry, the new model lives up to its Mini name, fitting comfortably in a single hand – and I’m pretty sure I haven’t grown that much. It’s tiny, and at 200g, it weighs only slightly more than the smartphone you carry around with you everywhere. This shouldn’t be surprising, but somehow it still feels like witchcraft. There’s something about the SNES Mini’s miasma of nostalgia that makes you overlook reason.

It looks exactly as you remembered, only smaller, and some of the details are purely for show. The old seven-pronged controller ports are moulded into the plastic, but they’re an illusion: the whole front panel actually comes off to reveal a pair of connectors for the pads, which use the same port as you find on Wii remotes. Likewise, the cartridge slot doesn’t actually open, either – the 21 games included are all onboard, and there’s no room to add any more. In that respect, it’s much more locked down than a Raspberry Pi with an emulator – or indeed a vintage 1994 SNES off eBay with a car-boot sale’s worth of games. Especially as the 21 included here are all first-party Nintendo-fare.

But that does a disservice to the experience offered here. Not only are the games included here all stone cold classics, from Super Mario World to Street Fighter II Turbo, but they’re also immaculately presented in a world where they could look like garbage on a 4K curved screen. Like the NES Mini before it, you can play the games in their original 4:3 format or a 1:1 “pixel perfect” mode. You can even add a CRT filter to proceedings to make them look worse, but more authentically nostalgic. And unlike in the 1990s, you can quick save your progress, without having to pay attention to specifically designated saved game slots, like the days of yore.

There are 20 games included that you may or may not have owned back in the 1990s, but there’s one extra freebie that you definitely won’t have: Star Fox 2. Unreleased in 1995 because of the N64’s imminent arrival, it finally makes its debut 22 years later – all you have to do is complete the first stage of Star Fox to unlock it. We’re limited in what we can say about the game until the full review, but suffice it to say it has similar charms to its predecessor, and is quite a collector’s item for those who get their hands on a SNES Classic.

But there’s the rub: Despite being a licence to print money and a simple piece of technology to mass-produce, it’s ridiculously hard to find. It’s sold out a month ahead of launch with no plans to create more. That’s a crying shame: the Nintendo SNES Mini may not revolutionise gaming the same way the original did back in 1994, but its simplicity is hugely welcome for those who found 16 the perfect number of bits for gaming. As a nostalgia trip, it’s incredibly authentic – especially as its scarcity will likely leave you grumpy on Christmas morning when it doesn’t show up. Thanks, Nintendo.

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