Monday, 10 September 2018

Very small classics

So I bought a NES and SNES Classic Mini...



...in the aftermath of their huge demand beginning with the outsold NES Mini back in 2016. I simply couldn't get hold of a NES Mini and even a SNES Mini at launch. However earlier this year I picked up a SNES Mini and recently a NES Mini. Let's take a quick look at both them.


What they have in common


Their hardware replicates in a small form factor how the real consoles designs looked in their aesthetics; mine replicates the European models for both. They are very well made, with working power and reset buttons. I like how the SNES has hidden it's controller ports for added authenticity in it's visual appearance. Both have controllers that are fantastic quality and are extremely close to the originals. Incredible work on the hardware; even down to the original looking packaging they arrive in and their retro manuals. Great design aesthetics all round then.

The NES and SNES Mini's are powered by USB and have a HDMI video output. They both operate at a 720p resolutionand offer a few choices in screen displays, more on that for each model later. Be warned though; the short controller cables and the fact that the actual console needs to be near the TV for HDMI and USB power means that you'll probably need a long HDMI and a close by power supply. It's a little annoying they didn't opt for wireless controllers, but that's probably what makes the price hold a fairly reasonable level. They could have made the controller cords way, way longer though.

Both the NES and SNES controller connection inputs are alike, and the same as the Nintendo Wii's controller ports. Thus you can use a Wii "Classic Controller" or a "Classic Controller Pro" for both the mini's as alternative control pads. You can also use the NES and SNES controllers on a Wii for classic games! SNES games will of course not be playable with a NES controller, as it lacks the right amount of buttons, but a SNES Mini controller will work fine with the NES Mini. It's all about if you want the authenticity of the actual console's controller or not.

A real annoying factor though, even as they have re-released the hugely popular NES Mini this year, they still only package it with one controller. While the SNES Mini has two. It's a real cheap move and an annoyance that you need to hunt down a second controller separately. I get that they missed it on the first run of NES Mini in 2016, but this time around they really should have packed a second controller in. Bad move Nintendo!

The menu system on each model has a retro look to it too and features some typical calming Wii menu styled music. The games on each model are lined up with cover art and have QR codes which grants you access each games manual online if scanned. Selecting a game boots it up, but sadly there is no other way to return to the menu without pressing reset on the actual consoles. Thus making the need to have the actual console close by. On the menus you can save satte your current position in the game or return to playing. Everything is very tidy and easy to navigate, although I felt the way you save stated the game to be a little confusing.

Not much else to say about the features they have in common; other than their fantastic value for money. Even attempting at obtaining these retro consoles, with the amount of games and controllers in new condition would set you at insane high prices online. They are value for money times ten. Let's look closer at each one!


NES Classic Mini



Nintendo's gigantic 8-bit success from the 80's. This console rebuilt the flooded and grounded gaming industry in the U.S. It's Japanese model, the Famicom, is available as a mini in Japan. Here in Europa and in the U.S. though, we're familiar with the grey box that utilises a sort of VHS player lid and press down cartridge action. This was done to make the reluctant market look at the NES as a sort of entertainment device much like a VCR player, rather than another console flooding the dead market. I feel it's design is very iconic and has stood the test of time far better than it's rather weird looking Japanese version.

The NES Mini offers 30 built in games. The library is mainly Nintendo first parrty, as expected, and features a fairly diverse line up of some of it's best selling games. With timeless classics, and the stars of the show, like; Super Mario Bros. 1 to 3, Mega Man 2, Castlevania 1 & 2, Metroid, Zelda, Super Contra and Excitebike. You can check the full list online. My perhaps most missed NES titles are TMNT 2, Super Mario Bros. 2 from Japan and Tiger Heli. The first being held back by a Turtles movie license I presume, the original SMB2 as it was never released outside of Japan other than on the remastered All-Stars collection on the SNES and the latter being a personal Toaplan favourite and nothing else.

As the NES originally did not come with RGB video output, it's difficult to get a very clean image out of the original console without modding. As such the NES Mini is perhaps the best visual upgrade to modern screens you can do, if you want a product straight out of the box. The visual quality alone on the NES Mini as such, becomes more interesting for owners of an original NES, than original SNES owners need for a SNES Mini. Save states are a huge welcome for those that find the old games too hard to complete!

Screen options for the NES Mini are: "4:3" which is the classic CRT TV aspect ratio and the one you'll most likely end up using, the default option. A nice, sharp and clean NES image upscaled digitally to 720p for modern TV's. "Pixel Perfect" is how the game was developed; as a completely square picture, but not how it was intended to be shown, as all TV's had the 4:3 ratio. Why this is included I don't know, but it's nice to have options I guess.

The last picture option is a "CRT filter" and while I can appreciate a good scanline filter for big modern TV's to replicate a CRT TV, making the picture less jaggy and closer to how we used to view the games. This NES Mini filter, however, wants to also replicate a picture with lots of antenna interference. Much like the messy picture an original NES outputs, as it had no RGB output and only composite out. I would have liked to have been without the blurry extras and just had a clean scanline filter. A real miss in my opinion, especially when you could have let the player alter how it looks with some basic options.



Verdict: For fans of the NES, that will be a ton of SMB and Zelda players I presume, this is a perfect purchase. Judging by it's huge popularity I would think Nintendo have really hit the perfect market for older generation gamers and parents that want to go back to their childhood days of NES gaming in 80's. Great care has been taken in replicating the original feel of the console too, albeit a second controller is very much missing from the deal and sold separately.

The game library will come across as very outdated for newcomers though; the 8-bit days have a very pure, direct to the point gameplay, but presentation wise they lack the polish of the 16-bit games. Their learning curve and difficulty will be off-putting for new players I should think. Rest assured though, for younger gamers mostly; usually 8-bit titles require very little prior knowledge or explanation, the gameplay is simple enough to just jump into an learn quickly.


Considering the old age of the 8-bit, NES Mini is perhaps suited for those that have nostalgia and memories of playing the actual console back in the day.

SNES Classic Mini



Feeling the pressure from Sega's early 1988 jump to 16-bit in their fast Motorola 68000 processor powered Mega Drive and their increasing market share success in the U.S., Nintendo felt the pressure to deliver a next generation console. The SNES launched in late 1990 in Japan and 1991 elsewhere. It too became a huge success, albeit not as much as the NES due to the loss of market domination. It became part of perhaps the most competitive and famous console wars generation witnessed between itself and the Mega Drive. Mario and Sonic became prominent competitors and 16-bit technology was pushed in many advertisements as the new leap in technology. By the end of the battle though, the SNES had sold the most by a large margin.

The SNES Mini has 20+1 games built in, that extra one is a really cool addition: It's the completed, but never released Star Fox 2! While the title itself perhaps isn't that fantastic, it's a really cool addition in my opinion and a statement of the work put into these mini classics. Finally, there's a chance for old SNES veterans to play the sequel never released! The SNES Mini has a truly fantastic line-up of classics otherwise; Zelda: Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart, Mega Man X, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Contra III, Super Mario World 1 & 2, Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy VI, Super Castlevania IV, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG and of course the first Star Fox

The lack of a few titles I miss, are at least Donkey Kong Country 2, yes we have the first game, but the second is even better and a true classic. We have Squaresoft's huge heavy hitters FFVI and Secret of Mana, but no Chrono Trigger?! I would also have liked the inclusion of Super Mario All-Stars, the 16-bit remastered collection of Super Mario Bros. 1-3, especially since it contains the true original SMB2 from Japan (Lost Levels). Perhaps they skipped Mario since he was featured on the NES Mini? Some strange omissions in my opinion, but alas with that kind of line-up of timeless and fantastic titles, how could I really complain.

As far as screen options go, the SNES has the same "4:3" and "Pixel Perfect" modes as the NES Mini. However, while not perfect, the "CRT filter" is done much better here than on the NES Mini. Trying harder to actually resemble a CRT screen with a clean and crisp picture output. Although I would still have liked options for tweaking the filter once again.

If you play an original SNES on a modern TV, passed through a Framemeister or an OSSC device with RGB output, I'd wager to say this mini isn't exactly something that will look much better, maybe a little less picture noise. As such the graphical upgrade from original hardware isn't as major as the NES, however most people probably played the SNES through the default cables and just connect it directly through the terrible SCART input on modern TVs, so the upgrade will be very visible for more casual players. If you're considering buying this mini you probably don't own an original SNES any longer or just want one, like me, for the sake of it. At least it has save states anywhere in the game as a major upgrade!



Verdict: As timeless and incredible as some of these 16-bit titles prove to be years later, makes SNES Mini my favourite of the two Nintendo classic minis. They represent the very pinnacle of 2D popularity that has never since been replicated or reached. They are from a era that is perhaps the best and most iconic console generation ever, the amount of fantastic titles that were unique and spread across the SNES and the Mega Drive were of fantastic quality and diversity.

The SNES Mini then, unlike the super cheap rip-off Sega clone consoles through the years, takes great care in representing the original hardware in a best possible way. I'll also wager that the more polished 2D graphics of the 16-bit era fair better with newcomers and young gamers of today better than the 8-bit NES. The 16-bit titles have more forgiving difficulty curves making theme easier to get into and there's more depth to the game experience, compared to the brutal and often rough 8-bit experiences.


A perfect purchase for any SNES fan back in the day, as well as young gamers as great door into some of the best and timeless 2D classics ever made.



Summary


Well that's my take on the two classic mini consoles from Nintendo. The focus on quality of the end product and care that the games behave like they did back in the day, combined with almost identical copies to the original controllers make these the best retro throwback consoles made to this date. They may be a little higher in price than other similar retro throwback systems, but rest assured that the quality is top notch and the amount you'd pay for bloated retro gaming prices on eBay would far exceed the asking price of these mini's.

Let's hope for a Game Boy Classic Mini next?!

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