Trying to pull out a classic game console like the Super Nintendo Entertainment System can be a bittersweet experience. More often than not, something doesn't feel right, and you're left staring at a blurry, distorted mess that just isn't quite what you remember from your youth.
It's not your memories that are wrong. It's the march of technology. The antiquated analog video connections that old consoles rely on look terrible on modern televisions, and that can ruin the nostalgic experience. It's why throwback consoles like Nintendo's NES and SNES Classic Editions are so popular: They're devices that wrap your memories in modern technology, letting you play classic games on a gloriously sharp HD display. If you're looking for a quick retro fix, Nintendo's throwback consoles are a good start, but for retro game collectors hungry for the ultimate 16-bit gaming experience, there's a better option -- the Analogue Super Nt.
If that name sounds familiar, it's because the company made waves with the original Analogue Nt a few years back. That was a gorgeous $500 aluminum console that actually harvested processors from the motherboards of vintage Famicoms (the Japanese versions of the original Nintendo Entertainment System) to play old-school 1980s NES cartridges in their original glory. Last year, it revised that throwback console by replicating those chips on a modern Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), creating the Analogue Nt Mini. Now the company's doing it one more time, but for Nintendo's 16-bit console, the venerable Super NES.
Think of it as an unofficial hardware refresh. The Super Nt plays all the same games as the original SNES (and can even use the same controllers), but the internal components, outer shell and everything else about it is brand-new -- except this time, the console's hull isn't made of the same premium aluminum as Analogue's NES-based Nt. The result is a significantly reduced price tag of $190 (approximately £136 or AU$241 converted). OK, that's not cheap, but it's a far cry from the $479 Nt Mini (£343 or AU$607).
The end result is a more affordable, high-quality Super Nintendo that surpasses the original (and Nintendo's SNES Classic) in almost every way imaginable. That sounds hyperbolic, but it's not. The Super Nt not only boasts 100-percent hardware compatibility with the original -- meaning it can run every SNES game perfectly -- but in some ways, it actually plays those games better than the original SNES.
How much better it is, however, is all up to you. If all you're looking for is a console that lets you drop in an SNES cartridge, hit the power button and start playing, the Super Nt's default settings will probably suit you just fine. It pipes gameplay to your HDTV with a crisp 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. That's already better than Nintendo's official throwback SNES, which tops out at 720p.
Searching for a more nuanced look? Just jump into the console menu (activated by simultaneously pressing down and select), select video, and feast on a smorgasbord of customizable retro settings. These run from simple scaling filters that smooth out the rougher edges of the SNES' pixelated graphics (you know, if you're into that sort of thing), to surprisingly deep customization options. Miss the way CRT scanlines help define similarly colored pixels? Well, with the Super Nt you can choose from two different simulated scanline settings each with 255 different darkness settings.
Some of the Super Nt's settings are wonderfully niche, too. Did you know that most SNES games run at an internal resolution of 256x224? That's an aspect ratio of 8:7, which was stretched to 4:3 on most old CRT TVs -- but not every game accounted for it. That means that if you played Super Mario World on an original SNES on a TV from the '90s, you played a game where squares didn't have a 1:1 aspect ratio. That's probably why the Super Nt lets you choose from 1:1, 8:7 and 4:3 aspect ratios by default -- plus countless custom screen sizes if you activate "advanced mode" in the console's video settings.
And that mess of a paragraph probably best illustrates what the Super Nt is really about. Yes, it's a pretty great SNES for any gamer who wants to play their old cartridges on a modern TV, but it's really a highly customizable console designed for retro gaming enthusiasts. It's a comprehensive machine that allows you to experience SNES games any way you want -- even at niche resolutions that only the game's original developers might have seen, or with visual enhancements that outstretch the capability of the original hardware.
This attention to detail is why Analogue likes to say its systems are "reference quality" game consoles -- they play games so well, they can be used as a standard to be judged against. It's a bold statement, but one the company absolutely gets away with. It's hard to argue that the Super Nt isn't the most powerful SNES ever made.
Does that mean it's the best SNES experience you can buy? It sort of depends on what you're looking for. Between my original SNES, my imported Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the SNES), my Retron 5, the Wii U Virtual Console and the Super Nt itself, Analogue's console is absolutely the best, most pure way to play these games.
Beyond the bevy of visual options at my disposal, games on the Super Nt feel just right, playing exactly as I remember them on my original hardware. On top of that, it even sounds better. When Analogue CEO and founder Christopher Tabler insisted I play with headphones, I almost rolled my eyes -- but he was right. I could pick up subtleties in some of my favorite games that I couldn't hear before. It's not a killer feature, maybe, but after playing back-to-back with my original SNES, there's a clear improvement to be had in the Super Nt.
Even the Super Nt's chassis is surprisingly nice. Sure, it's not the premium milled aluminum hull that Analogue's last throwback console wore, but it still feels high-end. It almost feels more like the plastic enclosure you'd find around a medical device -- it's soft, but also strong and hefty. If the plastic on the original SNES and Nintendo's new SNES Classic Edition makes them feel like toys, the Super Nt's exterior makes it feel like equipment.
Analogue's console is clearly the "best" SNES hardware I've ever had -- but it's not perfect. In fact, despite its clear technical superiority, it might be the least user-friendly retro console I've ever used.
More specifically, the Super Nt's menu system feels true to its nature. Analogue calls it a "reference console," and that's exactly what the Nt's user interface feels like: A no-frills text menu designed for in-house testers. It is, at least, simple. The core menu starts with just four options: Run Cartridge, Settings and options to play Super Turrican Director's Cut and Super Turrican 2 -- a pair of officially licensed SNES games built directly into the console.
The problem comes when diving into the settings menu, which leads to multiple lists of text-based options. It's perfectly functional, but it's not particularly beautiful or enjoyable to use. I found it easy to get lost in the various nested lists of the menu. Worse still, changes to the menu don't save automatically. You have to back out of the layer of text lists to find a specific text option to save.
Shy of turning the console off, there's no way to stop playing a game, either. If you want to play a different game, you'll either need to turn the power off completely, or remove the cartridge while it's still running. Analogue told CNET that the latter was perfectly safe, but it feels, well, wrong. I typically resorted to booting up Super Turrican before removing a cartridge -- wishing each time that there was a "quit game" option instead.
It's a cold, sterile feeling menu experience, and that's weird -- because the console boots up with an undeniably charming Analogue logo that morphs into 16-bit slices of pizza, triangular pool tables and other endearing shapes. The Super Nt's cumbersome menu isn't a deal breaker, but it does feel like a missed opportunity. Enough of one to consistently bother me during my time with the console. Hopefully, it's something that can be fixed later on -- there's an SD card slot built into the Super Nt's side used exclusively for updating the console's firmware.
At the end of the day, the Analogue Super Nt is everything it claims to be. It's the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, reimagined with top-tier features. It's easily one of the best ways to play your SNES cartridge collection -- but it also very much feels like a high-end reference device. For serious retro enthusiasts and collectors, it's almost the perfect console, and it makes the most out of a library of classic games.
It's also probably more than what most people need. If you have fond memories of the 16-bit era, but only really want to relive memories of Mario, Zelda and a very specific set of RPGs, you'll probably be happier with the SNES Classic's preloaded selection of games and charming, easy to use menu system.
If you have a cartridge collection begging to be played, however, and you want the absolute best way to play it -- you'd be hard pressed to find a better option than the Analogue Super Nt.