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SNES Classic review: Nostalgia this perfect is a rare thing

This amazing encapsulation of 16-bit nostalgia will transport you back to the good old days of console gaming with 21 classic titles.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
4 min read

Back in the early 1990s, the Super NES was the bigger, better, faster sequel to the original Nintendo Entertainment System -- the home console that had brought home videogaming back from the brink of extinction the decade before. So it makes perfect sense that the SNES Classic is a nice step-up over its older brother, the 2016 NES Classic. Both consoles are miniaturized versions of the originals, updated with HDMI connectors for modern TVs and multiple game-save slots for the built-in titles. The NES Classic includes 30 games and a single wired controller for $60. The SNES Classic delivers 21 titles with two wired controllers for $80.

The Good

The SNES Classic Edition provides a pixel-perfect Super Nintendo experience by packing in 21 games and two authentic SNES gamepads with longer cords. Games can be paused, rewound and saved.

The Bad

There's no way to back out into the game selection menu without hitting the reset button. The controllers aren't wireless.

The Bottom Line

The SNES Classic is a nearly perfect retro console that’s a slam-dunk recommendation for everyone.

As of June 29, both Nintendo retro boxes will be on sale concurrently, and they should be available through the end of 2018. We hope that pans out, because both units have been notoriously hard to obtain. Still, it's a good time to reaffirm three notable points:

  • While the SNES Classic has fewer games, they're widely viewed as a better group of titles: The 16-bit SNES games have generally aged better than the 8-bit ones on the original NES.
  • The SNES includes two controllers to the one on the NES, and they have longer cords than the ridiculously short one on the original Classic box.
  • Nintendo has confirmed that many of the games on the NES Classic will be available at no additional charge to anyone who signs up for the $20-per-year online service coming to the Nintendo Switch in September.

For all those reasons -- if you have to choose -- the SNES Classic reviewed here gets the edge in our book.

A slightly edited version of the original September 2017 review of the SNES Classic follows. Read the updated NES Classic review, too.

The Nintendo SNES Classic has been available in the US since Sept. 29, 2017 for $80. A version with a slightly different exterior (mimicking the original's PAL version) is available in the UK for £80 and in Australia for AU$120. 

As mentioned above, the SNES Classic packs 21 titles into a mini Super Nintendo box, and -- unlike the somewhat uneven list of 8-bit titles in the NES Mini -- the games included here are nearly all bona fide classics from the early '90s 16-bit era. From Super Mario World to Donkey Kong Country, the list reinforces just how killer a console the SNES was back in its day. It even includes Star Fox 2, finally playable by the public 22 years after its planned release was canceled at the last minute.

SNES Classic Edition
Sarah Tew/CNET

The rest of the collection includes Contra III: The Alien Wars, EarthBound, Final Fantasy III, F-Zero, Kirby Super Star, Kirby's Dream Course, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X, Secret of Mana, Star Fox, Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out!! and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.

In addition to the games, the SNES Classic improves on its predecessor in another major department: the controller. First, Nintendo has included two SNES controllers as opposed to the single one that came with the NES. Even better, they've lengthened the wires from an almost unusable three feet (about a meter) to a more forgiving 4.5-foot cord (1.4 meters). Ideally we'd like something in the 6-foot (2 meter) range, but this is certainly an improvement.

The SNES Classic looks so much cooler in Europe

See all photos

The SNES pads feel just like you remember them and work great. The universal Nintendo port they plug into also allows for use with the Wii's Classic Controller and the Classic Controller Pro. The only thing I don't love is the little plastic flap you need to flip down to access the ports. It feels a little cheap, but otherwise the SNES has a much more solid feel to it than the lackluster retro Atari Flashback 8 and Sega systems from AtGames.

Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

The user interface is nearly identical to that of the NES Classic. It's fast, easy to navigate and lets you save points in any game you play. You can also manipulate the display settings to get even more of a retro look -- right down to the "classic" horizontal scan lines you remember from a CRT TV -- but I think the way it plays out of the box is best. The only thing missing is a way to back out of a game to the menu without having to get up and hit the reset button on the box; a press-and-hold "home" button should've been added to the controllers or at the very least some kind of shortcut.

Any time you reset the SNES Classic, you're given the option to load up a save state from where you left off, but now you can rewind the last few seconds of gameplay, too. What's even cooler is you can pick up playing at any point during playback as well.

Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Some games like Donkey Kong Country and Yoshi's Island have aged really well, whereas others like the original Star Fox are almost unrecognizable through a contemporary gaming lens. That said, the majority of titles are a welcome dose of flashback gaming that reminded me just how difficult games used to be and just how useful that rewind feature is going to be.

A must-buy

With such an impressive lineup of SNES titles, the Classic is a no-brainer recommendation for anyone who had an SNES growing up or missed out on it altogether. And unlike many of the games on the NES Classic, there's no telling when -- or if -- the games on this mini console are hitting the Nintendo Switch, so this is the best way to play them for the foreseeable future. It's also a really convenient way to introduce a younger generation to an era of gaming that existed before their time.

And who cares if a mini version of the N64 may be waiting in the wings? You can play hours upon hours of Super Metroid in the meantime.


SNES Classic

Score Breakdown

Design 8Ecosystem 8Features 9Performance 8Value 9