Nintendo doubles down with the Super NES mini console
Fewer games at a higher price... but better games, and some actual rarities this time around.
Surprising absolutely no one, Nintendo announced a new mini-console for this fall: The logical successor to last year's model, the Super NES Classic Edition.
I have to hand it to Nintendo: They seem to have learned at least one lesson from the rocky, controversial, and outlandishly brief life of the Classic NES Edition mini-console. Now, I'm not optimistic that they've learned the most important lesson of all — namely, make insanely popular products available in sufficient quantities that your most enthusiastic fans are no longer forced to pay premiums from eBay scalpers — but even so, the newly announced Super NES Classic Edition rectifies a few crucial issues with last year's device.
Most critically, the console now comes with two controllers rather than one. Second controllers for the NES Mini (or at least high-quality first-party devices rather than unreliable third-party controllers) were tough to come by, much like the system itself, rendering two-player NES games difficult to enjoy in their intended format. Including a second controller right in the box should help mitigate that pain somewhat, which will prove essential for full enjoyment of games like Street Fighter II, Super Mario Kart, and even the weird two-player option in Final Fantasy III (née VI).
(There is, as of yet, no word on how we're meant to include the third player in Secret of Mana. And no indication of whether or not the controller cords will account for the fact that people no longer sit two feet away from their screens in this age of 60" flatpanel screens.)
The bonus controller comes with a cost, though. Where the NES mini shipped at a tidy $60, the same price as a brand new console game, the Super NES iteration bumps the sticker price up $80. Given that second NES mini controllers sold for $10, it looks like Nintendo added a $10 surcharge in there just because they could. It seems unlikely that the console itself will be significantly more expensive to produce, and to add to the pricing disconnect, the new machine will include only 21 games versus the 30 on its 8-bit predecessor.
On its surface, the Super NES mini gives a sense of Nintendo offering less for more simply because they can. After all, the NES mini sold out instantly, and demand for this new model likely won't be reduced. But even more so than the NES Classic Edition, the Super NES model adopts a premium content model that fits more securely within the messaging Nintendo likes to wrap itself in. The NES mini worked out to $2 per game, and at $80 for 21 titles, the Super NES model comes out to almost exactly twice that — meaning the Super NES Classic Edition lines up pretty neatly with how Nintendo comparatively prices NES and Super NES games on Virtual Console.
But even more than that, the games on the Super NES Classic Edition have heft. The NES model included an odd mix of heavyweights like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 along with a bunch of "wait, seriously?" inclusions like the woefully dated Ice Climber. Some of the more archaic selections on the Classic NES Edition seemed to be casual bait — familiar classics like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, and Galaga which, while great, weren't necessarily at their best on NES and didn't necessarily best represent the NES.
This definitely won't be the case with the Classic Super NES Edition. Every single title included on the mini-console would rate on most people's best-of-Super-NES list. On the contrary, the 21-slot selection leaves out a great many games that deserve to be curated here... but at the same time, it's hard to make an argument that, say, Final Fantasy II should have been included in place of Final Fantasy III, or that Kirby's Dream Land 3 was more deserving than Kirby's Dream Course. Even Street Fighter II Turbo's inclusion over Super Street Fighter II will find plenty of defenders. If the NES mini was hit-or-miss, the Super NES mini promises to be all hits, all the time.
Not only that, but the Super NES mini will be patching up several gaping, inexplicable holes in the company's Virtual Console lineup over the past decade by including two Super FX and FX/2-based classics that have never been republished in their original incarnations since their original release on cartridge: Star Fox and Yoshi's Island. Those games have remained conspicuous in their absence through the years, with the former being completely absent on VC and the latter available only in its cramped, compromised Game Boy Advance incarnation. I'm happy to see that Nintendo has resolved whatever issue prevented their reproduction, be it technical or legal, and will at last be making them (somewhat) widely available. Sure, the original Star Fox runs at about 12 frames per second and sends players soaring through a universe of wobbly triangles, but it remains a technical marvel... and it's still pretty fun. And Yoshi's Island is one of those games that would show up somewhere on my list if you twisted my arm and demanded I name the five best Super NES games ever... and maybe even if you said "five best games ever."
And finally, the coup de grace: Star Fox 2. The original sequel to Star Fox never shipped in any region, though it was supposedly finished; rumor has it that Nintendo decided to kill it in order to maximize the perceptual difference between the Super NES and the Nintendo 64. Couldn't very well peddle a console on the promise of immersive 3D if the old console was already pulling it off with style, right? And so Star Fox 2 vanished, its concepts and material being pilfered over the years to flesh out the other sequels.
Of course, you can play Star Fox 2 right now, if you want. A ROM file of the game leaked to the internet years ago, and anyone interested in Super NES history has probably played it. The thing is, though, that ROM was an early and incomplete build. It's been confirmed that more complete versions of the game existed and have never leaked — which suggests that Nintendo's official release will be something along the lines of EarthBound Beginnings. That is, a proper, completed game that's been gather dust in the archives for a few decades. I'll be curious to see how much more balanced and complete the Super NES mini version of Star Fox 2 turns out to be compared to the leaked version that's been making the rounds all these years.
Or, well, I hope to see for myself, anyway. By all accounts, Nintendo looks to be sharply allocating stock of this console, as they did with last year's. And reports already indicate that the company will only produce the Classic Super NES Edition through the end of the year — meaning it's probably going to be a mad, brutal battle to actually lay hands on one. Especially with an all-new Super NES game on tap....
Super NES Classic Edition
Launch date: Sept. 29, 2017
Price: $79.99 (U.S.)
Titles included: Contra III: The Alien Wars, Donkey Kong Country, 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, Star Fox 2, 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 Mario World, Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out!!, Yoshi’s Island
Also included: Two controllers, HDMI cable, power adapter