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Hands on with the SNES Classic's cool new features, and Star Fox 2

Home screen options and impressions

SNES Classic home screen
SNES Classic home screen
Nintendo

For those of you who want to skip to the news, here’s a quick rundown of the new features and options included in the SNES Classic:

  • Save points cache at least one minute’s worth of gameplay, so you can go back to the most advantageous place before starting over.
  • You can choose your own border frames, which also change color during key gameplay moments.
  • As with the NES Classic, the system has three display modes: 4:3, Pixel Perfect and CRT.
  • A demo mode option includes footage from your own gameplay saves.

Last week, I drove into San Francisco to get some hands on time with the Super Nintendo Classic. During a meeting held at an office for Nintendo’s PR agency, I got to mess around with the miniature hardware, something my colleagues did back in June and wrote about at length.

This meeting was more about how the operating system and home screens work, especially in comparison to the NES Classic, which was launched last year to great commercial success. I got a chance to play some of the 21 games that come with the SNES Classic, most of which are the same games that wowed SNES owners back in the early ’90s.

The biggest hardware difference from the NES Classic is that the SNES Classic comes with two controllers, rather than just one. This adds a $20 price differential above the NES Classic, but I think it's going to prove worthwhile, with competitive games like Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter 2 on offer, as well as some co-op games.

Touching the controllers felt a tiny bit strange to me, but not in a bad way. It's still a design classic with the directional pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons and a select and start button. It's the same size as the original. But time plays tricks with tactile memory. These controllers felt a bit tighter to me, likely because all the SNES controllers I've touched in recent years have been well used, loose and wobbly, rather than straight out of a workshop or factory. It’s weird when something old is new again.

As previously reported, the controllers plug into Wii controller slots that are hidden behind fake seven pin frontages, which are of no functional use.

DISPLAY MODES

SNES Classic display options
SNES Classic display options

This meeting was also partly about some tweaks to the operating system. Firstly, the display modes. There are three visual modes. 4 x 3 in 720p; “Pixel Perfect mode,” in which the pixels have been corrected to squares, from the slightly elongated versions forced on the artists in yesteryear; and a CRT filter mode that makes your game look like it would have done in the days of cathode ray tubes. These functions were also available in the NES Classic.

Save slots

Save slots on the SNES Classic
Save slots on the SNES Classic

There are four save slots for each game, again as seen in the NES Classic. These allow the player to save at any point and re-access each game from positions which can be deleted and replaced. They can also be rearranged or locked. In games that have natural save positions, those will be maintained.

But there are some significant new additions to saves. The save slots also record at least a minute of footage, so you can mess up, save and then rewind to the point when things were looking peachy. In longer games, like The Legend of Zelda, extra footage is saved, up to a few minutes.

Demo mode

SNES Classic demo mode options
SNES Classic demo mode options

The demo mode, which was also in the NES Classic, has been changed up so that it now shows saved footage from your own gameplay, called "My Gameplay Demo." Or, if you're bashful, you can revert to the pre-recorded footage supplied by Nintendo.

Frames

SNES Classic frames
SNES Classic frames

Various frames have also been supplied to make up for today's much larger screen sizes. You can select from a bunch of these including plush red curtains, retro speakers and (my favorite) wood paneling. If you are playing a game like Super Metroid, you might want to select something appropriate, like a backdrop of stars in the sky.

These backdrops will sometimes react to gameplay events, flashing new colors in moments of peril or victory, for example.

Manuals

There are icons that lead to scans of the original manuals, except in the case of Star Fox 2, which was never released. A new manual is being created for that game. I didn't see any of these at the demo as they are still being prepared, but I'm told they will be ready for launch. It's weird to think that some of the nostalgia value of this product will come from looking at old scans of manuals, but there you are.

Star Fox 2

Star Fox 2
Nintendo

So, let's talk about Star Fox 2. As you likely know, the game was originally slated to be released on the Super NES in 1995, two years after the original Star Fox. But with the launch of Nintendo 64. Nintendo wanted to place its focus on Star Fox 64, launched in 1997. And so, Star Fox 2 was canceled, even though the game was complete.

The company was also worried about how Star Fox 2, a 3D space shooter, would look in comparison to similar games coming out for rival consoles like the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.

Although the game has been available to ROM players for some years, the SNES Classic release is its first official outing. Players can unlock Star Fox 2 by beating the first levels of Star Fox, also available on the SNES Classic. This should not prove too onerous, and is a useful warmup. Star Fox 2 takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you're accustomed to more forgiving modern games.

After an initial setup sequence, you get to choose Fox McCloud's wing-character, who you can control when things get hairy, basically acting as your next life. You then enter a galactic map so you can choose where you want to go and fight, rather than the more linear format of the original game. This choice will be influenced by the positions of various missiles heading to your home planet of Corneria.

Star Fox 2 running on the SNES Classic Edition
An image of the previously unreleased Star Fox 2, running on the Super NES Classic Edition.
Nintendo

Once battle commences, it's a matter of sitting behind your space fighting ship and maneuvering in order to get the target inside a reticule while shooting lasers or firing off larger missiles. You can also switch to first person.

As in the later Star Fox Zero for Wii U, the Arwing can go indoors, so to speak, cantilevering its winds once it lands on space stations. This leads to some walking-while-shooting corridor sections.

In my demo, there was a big end-of-level installation that I needed to destroy with sustained fire, resulting in a fireball and celebratory snatch of on-screen dialog and musical hurrahs. The game also includes a two-player split-screen mode, which is another good reason for that second controller.

Final stuff

It's easy to consider this mini-console as a nostalgia play, but these games, while crude by today's standards, are nonetheless enjoyable in their own right. I plan to buy a SNES Classic to rediscover what made some of these games so compelling.

I want to know how they stand up as fun experiences today. And I want my kids to play them, not so much to foist my own younger days upon them, as to discover if they have any inherent value to this new generation of avid gamers.

Many of the games that came out on the original SNES have had a profound influence on today's games, especially the many mobile games that kids play today. Those originals have a great deal of charm, even leaving aside the nostalgia factor.

The enormous historical significance of the SNES, in terms of gaming's history, cannot be understated. While the NES brought console gaming back from the dead, the SNES propelled game design onto an entirely new plane, heralding the 3D era of PlayStation. It was, at the time, a significant advance on the status quo in almost every way.

I was mostly a Mega Drive/Genesis player at the time. And although there were many fine games on that console, it's difficult to now argue against Nintendo's status as the era's biggest creative mover and shaker, at least until Sony's arrival.

If you want to know more about the SNES Classic, take a look at our guide. Pre-orders kick off soon. The unit launches for real on Sept. 29. And although shortages for the NES Classic were severe, Nintendo promises it will make more SNES Classic units available.

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