I still remember the day my friend and I beat Super Metroid. It was autumn and our yard that was basically a dumping ground for leaves. Raking, blowing, and sucking the foliage up with our heavy duty Cub Cadet riding lawn mower was a never-ending war, and full-family affair.
Right as we were approaching the giant Metroid that I (Samus Aran) had been searching for, I was summoned for leaf duty. It couldn’t have been worse timing. For hours, I ran in and out of the house, facing down the evil Mother Brain between the endless bags of deciduous refuse I had to empty behind our barn. If only my parents knew that the fate of the galaxy depended on me that day.
Super Metroid had the most touching, poignant end battle of any game I had played as a kid. I’ll never forget it. I have a lot of memories like that thanks to the Super Nintendo. You probably do, too. Maybe you remember meeting Zero in Mega Man X or teaming up with Bowser to defeat Smithy in Super Mario RPG.
I used to keep my SNES handy and plug it in from time to time, but as new consoles came out and HDTVs slowly replaced those bulky, ugly tube TVs, my Super Nintendo found itself in a closet more frequently. It was difficult to even hook it up to newer TVs, and the games just didn’t look the same. Using the SNES’s ancient analog inputs with an HDTV dulled and blurred the bright visuals I remembered from my childhood.
I got by with Nintendo’s Virtual Console library of classic games on systems like the Wii U. But many classics were never re-released. In recent years, some folks have turned to emulators and other boxes that replicate the feel of old systems like the SNES. Those systems also usually emulate, not fully recreate, the console’s hardware, which means they often have issues. Nintendo satiated some demand with its $79 SNES Classic retro all-in-one console in 2017, which had 21 all-timer SNES games packed inside, but it too was an emulator, and couldn’t play your old cartridges.
A Faithful Recreation
Christopher Taber took it on himself to bring the Super Nintendo back (read his story here). Forming a company in 2011, aptly named Analogue, he assembled a talented team to develop hardware that faithfully clones systems like the original NES and SNES, but not with software-based emulation or by “re-packaging the same poorly designed” Chinese retro systems on the market, as he said some competitors do. Instead, Analogue started from scratch for each system, designing its own custom hardware powered by a field-programmable gate array (FPGA)—a chip that can be meticulously programmed to act exactly like the processors inside Nintendo’s decades old NES and SNES. It runs and renders games precisely as they should look on a modern 1080p television.
“[With] an FPGA it’s possible to recreate original hardware functionality, perfectly,” Taber told me. “This is what Analogue uses for our products. No software emulator can achieve what an FPGA can achieve… Ultimately this translates to pixel perfection, total accuracy (compatible with the Super Nintendo and Super Famicom’s 2200+ game library), and it’s 100-percent lag free.”
Instead of running on something like a Raspberry Pi and using software to recreate a SNES, the Super Nt recreates the Super Nintendo hardware “on a transistor level,” Taber said. It shouldn’t encounter any of the imperfections that even the best emulators struggle with.
The SNES Reborn
I’ve played my share of emulators, even running some off modified Xboxes for a time, but using the Super Nt felt different. It’s like I’m playing an old SNES again—one that somehow looks fantastic on my 60-inch HDTV.
Outwardly, the $190 system looks how I’d imagine Nintendo might design a Super Nintendo today. It’s made of (almost) nearly identical plastic, and comes in four colors: the purple/gray of the North American SNES, Japanese Super Famicom-style shell, black, or transparent—though we’ve heard some complaints that the clear version doesn’t fully resemble the images on Analogue’s site.
It’s slimmer than the original SNES, measuring only about 1.5 inches tall (without a cartridge), 6.5 inches wide, and 5 inches deep. If you remember the New-Style Super NES, it’s more like that, but with a modern flair to it.
On the back is a single HDMI port for your TV and a Micro USB plug for power. And on the front you’ll see two very familiar SNES controller ports, exactly as you remember them. The system doesn’t come with a controller, but Analogue has worked with 8Bitdo, a retro controller company, to make a nearly perfect $40 SNES controller (SN30) that’s wireless and has 20 hours of battery life, using a receiver that plugs into the controller port. The buttons and D-pad have just the right amount of travel to them, though the plastic doesn’t quite feel the same as Nintendo’s. Still, it’s close, and as good as you’re going to get. If you have any spare Bluetooth controllers laying around, I recommend buying the $25 8Bitdo Receiver. It’s cheaper and may be able to pair with them.
The Super Nt has that familiar cartridge slot up top, and it works with all SNES cartridges, including the slightly different PAL carts from Japan and Europe. I slid a Mortal Kombat II cartridge in when first got the Nt and discovered that it can run the games from boot up, just like the old days. Sadly, my Kombat skills with Sub Zero and Rayden were not as good as they were back then. I can still land a few punches and kicks in Final Fight, though.
The system also comes with a “Director’s Cut” version of Super Turrican, and Super Turrican 2, both by Factor 5, the studio behind those awesome Star Wars Rogue Squadron games for the Nintendo 64. It even includes a totally-unnecessary-but-cool SNES-style box for Super Turrican Director’s Cut, which is the game Factor 5 wished it could have released for SNES, before the developer was forced to hack it up to make it fit on a space-constrained cartridge.
Tweak and Tailor Away
By default, games will display in the center of the screen with thin bars along the bottom and thick bars along the sides—these games were made for much squarer TVs, after all. But you can modify the size of those black bars to your heart’s content.
Press the Select + Down button at any time to open the Super Nt menu and you can browse through all sorts of custom settings. Make your game bigger, smaller, or slowly stretch and warp it across the whole screen if you want (please don’t). I made mine 5X size so it reached the top and bottom, but kept most of the standard settings. You can also boost the brightness, add different types of scanlines, blur/unblur the pixels, modify the audio, remap which buttons trigger the menu, and tinker with other A/V things to a much more nuanced degree than you should ever need. The menus aren’t perfect, and the font is futuristic to the point where it’s hard to read, but they work. Just make sure you save your settings. They don’t auto save.
There is also a SD card reader on the right side. Theoretically this could allow owners to run SNES ROMs (the software normally carried inside a cartridge), or homebrew games, but the feature isn’t currently available, according to Taber. The slot does allow you to load firmware updates onto a SD card, which is easy enough, but not the sleekest process.
As happy as I was playing old SNES games, I couldn’t help but wish the system had 4K support. Though it looks splendid on a 4K screen thanks to scaling, the image is intended for 1080p. A way to freeze a game and save restore points at any time would also be nice, along with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so I could pair any Bluetooth controller out of the box and get updates without futzing with SD cards. With so many fun multiplayer games, you kind of need a second controller, but each 8Bitdo gamepad is costly. On the other hand, the lack of such extras is likely why this box sells for $190—a pricing feat in itself, considering the original Super Nintendo sold for $200 in 1991.
Analogue has resurrected the Super Nintendo (and Super Famicom) for the modern HD era, and I could tell that this product was made with the utmost care. The biggest problem you’ll have is finding cartridges to play. There are some on Amazon and eBay, but you may want to trek back to your parents’ house. Chances are, you have a box of abandoned classics in the basement right now.