Super Nintendo Classic Edition + Star Fox 2

Review

Developer: Nintendo
Price: $99 CDN, $79 US, ¥7,980, $119 AU
Released: September 29, 2017

“Super Nostalgia”

If the NES Classic succeeded in one area, it was in demonstrating how far game design and presentation has come since 1985. It wasn’t until the Super Nintendo that developers really started to refine what we now think of as “Old School” games into what they resemble today; and what modern games usually mean when they attempt to evoke that style.

More than once I had to ask myself if like the SNES Classic better than its predecessor just because I had grown up playing games on the Super Nintendo rather than the NES. In truth, the NES and SNES Classics are probably of roughly equal quality overall, and whether or not the system is worth it to you all comes down to your affinity for the included games and whether you can live with the handful of facepalm-worthy decisions that only Nintendo seems capable of making.

The system itself is a little unremarkable, it’s a Super Nintendo, only smaller. Not that there was any reason to expect anything else, though it is worth noting that the system is small and light enough to easily carry around in a backpack or messenger bag if you plan on taking it over to a friends house for a 90’s-tinged afternoon of Third Eye Blind and Super Mario World.

A fake set of controller ports need to be popped off to uncover the real ones, and odd but non-invasive design decision and maybe even a good one in the long run; to keep dust and debris out of the ports when the system is stowed away. The controllers are more interesting. They aren’t just like Super Nintendo controllers, they are Super Nintendo controllers, with the exact same weight, feel and tactile feedback. It really shouldn’t be surprising given that Nintendo managed the same feat with the NES Classic, but it’s impressive all the same.

The cords are another issue though. The NES Classic’s cords were a pathetic two feet long, forcing both people I know who managed to get one to rearrange their setup to play with it comfortably, creating tripping hazards and otherwise obliterating the feng shui of their living rooms. By contrast, the SNES Classic’s cords are about five feet long, just barely long enough to not create a problem with my current setup if I put the system on the floor between my TV and my couch. It’s an annoying situation regardless of how you look at it since the original SNES’s controller cords were nearly eight feet long and, let’s not dance around it, they simply should have been wireless in the first place.

You might say that doing that would undermine the faithfulness of the SNES’s recreation, but if we’re already cutting three feet off of the controller cords and storing all of the games on an internal hard drive, a convenient change like wireless controllers is a strange place to draw the line.

If you owned a Super Nintendo back in the day, you may realize as I did that you didn’t actually own too many games for the thing. You probably owned a handful of games and you loved most of them. That’s how it was for most people, because you couldn’t simply download a new game when you started getting bored of the one you were playing. You stuck with it. You “hundred-percented it”, as we say these days.

I bring this up because if you’re like me, you may not have realized what a diverse array of games the Super Nintendo actually had. Since my experience was mostly limited to the Donkey Kong Country games, Super Mario World and Mortal Kombat 3, I never got to try a lot of highly regarded games like Castlevania and Super Mario RPG. Of course, you may discover that you still don’t have much interest in a lot of those games, at which point you’ll have to ask yourself if the SNES Classic is worth getting for the handful of games you remember liking as a kid.

But maybe you’re not interested in the SNES Classic because you want to relive the gaming-related memories of your childhood. Maybe you never owned a Super Nintendo, either because you owned some other system, weren’t into games at the time or simply weren’t born yet and you’re interested in the SNES Classic as a showcase of the best games the Super Nintendo had to offer. If that’s the case, the SNES Classic may leave you a little disappointed. Oh, there are definitely some great games on the console, and some of them are among the best games the Super Nintendo had, but the SNES Classic’s library seem to have been chosen with what was most popular in mind rather than what games are actually the best.

Super Mario World made the cut for example, but not Super Mario All-Stars, the excellent Mario Bros. collection. The first Donkey Kong Country is on the console, but the second and third games, which I would have called essential to any Super Nintendo collection, are mysteriously absent. Other less popular one-off games come off even worse in a lot of cases. Okay, Final Fantasy III made the list, but what about Tales of Phantasia, the Breath of Fire games or freaking Chrono Trigger? I don’t even like JRPGs as a rule, but even I would have thought Chrono Trigger would’ve been a shoe-in.

But arguing for the inclusion of individual games is pointless when, really, Nintendo should have packed every single Super Nintendo game they still had a copy of onto the SNES Classic. And while it’s true that a lot of those games probably haven’t aged very well, it should have been us, the gamers, that got to choose whether or not to play them.

I had personally hoped, somewhat naively perhaps, to be able to try some lesser known but nonetheless highly regarded titles like Syndicate and the SNES version of Doom. But oh well, I guess I’ll just have to get a hold of them some other way, and Nintendo seems to be surprisingly okay with that notion.

And now we come to the strangest thing about the SNES Classic, this console was basically designed to be modded; and I mean on purpose. This can be demonstrated in several ways. First and foremost, the power cord, rather than just being a power cord, ends in a USB that goes into an adapter to charge, making it a snap to hook up to your computer. Next, simply holding the systems reset button for a few seconds will enter the SNES Classic’s debug mode at which point you’ll need to download a utility to install games onto the system, the only part of the process that doesn’t come packaged with the SNES Classic.
Just like that, you can be playing Donkey Kong Country 3 up on your LCD TV with an authentic Super Nintendo controller, just like nature intended.

Not that I would do that of course.

If you’re worried that storage space might be an issue, don’t be, the SNES Classic has an extra 300 megabytes of free space on it’s hard drive. Considering that the size of the average Super Nintendo game is about 2 megabytes, that’s enough space for every Super Nintendo game you’re ever heard of, with enough left over to hold every good song that Nickelback ever wrote.

The reason I feel so comfortable talking about it is that whether it was the decision of the developers, the hardware manufacturers or Nintendo’s own execs, it seems clear that the SNES Classic was designed to be as easily modded as it was legally possible to make it; a kind of knowing wink to savvy gamers and presumably, fellow appreciators of classic games that shouldn’t be forgotten.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the SNES Classic includes the never before released sequel to Star Fox, Star Fox 2; a bland title concealing a frankly stunning game. Let me be clear, I can’t stand the original Star Fox, the frame rate is atrocious, the controls are awkward and the minimal-to-a-fault graphics make it incredibly difficult to tell what’s going on. I was fully prepared to dip into Star Fox 2 for an hour or so just to fulfill my professional obligation and establish that it was just as crap as it’s predecessor. So believe me when I say that nobody is more surprised than me that Star Fox 2 is freaking awesome and nearly makes the SNES Classic worth picking up all on it’s own.

After defeating him in the first Star Fox, Andross returns and launches an all-out assault on the Lylat system; his fleet sending out waves of fighters and planet-killing missiles as it travels across the solar system. After choosing two of the six available characters, which you can switch between anytime between missions, you must fend off the invasion and liberate a number of captured planets before taking the fight to Andross.

Rather than going through a linear set of mission like the original Star Fox, Star Fox 2 incorporates a few light roguelike elements. Andross’ invasion of Corneria takes place in real time, the fleet advancing whenever you move your character. Any enemy ships already deployed or missiles already in the air will keep moving during missions, necessitating that you prioritize their destruction as they get closer to their target. Enemies that reach Corneria will begin to bombard it and if they aren’t swiftly dealt with, Corneria will be destroyed and the game will end. At its best, Star Fox 2 manages to capture the same feeling of thinking on your feet as FTL and XCOM as you improvise and try to stay on top of a situation as it develops.

Assaulting enemy bases, a different assortment of which are established each time you play the game, the gameplay changes significantly. Touching down on a base, your ship transforms into the bipedal walker first seen, somewhat ironically, in Star Fox Zero. The walker handles completely differently from the Arwing, but just as intuitively, using the D-pad to move and shoulder buttons to turn. While on a planet, you can transform back and forth between the walker and Arwing at any time by pressing Select, and though an Arwing has limited use on a planet and especially indoors, it’s nice that we’re given the option. While each base is pretty similar and I probably enjoyed ship combat more overall, base assaults served to nicely mix up the gameplay and keep things fresh.

The graphics are still minimalistic, but the visuals somehow look cleaner, if that makes any sense. What with the Super Nintendo only being able to render a handful of polygons at a time, Nintendo seems to have done a better job of deciding what to put up on screen at any given moment. Perhaps because a lot of the combat takes place in space, Star Fox 2 can have more enemies on screen with more complex ship designs. Not only that, but Star Fox 2’s space combat actually takes place in proper three-dimensional space. Calling upon skills that I personally didn’t have until Star Lancer on the Dreamcast (or if you played the way my brother and I did, Microsoft Flight Simulator), you’ll have to outmaneuver enemy squadrons, shake enemy ships from your tail, dodge asteroids and chase down planet-killing missiles before they can reach Corneria.

I honestly don’t have too many major criticisms of Star Fox 2, except to say that it’s clear that being on the Super Nintendo severely limits what Nintendo tried to do with it. Maneuvering your ship through space with a D-pad feels a little awkward after having gotten used to playing flight sims with a joystick, and though I didn’t run into any severe framerate issues, it’s clear that Star Fox 2 is pushing the limits of the Super Nintendo so hard that the system would be in danger of melting if it tried to render a single additional polygon.

These issues could have been easily remedied by putting the game on the Nintendo 64, but for whatever reason that simply didn’t happen. Let’s be clear about that, Star Fox 64 has nothing to do with Star Fox 2, it’s essentially a remake of the original Star Fox and, I would argue, an inferior product; certainly it’s more limited in scope in any case.

If Star Fox 2 had come out in 1996 as originally intended, it may very well have made it into the pantheon of my favorite games on the system. I also can’t help but wonder if it’s procedurally generated mission structure would have influenced mainstream games to adopt roguelike elements even earlier. What I do know is that as far as I’m concerned, Star Fox 2 is one of the best games on the SNES Classic and retroactively makes the mediocre Star Fox Zero look even worse by comparison.

The SNES Classic is a great system, because it’s a Super Nintendo, and the Super Nintendo was a great system. It’s a shame that Nintendo’s policy of manufactured scarcity is going to prevent a lot of people who might otherwise enjoy it from getting one, but anyone who manages to pick one up should be glad they did.

There are a few essential games missing from the SNES Classic, but what did make the cut provides a good snapshot of the best the Super Nintendo had to offer. Though they’re increasingly hard to find, I would recommend grabbing one if you can. I’m certainly glad I got one, just to have these beloved games close to hand whenever I feel nostalgic.

No, I’m not a hoarder, I’m an archivist.


7.5/10
Recommendation: Buy It
Best Game: Super Mario World
Worst Game: Super Ghosts’n Ghouls
Essential Absent Games: Donkey Kong Country 2 & 3, Chrono Trigger, Syndicate

Star Fox 2
8/10
Time To Complete: 45 Minutes
Challenge: Difficult
Best Advice: Do A Barrel Roll
Also Try: FTL, Star Fox 64 3D

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