It’s fair to say that the announcement of the SNES Classic (or Super NES Mini, or Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or whatever Nintendo is choosing to call it this week) caused quite a stir. The incredible appeal of this legendary games console – combined with the almost feverish desire of your average Nintendo fan to own absolutely every piece of hardware the company produces – has resulted in an online stampede in which pre-orders have been snapped up at an alarming rate.
While there’s still a very slim chance of getting your hands on one before the September launch, if you don’t have a pre-order already, you could be looking at having to pay over the odds on eBay – just like you probably did with the NES Classic Mini, which launched last year.
However, there is an alternative. If you’re not fussed about owning an official Nintendo product and simply wish to play classic SNES games like Super Mario World, Super Castlevania IV, F-Zero, Secret of Mana and Super Mario Kart in pin-sharp HD, then other options are available – and have been for quite some time, in fact.
Nintendo’s SNES Classic may look lush but the company is late to the party as far as repackaging vintage consoles for a new generation is concerned; check out the machines below if you don’t believe us. Each and every one offers the chance to play SNES games in HD, and owning them won’t require you to enter into the near-farcical lottery which is the SNES Classic pre-order system.
Hyperkin Retron 5
Price: £139.99 / $180 / AU$235
One of the first clone systems to offer HD SNES gaming, the Retron 5 can output a crisp 720p signal via HDMI and accepts SNES game cartridges from all regions – North America, Europe and Japan. It also offers save state support, cheat codes and screen filters, as well as the ability to use your existing SNES controllers. What really makes the Retron 5 special is the fact that it’s not limited to just the SNES – it also has Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, NES and Famicom cartridge slots, so you can play an entire generation of gaming history on a single machine.
Hyperkin SupaBoy S
Price: £89.99 / $115 / AU$150
The second version of Hyperkin’s portable SNES clone, the SupaBoy S boasts a backlit LCD screen and support for SNES games from North America, Europe and Japan. Two ports on the front and TV-out capability mean you can turn it into a “proper” home console (albeit one that sadly doesn’t output a HD signal), while the internal rechargeable battery will keep you going on the go for most of the day. The only downside is that the screen isn’t a 4:3 aspect ratio and therefore stretches the image slightly; it’s also not as clear and sharp as a display you’d find on an official system, like the 3DS. Still, if you want to play physical SNES carts on the move, this is the best choice.
Hamy NES and SNES HD Classic
Price: £94.99 / $125 / AU$160
If you’re on a tighter budget then this Far Eastern offering might fit the bill; not only does it play SNES games in glorious HD, it also supports NES carts. 720p output is included as standard, but the system also has standard definition AV output as well, should that be important to you. There are four controller ports – two for NES, two for SNES – and you get a pair of pads included, one of which does a good imitation of the iconic SNES pad, while the other is a less convincing impression of a NES controller. Still, you can use the original pads if you’re a stickler for that kind of thing.
Nvidia Shield TV
Price: £189.99 / $199.99 / AU$320
We’ve cheated a bit here – the Nvidia Shield TV isn’t a clone console but an Android TV box which is capable of emulating loads of classic systems, as well as running apps like Netflix, Plex and much more besides. What makes it instantly appealing for retro gamers is that you can pair Bluetooth pads for the authentic gaming experience, or purchase Nvidia’s own controller, which has a lovely D-Pad, twin analogue sticks and a host of other buttons.
There are loads of amazing emulators available on Android, including many which replicate the performance of the SNES. The raw power of the Shield (it’s running the same chipset that’s in the Nintendo Switch) means that emulation is flawless, and you can tinker around with loads of different settings to get the exact experience you want. Obtaining games is the tricky bit, in a legal sense at least; you’ll need to download ROMs from the internet to play on this thing, a process which is still frowned upon by many and is considered (at best) a legal grey area.
Price: £189.99 / $245 / AU$320
Like the Nvidia Shield, the GPD XD is Android-based so you’re going to be relying entirely on emulation to play classic SNES games, but this time in a portable form factor which looks an awful lot like a 3DS XL (just don’t say that too loud or Nintendo’s lawyers might hear).
While the internal hardware isn’t quite as powerful as the Nvidia Shield and emulation can get a bit choppy at times, it’s still more than acceptable and a small price to pay for potentially having every SNES game (and NES, Mega Drive, Game Boy, GBA, etc) in the palm of your hand.
Cyber Gadget Retro Freak
Price: £199.99 / $260 / AU$340
Positioned as a rival to the Hyperkin Retron 5, the Retro Freak is a similar proposition – it has multiple cartridge slots so it can accept games for different systems, such as the Mega Drive, Famicom, Game Boy, PC Engine and – of course – SNES. With optional accessories you can also add NES, Game Gear and Master System support to that. It’s also possible to “dump” game ROMs directly from the cart onto a MicroSD card, which is contained within the pocket-sized “brain” of the console which can be removed and taken to a friend’s house if you fancy sharing some retro love. The lack of controller ports is a drawback (although another accessory solves this) and the cost is high, but this is perhaps the ultimate way of playing retro games in HD right now.
By Damien McFerran
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