Nintendo broke a lot of hearts when it announced it was discontinuing production on the NES Classic last week. The Classic — a pitch-perfect, miniaturized version of the original 8-bit NES system that came with 30 expertly curated games — was one of my favorite gadgets released last year. Too bad so few people got to actually play one — the $59.99 system was almost continuously sold out, and for most consumers, the only way to get one was to overpay wildly on sites like eBay. The demand was there, so why did Nintendo decide to stop making them?
Per Eurogamer, a usually rock-solid source of rumors about video games, it’s because Nintendo is preparing to launch a new miniaturized emulator, this one based on the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Presumably, it would function in the same way — it would be a smaller version of the SNES, with a power cord and an HDMI cable that allows you to plug and play from a selection of preloaded games.
The reason this is so exciting is, the Super Nintendo library represents the last and best era of gaming, before 3-D, polygon-based graphics took over. The best of the original NES games sometimes invented whole genres, but the best of SNES games perfected them. Games like Super Metroid, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Mario World still stand up not just as nostalgic curiosities, but as complex and consistently inventive games. F-Zero, Pilotwings, and Star Fox all set the stage for what the future of gaming would look like. Sports series like Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball and Madden ’94 represented giant leaps in how well the basic mechanics of a sport could be translated to a video game. Square’s RPGs, including the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, and The Secret of Mana, set the standard for RPGs for years to come. The Super Nintendo’s full library of games is an embarrassment of riches — one that’ll surely be tough to whittle down to whatever number Nintendo decides to ship with the system.
The Super Nintendo, in many ways, also represents the high-water mark for Nintendo. Its later systems, while continuing to put out quality games, were slowly overshadowed, first by Sony’s PlayStation and then by Microsoft’s Xbox. The N64’s reliance on cartridges instead of CD-roms hamstrung it, meaning genre redefining games like Final Fantasy VII ended up going to Sony. The GameCube never truly hit its stride, thanks again to being technologically weaker than its competitors. The Wii turned into a massive hit, but it was a hit because it expanded into a new audience of people who could play games simply by swinging their arms around. Its library of games in no way matched what was put out for the SNES — for many people, it was a machine that let you play Wii Sports, and not much else. And the Wii U was simply a disaster for Nintendo. The Switch is selling incredibly well — enough so that Nintendo said it will double the number of systems it plans to put out this year — and Nintendo seems to have refound its footing. But for many (including me), the Super Nintendo will always be the best system Nintendo ever put out.
There is still a chance that this could all be rumor, of course. The SNES Classic — or Mini SNES, or whatever Nintendo ends up calling it — might never see the light of day. Or, even worse, it could replicate what it did with the NES Classic, and release just enough systems to get fans excited, without nearly enough to meet demand (and thus making a ton of eBay resellers some cash in the process). But if Nintendo nails it — and the company certainly seems to be on a hot streak right now — this will be the holiday gift to get come December.