This post is part of Mashable's You're Old Week. Break through the haze of nostalgia with us and see what holds up, what disappoints, and what got better with time.
If Nintendo's SNES Classic is retro gaming for the masses, Analogue's Super Nt is the hipster-friendly alternative.
It's a pricier proposition, at $200 up front plus all the attendant costs, monetary and otherwise, of finding and amassing a collection of vintage game cartridges in 2018. It's also not going to be a perceptibly different experience than the Classic for most people.
Both machines plug into your modern TV via HDMI, both spit out a beautiful HD recreation of classic Super Nintendo games, and both have more than enough power to make those games run beautifully. Why go for the more expensive option then?
For the most serious-minded game collectors, the technology here is everything. SNES Classic games run thanks to the magic of software emulation, which means there's essentially a built-in program designed to read and execute each game's data.
The Super Nt, on the other hand, uses hardware emulation. The guts inside that little box are, effectively, a fully functioning, HD-capable SNES. Cartridge slot — with support for SNES and Super Famicom cartridges — and all.
Analogue didn't rebuild Nintendo's console, not exactly. Instead, the Super Nt uses a special kind of chip called a field-programmable gate array (FPGA). Think of it as a blank slate computer chip that can be physically configured to mimic the behavior of any other chip. In this case, it's replicating the functionality of an SNES.
The Super Nt is a perfect clone of an SNES at the hardware level. It's even plug-and-play with legacy peripherals like the Mario Paint mouse, the Super Game Boy, and the Super Multitap. The difference here is Analogue's hardware has been updated with things like custom firmware, an SD card slot, and support for modern video standards.
It doesn't amount to much of a performance difference when you compare it to the Classic, though the Super Nt has an edge in resolution: Games output at 1080p, versus 720p on Nintendo's pint-sized SNES.
The Super Nt also just has more video settings in general; you can make tweaks that reduce flicker in older games and add scanlines for that vintage feel. These aren't merely toggles; individual menus for resolution, screen size, scalers, and scanlines offer a significant amount of control over how your game appears on the screen.
For anyone other than hardcore retro gamers, features like these are a bonus. Replicating authentic scanlines from a 1990s CRT display is neat, but it's arguably more thrilling to slot in your old, boxed up Super Metroid cartridge and have it play flawlessly at 1080p.
The only real drawback to the hardware is entirely optional: Analogue's partnership with accessories-maker 8bitdo allows you to pick up a wireless SNES-style controller and "Retro Receiver" for $40.
The Retro Receiver itself is great. It's basically just a Bluetooth receiver with an SNES port-shaped plug. You can pair it with any Bluetooth-capable controller, including PlayStation DualShocks, Wii Motes, and Wii U/Switch Pro controllers.
The Super Nt is a perfect clone of an SNES at the hardware level.
8bitdo's controller, on the other hand, suffers from inconsistent performance. The directional pad and face buttons have a mushy feel, and the hardware itself isn't very reliable. It may be that I received a bad one, but after a few weeks of (gentle!) use, my 8bitdo controller stopped pairing with the receiver, even on a full charge. Meanwhile, my Wii U Pro controller — untouched for years and left sitting in a box — paired right away and continues to work perfectly.
Fortunately, you're not required to buy these add-ons. The Super Nt's two, front-facing ports support original SNES controllers just fine. And, as I already mentioned, the Retro Receiver is great on its own if you have other Bluetooth controllers you'd like to use.
The real draw of the Super Nt is its cartridge slot. Plug in any SNES or Super Famicom game and it'll work, so long as the cartridge is clean. That's really the thing with the Super Nt: When you buy one, you're not just getting a new tech toy; really, you're buying into an entirely new hobby. The console comes with Super Turrican Director's Cut and Super Turrican 2 pre-loaded — both are fun side-scrolling actions games — but anything else you want to play will have to be tracked down.
There's a whole secondhand market out there that continues to trade in old video game cartridges. If you've hung onto your original collection of carts for all these years, great. That's a strong starting point.
But part of the fun of having a Super Nt — a big part of it for me, personally — is the thrill of the hunt. The secondhand market isn't a space where you wait for sales or Humble Bundle packages. You have to find each individual thing you want to play, looking for the best price and the best physical condition.
You also have to learn about how to properly care for these things. The cartridge contacts that physically link with the console for the transmission of data need to be cleaned and maintained. That's something I quickly discovered after I dove in with the Super Nt: So many of my old games simply wouldn't play.
They weren't broken, they simply needed a cleaning. So I educated myself. I learned how to open a cartridge (you need a special, easily obtained screwdriver), how to clean the contacts without damaging them. Which materials to use (pink pencil erasers are good!). Which materials to not use (metal polish is bad!). Many vintage gaming fans will tell you nowadays that it's a bad idea to blow into your old cartridges to clean them — just like we all used to do — and now I know why!
All the effort that goes into finding, cleaning, and maintaining an individual cartridge made each one more personally valuable to me. It's much more fulfilling than downloading illegal ROMs and relying on inconsistent software emulators on PC to run them. I find myself engaging more enthusiastically with games that I'd merely sampled long ago, or never played at all. The effort, the work I put in, fostered a feeling of investment.
The Super Nt's support for Super Famicom cartridges — the Japan-only version of the SNES — opens into a whole realm of games which never saw a U.S. release. I've found myself delving deep into hardcore online communities to learn more about English language-friendly imports and full game translations printed on fan-reproduced cartridges. There's a whole community out there keeping these old, forgotten games alive, and it's an incredible resource to tap into.
In the space of a few months, I've gone from marginally interested retro gamer to full-blown collector. There's a wonderful feeling of discovery that accompanies digging into these old, forgotten games. For all the appeal of Nintendo's bundled Classic collections, the Super Nt has a serious edge both in the range of games it supports (literally all of them) and the way it gets you to engage with said games..
As great as the hardware is, that's the real magic here: Analogue created a product that makes old things new again. The Super Nt's biggest success is its ability to bring out the gaming hipster in all of us.
You can buy a Super Nt right here.