Nintendo's second 'Classic' console is better, but not perfect

Ironing out the wrinkles of Nintendo's original throwback console.

When Nintendo announced that the already impossible to find NES Classic Edition was going out of production, there were two reactions: outrage that the company could introduce such a popular product and fail to meet demand, and curiosity -- why would Nintendo kill off the most popular throwback console ever made?

The official line is that it was never intended to be a long-term product, but in the months that followed, you had to wonder if the original retro console was merely discontinued to make way for a sequel: The Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition.

Now, that console is almost ready to hit the market, and Nintendo promises that it will make up for the original's shortcomings. The company expects to ship "significantly more" of the new console than the original. And we hope it does -- because if the short preview we had with the console last week is any indication, it's going to sell just as fast as its predecessor.

If you've played Nintendo's original throwback console, you know what to expect out of the SNES Classic Edition. It's a tiny replica of the original Super Nintendo, and it catches all the right nostalgic hooks. The dimensions are perfect, the colors are spot on, and the power and reset buttons not only work, but feel nearly identical to the respective click and springy tactility of the originals. On its own, it's a charming desk toy -- but actually flick the power button on, and magic happens: 21 of the best 16-bit Nintendo games are piped directly to your TV over HDMI.

The experience is more or less the same as it is with the SNES Classic's 8-bit predecessor -- offering players a horizontal carousel of each game. In fact, it's almost identical, offering the same interface underneath a Super Nintendo theme. There are some extras in this version, however. Tapping up still lets players choose between CRT Filter, 4:3 and Pixel Perfect visual modes -- but now you can choose various frames to dress up the unused screen space that surrounds your gameplay. You can flank your session of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with a wood veneer or a pastel color palette, or stage a game of Super Mario World between a set of theater curtains.

The Classic menu's save state system has been upgraded, too. Now, in addition to having four instant save slots for each game, players can rewind up to 40 seconds of gameplay from the moment they made their latest save. Lose a boss battle in Mega Man X, but you're all out of lives? Use a save state, activate the rewind feature, and try again. This mode also doubles as a screen saver -- activate the "My GamePlay Demo" mode, and the SNES Classic will play rewind data if you linger on the menu screen for too long.

The rewind feature is handy and seems like a nice evolution on the original Classic's save state system, but accessing it is still a little cumbersome. If you've started a game on the SNES Classic, the only way to get back to the menu is by pressing the physical reset button on the tiny console itself. There's no button combination or menu button on the console's controllers. That's kind of a double-edged sword. Not being able to call up the menu from the controller makes for a worse user experience, but the lack of a dedicated menu button makes the gamepad identical to the SNES original. It may not be the best user experience, but it is a very pure one.

Just like the original Nintendo Classic Edition, there doesn't seem to be a way to load new games on the miniature SNES, but for most gamers, there is at least one experience they haven't played before: Star Fox 2. This direct sequel to the original Star Fox was nearly completed before it was cancelled, and has never seen an official release -- making Nintendo's new throwback console the exclusive platform for an extremely rare piece of gaming history.

We only got to spend a few minutes with the unreleased game, but for Nintendo history buffs, it's a real treat. Not only does Star Fox 2 feel like an authentic, complete game, but fans of the series can see its influence on titles that followed -- from the alternative tanks and vehicles in Star Fox 64 to the strategic map of Star Fox Command. It's a little surreal to play a fully realized, yet unreleased, classic Nintendo game, too.

In all, we were only able to spend about half an hour with the SNES Classic Edition, but Nintendo's next nostalgia toy is off to a good start. It has everything that made the original great -- a fantastic library of games, an adorable form factor, excellent controllers and good emulation. Still, it's not perfect. With no way to access the home menu from the controller, it still might be inconvenient in your living room.

The jury's also still out on if Nintendo's second throwback console will avoid the supply issues of the original -- but assuming it does and you can find one, the SNES Classic has the chops to scratch your 16-bit nostalgic itch.