After the NES Mini released to much fanfare last year (or much despair, depending on whether you'd managed to secure one or not), I drafted a story on the list of games I'd like to see in a hypothetical Super Nintendo version. I was aiming to list 30, and it was incredibly difficult to narrow the selection down that far.
Like millions my age (and many otherwise), the Super Nintendo is a very important system to me. My memories of sitting on the carpet in Kmart — staring at the machine's colourful box every week while my poor parents tried to shop for more immediately important things — are almost as strong as my memories of actually receiving it at the end of the year for my eighth birthday.
Of course the best memories are of the games, many of which I received completely randomly and had to convince myself were great, some of which I rented so often from Video Ezy I may as well have bought them, most of which I got from Cashies with the labels half ripped off and other people's names scrawled on them in marker, and several of which I can still look at with an adult, critical eye and say are among the greatest of all time.
I wish I'd gotten around to publishing that list, because when the SNES Mini was revealed to be a real thing last week, I was impressed to see Nintendo was including 20 very good games, 18 of which were among those I'd selected as the best of the best. Even more than the NES Mini before it, the SNES looks like an amazing product that does nostalgia absolutely right.
It's disappointing, then, that Nintendo is giving every indication of repeating the under-supply drama that dogged the rollout of last year's machine. Claiming in a statement that the system is only meant as "special recognition of the fans who show tremendous interest our classic content", the company says it will be producing more units than last time but has no plans to continue production beyond 2017.
Such a short run would indicate to me Nintendo has failed to learn the obvious lesson from the NES Mini fiasco: the market for nostalgic/historical games products is way bigger than the enthusiast collectors market.
The launch of this system is so far shaping up to closely resemble the story from last time. People who understand the need to pre-order immediately to get one — i.e. dedicated collectors, the most hardcore fans and scalpers — will scoop up almost every last unit, with the remainder (if any) being hunted down at retail by the same within a day. Pre-orders at the big games retailers in Australia have already been and gone, and there's a secondary market for marked-up pre-orders on eBay.
I'm one of the fans Nintendo is referring to in its statement. So much so that I already have multiple Super Nintendo consoles in my home. I own many of the games on the SNES Mini list and have invested considerable time and money making sure my consoles and games stay clean and operational despite their age (and invested more still on frustrating and complicated mechanisms for making them play nicely with post-90s TVs and technology). For me this new product mostly represents a more convenient way to play games I already have access to (and of course I lodged a pre-order as soon as I was able).
But most people I know who have a fondness for the Super Nintendo — and who had a childhood gaming experience that closely resembles mine — have not grown up into dedicated gamers, or people Nintendo would refer to as "fans". Many of them don't own a recent Nintendo console where they could revisit these classic games, and they're certainly not ordering cartridges from Osaka and rigging up RGB transcoders.
If the emails I got after the botched Mini NES release are any indication, there are a lot of people that would love a convenient, official and comparatively inexpensive way to discover or rediscover these old games, even if they're not tapped in to the gaming zeitgeist at all. But Nintendo, once again, seems unwilling to sell it to them.
Far be it from me to tell Nintendo how to make money. The Japanese giant has been on a winning streak lately with its Switch console and mobile efforts, and if it's decided to do a limited run here and focus its efforts elsewhere there must be a good reason. But if the aim is to widen the potential audience for its products and leverage some goodwill based on nostalgia and its stable of legitimate classics, I can't help feeling this path — promoting a product that will interest a large group of people and then only selling it to a privileged few — will do more harm than good.
Hopefully I'm wrong and everybody who wants to give Nintendo $120 for a little slice of their childhood in a grey plastic box will be able to do so come September 30. If not, better luck next year with the Mini Nintendo 64 (I have such a good list for that one!).
And for those wondering, the 12 additional games I would have included on the Mini SNES as per the list I made last year are:
- Blackthorne (Blackhawk in AU)
- Breath of Fire
- Chrono Trigger
- Donkey Kong Country 2
- Final Fantasy IV
- Final Fight 2
- Harvest Moon
- Kirby's Dream Land 3
- Panel de Pon (Tetris Attack in AU)
- Super Star Wars
- Zombies ate my Neighbours