When we compare the NES Classic, all the various grey-market emulators, and the upcoming SNES Classic, it’s easy to lump them all together into one pile. An emulator is an emulator, right? Well, the SNES Classic has a lot more to tackle than the NES Classic did, as Eurogamer‘s Digital Foundry team tackles in a new video previewing the console.
Not all cartridges were created equal
When you look at the outside of a Super NES cartridge, it seems obvious that what’s going on inside them is pretty much always the same. Different code, but the same hardware.
With the Super NES, though, that was far from the case. Nintendo built the system in such a way that software publishers could easily integrate other hardware onto the circuit board inside the cartridge. On disc-based systems, a disc is a disc, but cartridges weren’t beholden to that.
The most obvious example of this is Star Fox, which featured the much-touted SuperFX chip, which let the system render 3D graphics. But there were tons more, with games like Kirby Super Star and Super Mario RPG requiring additional chips inside to run. All three of those listed games use additional hardware.
So when we look at the SNES Classic, it’s not just having to emulate the Super NES console, but all of those specialized chips as well.
As Digital Foundry points out, this puts the console in an interesting spot. It’s doing a lot more work than its predecessor, but decades have come between now and then. At the time, Star Fox ran at an abysmal frame rate that would have gamers these days grabbing their pitchforks. It’s possible to overclock the emulated SuperFX chip and get the game running at a much steadier frame rate. Should Nintendo be trying to get the best performance out of the system, or get a 100% console-authentic experience? It’s an interesting question.
The SNES Classic’s lineup of 21 games seems a bit anemic compared to the 30 on the NES Classic. Complexities like this could make piling all these games into one piece of hardware a good bit more difficult and more costly, and that has me thinking there may be fewer games for a reason.
I still wish they’d dump a few more games onto the system before it launches in September, but it’s interesting to see how a hardware decision decades ago could still be affecting manufacturing decisions in the modern day.
The SNES Classic hits September 29, 2017.