There are very few items that have survived the multiple moves I’ve made throughout adulthood. My CD collection was discarded when I moved out for the first time, and the number of books in my possession has steadily dwindled with each new home. When my family upgraded to a bigger place because we were expecting our second child, it meant I had to part with a few hundred issues of Wired magazine.
One of the few objects to make it through this never-ending purge is a copy of Uniracers for the Super Nintendo. It’s not because it’s my favorite game, though I do love its single-minded focus on tricks and speed. Instead, it’s because without that 25-year-old cartridge, I have no other way to play the game. Thanks to a lawsuit between Pixar and developer DMA Design, Nintendo was forced to halt production of new cartridges, and it has never been re-released in any form.
This situation is one of the many reasons a device like the Analogue Super Nt exists. There are plenty of ways to play most old games, whether it’s through digital shops like the PlayStation Network, or via the myriad of retro game collections available on disc. Devices like the NES and SNES Classic Edition make the process of playing the classics both cheap and simple. The Super Nt offers something different. It’s a machine designed to play Super Nintendo cartridges so that they behave the way they originally did, without emulation, while also playing nicely with modern televisions. It also reimagines the iconic console as something high-end and modern, a device that doesn’t look out of place alongside a PS4 or Xbox One.
And it succeeds in all of these goals, while also going a step farther — not only is this the best way to play SNES games, it’s also surprisingly affordable.
If the pitch for the Super Nt sounds familiar, that’s because it’s almost identical to Analogue’s previous efforts with the NES. In 2015 the company released a $499 block of solid aluminum that was designed exclusively to play NES and Famicom games. Two years later, it released the Analogue Nt Mini, which did the same thing in a smaller package and for $50 less. The Super Nt performs the same function, but for the SNES, and with one major change. Instead of crafting it from a solid block of aluminum, Analogue made its new console out of plastic. Naturally, it doesn’t feel as high-end as its predecessor, but it’s far from a cheap plastic toy. And more importantly, it’s less than half the price, at $189.99.
When it comes to actually playing games, the Super Nt is simple to use while also offering a dizzying array of features. Setup is simple: you plug it in and connect it to your TV via an HDMI cable. Out of the box, your 16-bit games will look crisp and clear. But once you dive into the system’s menus, you can further customize the experience in many, many ways. You can alter the size of the image, and choose from a half dozen resolution options. You can brighten the picture, tweak the scalers, and utilize a buffer mode so that you can choose a balance between screen tearing and lag. You can add scanlines for an old-school tube TV feel; you can even alter the depth of the scanlines if you really want to. Similar options exist for the audio, and even for the menu itself, with multiple fonts and colors to choose from.
It borders on overkill, but it also speaks to the audience Analogue is aiming for. If you’re the kind of person who has dozens of SNES carts lying around, you probably also have strong feelings about scanlines and lag. One of the best features of the device is that it lets you tweak these features in real-time; you can pause a game, bring up the system menu, and then mess around with the display or sound until you’re happy with it. Everything is instant and the degree to which you can customize the experience is impressive.
Analogue says that the console works with every single cartridge released for the SNES and its Japanese counterpart, the Super Famicom. I wasn’t able to test all 2,200 available games, of course, but over the course of the past week each of the dozen cartridges I popped in worked perfectly, whether it was standard classics like Super Mario World and Super Metroid, or slightly more obscure releases like 1992’s 16-bit take on Lethal Weapon. There are also two games built right into the hardware, which you can boot up from the main system menu: side-scrolling sci-fi shooter Super Turrican, and its unreleased director’s cut. It’s not quite as iconic as Nintendo’s belated release of Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic, but it’s a nice touch.
The Super Nt also features two standard SNES controller ports so you can use your old gamepads and other accessories like the Mario Paint mouse. Curiously, the console doesn’t come with a bundled controller, so you’ll either need to use classic gamepads or splurge on a modern version, like the 8bitdo wireless SNES controller. 8bitdo — which makes some of the best wireless retro controllers around — has a line of $39.99 gamepads that emulate the original SNES controller almost perfectly and also match the Super Nt’s various color schemes. They also work pretty seamlessly: you simply plug an adaptor into the controller port, hit the “pair” button, and it works. (Analogue says that controllers aren’t included “so that people can mix and match colors.”)
But while the Super Nt is functionally similar to its predecessors, there’s no getting around the fact that it doesn’t feel as premium as the original Nt. That’s not to say it’s a low-quality device; the sleek plastic shell looks great, and is a step above every other third-party SNES console out there. You can also get the console in one of four different colors including black, translucent, and two gray variants based on the original SNES and Super Famicom color schemes. They all look great, but there are some drawbacks that come from the shift to plastic. In particular, the buttons on the console feel flimsy, and the cartridge slot isn’t very secure; every game I put in could be wobbled around once inserted. The original Analogue Nt looked and felt like a device that cost $500. For better and for worse, the Super Nt does not.
Ultimately, though, these are relatively minor complaints. If a wobbly cartridge is all I need to give up for nearly $300 in savings, it seems like a fair tradeoff. And even with its plastic casing, the Super Nt is still at the high-end when it comes to aftermarket retro consoles, comfortably sitting next to machines designed for 4K TVs. The console is plug-and-play in that you can play decades-old cartridges with a minimum of fuss, while also powerful enough to let you tweak virtually every aspect of the audio / video experience. It’s both simple and complex, offering the best of both worlds.
And it’s the perfect reason to hang on to Uniracers for at least a few more years.