Nintendo’s announcement of the Super Nintendo Classic Mini retro console today provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the changing nature of technology and the challenges we face in providing access to the videogames of yesteryear. At City, we have discussed how the role of information professionals is increasingly to organise and give access to a wide range of digital media and the Super Nintendo Classic Mini aims to bring the games of the 1990s to a contemporary audience. The long-rumoured device is a miniature reproduction of Nintendo’s second home console with various classic games built-in and is expected to sell out almost immediately worldwide given how well its predecessor the NES Classic Mini did at retail.
As many of you will know, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (often abbreviated as the SNES) originally launched in 1990 and competed with the Sega Mega Drive as one of the first 16-bit machines. It was hugely successful at the time, particularly in Japan, but also in the West. Millions of machines were sold during its lifespan and many of its best-selling titles such as Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart and Star Fox are now regarded as seminal by both fans and critics.
Many people are interested in playing SNES games via emulation on modern devices and Nintendo’s Virtual Console service (available on a number of their recent platforms but not yet the Switch) allows them to do just that. It is worth mentioning here that there are also a number of unofficial emulators available but their legality is somewhat dubious.
It is no surprise that the original physical SNES games are also highly sought after by collectors. Many original titles can be found on auction sites such as EBay and Amazon Marketplace and there are a growing number of smaller mail order businesses that seek to serve the demand for retro games. However, the nature of the media presents technological obstacles. As was common in its era, SNES games were supplied on cartridges which had a nominal capacity of 128 MB (!). The ability to save your progress was enabled via a small battery inside the cartridges. The gaming medium was developing quickly in the early 1990s and games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past were becoming far too long and complex to be completed in one sitting so the save facility was absolutely essential. Unfortunately though these batteries only have a finite lifespan. My attempts to resurrect classic Nintendo games have resulted in failure on a number of occasions as the batteries in the cartridges have died, erasing all my progress and losing the ability to save the game ever again. If anyone knows how to replace these batteries, please let me know… In all seriousness, however, this is a challenge that anyone attempting to archive these games would have to address.
Another noteworthy feature of SNES cartridges was the sometime inclusion of an additional “Super FX” chip which allowed a primarily 2D-oriented machine to render primitive 3D graphics. The science fiction themed Star Fox was the first game to make use of this chip in 1993. Although the game was developed internally by Nintendo, it was reliant on the Super FX chip produced by a company called Argonaut Games. Licencing disputes with Argonaut have prevented Star Fox from appearing on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service to date. Copyright disputes are a wider problem for information professional and are often an impediment to making important documents available. It is, then, exciting news that both the original and the previously unreleased sequel will be included on the Super Nintendo Classic Mini.
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