The Analogue Super NT Is the Best Way to Play Super Nintendo Games

Analogue’s high-end variation on the Super NES comes with a cheaper price tag than its NES predecessor and a design meant for 4K TVs.

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Feb 7 2018, 4:00pm

Image: Analogue

Nintendo’s Super NES Classic—the miniaturized, nostalgia-fueled re-release of the 16-bit console that generated lots of excitement last fall—is many things, but one thing it is not is clear.

It also, like its predecessor the NES Classic, has cables that are too short. The classic console’s hardware is emulated on a commodity chip, so slowdown (beyond what you remember in the 90s) is sometimes possible. And it doesn’t have a cartridge slot, so good luck playing the old games you own. Worst of all, its game library includes less than 3 percent of the overall 721-game-strong US Super Nintendo Entertainment System library. That means that, if this system were considered a document of the system’s legacy, a lot of great games were “written out” of the system’s history. That’s too bad, because the quality quotient of SNES titles was arguably better than the graphics.

If you saw the Super NES Classic for its limitations rather than its strengths, the Analogue Super NT might be for you. A high-end recreation of the SNES by a company known for selling a $449 premium revamp of the NES, the $189.99 device brings a console defined by CRTs to glorious 1080p resolution—just one of many ways that the system leapfrogs the Super NES Classic, which only does 720p. Sure, you could technically hook up a Super NES to your 4K TV, but it’s not designed for that purpose, and getting the old console up to snuff for on modern televisions requires a lot of extra AV equipment.

Image: Analogue

A lot of clones promise this capability, but what sets Analogue apart is both its pixel-perfect approach—it is designed to work exactly like a Super NES from a hardware perspective—and the fact that it’s the first clone system that looks like it deserves a spot on the same shelf as a Roku or a smart speaker.

And yes, the Super NT, which is slightly larger than a Super NES Classic but with much more heft, comes in, among other looks, a clear facade. It’s a frosty, textured clear, rather than smooth and transparent, but a look that evokes the same kind of ‘90s nostalgia the games you’ll play on this device will.

If you have some old carts lying around from the 90s, this system is a great way to give those old titles a second life, because the system is built on a highly accurate custom-made field-programmable gate array (FPGA)—essentially a chip that is reprogrammed to work exactly like a Super NES from back in the day, an approach Analogue is known for. Titles like Donkey Kong Country and the included director’s cut of Super Turrican move just as fast as you remember—and thanks to the HDMI connection, they look sharp and pristine, too. (The decision to include the two Super Turrican games directly on the device is inspired—as these are just the kind of high-speed, graphics-heavy games that show off what this console can do, and it underlines, again, that many deserving games were left off the Super NES Classic.)

Image: Analogue

Additionally, carts known for pushing the SNES to its limits, like Star Fox, work with zero issues. Even somewhat esoteric peripherals I tested with the console, like the Mario Paint mouse, worked perfectly.

And just because the thing is retro doesn’t mean there aren’t any modern creature comforts in the mix. The included controller, a wireless 8Bitdo Gamepad designed to perfectly match the look of the console while evoking the style of the original controllers, is a joy to use, with little in the way of input lag and a connection that hits the mark right away. It also feels like the controllers of yore, despite the slightly different look. Outside of what’s on the screen, it’s perhaps the biggest advantage the device has over its competition.

Save states, a staple of console emulators for more than 20 years that allow players to save progress at any point, are not a thing on the Super NT unless the cart has a battery pack or you’re using an add-on device. That means you might find yourself, depending on the game, writing down a password if you need to step away. (In an email, Analogue told me this is a side effect of the FPGA design that the console uses.) Purists may not have an issue with the lack of save states, but more low-key gamers might.

And let’s keep in mind the fact that this system arrives as the Super NES has emerged as one of the most expensive retro video game platforms to collect for. While iconic titles like NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, and F-Zero can be found cheaply on eBay, a number of games included with the SNES Classic, particularly RPGs like Earthbound or Secret of Mana, will set you back around $50-$150. If you don’t already have them in your collection, it could be costly to relive your glory days with the Super NT—even after throwing down the $190. (On the plus side, the on-device inclusion of Super Turrican 2, one of the most expensive SNES titles according to PriceCharting, eases the pain a little.)

Image: Analogue

Depending on your ethical point of view, you could add ROMs to this device using an SD-enabled cart adapter like an Everdrive, but those can cost more than $100 themselves. This state of affairs is certainly not Analogue’s fault, but it does limit the potential upside for those who didn’t have the foresight to save their old carts during their last garage sale.

And those old carts can get creaky. An example of this is the Game Genie I used for testing. The SNES version of the classic device was notoriously finicky, befitting its unlicensed status and Nintendo’s well-known dislike of the Game Genie, and it didn’t work on every variation of the console. And I had some trouble getting mine to work with the Super NT. While it would accept codes and pass through to the cartridge, the codes had no effect. Analogue says that this is likely a problem with the cart, which I agree with based on my testing. (The company plans on adding Game Genie-like functionality to a later version of the device’s firmware.) This situation, nonetheless, highlights the fact that these generation-old carts definitely need some TLC if they’re going to stick around.

It’s certainly possible that a jailbreak will emerge to get around some of these issues—Analogue’s in-house hardware developer, Kevin “Kevtris” Horton, greatly expanded the functionality of the Analogue NT Mini, including adding support for ROM files, via an unofficial jailbreak, and the Super NT does include an SD card slot—but it won’t be like that out of the box.

Still, though, there’s plenty to like about what the Super NT represents. The interface, designed by indie developer Phil Fish of Fez fame, isn’t as slick as Nintendo’s retro remakes nor as hackable as a RetroPie. (The boot screen, soundtracked by Squarepusher, is objectively awesome, however.) But on the other hand, that isn’t necessarily bad: It is quite flexible, allowing you to futz with graphic and audio settings to your heart’s content, in a way that’s less frustrating than editing config files on a Raspberry Pi. And what the simple interface loses in graphical bells and whistles due to being built, effectively, into a Super NES, it gains in the ease that it gets out of the way. Unlike on the Super NES Classic’s stock controllers, a simple button combo loads the menu, allowing you to change resolution, add scanlines, and even crop the screen in the middle of the game. You don’t have to hit the reset button on the device itself unless you want to.

Some folks (especially those that own a Super Scope 6) will prefer a device built around CRTs, which Analogue doesn’t support out of the box but eventually will with an add-on device. Others will prefer using the original console, even as its parts grow old and creaky like the carts. And if your goal is simply to occasionally play old titles every once in a while, perhaps you’re better off grabbing a cheap USB controller, an emulator, and your laptop.

But if you’re excited about retro gaming and reliving the past, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to do so than with the Super NT. It doesn’t do things halfway, for better and for worse, and you won’t see the past in a better light than you will on this console.

Update: Since this was published, Analogue released a firmware update to the Super NT that fixed the issues I was having with my Game Genie. However, the fix is a setting called "Launch System Timing," located in the system's hardware settings menu, that must be turned on manually, and is designed to mimic the way that early Super NES consoles worked. (The functionality was changed in later Super NES consoles, which prevented them from supporting the Game Genie.) Without this setting turned on, the Game Genie will not work as expected.