Tag Archives: SNES

One Developer Is Fixing SNES Game Lag After 30 Years

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The Super Nintendo is an iconic part of early 90s gaming with classic titles like Super Mario World, Star Fox, and Chrono Trigger. However, the machine itself was woefully underpowered compared with the competition. Nintendo used a series of enhancement chips to compensate, but not all games had them. Now, one dedicated developer is releasing patches to emulate one of those chips in games that never had them, eliminating the annoying slowdowns that have plagued gamers for almost 30 years. 

The SNES was a huge leap for Nintendo, which had become a household name with the NES launch. It stepped up to a Ricoh 5A22 CPU with a whopping 3.58 MHz of processing power from the 1.79 MHz Ricoh 2A03 used in the NES. However, by that point, Sega had launched the Genesis with a more impressive Motorola 68000 chip clocked at 7.6 MHz. That was a big performance gap in those days, so Nintendo used chips like the Super FX and SA1 in game cartridges to back up the internal CPU. 

Nintendo used the SA1 in 34 SNES games like  Super Mario RPG and Kirby’s Dreamland, without which the games would have rendered at a snail’s pace on the console. The SA1 had a 10.74 Mhz CPU, 2KB of faster RAM, and multiple programmable timers. Many SNES games didn’t have any co-processors, though, and they could have used one. Games like Contra III and Super R-Type ran well enough most of the time, but levels with too many sprites and effects would slow down noticeably. That’s still true in emulation to this day. 

Brazilan developer Vitor Vilela has started addressing this shortcoming by patching in support for the SA1, a project known as FastROM. So far, he has released FastROM patches for Gradius III, Contra III, Super Mario World, and most recently, Super Castlevania IV. This makes the games running in emulation behave as if they had that extra processing capacity originally. Arguably, the patched games play better than they ever have in the last three decades. 

According to Vilela, adding FastROM to a game can make it up to 33.58 percent faster. The real-world gains depend on how often the game accesses the ROM chip, but we’re talking about at least 10 percent better performance. That could make all the difference in games like R-Type that will occasionally fill the screen with more sprites that the SNES could handle. However, the SA1 was a more general chip than something like the Super FX developed for Star Fox. Vilela says patching a sluggish 3D game like Race Drivin’ would require a complete code overhaul. Still, there are plenty of games that could benefit from FastROM. Currently, Vilela hopes to create patches for Axelay and U.N. Squadron.

You can download the patches from Vilela’s Git Hub, but you’ll have to get the game ROMs elsewhere. As we know from recent events, Nintendo is still very opposed to people hosting ROMs of its classic games.

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Someone Hacked Ray Tracing Into the SNES

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Many of today’s hottest games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Control make heavy use of ray tracing technology. Ray tracing can produce much more realistic lighting, but it requires powerful graphics processing — just ask Cyberpunk players how much ray tracing can slow down a game. So surely, a game console from the 90s couldn’t support ray tracing, right? Wrong. Game developer and engineer Ben Carter hacked ray tracing into the Super NES with a little help from an FPGA dev board. 

Today, ray tracing is used to render scenes by simulating the path of light as pixels in a 3D space. It can produce realistic optical effects like reflection, diffusion, refraction, and chromatic aberration simply by calculating the path of light. However, ray tracing is computationally expensive, which is why only the most powerful video cards offer the feature. 

The Super NES (known as the Super Famicom in Japan) doesn’t have enough power to do even rudimentary ray tracing, but it is surprisingly expandable. In the 90s, Nintendo developed a co-processor called Super FX that it built into select game cartridges to boost the power of the console. That’s how Nintendo rendered all those polygons in Star Fox, something that was not possible when the SNES launched. Carter was able to use a modern DE10-Nano FPGA development board to build a new co-processor for the console. 

The goal here wasn’t to cram modern technology into a 25-year-old piece of gaming hardware — if that’s all you want, a Raspberry Pi will do the trick. Instead, Carter wanted to create something you could plausibly have seen in 1993. The FPGA board takes information about the scene and uses its three ray tracing cores to simulate light paths. However, the SNES does all the final rendering, just as it did with the Super FX chip in the 90s. While his ray tracing package features a tangle of wires and cables, Nintendo might have been able to build something like this with the same 90s-era integrated circuit technology that powered the Super FX.

The image is 200 x 160 resolution with just 256 colors — it’s not pretty by today’s standards, but there’s something delightfully retro-futuristic about the demo. It’s a collision of low-poly scenes with lighting and shadows unlike anything we saw back in the day. The SNES console was never designed to do this, and it still doesn’t do it in any official sense. But someone could have done this 25 years ago, and it would have been amazing. If you’re interested in the technical details, Carter has a full rundown on his website.

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Someone Hacked Ray Tracing Into the SNES

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Many of today’s hottest games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Control make heavy use of ray tracing technology. Ray tracing can produce much more realistic lighting, but it requires powerful graphics processing — just ask Cyberpunk players how much ray tracing can slow down a game. So surely, a game console from the 90s couldn’t support ray tracing, right? Wrong. Game developer and engineer Ben Carter hacked ray tracing into the Super NES with a little help from an FPGA dev board. 

Today, ray tracing is used to render scenes by simulating the path of light as pixels in a 3D space. It can produce realistic optical effects like reflection, diffusion, refraction, and chromatic aberration simply by calculating the path of light. However, ray tracing is computationally expensive, which is why only the most powerful video cards offer the feature. 

The Super NES (known as the Super Famicom in Japan) doesn’t have enough power to do even rudimentary ray tracing, but it is surprisingly expandable. In the 90s, Nintendo developed a co-processor called Super FX that it built into select game cartridges to boost the power of the console. That’s how Nintendo rendered all those polygons in Star Fox, something that was not possible when the SNES launched. Carter was able to use a modern DE10-Nano FPGA development board to build a new co-processor for the console. 

The goal here wasn’t to cram modern technology into a 25-year-old piece of gaming hardware — if that’s all you want, a Raspberry Pi will do the trick. Instead, Carter wanted to create something you could plausibly have seen in 1993. The FPGA board takes information about the scene and uses its three ray tracing cores to simulate light paths. However, the SNES does all the final rendering, just as it did with the Super FX chip in the 90s. While his ray tracing package features a tangle of wires and cables, Nintendo might have been able to build something like this with the same 90s-era integrated circuit technology that powered the Super FX.

The image is 200 x 160 resolution with just 256 colors — it’s not pretty by today’s standards, but there’s something delightfully retro-futuristic about the demo. It’s a collision of low-poly scenes with lighting and shadows unlike anything we saw back in the day. The SNES console was never designed to do this, and it still doesn’t do it in any official sense. But someone could have done this 25 years ago, and it would have been amazing. If you’re interested in the technical details, Carter has a full rundown on his website.

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Nintendo Warns Its SNES, NES Classic Consoles Will Shortly Fade Away

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If you’ve been eyeing either an NES or SNES Classic console from Nintendo, be aware that they aren’t going to be on store shelves forever — or even much past 2018. If you have an interest in one or both of the platforms, you should plan to pick one up in the near future.

In a wide-ranging discussion with the Hollywood Reporter, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime states:

There’s no ability for add-on content with our classic consoles, so when you purchase the console it’s coming with that set roster of content. We worked very hard, both for the NES Classic and the SNES Classic, to really have the best games that defined that generation. We’ve said that the current systems are the extent of our classic program. We’ve also been clear that, at least from an Americas perspective, these products are going to be available through the holiday season and once they sell out, they’re gone. And that’s it. The way that consumers will be able to continue participating with our classic content is going to be through Nintendo Switch Online, and we just released three new games (Ninja Gaiden, Wario’s Woods and Adventures of Lolo) from the NES generation onto that platform. We look at that as the main way that consumers will be able to experience that legacy content.

The verdict? No more consoles after this holiday season, and no plans for an N64 Mini, either. And really, this isn’t too surprising. The NESSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and SNESSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce consoles have all relied on emulation rather than any attempt to duplicate native hardware, and the state of N64 emulation is, according to all reports, a bit rough in comparison with what you might expect.

N64-Feature

A perusal of GameTechWiki and various forum threads on the topic suggests that in many cases, tweaks and careful tuning are sometimes required for specific titles. It’s not a question of whether there are any good emulators, but whether there are any good emulators that would offer a “just works” style solution for the console when running on the same type of hardware that typified Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic. That platform is a quad-core Cortex-A7 with an ARM Mali 400MP2 for a GPU. Given how anemic this is, it’s not hard to believe that an N64 might need more firepower to emulate properly. With just 512MB of storage onboard the SNES and NES Classic, it’s also possible that Nintendo balked at building the more expansive storage requirements it would need to offer.

Either way, once stocks are exhausted, the Switch will be Nintendo’s one-stop shop for retro gaming.

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The Nintendo Switch, SNES Classic Just Beat the Snot Out of Sony, Microsoft

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If a report from the NPD Group is accurate, Nintendo is eating Sony and Microsoft’s lunch in the United States. The Switch was the #1 selling console in October, while the Nintendo SNES Classic is #2. Add in 3DS sales, and the Nintendo Empire supposedly accounted for a stunning 66 percent of video game hardware sold in the US in October. Nintendo cheekily notes that the US console hardware market broke one million units in October for the first time since 2011.

Super Mario Odyssey managed to take the #1 spot on NPD’s sale chart despite launching on October 27, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Breath of the Wild took spots #10 and #11 respectively — not bad for games that have been out so long.

The big challenge for Nintendo will be maintaining this momentum in November and December. The PlayStation 4 doesn’t have a lot going for it this holiday season as far as major new launches — Sony launched both VR and the PS4 Pro last year and while the company is certain to do some promotional activity, it’s not the same as Nintendo with its wildly popular new console or Microsoft, with its Xbox One X.

Xbox One X

What’s going to be particularly interesting to watch is how the two consoles shake out in November (adjusted for the fact that Microsoft only launched the Xbox One on the 7th). Initial sales figure for the Xbox One X look good, at least in some markets. Microsoft reports 80,000 sales in the UK, for example, matching the Switch’s debut.

In some ways, the Xbox One X versus the Nintendo Switch is a match-up worthy of the three-way split we saw back when the Xbox 360, Wii, and PlayStation 3 were new. While the overall quality of the Wii’s motion controls was debatable and a hell of a lot of shovelware got shipped for that platform, Sony and MS were both trying to sell gamers on a more-expensive future that required 720p and/or 1080p televisions and took advantage of high-end audio sound systems. Nintendo, in contrast, had the Wii: A diminutive console at a lower price, with unusual, easy-to-grasp motion controls, and that promised compatibility with the TV you owned already. Measured in terms of total hardware shipped, the Wii beat both its rivals, even if the games you could play on it never looked as good.

Now Nintendo and Microsoft will go head-to-head once more, pitting two completely different visions of gaming against each other. Microsoft is making a power play, emphasizing 4K visuals and cutting-edge technology in a $ 500 console. The Nintendo Switch can’t match an original Xbox One’s performance, but Nintendo doesn’t want to talk about that — it wants to talk about gaming-on-the-go, a mobile experience that transfers to the living room, and its own highly regarded first-party games. While you need to spend more than $ 300 to make the Switch work well, its base price is still $ 200 below MS, which does open up a pricing gap.

Last time around, Nintendo won the war. It’s certainly been raking the profits in this year. Will the Xbox One X finally shake off the Xbox One’s subpar performance and establish itself as more roadblock than door stop? We’ll know next year.

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You Can Now Mod the SNES Classic to Add Games and Visual Effects

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Last year, Nintendo’s NES Classic proved to be a decent little modding system, provided you could find one at retail. While the Allwinner R16 SoC isn’t particularly powerful by modern standards, a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU is far more horsepower than you need to run NES games. The Super NES Classic that Nintendo released last month uses exactly the same SoC, with the same controller outputs and the same ports. You can even plug an NES Classic controller into an SNES Classic, though obviously that won’t do you much good if your game uses more than two buttons to play.

SNES on the left, NES on the right. Image by Eurogamer

The Russian hacker ClusterM has updated his hakchi2 mod to include support for the SNES Classic, including automatic ROM conversion for files that aren’t already in the SNES Classic’s default format (the author recommends users with incompatible games check out the RetroArch mod for those titles). The benefits of Hakchi2 are that you can now play NES and SNES games on the same console, though Ars Technica notes it’s proving more difficult to bring certain games online for the SNES than the NES. While there were apparently some enhancement chips in specific NES games, the SNES relied on them far more often, and some games may simply be glitchy under Nintendo’s emulation method.

Metroid in a 4:3 aspect ratio with borders on the sides.

Hacked consoles also have the option to load new backgrounds to display while playing 4:3 games on a 16:9 television, since Nintendo only included a few of these (one pictured above). There’s also the option to tweak Nintendo’s antialiasing filter methods, or to add CRT scanlines without also using pixel blur. Blurred presentation and shimmering in some games is a known complaint on certain SNES titles, though all the reviews we’ve seen have been quite positive overall.

Nintendo has promised to keep the SNES Classic in stock much more effectively this year than it did with the NES Classic last year, and to bring the latter back to store shelves in 2018. It’s too early to know if the company will keep that promise, but hopefully they will. This has been a banner year for Nintendo, with the Nintendo Switch selling more than the PS4 and Xbox One multiple times since it went on sale. Some of that is to be expected, given Sony and Microsoft are both refreshing original designs as opposed to launching completely new platforms. But it’s a stark change from the Wii U era, when even the platform’s best games–and it had some good ones–couldn’t move the dial on unit shipments.

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SNES Classic Review Roundup: A Great Value, Provided You Can Find One

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Nintendo’s Super NES Classic Edition has been contentious since the product was announced. While the concept of a small retro game console with excellent emulation was enthusiastically received by gamers, last year’s execution was decidedly lacking. Nintendo’s decision to kill production of the NES Classic left thousands of gamers with no opportunity to buy the device. The Super NES Classic Edition has launched, with multiple reviews online–we’ve rounded up several of them to compare. For simplicity’s sake, all references to the NES and SNES can be assumed to refer to the devices Nintendo launched in 2016 and 2017 unless specifically stated otherwise.

467954-SNES-system

Like the NES, the SNES is a smaller version of the original console, with near-identical styling. Hopefully these chassis avoid one of the problems with the original Super Nintendo, which had a tendency to yellow over time as the plastic molding aged. PC Mag notes that the platform includes two controllers rather than the single controller the NES sported, though the cables are still rather short (this was one of the only complaints about the NES Classic). While the platform has fewer games than the NES, the 21 included titles are generally of higher quality. The included games are:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • Earthbound (Western markets)
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • F-Zero
  • Kirby’s Dream Course (Western markets)
  • Kirby Super Star
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2 (never previously released)
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (Western markets)
  • Super Castlevania IV (Western markets)
  • Super Punch Out!! (Western markets)
  • Super Ghouls’n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
  • Super Metroid

One game on this list deserves special mention. Star Fox 2 is a “new” NES game that’s never been released before. The game was cancelled just before release, because Nintendo didn’t want to launch it so close to the N64 and was afraid that the game wouldn’t stand up to what customers expected from 3D titles. All of the reviews we’ve seen have been pleased with the game — while it’s primitive compared to later iterations of the series, it’s also an example of how the game evolved over time and an interesting bit of Nintendo history.

Like the NES, the SNES allows you to save the game state to switch titles or do something else. Available filters seem to be identical to what the NES offered, with Standard, CRT (with scanlines), and Pixel Perfect modes. Players can also add borders to fill the blank space when playing games meant for 4:3 on a 16:9 monitor. Kotaku declares the console “lets you play games the way they were meant to be played.”

Metroid in a 4:3 aspect ratio with borders on the sides.

Polygon points out one major new feature that could be extremely useful in certain titles. You can rewind your game session by roughly a minute, as often as you like. This requires keeping the console close to you, and that’s a bit problematic since the controller cables are still short (four feet long as opposed to three for the NES). Even the included HDMI cable is a short one, at just five feet. Still, it’s a nice way to restore a game after a missed jump or mistake.

Near-Identical Internals

Eurogamer cracked open the SNES to see what makes it tick, and discovered that the hardware inside is almost identical to what Nintendo shipped with the NES last year. Both systems use an Allwinner R16 SoC with four ARM Cortex-A7 processors, an ARM Mali 400 MP2 GPU, 256MB of GDDR3, and 512MB of onboard storage. Nintendo will have no problem putting the NES back in production, given that it’s almost exactly the same hardware platform, but it also speaks to how Nintendo is artificially segmenting the market.

The best thing for consumers would be for Nintendo to offer a single platform with all of the company’s games from various eras preloaded, but that wouldn’t generate a fraction of the revenue the company can make by releasing independent platforms. Obviously at some point the company would need to move to faster hardware, but it’s not clear if Nintendo will drive this nostalgia-flavored gravy train farther than the N64.

Every review we’ve seen gives the SNES high marks for its library and capabilities, and the $ 80 price is generally considered fair. Availability will be the major question here–if Nintendo can’t produce enough of these systems to meet demand, it’s going to backfire on the company. If it can, it’s poised to make money hand over fist.

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Nintendo Says SNES Classic Production Will Be ‘Dramatically Increased’

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The launch of Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition last year was marred by the company’s near-total disconnection from reality, as supply issues drove resale prices of the mini-console to several hundred dollars. It’s no surprise, then, that Nintendo fans were skeptical they’d be able to get the SNES Classic Edition this year. Indeed, pre-orders sold out almost instantly last month, but Nintendo says it’s planning to ramp up production this time rather than ignore the problem.

The NES Classic Edition was a hit last year not only because it included a raft of popular games from the 80s and 90s, but also because it was a capable game emulation machine. The reasonable $ 60 price tag was a far cry from what many gamers paid as the resale value of systems shot upward. They were willing to pay it, though. As desperate gamers were still loitering around stores, hoping to snag a unit, Nintendo discontinued the immensely popular product.

Nintendo didn’t let us mourn for long, announcing the SNES Classic Edition a few months later. The offers was similar to the NES Classic, but the price is a bit higher at $ 80. That price gets you the console, two controllers, and 21 games pre-loaded. The games include Contra III, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and StarFox 2 — a game that never actually came out on the original SNES, despite being completely finished and ready for launch.

The situation thus far hasn’t been encouraging. The first round of SNES Classic pre-orders sold out in a few minutes, but Nintendo says that’s all out of its control. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé urges gamers not to pounce on the consoles the instant they hit eBay. “You shouldn’t [have to] pay more than $ 79.99,” said Fils-Aimé. It’s easy to say that, but can we trust Nintendo on this?

According to Nintendo, it has planned to “dramatically increase” production of the SNES Classic Edition to ensure everyone can buy it at retail. Of last year’s mistakes, Fils-Aimé says the company mistakenly set up its supply chain and manufacturing deals based on the mediocre sales of other retro consoles. If that’s true, Nintendo clearly does not understand the emotional connection many gamers have to NES games.

So, maybe you should hold off on the SNES Classic bidding wars and see how this works out. If Nintendo can indeed meet demand this year, you shouldn’t have to drop more than the $ 80 asking price. If it fails… like they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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Nintendo: SNES Classic Pre-Orders Begin Later This Month

There are hordes of eager fans willing to line up for a chance to purchase an SNES Classic (online or in real life), and Nintendo stoked the flame today with an announcement that pre-orders for its newest retro console will go live later this month.

“We appreciate the incredible anticipation that exists for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition system, and can confirm that it will be made available for pre-order by various retailers late this month,” Nintendo wrote on its Facebook page.

“A significant amount of additional systems will be shipped to stores for launch day, and throughout the balance of the calendar year.”

Our first piece of advice to anyone who wants to buy an SNES Classic is that they should expect to pay 2-4x the actual retail price, whether buying from a scalper or otherwise. Companies like GameStop are going to bundle the hardware with controllers or accessories to drive the price up any way they can, and while they may offer a small number of ‘naked’ systems for sale, don’t be surprised if bundled deals are far more prominent.

Meanwhile, scalpers are going to push eBay prices into the stratosphere, on the well-founded expectation that Nintendo will pull yet another bait-and-switch, trumpeting its platform before suddenly killing it off with millions of customers still unable to buy the system. We’ve already seen stores offering unofficial pre-orders on sites like eBay, with list prices far in excess of the official $ 80.

Super NES SNES

It’s diminutive to the point of being cute. We still wouldn’t recommend buying one.

Our second piece of advice, if you intend to score a system, is to take pre-order times extremely seriously. We’re generally completely against pre-orders and dubious on crowdfunding, but if you’re determined to try for the SNES Classic, pre-orders are likely your only chance to get one. I watched services like NowInStock.net for four months attempting to score an NES Classic, and never managed to get one. Every time stock appeared anywhere on the company’s trackers, it vanished again within minutes. The only people who had any luck were Amazon Prime Now customers, and Prime Now is only available in some metropolitan areas in the US. If you don’t live in one, good luck finding hardware through that route.

Our third piece of advice? Don’t buy an SNES Classic. Nintendo doesn’t deserve a dime for the way it shafted would-be NES Classic buyers. Promising to ship hardware for “the balance of the calendar year” is meaningless considering Nintendo’s record of broken promises regarding console shipments and the fact that sky-high sales of the NES Classic still saw that console killed off long before demand was met.

True, Nintendo could do things better this time around, but the company has given zero indication that this is the case. If it wants to change our mind, it could start by saying it will manufacture enough SNES Classics to meet demand, period, full stop. Anything less, at this point, is just an indication that the company plans not to change its own bad behavior.

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The SNES Classic Launch Is On Track to Be Another Disaster

In business, it’s usually ideal to sell as many things as possible to consumers, but Nintendo has a different approach. The NES Classic Edition released last year was a hot must-have gift for the holiday season, but Nintendo just didn’t make very many of them. Then, Nintendo discontinued the device while people were still clamoring to get their hands on it. It’s all very bizarre, and it’s possible we’re headed for a very similar outcome with the upcoming SNES Classic.

Like the NES Classic, the SNES Classic will come with an assortment of pre-installed games from the original console. It’ll also have HDMI output for modern TVs and a pair of controllers. The game collection will probably vary by region, but in the US and UK the console will come with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Star Fox 2, and more than a dozen others. The release of Star Fox 2 is particularly interesting because the game was canceled before launch. Development took longer than expected, and Nintendo was worried the game would look too dated. It was done, though, so the SNES Classic will be its debut.

So, fans of classic games are anxious to get their hands on this thing and hoping we don’t have another fiasco like the NES Classic. Sadly, we’re already veering into fiasco territory, and the console isn’t even out yet. Nintendo hasn’t offered any details on preorders, but Walmart suddenly offered them late last Friday while many of us were snoozing. The preorders sold out almost immediately, which led to great heartbreak on Saturday morning.

If that were the only issue so far, you could almost call this a success. However, Walmart can’t seem to decide if it put up the preorders too early or not. Some orders have been canceled, and some are still seemingly valid right now. Nintendo, of course, is offering no guidance here. Meanwhile, Target tweeted that it would have the SNES Classic, and promised preorders in advance of release. There’s no date for that, either.

No matter what Nintendo does, the SNES Classic will sell out immediately upon release. The mess with preorders makes that much clear. It’s simply up to Nintendo to actually produce enough of them this time—no discontinuing the hardware after a few months. The NES Classic was in such short supply people were paying several times the $ 60 MSRP to get one. It would be really nice if that didn’t happen with the SNES Classic, and there’s no excuse this time around. Maybe Nintendo could argue it was caught off-guard by the NES Classic’s success, but it has to be aware of the demand for this device.

The SNES Classic is set to go on sale on September 29th, just in time for the holiday shopping season. It will cost a little more than the NES Classic did at $ 80.

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