The Super Nintendo (SNES) is still regarded as one of the greatest home consoles ever created. Some of the best games of all time thrived in the 16-bit era, but what about all those classic 8-bit titles from the NES?
Can the SNES play NES games? No, the SNES is not designed to play original NES games. While some tech-savvy gamers have found workarounds with emulation, Nintendo did not create the SNES to play classic NES titles.
There are reports (closer to rumors, actually) that Nintendo did test out the idea of having a backward-compatible SNES, but it is said the gaming giant cut this feature to keep the price of the console as affordable as possible. This isn't all that surprising as many console manufacturers that have opted to drop backward compatibility cite this as one of the leading reasons. Including the technology to play multiple generations of games isn't always cost-effective, so this feature is often cut in order to keep the price down for both the manufacturer as well as the consumer.
Again, emulation experts and enthusiasts are working to improve performance and compatibility with classic games. Even with advancements in emulation, more than half of the NES library remains unplayable on the SNES, so this really isn't a viable option for most gamers and collectors. That being said, there are other console options for those looking to not simply buy two separate consoles when one could easily do the trick.
Products like the Hyperkin RetroN 5 allow you to play SNES and NES games right from the cartridge. In fact, the RetroN 5 is compatible with Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Famicom, Super Famicom, NES, Super NES, Genesis, and Mega Drive cartridges. That being said, the console does still technically use emulation, so some retro purists may not appreciate the minor tweaks that come from not using the original hardware. It should be noted, however, that most gamers are unlikely to notice too many (if any) changes to their favorite games.
Still, be advised to do your research before purchasing if that is a concern for you. It should also be noted that, while most games will run without a hitch, compatibility with all of the listed consoles is not 100%. Again, there are plenty of resources online, so make sure to research compatibility with the games that are important to you.
One last note when it comes to backward compatibility on the SNES is that Game Boy games are actually playable on the console via the Super Game Boy adaptor – an officially licensed accessory that plugs directly into the SNES that has a slot for Game Boy cartridges. Even today, this is still one of the best ways to play Game Boy games on your TV (and in color)!