The second home console to be released by Nintendo the SNES or Super Famicom as it was known in its home region of Japan was Launched in November 1990 nearly a month before the Sega Megadrive was released here in the UK. You have indeed read that right and as some of the older readers will testify the gaps between console releases across the world during these times were sometimes vast.
On its release the Super Famicom (SNES Everywhere else) came to market with just 2 games, Super Mario World and F-Zero which is something that simply could never happen now and to a certain extent was unusual back then as well however both games were of such high quality that this fact was brushed away as it was sold out almost instantly. Japan went absolutely mental for it, sure the Sega megadrive had already been around for nearly 2 years by this point and had a much larger software line-up to choose from but it didn’t have a system seller by that point, a mascot, Nintendo had the biggest one of all in a game most still call the greatest platformer of all time.
Super Mario World was, is and always will be a benchmark of a game, sure it was in many ways nothing more than a re-skin of Mario 3 from the NES however with such lovely new graphics and incredible music (made possible from the sound chip developed by Sony) people were rightly blown away by it, it stood all on its own in both design and sheer gloss of presentation, not to mention how large the game was, its was massive.
F-Zero which at the time was most probably little more than an evolved tech demo from Nintendo themselves highlighted the SNES's killer weapon, a software and hardware revolution named MODE 7. Up until that moment conveying 3D was very hard for the consoles of the era and no matter how nice things could look everything felt very hollow or flat, Nintendo saw this as the main battlefield for the next generation and built everything around it's new chip.
To sum up how often this new tech was used its very possible that in the entire software library of the console less than 5% of its games didn’t use it in some way, making backgrounds move or expand separately from foregrounds changed the racing genre overnight, clever programmers even allowed Mode 7 to allow for intense boss fights within traditionally 2D genres like Platformers, the phrase Game Changer is over used however this was a clear example of a whole new way of doing things.
Other new introductions for this generation was Nintendo's controller for the SNES which was quite simply perfect. Whilst the original NES managed everything with just 2 buttons (minus start/pause) the 16-bit beast settled on 4 with 2 extra rear side buttons. From a gaming point of view the step up in available inputs transformed games completely. Instead of having to select weapons or power ups using a pause screen or d-pad you could now simply press a button, this sounds trivial but trust us when we say it made everything play so much easier, gamers simply had more control. The 6 button pad with the astoundingly comfortable d-pad meant this would be the perfect console for beat em ups hence why Street fighter 2 felt at its best on Nintendo's console.
So much was the impact of the controller that Sega were forced into re-developing their input method simply in order to maintain a level playing field for developers and encourage the then massively popular beat em-up genre to exist on their format. The main legacy regarding the SNES pad though is that the 4 face button set-up is still used as the standard to this day as is having extra buttons on the back of the pad, once again Nintendo innovated and everyone else played catch-up.
Lastly Nintendo in partnership with Sony had produced a sound chip that although a few people to this day still cannot stand (hello Olly023 x) enabled games to have a vastly richer soundtrack, something that enabled RPG games to shine. Rich orchestra style sounds blasted from the machine at every opportunity and again developers poured forward to make the most out of it, whilst the Megadrive sound chip was fantastic it didn’t give you the same depth or range of instruments.
In fact on paper specs wise this was simply a beast of a console in every respect, a real step up from the 8-bit era, if there was however one error it was in the main processor Nintendo chose, for a console that was obviously made to shift so much around on screen its CPU was woefully slow and this would show in many games where you would actually get slowdown on screen once too many enemies or objects appeared on screen, the Megadrive on the other hand was the complete opposite, it was super quick, almost like it was Blast processing...... (I see what you did there!)
Back to the games however and over the next 12 months Nintendo themselves produced a killer line-up of launch window titles including such classics as Super Tennis, Super R-Type, Sim City, Pilotwings and of course the gaming phenomenon that was Legend of Zelda – A Link To The Past which hit Japan on November 21st 1991 at which point the SNES had become completely established in its home region.
Across the ocean North America was approaching it's 3 month anniversary of the launch of the SNES which had been released there on the 23rd August 1991 and in this region it was selling out as fast as it could be stocked mainly due to the inspired decision to make Super Mario World free with every console sold, it was a master stroke on the part of the Nintendo management there and was allowing the new 16-bit system to compete well with Sega who at the time were flying high with their Genesis (Megadrive) console. The North America launch also benefited from having more launch titles as the time difference between the Jap launch and the American launch meant there was time for more developed games to be localised and translated into English.
Europe began getting the SNES during 1992, starting with the UK and Ireland launch on April 11th of that year with everyone else getting their chance to play Nintendo's new beast at the latest a few months later on June 6th, Australia would be one of the last to get their mits on it having to wait until July 3rd.
The time difference between the original Jap release and mainland Europe meant that for maybe the only time in Nintendo's history Europe were for once never waiting long for the oh so important second wave of releases, games like Link to the past that were receiving so much attention in games mags were released the same year, it was an incredible time to be a Nintendo fan in this region.
Europe also benefited from having Super Mario World free with the console, something that had proved so popular in America that Sega had been forced to regularly change their in pack free game in order to compete. Much like American people European consumers loved getting a complete and ready to go system in one initial purchase so the inclusion of the brand new and amazing Mario game proved just as popular as Sega's Altered Beast megadrive bundle and also the previous generation's offers such as Master System with Hang-on or later Alex Kidd. The main difference with Mario being the bundled game was that no review at the time went lower than 95% it was vastly superior to any bundled product since the original Mario Bros on the NES.
Sega for a few years had gained huge momentum in all regions with the Megadrive/Genesis completely eroding the once market dominance Nintendo had enjoyed from the 8-bit era and their all conquering NES, In every territory Sega had launched their 16-bit next gen console first, had a larger software line-up with better pricing structures however what Sega didn’t have were franchises, they had no killer mascot. Nintendo had several and all of them were exclusive to them, Mario, Zelda and Metroid.
The Super Nintendo however was not mearly a machine Nintendo promoted themselves, they had some serious help from several key developers of which the 2 largest and again most impressive were Capcom and Konami, it's a known fact that these developers were as important to Nintendo and the SNES as a foundation is to any building, without their killer titles the SNES would never have been the machine it was quality wise. Before you even get to the classics and well know games you first have to acknowledge games such as Actraiser, Turtles in time, Buster Busts loose and of course the mighty Contra 3... Or Super Probotector if you were in Europe!
Mode 7 was essential to this software, it's without doubt the single biggest factor in the difference between what you got from Sega and what you got from Nintendo, most of the top SNES game's simply could not be done on the Genesis/Megadrive because it lacked specific hardware it was the difference, the Nintendo difference.
Sega during the SNES launch realised they had woken a sleeping giant, the Master System in Europe had crushed the NES and in America the Sports range on the Genesis was key, people wanted fast in your face gaming, the 90's especially was the decade of COOL so everything had to have a feel or certain look or better still simply have flat out speed and as the Genesis had the faster processor it was only fitting Sega used this in their market strategy even if they did have to completely make up something in order to sell it as a reason to buy the Megadrive. What Sega did with this is explained in more detail on the Megadrive page, surfice it to say it was a moment of typical 90's advertising genius.
Inside 12 months of the SNES jap launch Sega went for Nintendo's throat in both the North America and the European territories, their advertising was based purely on speed and the fact that Sega was cool, Nintendo was not, it was highly effective and along with the massive games boom and huge surge in associated media like magazines and TV shows etc the greatest period of gaming began, the 16-bit war, Sega Vs Nintendo.
Sega were the torch paper for all of this, as mentioned before elsewhere on the site it took 2 to have a war but Sega started it all and what's more they did it deliberately, if you were lucky enough to be of a certain age i.e. teenager years during the late 80's early 1990's then you will remember so clearly why this is called the Golden era of gaming, it had never been so good, it wont ever be again.
Unlike almost all wars though this one was so unique in that it eventually had 3 winners, Sega Nintendo and most importantly GAMERS! For Sega it solidified them as a major player in the industry, proving the Master System was not just a European fluke For Nintendo it showed everyone just how great they could be when somebody challenged them to be better. The Snes was an incredible machine that in this writers humble opinion has never been bettered by Nintendo, it was the perfect storm of quality, technology, design, strategy and third party support, it's widely regarded as one of the most important console releases of all time, it deserves it's legacy and more.
As stated though it was us the gamer that eventually won as a strong Nintendo and a vibrant and at this point leader Sega gave everyone the best gift of all, choice! It was embarrassing how many games were released between 1989 and 1993 for both companies 16-bit machines, we had never seen the like of this and everyone wanted a piece of the pie. High street shops that had never really wanted to sell video games joined the race to grab your money and it almost seemed like every trip to your local newsagent would yield yet another games magazine publication, in the UK at the Snes's height of its popularity there was easily more than 10 dedicated Nintendo magazines, Sega had nearly double that and that’s before I get into multi format publications, the biggest and most shocking expansion however had been how much daily newspapers had gotten involved, video gaming was now so popular, so in fashion that it had to have its own dedicated section in both of the UK's most purchased tabloids.
All this hype and hysteria aside though and back to software once more compared to the Genesis the SNES game library especially in the west was small, more so in Europe where Nintendo never really managed to sell the concept to the mass market, Core gamers however flocked to it in their droves, mainly due to the games press of the time who you could tell loved how much money Sega made them but mostly preferred the quality of Nintendo franchises and experiences, C&VG especially never hid their love of the SNES. I like to think people with a more balanced view of gaming have the SNES in their top 5 consoles of all time lists, to not appreciate it or realise it's importance and impact is not bad, you should never be judged for that, it's just a massive shame, your missing out on the stuff of legend.
To sum up it's legacy would be an article in itself, it's 50% of the greatest console war of all time, it's home to such immortal games as Mario Kart, Super Metroid, Earthbound, F-Zero, Contra 3, Super Star Wars, Starwing, Donkey Kong Country, Megaman X and of course Super Mario World, seriously go read that list of 10 games again and tell me the SNES is nothing short of incredible and then realise that I missed Castlevania 4, Turtles in time, Cybernator, Secret of Mana, Zelda - A link to the past and Street fighter 2 from that list and I can still reel off another 20 or 30 without even trying.
When I think about quality in video games I think Nintendo but I specifically think SNES, one goes hand in hand with the other and although it is important to not be too generous with praise as to go down the fanboy path it's also a must to shout it's magnificence from the rooftops for all to hear. This was Nintendo at their best during a period of real concern and intense competition for them, it may not have sold as many units worldwide as say the Nintendo Wii but that's because during the early 90's the number of gamers was massively lower, it was a still the time of the teenage boy customer. It's estimated that in it's life cycle Nintendo sold around 42 million SNES consoles, not bad for a company that finished the era in second place for a hobby that only geeks and nerds enjoyed, well played Nintendo, well played indeed.
At RetroGameGeeks it is NOT our mission to not educate or push people into playing or liking certain things that one of the admin staff loves, In fact this site exists from the minds of 3 people with vastly different opinions on the whole retro scene, it's safe to say the vote may go Sega 2 and Nintendo 1 but that's just another example of the golden era and Megadrive V Snes war still going on to this day. It's our brief to offer a more fun, passionate and varied way to experience all that the world of retro has to offer, it's not an understatement to say how important the Super Nintendo was and still is, whilst I as a writer will freely admit that it's for me one of, if not THE greatest system ever I am also of the opinion that it's fiercest rival the Megadrive stood proudly next to it in defining my childhood. I would never want to live in a world where one didn’t exist without the other.
It is my hope that if you grew up a Sega fan or never had the experience of owning or playing a SNES you will maybe go back now and have a play on some of Nintendo's finest moments to see what all the fuss was about, sure the processor suffered from slowdown and many developers fell back onto graphical gimmicks with Mode 7 in order to sell rubbish licensed games but when it was good it was so very VERY good. The time you first ventured out into the rain in Link to the past, when you first heard the piano music in Super Mario World or turned the corner in F-Zero and the whole screen moved your eyes popped out their sockets, your pulse raced and if you were anything like me your soul knew at that exact moment what real love felt like. Gaming was no longer a part of your life, it was your life.