Now you’re playing with power — SUPER power
After the Success on the NES, and the release of the Mega Drive and Turbografix-16 consoles in 1989 meant that Nintendo too had to come up with a 16-bit machine to stay in the game. It did not release the SNES in Japan until November 1990, known there as the Super Famicom, in the US in September 1991 and in the UK in April 1992, simply because the NES was doing well and new games were still being released for it. When it finally hit the market though, it proved to be a powerful and impressive competitor to Sega’s Mega Drive and NEC’s Turbografix-16.
The SNES was a 16-bit console and a direct competitor to Sega’s Genesis. As with the NES, the SNES was the most successful console of its generation in terms of sales. The console triumphed through the support of both Nintendo and third-party developers. The console saw releases from high profile developers such as Capcom, Squaresoft, and Konami. The Super nintendo era is looked back on by many as “the golden era of video games.”
The SNES had a much slower processor then the Mega Drive, but it really excelled when it came to its graphics processor. It could produce 32K colors, 256 of which could be displayed on screen at the same time, and had special hardware modes that allowed for effects such as scaling, rotating and transparency. This was the SNES’s strong point.
Animation effects in games that involved scaling objects (i.e. zooming in and out of screen) or rotating them required lots of graphical sequences at a high frame rate that took up lots of space and processing power. The SNES’s solution was to provide abstract hardware modes that a game could use in order to achieve effects like scaling, rotation and transparency. The famous Mode 7 was the hardware mode responsible for scaling and rotating.
In addition to its built-in hardware modes, Nintendo later released a whole array of chips that added processing power as well as other features to games. They came built into games’ PCBs as opposed to plugging into the console’s extension port. The Super FX chip, which allowed for 3D graphics to be rendered in games, upped the SNES’s speed to 10.5MHz and the Super FX2 upped it to 21MHz. Many more chips were made available, and most of them played a large part in keeping the SNES competitive even in the face of the newer 32-bit consoles.
One thing Nintendo did differently this time round was they didn’t force software developers to write games exclusively for them. Actually, this wasn’t even an option for Nintendo because the major third-party software developers were already signed up with Sega. The move was a right one, and many quality games available for the Mega Drive got written for the SNES. Others, such as the arcade hit Street Fighter II, made their debut on the SNES. The censored version of Mortal Kombat was a bit embarrassing, but anyway…
NEC released the TurboGrafx-16 in 1987 to compete with the incredibly popular NES. Sega released its Genesis the next year. Both of these consoles were based on 16-bit hardware, and were large improvements in sound and graphics over the 8-bit based NES. As Nintendo’s dominance in the market began slipping, Nintendo executives began to design a new system (albeit reluctantly at first) as early as 1988.
The SNES was designed by Masayuki Uemura, who also designed the original Famicom. The Super Famicom was originally released in Japan on November 21, 1990 for ¥25,000, or about $210. It was a huge hit, with the initial units shipped selling very quickly. With the Super Famicom being such a success, Nintendo dominated over their rivals. This was partially due to the support of third-party developers, such as Capcom,Konami, Square, Enix, and Tecmo.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America in September 1991. It was a mildly redesigned version of the Super Famicom that originally sold for $199. One of the main selling points for the console was the fact that it was packaged with Super Mario World. Originally, very few titles were shipped upon release, such as Pilotwings, F-Zero, SimCity, and Gradius III, but these titles were all very well-received and showcased the SNES’s Mode 7 abilities.
The SNES was a hit, but unlike its predecessor, it faced some fierce competition. Despite Super Mario World’s brilliance, Sonic’s rush onto the scene had suddenly made Nintendo seem…uncool. Sega seemed to represent everything that was hip and new in video games, while Nintendo looked safe, stodgy, and downright old—even though 1991’s SNES was technologically superior to 1988’s Genesis in every way. By 1992, sources estimate the Genesis had a roughly 55 percent market share over its competitor. Owning nearly half of the market after only a year was impressive for Nintendo’s second console, but it was not the dominance that the NES had enjoyed right out of the gate.
By 1993, cracks started appearing in Nintendo’s public image. A big-budget Hollywood movie based on Super Mario Bros. starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Hopper was released that summer…to abysmal reviews and performance. What should’ve been Nintendo’s ultimate triumph was a universally reviled public embarrassment. Today, Super Mario Bros. holds a place in cinematic history as not only one of the worst video game movie adaptations, but simply as one of the worst movies, period.
But the final tally of the first true console war between the Genesis and the SNES didn’t seem to account for Nintendo’s missteps. Though Sega’s never released data, estimates tally the Genesis’s worldwide sales at about 29 million worldwide—not quite two-thirds of the Super Nintendo’s 49.1 million global sales, which it managed despite Sega’s four-year head start.
When all was said and done, the SNES simply had the better games. Sega’s ascendance forced Nintendo to allow multiplatform games from its third-parties. But—Mortal Kombat aside—the Super Nintendo’s superior hardware meant that, most of the time, games looked, sounded, and played better. Nintendo could also claim the support of one of Japan’s top developers, Squaresoft, whose Final Fantasy series, The Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger were SNES exclusives, and helped popularize the RPG genre in America.
And besides Super Mario World, the SNES had an impressive roster of first-party games that became industry legends. Familiar titles like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroidappeared, not to mention launch title F-Zero, the Super FX chip-powered Star Fox, and the genre-spawning Super Mario Kart.
And that wasn’t all: Nintendo may have looked foolish with their sweaty Mortal Kombat port, but the company’s decision to buy a 49 percent stake in British developer Rareware in 1994 proved to be nothing short of genius—as was releasing one of Nintendo’s oldest properties from its closely guarded vault. That year, Rare and Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country, a platformer that had more in common with Super Mario Bros. than the 1981 arcade classic. But visually, Donkey Kong Country was like nothing else on the market. Its developers had animated pre-rendered 3D graphics as 2D sprites. The effect was a game that looked far more technologically advanced than it actually was.
Donkey Kong Country sold over eight million copies worldwide, becoming the second best-selling SNES game of all time. Donkey Kong had come full circle, having regained his rightful place as one of Nintendo’s most recognizable and profitable characters.
And like Donkey Kong, Nintendo was also regaining its position as top banana in the video game industry. Its reputation for first-class products—and its first-class ego—had seemed well-earned with the SNES’s success. But just as its haughty, prideful attitude with third-parties had allowed Sega to swoop in, Nintendo’s tradition of arrogant business decisions would prove that what goes around, comes around…
CPU: 16-bit 65816 (3.58MHz)
RAM: 128KB (1Mb), 64KB (0.5Mb) Video RAM
Graphics: Dedicated graphics processor
Colors: 32768 (256 on screen)
Sprite Size: 64×64 pixels
Resolution: 512×448 pixels
Sound: 8-channel 8-bit Sony SPC700 digitized sound