Year Released: 1990
Original Price: £149.99 (Including Super Mario World)
Buy it now for: £30+
Associated Magazines: Nintendo Magazine System, Superplay, Total, N-Force, SNES Force
Why the Super Nintendo was great… Nintendo’s 16 bit powerhouse represents the true “Golden Age” of videogaming as the likes of Konami, Squaresoft and even Nintendo itself have arguably never been on better form than when designing games for this machine. The best SNES releases featured both flawless gameplay and graphics and set a high benchmark for quality entertainment software that, in many cases, endures to this day.
With a NES in thirty per cent of American homes and the word ‘Famicom’ synonymous with videogames in Japan, Nintendo was understandably reluctant to release a successor to its best selling console and chose to support the ageing 8-bit console for as long as it could. It was, however, only a matter of time before the advance of technology allowed Nintendo’s competition to take the lead and by 1988 both NEC’s PC Engine and Sega’s Mega Drive offered a far more powerful entertainment experience. Nintendo could no longer rest on its laurels and secretly began work on its next ‘Family Computer’: the Super Famicom.
The 16-bit-system had been developed and designed by Masayuki Uemura, who had spent months attempting to make the Super Famicom backwards compatible with Famicom cartridges but had found that the massive leap in technology had set Nintendo’s machine so far in advance of its predecessor that building in Famicom compatibility would have been far too costly.
Without backwards compatibility to bridge the transition between consoles, Nintendo would need an irresistible launch line-up to tempt existing Famicom owners to upgrade. Knowing this, Nintendo’s president, Hiroshi Yamauchi needed his best man on the job and, as soon as development of Super Mario Bros 3 was complete, he charged Shigeru Miyamoto and his thirty-man team with the task of exploring the new hardware’s game-playing capabilities.
One of the biggest tricks that the hardware had up its sleeve was the now infamous Mode 7: a graphical hardware mode that allowed sprites to zoom in and out and rotate in a way that simulated a 3D depth-of-field effect. Neither the Mega Dive nor PC Engine was capable of sprite scaling on such a level so Nintendo decided that the first three Super Famicom games would take advantage of the innovative feature. After 15 solid months of R&D, Miyamoto and Co would begin work on F-Zero, Pilotwings and Super Mario Bros 4, which would all use Mode 7 to varying degrees. However, with only ten months until launch day, the team was only able to complete two of the games on time and Pilotwings (the most technically demanding of the three) slipped by a month.
By 20 November 1990, Japanese demand for Nintendo’s new console had reached fever-pitch and any worries that the machine would fail to entice existing Famicom owners were washed away. Demand for the console was so high that, for example, the Hankyu department store in Osaka had to stop taking preorders only a week after they started.
In retrospect the release of the Super Famicom heralded the age of hysteria that has defined every hardware launch to this day. By 20 November, total pre-orders numbered in excess of 1.5 million yet only 300,000 machines shipped. Fearing that several Yakuza groups planned to hijack the Super Famicom shipment, to sell on at artificially inflated prices, Nintendo commenced ‘Operation Midnight Shipping’ in which the entire batch of 300,000 machines were hauled across Japan in the very early hours of the 20th.
Thanks to these dramatic efforts, the launch was a rousing success: the Super Famicom sold out in seconds, even with only two launch titles. Yet when one of those titles was the sequel to the best selling game of all time, success was a certainty. Despite being the least technically demanding of the Super Famicom’s launch titles it was Super Mario Bros 4: Super Mario World that shifted the machine. Super Mario World expanded on its predecessors by offering finely tuned platforming gameplay, beautiful pastel graphics and a staggering 79 levels. The game is still remembered, 16 years on, as the best 2D platform game of all time so it is no surprise that Nintendo relied on it to push sales of their console.
When it came time to introduce the renamed Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the UK (a typical 17 months after the Japanese release) Nintendo made the bold decision to bundle Super Mario World with every SNES console. Making for one of the best freebies of all time, Mario helped to move many a SNES into British living rooms that summer, but arriving two years after the Mega Drive proved very costly. Sega’s black beauty was phenomenally popular in Europe (thanks to its exclusive sports simulations and arcade conversions) and left little room for competition. It wasn’t until Christmas of 1992 that the tide truly began to turn, thanks to Capcom’s Street Fighter II. The original arcade game had spawned a worldwide craze, the likes of which had not been seen since the days of Pac-Man and Space Invaders, and whichever home console netted a conversion first would benefit from a serious rise in sales.
Sure enough, Nintendo managed to snag Capcom’s seminal brawler a full year before Sega and stole a significant slice of the UK market in the process. A pattern was starting to form: although Sega’s success was assured by its in-house conversions and its relationship with EA, it was Nintendo’s SNES that turned the most heads by continually providing the classiest most desirable games. It started with Mario and Street Fighter and continued through Zelda, Secret Of Mana, Axelay, Super Mario Kart and hundreds of other top-drawer games that would go on to steal the hearts of hardcore and casual gamers alike. The 16-bit console war was beginning to get very heated…
Four Great Super Nintendo Games
Super Street Fighter II Turbo
Contra III: The Alien Wars
Super Mario Kart
Retro Gamer magazine and bookazines are available in print from ImagineShop