While many newer gaming consoles have come and gone, there will never be a console quite like the Super Nintendo. Dubbed the SNES or the sequel to the uber popular Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES), it's popularity immediate grabbed a strong foothold in the 16 bit console market in the early 90's. Its major competitor, Sega's Genesis console, could hardly keep up with the superior hardware and vast amounts of quality games being released for the SNES despite being released many years earlier.
The Super Nintendo was the centerpiece for what many veteran gamers consider the golden age of gaming. A time when Squaresoft began to dominate the RPG genre the same way as EA began to dominate the console sports gaming scene. Old 8-bit Nintendo classics like Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, and Metriod were reborn in sequels for the SNES. The result was a plethora of games that not only looked great in a 16-bit pallet, but also were deep and engaging games that took longer than a few hours to beat. With pixilated gaming at its apex, us gamers were not subjected to as many failed experiments or speed bumps in the route of technological progress. Instead we reaped the benefits of games that learned from past mistakes.
Hardware and Layout
The SNES hardware isn't very impressive by today's standards. It only has a 16-bit processor that runs at a measly 3MHz. It has only 128 KB (yes KB) of RAM. It has a 16-bit graphics processor with 64 KB of RAM capable of a maximum resolution of 256x224. The sound hardware is only 8-bit 8-channel card and runs at 4 MHz with 64 KB of RAM. The Super Nintendo takes a cartridge media that's roughly the size of stack of dollar bills you'd find in a bank. The cartridge holds 64 MB of storage for its games.
The Super Nintendo typically came in an off white case with blue buttons and trim. The cartridges were top-loaded into a door-protected slot. The power switch was on the front and could be toggled on and off by sliding the button forward or backward. On the other side of the front was a hard reset switch. The back of the machine was where the RF and AC ports were located. The SNES was roughly the same volume as a math text book at 1/4 the weight or less. It could be transported much easier than its 8-bit predecessor because it was much flatter and less bulky.
The SNES had many accessories that spawned a mixed bag of successes and failures. One of the most popular accessories was the Super Scope. This served the purpose as the successor to the popular light gun from the old 8-bit NES. The biggest difference was its size. The Super Scope looked like a thinner rocket launcher. Overall it saw moderate success, but like its predecessor on the NES, it saw very few titles that supported it.
Another interesting accessory that failed to take off was the SNES mouse. This accessory came with the moderately popular Mario Paint title. While Mario Paint was an interesting toy, it more served the purpose of showcasing the abilities of the accessory. Unfortunately, other than Mario Paint, no other titles really took advantage of the mouse accessory. Later in the decade as the Real Time Strategy games were gaining popularity on the PC, this accessory could have bridged the gap.
The SNES also had an accessory to play Gameboy games. This was called the Super Gameboy. It plugged into your SNES like any normal cartridge, but it also had a port for you to be able to plug in your Gameboy games. It also had a utility for you to be able to add a color scheme to the different shades of gray that the Gameboy games had. This accessory unfortunately didn't do as well since the Gameboy games had the advantage of being portable in addition to the fact that they were just plain old for its era.
The Super Nintendo also had a 4-player adapter. This was made in similar vein to the NES Satellite, NES Four Score, and EA's 4-player adapter released for the Genesis. This accessory saw very little usage because of the lack of decent sports games to play it on. Many gamers of the era played 4 player sports games on the Genesis.
The controller itself is probably the greatest accessory. Its basic design is still used today by modern consoles like the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo's own GameCube. The general shape contours to your hand. There is only one dpad located on the left side of the controller. The start and select buttons are located in the middle. There are 4 buttons: A, B, X, and Y, located on the right side of the controller in a diamond formation. On the left and right side on top of the controller are two shoulder buttons. The controller itself is thin and not too bulky although it can be small for people with larger sized hands. Overall it's a great controller that really only fails when you have to use the shoulder buttons for fighting games like Street Fighter 2.
If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: a console's success is determined primarily on the strength of its library. You could have the most advanced piece of gaming hardware in the world that would never become obsolete in your lifetime, and it would be worthless if there weren't any good games for it. This is where the Super Nintendo raised its reputation from great to timeless. The Super Nintendo had a huge library filled with quality games from all different genres.
The Super Nintendo's most successful genre was the Roleplaying Game or RPG. Squaresoft lead the way in the SNES RPG revolution. It released 3 Final Fantasy titles, a fantastic Chrono Trigger title, an underrated Mystic Quest and Secret of Mana titles, and even collaborated with Nintendo to create Super Mario RPG. However, those weren't the only RPGs. There were also the popular Ultima games, and the Might and Magic games as well. These games were and still are a valuable commodity in the video game marketplace.
Another strong hand for the SNES library existed in it's "big three". The "big three" would be Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. Each one had a huge hit title early in the SNES lifespan. Super Mario World is considered one of the best platformers of all time. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is often considered the best Zelda game in the series. Finally, Super Metroid was a huge hit and still popular among fans of the side-scrolling Metriod games.
In addition to these games, there was a sequel to Super Mario World in Yoshi's Island and Super Mario Brothers 1, 2, and 3 were re-released on one cartridge along with the Japanese version of Super Mario Brothers 2 that was never originally released in North America.
The Super Nintendo also had a strong lineup of sports titles. It had its own Nintendo released hits like Super Tennis, Super Soccer, and Super Play Action Football. In addition it saw several sequels from Nintendo hits like Tecmo Super Bowl, Super Bases Loaded, Super RBI Baseball and many others. There were also some great sports games that made their first appearance on the Super Nintendo. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball is considered the best baseball game for the SNES. Mario Kart, while not a sports game, was also a huge title that defined the console for many. Finally NBA Jam was one of the most popular basketball games of the mid-90's and was a game that I played for hours at a time. This is also the time when EA sports took hold of the sports gaming marketplace as well. While the SNES had many EA sports titles, they simply were not as well received as they were on the Genesis. Even though EA sports had many great titles like its NHL, Madden, FIFA, and NBA live series, it still doesn't take away from the strong sports lineup that the SNES boasts.
There are many other notable games that span across many other genres. For instance, Capcom released more Mega Man titles to add to its impressive lineup on the 8-bit NES. In addition Capcom also released the wildly popular Street Fighter Series on the SNES. Konami released the popular Castlevania IV as well as Contra III, Sunset Riders, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
Overall the titles on the Super Nintendo were strong. They also spanned across many genres whereby there was no weak area. If the SNES was judged solely on its library, then it would pass with flying colors.
A 2004 Look at the SNES
It's easy to look at the SNES in reverence after how it dominated the 16-bit gaming market during the early to mid 90's. However, how does the system stack up today? The Super Nintendo, while outdated has many strong qualities to it. However, those strong qualities have also generated weaknesses out of thin air through its increased value and redundancy.
The Super Nintendo was built well, so well in fact that many still run as if they just rolled off the assembly line yesterday. The problem with this is because of that; there still remain many of those systems today. Not many were thrown out and the ones that were sold were mainly kept. This creates a stronger demand for games, thus raising the price of both the console and its gaming library. Why pay for a retro console if it could break on you tomorrow? Just compare the prices shown on Epinions for the SNES to the ones for the Genesis. $80 to $20? Pretty big difference, a difference that might even widen as the years roll by. Also the quality of the games is also well pronounced. The Final Fantasy games are selling on Ebay for twice the amount they retailed for in stores. I bought Chrono Trigger used 5 years ago for $60 and sold it a year later for $70. I wish I had held onto it because I could have probably sold it for $100.
So what does this mean? Well, it's great if you already have one, but it's a little expensive now to get in on the investment action. The games are so great and so durable that they sell for tons of money. While I, like many gaming veterans, feel that these games can be just as entertaining as many modern games, it's almost more worth it to purchase a modern console and some used games for less. This is the same problem that the 8-bit NES ran into as well. While some of the less popular games sell for small bills, the more popular games like Final Fantasy and Tecmo Super Bowl sell for more than ESPN NFL 2K5 and Final Fantasy X respectively. While they are great games, it just doesn't seem worth it from a value perspective.
In addition, the Gameboy Advance is the portable equivalent of a Super Nintendo. While it doesn't have the same library, the number of quality sprite-based games are numerous and of high quality. Just about the only person left out is the sports gamer, and they are almost better off getting a Genesis instead.
In conclusion, the power of the SNES has gotten the better of itself. And while some consider this the best platform ever released, it's hard to argue with the fact that it's easier to step back and compare the games of yesteryear to the ones of today than to go out and try to recapture those games like you did when you were younger. It's like an old baseball fan when they talk about what the game was like when Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ted Williams played. While you could go back, it just isn't feasible given the price of these games. It's better to sit back and watch the current crop of games evolve into something great.
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