[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super NES Turns 20

August 22nd, 2011 by Benj Edwards

Super Nintendo Entertainment System - Super NES - SNES Instruction Manual Cover - 1991“Nintendo Super Levitation Pak (TM) not included.”

Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (“Super NES” or “SNES” for short) 20 years ago this week — way back in 1991.

As a devotee of the NES at the time, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Super NES when it came on the market. It’s funny, but I didn’t expect it at all. You’ll have to keep in mind I was only 10 years old and my video game market knowledge was limited to what Nintendo Power told me. When I first saw a preview of the Super Famicom hardware (the Japanese Super NES) in Nintendo Power, I thought “why?” Wasn’t the NES good enough?

I ended up getting a used Super NES in 1992 (in a set with Mario Paint), and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But it never felt the same as my NES (in retrospect, this was probably due to simply growing up), and I soon grew jaded by the general software offerings for the system.

Sure, I kept up with hits like Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart, Super Metroid, and Donkey Kong Country, but it felt like every third-party title in between paled in quality compared to Nintendo’s offerings. That trend continues to this day on Nintendo consoles.

Rose-Colored Glasses

After the advent of widespread Internet use, folks began to rediscover hidden gems of the SNES catalog, such as many classic RPGs games that many American gamers passed over (and Nintendo failed to promote) at the time of their release. As I dug through the old SNES catalog in the emulator era, I too began to appreciate the Super NES more than I had during its heyday.

Quite a few people now hold the Super NES platform as the pinnacle of 2D sprite-based gaming, which many gamers began to sorely miss after the 3D polygonal graphics revolution began. We now clearly see the SNES as a pivot point between two distinct epochs in video games. That reputation will likely continue as the story of Nintendo’s 16-bit home console echoes through history.

Further Reading

For more Super NES-related stuff on VC&G, check out my Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines article from 2007.

If you’ve ever wondered how many Super NES games start with the word “super,” check out Super Game 64 Advance DS: The Nintendo Game Naming Formula Revealed!, also from 2007.

That same year, I wrote about how I put Secret Cartridge Messages in certain Super NES games that I rented. I also wrote about how sad I was when I finally finished Earthbound for the Super NES.

[ From Super NES Instruction Manual, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you first get a Super NES? What did you think of it at the time?

16 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Super NES Turns 20”

  1. Multimedia Mike Says:

    I got to rent an SNES from a video store a few months after it came out. That was a great weekend as my friends and I basically had an SNES party the whole time with 3 games I rented: U.N. Squadron, Final Fantasy II, and Populous.

    I finally sprung for a used SNES in 1997. I bought a used copy of U.N. Squadron along with it (still my favorite action game).

    I’m with you, though– while faithfully reading my Nintendo Power issues and following the development of the SNES, my young mind just couldn’t grasp how games could possibly be improved over the NES technology. That changed the first time I saw an SNES commercial on TV.

  2. Eagles409 Says:

    I never bought the SNES, I was older when it came out, so I went for the Genesis. SNES just had that “kiddie” vibe (which Nintendo still seems to have) and the Genesis just seemed “adult”. Plus I got the Sega Channel through my cable company, that thing was great.

  3. JackSoar Says:

    I got my first SNES sometime around 1994 or 1995. I had played my older siblings’ SNESes prior to that, and I loved it. My brother (who had moved out by that point) had a SNES and a NES, and it was from him that I inherited my first NES as well as a wealth of great RPGs to tide me over until I got a SNES. My sister still lived at home, and she purchased her own SNES, and I remember watching her play Zelda and Final Fantasy “III”. When I got my own, I gravitated towards the same sorts of games my siblings played, but developed an especial fondness for Super Mario World. SNES quickly became my favorite game system, and the one I most played with my friends.

    While I also played NES and Game Boy into the late 90s, there was no question the the SNES was where it was at, and the N64, while impressive when it came out, just didn’t have the same charm. I spent more time with the PS1 when my brother got me one for my birthday, as it had a much better roster of RPGs and fighting games, my genres of choice. My original SNES got damaged by this point, but I bought a new one in 1998, and I still have it. It works, but it has seen better days.

  4. Jim U. Says:

    I got it the day it was released (a Sunday) at a Toys ‘R Us along with F-Zero.

  5. jdiwnab Says:

    While I was little, I would always watch my dad play the NES, but wasn’t allowed to play it myself (until years later). But we got an SNES about a year after they came out, and *that* I was allowed to play. I spent a lot of my formitive years playing everything from Mario to Zelda, to some other games that now look rather silly. But I did it with my friend, slowly beating Super Mario RPG and Link to the Past and Starfox.

    I was always impressed with the graphics of the SNES, mostly because many of the games took on a 3d look. I know that they weren’t 3d, but you look at the original Zelda, and LttP, and compare, and you see shading, and parallax, and other effects that gave it more depth.

    I don’t know if there was ever a console that was more important to me, personally, than the SNES. The NES was cool, but it was a long time before I could play it. The N64 was cool, too, and I love it, but I always compared the games to the SNES ones. Starfox improved, Mario declined (IMO), and Zelda was so different I didn’t like it for a long time.

    Add to it that, even when I had an N64, I soon had access to SNES emulators to play on the school bus, I never got enough SNES.

  6. KimiErin Says:

    The SNES was the first game system I got, I got it for Christmas the year after it came out. And I still have it.

  7. wes Says:

    I have to disagree with the “kiddie” vibe comments. I was about 14 when I got my SNES about two months after it was released. I got F-Zero, Final Fantasy II(4) and Sim City, hardly anything kid-like about them, the whole moral thing came a bit later with Mortal Kombat’s release and even then it was more parent pressure than kid-friendly. Mortal Kombat 2 on SNES had all of the gore. If anything it had more of a Japanese vibe, I played RPG’s, shooters and adventure games, on my Genesis I played sports and fighting games. The whole kid thing didn’t come until the gamecube/Wii era. I can’t believe anyone bought the whole Sega is “edgier” ploy to american egos.

  8. TheSaintOfPain Says:

    My dad bought our first SNES the day they came out here in the U.S., along with a copy of Final Fantasy II, just like he did when the original NES came out. He, my brother and I bought and rented games for the thing like crazy, and almost wore the thing out playing it so much. Unfortunately, we lost that original console when the extra room we used for storage flooded back in about ’98 or so, and we lost it, a top-loading NES, and probably 50 games, along with most everything else we had stored in there. That NES and SNES were replaced, though, along with those games we lost in subsequent years, though.

  9. Dennis Says:

    The SNES was second Nintendo console I owned — the GameBoy being the first. I had grown up with Atari systems through the 80s — starting with the 2600, 400, 1200XL, 5200, 65XE and finally the 7800. But the call of Mario was too great to resist.

    I still have my SNES, along with a bunch of games. It was definitely my favorite home console ever. The N64 was a disappointment after the SNES. I never owned an NES until years later, so it was never as fondly remembered as the SNES was.

    Related to the SNES, the GBA was my favorite handheld system as well. I’m sure part of that was because of how similar it was in capability to the SNES. In some ways, it was like having a pocket sized SNES — though more powerful CPU wise.

    I’m not sure if any current or future console will end up grabbing my attention the way the SNES did. Being older is part of it, but the other part is that the differences between generations of today’s machines are much more subtle. We have high end GPUs on our PCs, high res displays and tons of storage. It just seems that we’re less likely to be surprised at the capabilities of our home machines. Even our phones can do more graphically than the old SNES could.

  10. technotreegrass Says:

    I had a Sega Genesis back in the day because Sonic seemed much cooler then Mario, but most of my friends had the SNES and I grew to love it, eventually buying my older cousin’s system in 1999. My all-time favorite game on the SNES? Ken Griffey Jr’s Major League Baseball. I’m not a sports fan by any means, but it was easy to play and all of my SNES friends had a copy, and we’d spend hours playing against each other, as well as even more hours customizing the names of the players, so we could yell at our teachers if they screwed up a play.

  11. Xyzzy Says:

    I was in my mid-teens when the SNES came out (we got one for Christmas, I think), and my impression varied quite a bit by game. The two I really enjoyed was Super Metroid (no kiddie factor there!) & Super Mario Kart (one of those games that was the most fun when my brother & I broke all the rules).

    There were two things I *didn’t* like about the SNES… One was the much higher percentage of cartoony or “edgy” graphics, i.e. Zelda: Link To The Past, Street Fighter, etc. The other was that unlike on the NES, awful SNES titles weren’t entertaining in the same manner as really bad movies, they were either just boring or frustrating or both. (Awful NES games like City Connection or Back To The Future made me wonder what the dev team was smoking. Bad SNES games like Merlin seemed more like something a marketing committee came up with.)

    PS. I have to agree with the person that pointed out the “kiddie” thing was a marketing issue rather than reality… However, it actually targeted guys age 12-25 as part of an overall industry marketing shift, not Americans in general. (Check out former Sheri Graner Ray’s excellent game industry history, “Gender Inclusive Game Design”. I quit playing new games around then, but didn’t know why I felt so put off until I read GIGD several months back.)

  12. TechnoHat Says:

    Back then there weren’t system launch days like there are now. Nintendo would ship the systems to the stores and when the stores received them they put them on the shelves. So even though Nintendo started shipping to stores in late August, my local department stores (Shopko and K-Mart) didn’t receive their units until the end of September. I picked up my console on Oct 1, 1991 at K-Mart. Twenty years later I’m still playing the exact same console. The sheer number of great games released for the SNES is staggering. Third parties actually produced a bunch of good games instead of mostly shovelware crap like they do today. That’s not to say there aren’t bad games on the SNES, there are, lots of them in fact, but the percentage of good games to bad are much better on the SNES than pretty much any other console. When the Super Nintendo was first announced I wasn’t originally going to get it, but then when I noticed the number of new NES games started drying up and sequels to games I really liked were announced as being release on the upcoming Super Nintendo I changed my mind. The multi-page spread EGM did on their Super Famicom copy of Super Mario World made the decision easier. When Nintendo Power announced that Final Fantasy II, Super Castlevania IV and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past were coming I was SUPER excited (pun intended). Shortly after i got my Super Nintendo, one of my controllers started rattling. A piece of plastic had broken off inside. It still worked though. I called Nintendo and they apologized and said that was a common problem and sent me two free controllers! Nintendo’s customer service is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Every time I’ve had to call them about something it’s been a real pleasure. My Super Nintendo has gotten more playtime than any other console and probably more than several of my consoles combined. If you don’t already have one, why not?

  13. Braybett Says:

    My older brother bought us a SNES at launch. We only had Super Mario World to start with, and he hates Mario games, and openly complained about having bought the SNES at all (it was pretty darned expensive at launch). In time, we got other games, and we played together often. My father hated video games and we had to keep its purchase a secret–I remember that our TV was on top of our dresser, and we ran all the cables into the top drawer where the Super Nintendo was hidden.

    My brother is now in a home for crazy people, and I gave him our old SNES earlier this year and hooked it up to his TV. He completely remembered how to play Ultraman, and even got further than I could (stand to).

    He ended up selling our old SNES just a few weeks later for a couple packs of cigarettes, and though I was a little mad, he bought it to begin with 20 years ago. It’s his choice.

    Good bye little SNES.

  14. roflmao Says:

    I bought my SNES via Sears Catalog when it was first released. I still own, and use almost daily, that exact same system.

    In the mid-90s, when I was going through college, I made the mistake of selling my TurboDuo collection (a costly mistake as it wasn’t more than a couple of months before I started building up that collection again). I decided I never wanted to make that mistake again so I airbrushed my SNES some really gaudy blue and green colors so it wouldn’t ever be worth anything to anyone else.

    I’m so glad I did that. Who would have thought 20 years later the system would still be alive and kicking and still getting so much use? My 3-year-old LOVES watching me play Super Mario World, thanks to Yoshi. I wish I was as good (patient) at that game as I was back in the day. 🙂

    And I still love playing through Super Mario RPG and CHrono Trigger every now and then. And the shmups! Axelay, Super R-Type, Gradius III, Thunder Spirits, all awesome.

  15. XCALIBR8 Says:

    I got my first SNES in 1993 with Street Fighter II. I remember my Parents giving me a hard time, insisting that they were going to buy a game called “Street Sweeper II” I was pretty certain that game didn’t exist, but it was before the internet so I couldn’t just look it up on the web. In the later 90’s I traded the SNES for a ton of SEGA Genesis games. Now over the years I have bought back all the games I really liked, and have a few systems again. The SNES truly stands the test of time.

  16. Shawn Says:

    I was only 5 when SNES came out I could only play Super Mario World and Mario Kart while the young adults played Mortal Kombat on their Genesis so I missed out on the Genesis as I was too young and not allowed to play it. Becuase I was so young and had no income I missed out on the great SNES RPGs. 10 Years later the Gameboy Advance came out when I was a teenager (15 year old) plus I had a bigger personal income with summer jobs so I finnaly got to play 16 bit games that I missed out on SNES or Genesis when I was a lil kid.

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