Super Nintendo Entertainment System

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was Nintendo's follow-up to the NES, and was released on August 23, 1991 for $199. Now a 16-bit system, the SNES carried with it all the popularity and 3rd party support it accumulated in the 8bit era. Despite launching much later than the Sega Genesis, the SNES became the best selling system of the generation, and even survived long after 32bit consoles were being released. The system in Japan is known as the Super Famicom.

The system’s popularity skyrocketed upon release because of the pack-in title Super Mario World. Other launch titles included F-Zero, Pilotwings, SimCity, and Gradius 3.

Unlike in the NES era, Nintendo had changed many of the policies that developers found unfair. This was mainly due to losing a lawsuit which prevented Nintendo from stopping developers who wanted to release their games on another platform. They also lifted the 5 game a year restriction, which caused the formation of many sister companies during the 8bit era. Because of this, many developers were able to finally release their games on both the SNES and the Genesis; however, as the SNES was the clear market leader, it still had much more support. Many companies like Squaresoft and Enix didn't produce any Genesis games, and companies like Capcom would license their titles to Sega, but only develop for the SNES.

One policy which Nintendo maintained was its censorship practices, which prevented violent and sexual content to appear in video games. Because of this, the uncensored Genesis Mortal Kombat outsold the SNES version (which contained no blood) by a ratio of 4:1. Because of the increase of violent video games of the era however, hearings led to the creation of the Interactive Digital Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which determined ratings on all video games. With these ratings in place, Nintendo decided its censorship policies were no longer needed. Later games, like Mortal Kombat II, were released uncensored.

Peripherals released for the SNES included:

The Super Scope, a successor to the NES Zapper; this wireless, over the shoulder light gun resembled a rocket launcher, but wasn't as widely supported as the original Zapper. Key games included the Super Scope 6, and Yoshi's Safari.

The Super Advantage, which was the follow-up to the NES Advantage; an arcade-style joystick with turbo settings.

A Mouse, which was released with Mario Paint, also supported by a select few other games including Civilization, Wolfenstien 3d, and Doom.

Hudson Soft released a multitap to support multi-player Bomerman games.

The Super Gameboy was an oversized cartridge which had a slot for Gameboy and Gameboy Color games. The games could be played on the TV with the SNES controller, and even in color, as the system supported several limited color palettes. In Japan only, the Super Gameboy 2 was released which added an input for the multi-player cable to allow two systems to connect to each other for 2 or more player games.

Also in Japan only, Nintendo released the Satellaview for the Super Famicom. This add-on attached to the expansion port beneath the console and allowed the player to connect to the St.GIGA satellite radio station to download gaming news and specially designed games, which were frequently either remakes of, or sequels to, older Famicom titles, released in installments. Satellaview signals were broadcast from April 23, 1995 through June 30, 2000.

Nintendo also had two separate failed attempts to create a CD add-on like the Sega CD. The first was designed by Philips, and when it failed, they gained rights to Nintendo titles and went on to build the CD-I. The second was by Sony and it became the precursor to the Sony Playstation.

The SNES had certain graphical enhancements that made certain titles stand out from what was possible on other 16-bit consoles, because of the SNES’ powerful graphics and sound co-processors, which allowed impressive tiling and Mode 7 effects. Modes 0 through 6 are typical tiling modes, which allow for different layers of tiles, including different tile sizes and colors, but Mode 7 allowed for huge titles of 128px x 128px that could be rotated and scaled used matrix transformations. Additional effects could be applied, which led to the creation of games like Pilotwings, and was used more sparsely in titles like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.

As well as the graphical chips in the console itself, game cartridges could contain additional chips for use. The most well known was the Super FX chip, which was first used in the game Starfox. The chip allowed the game to produce 3D polygon models, and apply texture mapping and light shading.

Another chip is the Nintendo fixed-point digital signal processor (DSP) chip, which allowed for fast vector-based calculations, bitmap conversions, and both 2D and 3D coordinate transformations. Four revisions of the chip exist, the DSP1 through the DSP4 version.

The SA-1 chip contained a memory mapper, DMA, decompression and bitplane conversion circuitry, several programmable timers, and CIC region lockout functionality.

In Japan, games could be downloaded for a fee from Nintendo Power kiosks onto special cartridges containing flash memory and a MegaChips MX15001TFC chip. The chip managed communication with the kiosks to download ROM images, and provided an initial menu to select which of the downloaded games would be played.

Because of problems with companies producing unlicensed titles for the original NES, Nintendo put much more of a focus on the region lockout features of the SNES. Again, the cartridge sizes were different between the North American and Japanese versions of the console. Cartridges would not fit in the opposite system unless the system casing was modified or a special adapter was used.

The system also had a CIC region lockout chip on board which prevented it from playing games from other regions. Early fixes were to disconnect a pin from the chip, but later games learned to recognize this and wouldn't play if this was a case. Switches were later designed to allow users to connect and disconnect the chip, allowing them to play games that would detect this. Also, because of the different frequencies of PAL and NTSC games, if a user overcame the first two issues, they would have problems playing PAL games at the correct speed. Gameplay would be much slower. Another switch was designed to switch the system video from 60hz to 50hz, allowing them to play PAL games at the correct speed. Because of all these lockout features, only one unlicensed game was ever released for the system. Super Noah's Ark 3D was released by Wisdom Tree (who had released quite a few unlicensed NES games); in order to bypass the lockout, the game contained a slot on the top of the cartridge in which the use must insert an official SNES title in order to play the game.

One common issue with the casing of the original consoles was that the ABS plastic used in the casing was particularly susceptible to oxidization, likely due to an incorrect mixture of the stabilizing or flame retarding additives. This causes either half, or both the top and bottom of the console to become yellow.

The fear of losing popularity to the next generation consoles was short-lived when Rare's Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994. The game sold 6.1 million units, making it the fastest-selling video game in history to that date. The game's pre-rendered graphics and enhanced audio proved that the SNES could produce games as good as any Saturn or Playstation title, and allowed the SNES to continue to sell well for the following 3-4 years.

In October 1997, Nintendo released a redesigned model of the SNES (the SNS-101 model) in North America for $99, with the game Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. This model was slimmer and lighter, but it didn't support composite video output.

On November 27, 1997 Nintendo released its final first party title, Kirby's Dream Land 3, and finally stopped producing the SNES console in 1999.

Getting a Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The SNES is an easy system to come by. The system usually goes for around $70, but can be found cheaper at used shops that don't specialize in video games. While the slim version is harder to come by, the lack of composite output makes it more of a collector’s item than a superior version of the system. It usually goes for only $10-$20 more. Also, a number of clone systems like the FC3 can play many SNES games, and many SNES games can also be purchased from Wii Virtual Console.

>> Games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System