This week marks the anniversary of the North American release of the legendary Super Nintendo. The SNES may not have been the most successful console in history (it sold a solid, but not record-setting, 50 million units), but it was certainly one of the best consoles of all-time. Exquisitely designed hardware, innovative features, and a huge, varied library of quality games; the SNES had it all.
Yes, the SNES was nearly a perfect console, but that doesn’t mean the system didn’t have it’s quirks. It certainly didn’t mean the 16-bit era was all drama-free smooth sailing for Nintendo. Here are a few things you may not know about the venerable Super Nintendo…
Nintendo had no intentions of making a follow-up to the NES.
Who really needs a new console when you’ve got Super Mario 3?
The Super Nintendo arrived to melt young gamers’ minds on Aug. 23, 1991, nearly two full years after the arrival of its main rival, the Sega Genesis. Why was the SNES so fashionably late? Because, frankly, Nintendo didn’t think they’d ever have to make a new system. Not any time soon, at least. They thought of the 8-bit NES as a standard platform, like the VCR player or CD player. A technology that everybody was going to use even after it became hopelessly outdated. It’s easy to see why Nintendo thought this – in the late ’80s, they controlled more than 90 percent of the home video game market.
But then a cocky little upstart named Sega just had to stick their nose into Nintendo’s lucrative business. They released the Sega Genesis, which made the NES look unmistakably weak in comparison, started luring away the third party developers Nintendo had been holding captive, and launched the ballsy “Sega does what Nintendon’t” advertising campaign. Nintendo wasn’t about to let that kind of sass go unanswered, so they begrudgingly got to work on a new gaming machine.
The Super Nintendo was going to be backwards compatible.
The original, prototype version of the SNES unveiled to the press, along with the NES add-on.
The SNES was Nintendo’s first “sequel,” and they were super worried consumers would be upset they couldn’t play their old NES games in their new console. Again, they had sold the NES as a standard platform. You were supposed to be able to keep it hooked up and play Mario 3, Zelda and all the new games forever, dammit!
Unfortunately, making the SNES backwards compatible would have forced Nintendo to charge upwards of $275 for the machine (that’s almost 500 bucks in today’s money). Nintendo’s hubris level wasn’t quite at PS3-era Sony levels yet, so built in backwards compatibility was scrapped, but there were plans to release an add-on peripheral that would play NES games. For whatever reason, the add-on never came out, either, which is a shame, although it was probably for the best for the future of the video game industry. I mean, who would ever buy another console once they had a machine that played both NES and SNES games?
The machine’s Japanese launch caused such a frenzy that lawmakers made new rules about console releases.
In Japan, the SNES (or Super Famicom, as it’s known there) launched on Nov. 30, 1990, which happened to be a Wednesday. Numerous gamers, and/or parents of gamers called in sick to work so they could line up for the launch, and when news leaked that Nintendo was only shipping a paltry 300,000 units to stores, well, things got a bit chaotic. The pushing, shoving and near rioting was so bad, the Japanese government handed down new rules that video game consoles could only be launched on weekends.
The SNES was designed so people wouldn’t spill drinks on it.
Nintendo resting stuff on top of the NES their own ads. We learned it from you, Nintendo!
The American NES had a distinct design that was very different than the Japanese version of the system. In this case, “distinct” is a code word for “ugly.” Basically, Nintendo of America designed the system to look like a VCR so consumers and retailers, still cautious after the video game crash of the mid-’80s, wouldn’t be weirded out. From that perspective, the design of the NES was a success, but it also had some major flaws. One of those flaws was that the system had a nice flat top people couldn’t resist resting drinks on. Of course, this led to the inevitable, and Nintendo’s service center was inundated with consoles filled with grape Fanta.
The SNES was specifically designed by Lance Barr (the guy who also did the American NES) to avoid those messy issues. The SNES loaded on the top rather than the front to discourage people from using it as a platform for anything else. Also, the loading bay area is raised and slightly curved to further dampen drink balancing urges. Sure, there were still ways to accidentally pour a drink into your SNES, but, thanks to the console’s design, you really had to work at being an idiot.
There was an arcade version of the SNES.
An old dude with a upside-down controller on his face could totally pass for cool in the ’90s.
Were you one of those unfortunate kids whose family couldn’t afford a Super Nintendo? It’s okay, $200 was a lot of money in 1991. Thankfully, Nintendo released a now rarely-seen arcade cabinet called the Nintendo Super System that let you play select SNES games one quarter at a time. Not a lot of these babies were made, and the games available on them were a pretty bizarre lot. In addition to obvious choices like Super Mario World and F-Zero, you could also play Push-Over, Lethal Weapon, RoboCop 3, The Addams Family, Act Raiser, NCAA Basketball, Super Soccer, Skins Golf, Super Tennis, Contra 3 and Ultimate Tennis. Not exactly a murders’ row of the Super Nintendo’s finest, but, hey, if all you’ve got is quarters, I guess that’s what you get.
In Japan, the Super Famicom had a primitive form of cloud gaming.
The 16-bit remake of The Legend of Zelda you’ll never get to play.
Streaming games from the cloud is something we’ve heard a lot about over the past few years, and yet the technology never quite seems to come together or truly take off. Well, believe it or not, Nintendo had a fully-functional game streaming service working on the Japanese SNES in the late ’90s.