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 A technology that everybody was going to use even after it became hopelessly outdated.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.
The Satellaview was an add-on for the Super Famicom that allowed the console to receive and decode satellite TV signals. Basically, you tuned into games like they were TV shows. The game would be streamed to the Satellaview during the designated time, and, once it was over, you had to stop playing and wait for the game to be broadcast again. Nintendo made a number of unique games for the Satellaview, including a 16-bit remake of The Legend of Zelda, that are sadly lost today because they only ever existed as a satellite stream. The Satellaview was actually a solid success, and was supported by Nintendo and their satellite partner from 1995 all the way to the year 2000.
The Super Scope got Nintendo in trouble with Congress.
In the early ’90s, members of the United States Congress, led by Senator Joe Lieberman, started to get very concerned about how “hyper violent” video games were affecting the children. Sega, who allowed edgy titles like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap on their consoles uncut were the main target of Congress’ ire, while Nintendo, who infamously turned Mortal Kombat‘s blood to “sweat,” thought they’d escape scrutiny. Ah, but Nintendo underestimated Sega’s pettiness, and the ability of ’90s politicians to be offended by ridiculous things.
During one hearing, Sega Vice President Bill White brought in Nintendo’s Super Scope, which, gasp, looked like a (totally rad) toy bazooka. Joe Lieberman, at his hyperbolic best, declared that the Super Scope looked “like an assault weapon.” Hoo boy. All of Nintendo’s censorship over the years ended up not mattering – in the end, they were pulled into the mire because of a gun peripheral that nobody even used that much.
Several top N64 games started as SNES projects.
Imagine this with even fewer textures.
Nintendo extended the life of the Super Nintendo significantly by packing special performance boosting processors, most notably the Super FX chip, directly into game cartridges. The result was groundbreaking games like Star Fox and Yoshi’s Island. The approach worked so well, Nintendo started working on a series of more ambitious 3D games for the SNES, before deciding a whole new console, the N64, was probably a good idea.
Super Mario 64, the N64’s most defining piece of software, was originally planned for the SNES. A number of the ideas for Star Fox 64 originated in the unpublished Star Fox 2 for the SNES. Rare was also working on a 3D SNES game called Project Dream, which they eventually re-worked into Banjo-Kazooie. Basically, any good game that came out in the first couple years of the N64 probably spent at least a little time on the SNES.
The PlayStation started as an SNES add-on.
Yes, Sony’s PlayStation, the console that finally, indisputably, knocked Nintendo off its throne, was partially birthed by Nintendo itself. Nintendo and Sony began working on a CD add-on to the SNES in the late ’80s before the console was even released. Eventually, a deal developed whereby Sony would make an add-on for the SNES called, appropriately, the SNES-CD, while also making their own standalone console called the Play Station that would play both CDs and SNES cartridges.
Unfortunately, there was trouble in paradise. Nintendo discovered last-second that the contract they signed would give Sony most of the profits for CD-based games sold on the SNES-CD and Play Station, which Nintendo wasn’t about to stand. So, literally hours after the Sony/Nintendo collaboration was announced, Nintendo stabbed their partner in the back and revealed Philips was now making their CD add-on, in exchange for Nintendo letting licenses like Mario and Zelda appear on Philips’ new machine, the CD-i. The Philips SNES add-on never materialized, and the those CD-i games, well, we all know how that went.
Meanwhile, Sony was like, “Well, f*ck you, too,” took the SNES slot out of their Play Station, and, in 1995, released the PlayStation (no more space in the name) on their own. Only a couple hundred Nintendo/Sony Play Stations were ever produced. They were almost thought to be a myth, but, as you can see in the video at the top of this entry, somebody recently found one in their attic. Ah, what could have been.
You’re not crazy. Super Nintendos do turn yellow with time.
I think this SNES needs to stop drinking.
Have you ever thought your old SNES looked just a bit shabby when you pulled it out of its box in the basement? Was it always that yellow? No, it definitely wasn’t. Nintendo mistakenly mixed too many fire retardant chemicals into the plastic of early Super Nintendos. These chemicals are loaded with the metal bromine, which is very susceptible to oxidization and causes the yellowing (later versions of the SNES fixed this issue). So, yes, if you bought an SNES near launch, it’s probably a sickly smoker’s teeth yellow today, but, hey, at least you’d be able to play Super Metroid in the midst of a burning house.
So, there you are, a few facts about the super-est video game console of all damn time. Know of any SNES quirks I missed? Just want to reminisce about your “Play It Loud” youth? Hit the comments and let’s press start on this conversation.