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#079 – The History of the Super Nintendo

This week, the clan displays their SNES prowess, or lack thereof, as we review the life, legacy, and history of the Super Nintendo. Enjoy!

The SNES is a 16 bit home video game console developed by Nintendo. It was released in Japan on November 21, 1990, and came to the states on August 23, 1991. The console is known as The Super Famicom in Japan, and the Super Cowboy in South Korea. In North Korea, it is simply known as “No”. The console was a global success, despite it being late to the party. It ended up selling around 49.10 million units worldwide.  The NES came with a $200 pricetag, which is around $412 today. Nintendo’s initial shipment of 300,000 units sold out within hours of launch, and the social disturbance its launch created, caused the Japanese government to request that consoles be released on weekends. Apparently, the Yakuza also became aware of the console, which resulted in Nintendo shipping the console overnight to avoid robberies.

Much of this new consoles success can be attributed to the retention of third party developers: Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square, Koei, and Enix. The console featured few games upon release; In Japan, only two games were available in the beginning: Super Mario World and F-Zero. North America saw a Super Mario World bundle with the console, and F-zero, Pilotwings, SimCity, and Gradius III. Another reason for the Super Nintendo’s success was the early port of the classic Capcom Arcade game Street Fighter II.


Nintendo has a history of control, and family friendly practices. Each third party developer was initially only allowed to release up to five games a year, some would get around this by setting up other brands, and those five games couldn’t be released on another console within a two year period. Nintendo was also the exclusive manufacturer and supplier of NES cartridges. Competition from Sega brought this practice to an end, and in 1991 the studio Acclaim began releasing things on both platforms. The most notable holdouts were Capcom and Square. Nintendo would also meticulously review submitted titles, giving them a score out of 40. Each region did separate evaluations, and Nintendo North America decided to limit the violence in games on its systems. The game Mortal Kombat would challenge the policy. The Genesis version of the game retained the gore, and ultimately outsold the SNES version by either 3 or 4 to one.  Liberal Scum, and godfathers of the ESRB and ESA, Herb Kohl and Joe Lieberman convened a Congressional hearing on December 9, 1993 to investigate the marketing of violent video games to children. The creation of the ESRB satisfied nintendo, and they decided that their censorship policies were no longer needed.


Like I said before, the SNES was a little behind the game. While other companies were moving on to 32-bit systems, Rare and Nintendo proved that the SNES was still king. In November 1994, Rare released Donkey Kong Country, a platformer featuring 3D models and textures pre-rendered on SGI workstations. This game rivaled the aesthetic quality of the games being released on the 32-bit CD consoles. In the last 45 days of 1994, Donkey Kong Country sold 6.1 million units, making it the fastest selling videogame in history to that date. The current record holder is the famous Grand Theft Auto V, which sold 12 million units in the first day of release.


Nintendo loves their regional lockout, and took it to the next level by employing physical and hardware incompatibilities. For starters, the cartridges are shaped differently for different regions. NA cartridges are rectaangular on the bottom with inset grooves matching protruding tabs in the console, while other regions are narrower, with a smooth curve on the front and no grooves. This can, of course be modified. They also placed a lockout chip within the console aand in each cartridge. The PAL versions of a game can’t be played on a NA or Japanese console and vice versa. NA and Japan do have the same chip. There have been ways to get around it, one of them being the disconnection of one particular pin of the console’s lockout chip can prevent it. The casing for the console is slightly different in each region, and the yellowing of the console was due to the ABS plastic used for the casing. Apparently, the discoloration was due to an exposure to air, likely due to an incorrect mixture of the stabilizing, or flame retarding additives. So that’s why everyone’s SNES looks yellow.


The SNES released a slew of peripheraals throughout its lifetime. The light gun that was released for the SNES is known as the Super Scope, and the Super Advantage is the name of an arcade style joystick that was released with turbo settings. They released the SNES Mouse in conjunction to the game Mario Paint, and of course the mutitap simply known as the SuperMultitap was released with the popular Bomberman games. The most impressive release was the one that allowed the SNES to play GameBoy Games. This device was known as The Super Game Boy. The SNES would also create the first online console gaming network with the XBAND in the US. This feature allowed players to compete with each other across the country, but was shut down a mere two or three years after its inception.


During the lifespan of the SNES, Nintendo contracted with Sony and Philips to create a CD-Rom based console to compete with Sega’s Sega CD. Ultimately these deals fell through, and Sony went on to create the legendary PlayStation.


The SNES was given the ability to interface special coprocessor chips into the console itself, thus making its CPU not obsolete a few years after release. The Super FX was designed to perform functions that the main CPU couldn’t do. It helped create 3D game worlds with polygons, texture mapping, and light source shading. It could also be used to enhance the consoles 2D library. They later released the SA-1 chip that clocked in at a whopping 10MHz. Japan also had little Nintendo Power Kiosks that could be used to Download games at a lower price onto special cartridges using flash memory.


The SNES didn’t repeat the success of the NES, it was still the best selling console of its era. In 2007, GameTrailers named the SNES the second greatest console of all time due to graphics, sound, and the high quality library of games. It was also listed as Nintendos best console by GameTrailers in 2015.


Top Ten Selling SNES Games

  1. Super Mario Worlds
  2. Super Mario All-Stars
  3. Donkey Kong Country
  4. Super Mario Kart
  5. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
  6. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
  7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  8. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
  9. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  10. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!

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