The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (officially abbreviated as Super NES and SNES), commonly known as Super Nintendo, is a 16-bit video game console developed by Nintendo. It is the second video game home console released by Nintendo internationally. The successor to the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System featured enhanced graphics, a brand new controller with additional buttons, superior sound and more features.
While not as successful as the Nintendo Entertainment System before it, the SNES still proved a formidable competitor in the 16-bit era, eventually seizing first place for the generation. The system initially had a slow start trailing behind the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe and Japan) though it largely surpassed NEC's TurboGrafx-16.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was host to numerous classic video games, including titles such as Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country, Street Fighter II, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Star Fox, F-Zero, and Super Mario Kart. These titles sold millions of copies and would help cement the SNES as the leader of the fourth generation. Third parties such as Square, Enix, and Capcom would assist in the huge success of the console.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was first released in Japan under the name Super Famicom on November 21, 1990. In a little over half a year, the system was released in North America in August of 1991 and in Europe and Australia in 1992. Nintendo also released the console in South America starting in 1993. Nintendo would eventually manufacture SNES systems with different casings and label them with new names such as Super Famicom Jr. and SNS-101. The new systems didn't offer anything new to the gaming experience, though were meant to spark interest in the system once again long after the initial shipment. In South Korea, the Super Nintendo was distributed as the Super Comboy by Hyundai Electronics. Unlike the Hyundai Comboy, which is a renamed American NES, the Super Comboy is a renamed Japanese/European model.
It was the final home console to have a different name and different design in different countries.
History and Development
The Nintendo Entertainment System was going strong years after it was released. Near the end of the eighties, system-sellers were still being launched for the console such as Super Mario Bros. 3, which went on to become one of the best selling video games of all time. Several Nintendo competitors wanted a piece of the pie, however, and thus released more advanced systems meant to compete with the NES.
The first on the scene was Hudson Soft and NEC Corporation with the TurboGrafx-16 (also known as the PC Engine), which they released in 1987, three years before the Super Famicom would be launched in Japan. While considered a part of the 16-bit era, the CPU was actual 8-bit. Nevertheless, the console proved formidable in Japan. One year later Sega unleashed the Sega Genesis. Though the Genesis was more or less a failure in Japan, the Genesis became a serious competitor in North America. Either way, Nintendo realized that they needed to act quickly in order to counter the effect imposed by the new hardware, and in response to the TurboGrafx-16, they started development on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Designer of the Famicom, Masayuki Uemura directed the development of the new system. Nintendo initially released the Super Famicom in Japan on November 21, 1990 at a price of ¥25,000. The first shipment contained 300,000 SNES units, which all sold within a matter of a few hours. Nintendo shipped the Super Famicom units in secret as not to gain the attention of the Yakuza, who they feared would potentially steal the hardware and software. The system proved so successful in its first day in part because of a launch lineup that, while astonishingly small (two games only), featured impressive titles including Super Mario World and F-Zero.
Super Mario World, the successor to Super Mario Bros. 3, is best known for introducing Mario's sidekick Yoshi while F-Zero made extensive use of Mode 7, allowing the game to do things that would have been impossible on the NES.
Due the impressive figures of the Super Famicom, several third party developers who supported Nintendo with the Famicom announced their commitment to the new system.
These third parties would be pivotal to the success of the system, especially companies such as Square (Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger), Enix in Japan (Dragon Quest series), Capcom (Street Fighter II, and Mega Man X series), and others. Western companies in North America and Europe would eventually start to develop titles for the system as well including companies such as Midway (Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam). Most hard hitting titles, however, came from Japanese developers.
Nintendo would release the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America on August 23, 1991 for $199 . Unlike in Japan, Nintendo of America packaged Super Mario World with the system for free, similarly to how they packaged Super Mario Bros. with the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The North American launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System contained more titles than the Japanese launch, including Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings, Gradius III, and SimCity.
While still not a particularly large launch, it did contain many titles that would go on to sell millions. Interestingly, the Japanese branch of Nintendo did not design the American Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Instead, a man by the name of Lance Barr designed the hardware (he also designed the NES). Lance Barr explained that he didn't like the look of the Super Famicom, saying that it was too "soft and had no edge" . Nintendo Power revealed several unused designs that were drawn by Barr, all of which led to the final creation. Barr explained that he designed the Super Famicom in a way so that drinks could not placed on it, and that the indention in the X and Y buttons were made so that players could tell the difference between them and the A and B buttons.
A year after the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America, the system made its way into Europe and Australia with a soft launch first in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The European Super NES was a near direct copy of the Japanese model after marketing reportedly found that the American version tested poorly. The colors and shape were all the same, and the buttons on the controller were red, blue, yellow and green like the Super Famicom controller (the American controller were shades of purple). After the release in PAL territories, Nintendo launched the system in other parts of the world including Brazil and South Korea.
The SNES is perhaps most widely known to Americans due to the infamous console war that existed between it and the Sega Genesis. The competition developed advertisements that would downplay the NES & SNES, showcasing the Genesis's strengths, with catchphrases such as "Genesis does what Nintendon't" and "Welcome to the next level", and the repeated use of the term "blast processing" in reference to the Genesis having slightly faster clock speeds than the SNES. Additionally, Sega repeatedly mocked the TurboGrafix-16's claim of being the first 16-bit console, as the latter still used an 8-bit processor.
Sega's advertisements were based on extensive research on teenage subcultures, allowing for a crass, aggressive campaign that played up the Genesis as a more mature console though Nintendo's ad campaigns attempted to play up similar trends like the "Play It Loud" campaign. Sega's mature reputation was best exemplified by the home console ports of Mortal Kombat, an arcade game infamous for its large amounts of gore at the time. While both the SNES and Genesis ports had most of the gore censored, the Genesis port outsold the SNES one after a cheat code was discovered in the Genesis version that would restore the arcade version's violence.
The incident soured public perception of Nintendo, prompting them to start easing up on their censorship policies from the NES era; later Mortal Kombat games would be ported to the SNES uncensored, and these SNES versions would go on to outsell their Genesis counterparts. It is because of this that mature games such as Doom and Killer Instinct would be able to see uncensored releases on Nintendo consoles. However, Nintendo still implemented censorship on games that were developed with younger audiences in mind, removing references to drugs, religion, etc. just as they had done before.
During the SNES vs. Genesis console war, the United States Congress conducted hearings on violence in video games after public backlash towards Mortal Kombat and the Sega CD game Night Trap. These hearings would eventually lead to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which would analyze content in video games and mark them based on which age group they considered each video game to be appropriate for. The creation of the ESRB is also credited with Nintendo becoming slightly more lenient towards the publishing of mature games on their systems.
Another element brought on by the competition was the advent of add-ons that played games on CDs rather than cartridges; said add-ons caught public eye as CDs held significantly more space than cartridges and were much easier to manufacture. Among other features, CD add-ons allowed for full-motion video (albeit in a severely compressed format to fit on the disc), an idea unheard of for console games. The TurboGrafix-16 pioneered CD gaming with the release of the TurboGrafix-CD, while Sega responded in turn with the Sega CD.
Seeing this emerging market, Nintendo entered talks with Sony for a proposed CD add-on for the SNES. The add-on eventually became the PlayStation, a 32-bit console which would support both SNES cartridges and CDs. However, Nintendo quietly abandoned the proposition after learning that the agreements for it would give Sony full control over all PlayStation games, choosing instead to work with the American electronics company Phillips. Talks with Phillips eventually led to the creation of the CD-i, which featured several games based around Nintendo properties.
The CD-i ended up being a failure however, in part due to Phillips never intending for it to be used as a video game console, and Nintendo decided to stick with cartridges for the remainder of the SNES's lifespan as long loading times and FMV-reliant shovelware dragged down competing CD add-ons. Sony, meanwhile, took the PlayStation to Sega before they too rejected it, prompting Sony to release the PlayStation as an independent console in 1994.
Despite stiff competition from the TurboGrafix-16 in Japan and the Sega Genesis in the US, the SNES ultimately emerged in first-place due to its superior technological capabilities and strong output of games that took advantage of them to good effect, such as Donkey Kong Country and Star Fox, and managed to successfully stay afloat during the advent of the 32-bit era.
Today, the SNES is widely regarded as one of the greatest video game consoles of all time. In 1996, the SNES was succeeded by the Nintendo 64, a console four times as powerful as the SNES though not nearly as successful. A year later, Nintendo of America stopped shipping SNES games to stores, shortly after the release of their last first-party game for the system, Kirby's Dream Land 3. The SNES was ultimately discontinued in 1999 in America and 2003 in Japan. The last official titles published for the console were Frogger (1998) in North America and Metal Slader Glory: Director's Cut (2000) in Japan.
|Processor||Ricoh 5A22, based on a 16-bit 65c816 core|
Bus: 3.58 MHz, 2.68 MHz, or 1.79 MHz
Bus: 3.55 MHz, 2.66 MHz, or 1.77 MHz
|Buses||3.55 MHz, 2.66 MHz, or 1.77 MHz|
|Resolutions||Progressive: 256x224, 512x224, 256x239, 512x239|
Interlaced: 512x448, 512x478
|Pixel depth||2, 4, 7, or 8 bpp indexed; 8 or 11 bpp direct|
|Total colors||15-bit RGB (32,768 colors)|
|Colors per sprite||16 (4-bit)|
|Sprites||128, 32 max per scanline; 8x8 to 64x64 pixels, 272 max per line|
|Backgrounds||Up to 4 planes; each up to 1024x1024 pixels|
|Effects||•Pixelization (mosaic) per background|
•Color addition and subtraction
•Clipping windows (per background, affecting color, math, or both)
•Scrolling per 8x8 tile
•Mode 7 matrix operations
|Processors||Sony SPC700, Sony DSP|
|Clock Rates||Input: 24.576 MHz|
|Format||16-bit ADPCM, 8 channels|
|Output||32 kHz 16-bit stereo|
|Effects||•ADSR envelope control|
•Frequency scaling and modulation using Gaussian interpolation
•Echo: 8-tap FIR filter, with up to .24s delay
|Main RAM||128 kB|
|Video RAM||64 kB main RAM|
512 + 32 bytes sprite RAM
256 × 15 bits palette RAM
|Audio RAM||64 kB|
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is popular due to its wide selection of triple-A titles from Nintendo and numerous third parties. Some of the most popular games released on the system by Nintendo include Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and its sequels, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Star Fox, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Pilotwings, and others.
Third parties were also largely successful on the SNES, with Square, Enix, Capcom, Midway and others striking it big with titles such as Final Fantasy IV-VI, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest VI, NBA Jam, Street Fighter II (and its various incarnations), Disney titles and more.
With the release of the Game Boy Advance, many classic SNES titles were ported over to the handheld, once again receiving a large amount of success. Some of the SNES games re-released as Game Boy Advance titles include Super Mario Bros. 2-3, Super Mario World 1-2, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the entire SNES Final Fantasy library, all three Donkey Kong Country games, and others.
The Nintendo DS was also used to recreate classic SNES titles such as Chrono Trigger, Kirby Super Star Ultra and Final Fantasy IV being released to wide acclaim and large sales, proving that even though the games were over 10 years old at the time, they were still very enjoyable. Kirby Super Star Ultra, a remake of Kirby Super Star, went on to sell more than the other two Kirby games for the DS.
Top ten best-selling SNES games
The following are the top ten best-selling games in all the regions.
- Super Mario World - 20.61 million copies
- Super Mario All-Stars - 10.55 million copies
- Donkey Kong Country - 9.3 million copies
- Super Mario Kart - 8.76 million copies
- Street Fighter II: The World Warrior - 6.3 million copies
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest - 5.15 million copies
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - 4.61 million copies
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island - 4.12 million copies
- Street Fighter II Turbo - 4.1 million copies
- Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! - 3.51 million copies
Several variations of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System were released. The Japanese version, known as the Super Famicom, was the initial pieces of hardware. The European and Australian version, collectively known as the PAL version, retains a similar appearance to the Japanese version while the American SNES was built from scratch and designed by Lance Barr. Both Japan and North America received upgrades to the SNES in the form of the Super Famicom Jr. in Japan and the SNES-101 in North America. Japan also received a Sharp-developed television set with a Super Famicom built in called SF1.
Like the NES before it, a diverse set of accessories were released for the Super Nintendo over the course of its lifetime. Some of the peripherals, such as the Super Scope, were evolutions of NES accessories (in this case, an evolution of the NES Zapper), while others were wholly unique to the system such as the SNES Mouse. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller is a huge improvement over the Nintendo Entertainment System controller.
It features two shoulder buttons (a first for a video game controller), four face buttons (two more than the NES controller had), a D-pad (pioneered by the Game & Watch game Donkey Kong), and a start and select button. The controller itself is often called a "dog-bone". This controller style has become very popular among aftermarket controller companies, and the button selection and layout is the basis for many other console controllers.
The SNES-CD was a CD-ROM drive add-on for the SNES, developed jointly by Nintendo and Sony. The device was eventually made standalone and revealed at CES 1991. However, Nintendo had by then made a deal with Philips to create the CD drive, and attempts by Nintendo and Sony to repair relations failed. The Philips CD drive eventually became the Philips CD-i, and the Sony standalone device eventually became the Sony PlayStation.
Reception and Legacy
Today the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is looked back at with high regard. When critics and publications list the greatest video game systems of all time, the Super Nintendo is commonly near the top. CNET columnist Don Reisinger wrote an article titled "The SNES is the greatest console of all time", listing its strengths over other systems that also regularly hold that title including the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the SEGA Genesis, and the PlayStation, saying "... think of the world the SNES spawned. Instead of releasing a veiled copy of the NES to get in on the fight with Sega earlier, Nintendo created a follow-up that was worthy of the 'Super' moniker and gave developers the license they needed to create the legendary titles that we still play today."
During the seventh generation, IGN posted an article on their website listing the top twenty five video game consoles. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was listed as number four, being surpassed only by the PlayStation 2 (3), Atari 2600 (2), and Nintendo Entertainment System (1). IGN highly praised the SNES, stating that "when it comes to a pure concentration of AAA titles, few consoles – if any – can stand up to the Super NES.". In the article, Nintendo writer Craig Harris claimed that the SNES was his first system that he bought on day one, and that he spent more time playing Pilotwings than Super Mario World.
Chris Buffa of GameDaily.com listed the Super Nintendo Entertainment System as the fifth best system of all time in 2008, saying "when it comes to a pure concentration of AAA titles, few consoles – if any – can stand up to the Super NES."
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was the last console to have a different design built for American and Japanese audiences. A trend that didn't last long, Lance Barr claims that building a unique design for the major territories had its ups and its downs, saying "Individually designing a product for a given market would definitely appeal to more consumers, and would be seen as having a more current, in style look." He went on to say that while the designs for each market are similar, there are occasionally subtle differences, such as in the color of the system. This is especially evident in Nintendo's newer handhelds and, to a lesser extent, accessories.
During the launch of the Super NES, TIME magazine wrote an article discussing the release of the system and ended with a piece wondering whether or not Nintendo would be successful with the SNES or end up like Atari, saying "Nintendo should be able to drum up enough excitement to sell out this year's supply of 2 million Super NES sets. What's less clear is how long that enthusiasm will last. At best, say analysts, over the next five years Nintendo will sell about two-thirds as many of the new systems as it sold of the old. At worst, Nintendo could end up like Atari, which in the early 1980s tried to replace a wildly successful video-game player with one that was more powerful but incompatible. Atari ended up with a mountain of unsold game cartridges that got loaded onto dump trucks and used as landfill." 
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System performed phenomenally, selling 49.10 million units worldwide (23.35 million in North America and 17.17 million in Japan). The Super Nintendo's main competitor was SEGA's Genesis system, which became popular due to SEGA's advertising and the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as several "mature" titles intended for older gamers. Some credit the SNES's success over the Genesis to Capcom's Street Fighter 2 video game, which took over a year to port to the Genesis. Another important factor was the fact that Sega discontinued the Genesis far earlier than the SNES, as while the Genesis died around 1997-1999, the SNES remained popular well into the year 2000.
The games released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System also performed admirably. Super Mario World is the best selling game for the system, partly due to the fact that in several territories it was packaged with the system. Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Kart proved to be the most successful stand alone titles at an estimated eight million copies sold each. Capcom sold millions of copies of its Street Fighter II series, of which several iterations were released for the SNES. Capcom also released the game for the Genesis, though it wouldn't release until a year after the SNES version launched.
- Nintendo Entertainment System (Predecessor)
- Super Famicom
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System Games
- Super Scope
- It was known in development as NES2 or Nintendo Entertainment System 2.
|Home consoles||Color TV Game 6 (1977) | Color TV Game 15 (1978) | Color TV Racing 112 (1978) | Color TV Game Block Breaker (1979) | Computer TV Game (1980) | C1 Nintendo Entertainment System TV (1983) | Famicom (1983) | Sharp Nintendo Television (1983) | Super Famicom (1990) | SF-1 Super Nintendo Entertainment System TV (1990) | Nintendo Entertainment System (Model NES-101) (1993) | AV Famicom (1993) | Nintendo 64 (1996) | Super Nintendo Entertainment System 2 (1997) | Super Famicom Jr. (1998) | Nintendo GameCube (2001) | Panasonic Q (2001) | IQue Player (2003) | Wii (2006) | Wii U (2012)|
|Game Boy line||Game Boy (1989) | Super Game Boy (1994) | Game Boy Pocket (1996) | Game Boy Light (1998) | Super Game Boy 2 (1998) | Game Boy Color (1998) | Game Boy Advance (2001) | Game Boy Advance SP (2003) | Game Boy Advance SP Mark II (2005)| Game Boy Micro (2005)|
|Nintendo DS/Nintendo 3DS line||Nintendo DS (2004) | Nintendo DS Lite (2006) | Nintendo DSi (2008) | Nintendo DSi XL (2009) | Nintendo 3DS (2011) | Nintendo 3DS XL (2012) | Nintendo 2DS (2013) | New Nintendo 3DS (2015) | New Nintendo 3DS XL (2015) | New Nintendo 2DS XL (2017)|
|Nintendo Switch line||Nintendo Switch (2017) | Nintendo Switch Lite (2019)|
|Other handhelds||Game & Watch (1980-1991) | Virtual Boy (1995) | Pokémon Mini (2001)|
|Add-ons||Family Computer Disk System (1986) | Satellaview (1993) | Super Nintendo Entertainment System CD (Canceled 1997) | Nintendo 64DD (1999) | Game Boy Player (2003) | Panasonic Q Game Boy Player (2003)|
|Other products||Arcade games | Mobile games|