Nintendo was late to the 16-bit war by the time the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had reached the shores of North America in 1991, almost a year after it first touched down and sold out in Japan on November 21st, 1990. So anticipated was its release, it’s said that Nintendo’s president, Hiroshi Yamauchi, exercised extreme secrecy and security around the shipments worried over whether the yakuza would steal a few of them away.
Both Sega’s Genesis and NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 had already entered the race in North America in 1989 (and like many releases, came out in Japan first — 1987 for the TG-16 known as the PC Engine there and 1988 for the Mega Drive which would be renamed the Genesis for the West).
But the Super Famicom, renamed and sporting a redesigned look for the West as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), would help show that Nintendo was only being fashionably late to the party. It packed impressive hardware within its plastic shell, debuted at $199, and had pack-in games to sweeten the pot.
It would also raise the ante on one of gaming’s biggest rivalries giving new life to the phrase “console war” as both Sega and Nintendo duked it out with plenty of smack from games to ads (though Sega seemed to take on the more aggressive posture with its more rebellious attitude).
What I remember the SNES for are the RPGs. The Sega Genesis had its own share of RPGs, too, such as Phantasy Stars II – IV, action RPGs like Landstalker, and tactical ones like Shining Force. But the SNES also had a happy plate of amazing ones from one of the best in the business, Squaresoft, with classics like Final Fantasy III (which was actually FF6 in Japan), Super Mario RPG, and Chrono Trigger. There was also EarthBound and even Capcom would get into the mix with Breath of Fire. And what would a Nintendo system be without a Zelda title? In this case, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Playing Super Mario World for the first time was like having my eyes bathed in some of the brightest colors and amazing sprite work that I had ever seen — the sheer difference between the NES and the SNES was just incredible, and even from the Sega Genesis. I love my Sega Genesis, but the SNES’ colors and sound were markedly different with softer edges, vibrant audio, and special effects like Mode 7’s scaling and rotation. Was it better? That’s arguable, but it was a certainly different and exciting feature to see in games that made use of it like the futuristic racer, F-Zero.
Aside from Super Mario World (which is also celebrating its 25th today as it came with the SNES…ahh, pack-in games, how I miss thee), one of the other games that I played was Actraiser. I remember playing it on through the night — it just pulled me in as a guardian “angel” of a growing civilization and as an action-packed adventure to open up new lands to help them expand. From my sky palace, I’d dive down to the surface to do battle with evil monsters in a side-scrolling battle for survival, Mode 7 kicking in as it scaled the surface up into my face while spinning it against the backdrop of a musical cue that set me up for the fun to come. It just set my imagination on fire.
Over time, my perceptions of both consoles would settle down into what I used either one mostly for. I’d see the Genesis as my action, go to platform for games like Sonic, Streets of Rage, Target Earth (Assault Suit Leynos in Japan), Arcus Odyssey, and Thunder Force III. The SNES (aside from the PC) would be more of my RPG focus with a few action games also thrown in for fun such as Konami’s amazing Batman Returns beat ’em up, Contra III: The Alien Wars, or Axelay. Even though there was a console war on, I liked both for different reasons because ultimately, they both had games I liked playing.
The SNES eventually pushed past its rivals and helped Nintendo claim the top once again when everyone began looking at the next generation in the mid 90s. And once again, players had to make a choice. But the SNES still remains one of my favorite consoles. It had a lot of fun games, was a solid piece of great hardware, and was the only platform where I could skydive as a sword-wielding angel or level up Bowser as a member of my party.
Happy 25th Anniversary, Super Nintendo!