The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was Nintendo's second home console, following the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The console introduced advanced graphics and sound capabilities that compensated for its relatively slow CPU, compared with other consoles at the time. Additionally, the system's support for numerous enhancement chips (which shipped as part of certain game cartridges) helped to keep it competitive in the marketplace.
The SNES was a global success, becoming the best-selling console of the 16-bit era, despite its relatively late start and the fierce competition it faced in North America from SEGA's Genesis console. Some consider the SNES to embody the "Golden Age of video games", citing its many groundbreaking games and the perceived focus on gameplay over graphics and technical gimmicks. Others question this perceived romanticism, believing the system was just another step in the evolution of video game technology. The SNES remained popular well into the 32-bit era, and although Nintendo has dropped all support for the console, it continues to be popular among fans, collectors, and emulation enthusiasts, some of whom are still making "homebrew" ROM images.
To compete with the popular NES/Famicom, NEC launched the TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine in 1987, and SEGA followed suit with the Genesis/Mega Drive in 1988. Both systems were built on 16-bit architectures and offered improved graphics and sound over the 8-bit NES. However, the NES would continue to dominate the gaming market for several years before SEGA's system finally became successful. Nintendo executives were initially reluctant to design a new system, but they reconsidered when the NES hardware began to show its age. Seeing its dominance in the market slipping, Nintendo was compelled to create a new console to compete with its 16-bit rivals.
Designed by Masayuki Uemura, the designer of the original Famicom, the Super Famicom was released in Japan on Wednesday November 21, 1990 for ¥25,000 (US$210). It was an instant success: Nintendo's initial shipment of 300,000 units sold out within hours, and the resulting social disturbance led the Japanese government to ask video game manufacturers to schedule future console releases on weekends. The system's release also gained the attention of the Yakuza, leading to a decision to ship the devices at night to avoid robbery.
With the Super Famicom quickly outselling its chief rivals, Nintendo reasserted itself as the leader of the Japanese console market. Nintendo's success was partially due to its retention of most of its key third-party developers from its earlier system, including Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square Co., Koei, and Enix.
In August 1991, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a redesigned version of the Super Famicom, in North America for US$199. The SNES was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in April 1992 for GB£150, with a German release following a few weeks later. The PAL region versions of the console use the Japanese Super Famicom design, except for labeling and the length of the joypad leads. Both the NES and Super NES were released in Brazil in 1993 by Playtronic, a joint venture between the toy company Estrela and Gradiente.
The Super NES and Super Famicom launched with only a few games, but these games were well received in the marketplace. In Japan, only two games were initially available: Super Mario World and F-Zero. In North America and Europe, Super Mario World shipped with the console, and other initial titles included F-Zero, Pilotwings (which demonstrated the console's "Mode 7" pseudo-3D rendering capability), SimCity, and Gradius III.
The rivalry between Nintendo and Sega resulted in one of the fiercest console wars in video game history, in which Sega positioned the Genesis as the "cool" console, with edgy advertisements occasionally attacking the competition and more mature titles aimed at older gamers. Despite the Genesis's head start, its much larger library of games, as well as its lower price point, market share between the SNES and the Genesis was about even in April 1992, and neither console could maintain a definitive lead for several years. The Super NES eventually prevailed, dominating the American 16-bit console market, and would even remain popular well into the 32-bit generation.
Changes in policy
During the NES era, Nintendo maintained exclusive control over titles released for the system—the company had to approve every game, each third-party developer could only release up to five games per year, those games could not be released on another console within two years, and Nintendo was the exclusive manufacturer and supplier of NES cartridges. However, competition from Sega's console brought an end to this practice; in 1990, Acclaim began releasing games for both platforms, with most of Nintendo's other licensees following suit over the next several years; Capcom (which licensed some games to Sega instead of producing them directly) and Square were the most notable holdouts.
Nintendo also maintained a strict censorship policy that, among other things, limited the amount of violence in the games on its systems. One game, Mortal Kombat, would challenge this policy. A surprise hit in arcades in 1992, Mortal Kombat features splashes of blood and finishing moves that often depict one character dismembering the other. Because the Genesis version retained the gore while the SNES version did not, it outsold the SNES version three to one.
Game players were not the only ones to notice the violence in this game; US Senators Herb Kohl and Joe Lieberman convened a Congressional hearing on December 9, 1993 to investigate the marketing of violent video games to children. While Nintendo took the high ground with moderate success, the hearings led to the creation of the Interactive Digital Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and the inclusion of ratings on all video games. With these ratings in place, Nintendo decided its censorship policies were no longer needed. Consequently, the SNES port of Mortal Kombat II was released uncensored, and this time Nintendo's version outsold Sega's.
32-bit era and beyond
While other companies were moving on to 32-bit systems, Rare and Nintendo proved that the Super NES was still a strong contender in the market. In November 1994, Rare released Donkey Kong Country, a platform game featuring 3D models and textures pre-rendered on SGI workstations. With its detailed graphics and high-quality music, Donkey Kong Country rivaled the aesthetic quality of games that were being released on newer 32-bit CD-based consoles. In the last 45 days of 1994, the game sold 6.1 million units, making it the fastest-selling video game in history to that date. This game sent a message that early 32-bit systems had little to offer over the Super NES, and helped make way for the more advanced consoles on the horizon.
In October 1997, Nintendo released a redesigned SNES 2 in North America for US$99, which included the pack-in game Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. Like the earlier NES 2, the new model was slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, but it lacked S-Video and RGB output, and it was among the last major SNES-related releases in the region. A similarly redesigned Super Famicom Jr. was released in Japan at around the same time.
Nintendo of America ceased production of the SNES in 1999, about two years after releasing Kirby's Dream Land 3 (its last first-party game for the system) on November 27, 1997. In Japan, Nintendo continued production of the Super Famicom until September 2003, and new games were produced until the year 2000, ending with the release of Metal Slader Glory Director's Cut on December 1, 2000.
In recent years, many SNES titles have been ported to the Game Boy Advance, which has similar video capabilities. In 2005, Nintendo announced that SNES titles would be made available for download via the Wii's Virtual Console service. In 2007, Nintendo announced that it would no longer repair Famicom or Super Famicom systems due to an increasing shortage of the necessary parts.
Like the NES before it, the SNES has retained interest among its fans even following its decline in the marketplace. It has continued to thrive on the second-hand market and through console emulation. The SNES has taken much the same revival path as the NES (see History of the Nintendo Entertainment System).
Emulation projects began with the initial release of VSMC in 1994, and Super Pasofami became the first working SNES emulator in 1996. During that time, two competing emulation projects—Snes96 and Snes97—merged to form a new initiative entitled Snes9x. In 1997, SNES enthusiasts began programming an emulator named ZSNES. These two have remained among the best-known SNES emulators, although development continues on others as well. Recently there has been a push for exact emulation,d[›] begun in 2003 by members of both the Snes9x and ZSNES teams and others, and currently led by the development of bsnes.
Nintendo took the same stance against the distribution of SNES ROM image files and emulation as it did with the NES, insisting that they represented flagrant software piracy. Proponents of SNES emulation cite discontinued production of the SNES, the right of the owner of the respective game to make a personal backup, space shifting for private use, the desire to develop homebrew games for the system, the frailty of SNES cartridges and consoles, and the lack of certain foreign imports. Despite Nintendo's attempts to stop the proliferation of such projects, emulators and ROM files continue to be available on the Internet.
The SNES was one of the first systems to attract the attention of amateur fan translators: Final Fantasy V was the first major work of fan translation, and was completed in 1997. Emulation of the SNES is now available on handheld units, such as Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP), the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance, the Gizmondo, and the GP2X by GamePark Holdings, as well as PDAs. Nintendo's Virtual Console service for the Wii marks the introduction of officially sanctioned SNES emulation.