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Hardware Classics: Nintendo Super Famicom

Posted by Damien McFerran

Still super after all these years

To many, it's the greatest video game console ever made. The Super Famicom — or Super Nintendo Entertainment System as it is more commonly known outside of its native Japan — is host to some of the finest pieces of interactive entertainment ever made. It was on this console that Nintendo refined so many of the franchises which had made it famous on the original NES; series like Super Mario, Zelda and Metroid all came of age on the this 16-bit wonder. Third party support was almost unprecedented; big-hitters like Capcom, Konami, Square, Irem and Enix all flocked to support the console with their biggest and best releases. Although console technology has advanced to the point where photo-realistic visuals are now possible and players are able to prove their skills online with a global roster of rivals, it's genuinely difficult to think of a modern system which has a library that is as fully-formed and packed with classics as the Super Famicom (or SNES, if you prefer).

When it launched on November 21, 1990, the Super Famicom was thrust into direct competition with Sega's Mega Drive and NEC's PC Engine. Despite coming to the market late, the console swept aside all challengers when it launched, effortlessly shifting 300,000 units in hours and causing such chaos that the Japanese government famously asked console manufacturers to schedule their hardware launches during weekends in the future (November 21 was a Wednesday). Another story from the time of release was the apparent involvement of the Yakuza; Nintendo is alleged to have shipped the consoles during the night to avoid them being intercepted and stolen by Japanese criminal gangs.

The system was designed by Masayuki Uemura, who also created the original Famicom. North American readers will instantly notice that the external casing of the Super Famicom is very different from that of the US SNES. The clean lines and two-tone grey casing were replaced for the American launch by a more boxy look, along with purple-coloured buttons. Oddly, Nintendo reverted back to the Super Famicom design when the system was made available in Europe. Being a UK-based site we're clearly a little biased, but we much prefer the Super Famicom/Euro SNES design to the North American SNES shape.

One of the most memorable things about the Super Famicom was the controller — not only did it look aesthetically pleasing, but it offered more control options than had ever been witnessed before on a home console. Four face buttons — arranged in a diamond shape which has now become almost standard on all modern consoles — ensured that Nintendo fans had more buttons at their fingertips than their Mega Drive-owning chums (until the release of the six-button pad to coincide with the port of Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, Sega's console only had three face buttons). But that wasn't all; the Super Famicom pad also had L and R triggers on the top edge of the controller, which came in very handy when playing launch title F-Zero, as they allowed you to slightly bank your craft around corners. The pad remains one of the best ever seen in the business, with a rugged design and excellent D-pad. The only issue with the Super Famicom variant is that the cable is very short — possibly because Japanese rooms are traditionally a lot smaller than western ones, which means that there's little need for a long length of cable between the console and the player.

It wasn't just the console which looked different in North America - the cartridges were also re-shaped, again for a more boxy look. The Super Famicom carts (and European ones) are much sleeker, although the stickers don't cover the top edge, like they do on North American games. The different shape was also intended as a crude form of region lockout, although converter cartridges quickly appeared which allowed players to circumvent this system. Despite being the same shape, Super Famicom carts were not compatible with European systems, as Nintendo also used a lockout chip which detected the region of the host system. Japanese and American consoles both used the same region chip because of the aforementioned physical incompatibility of the cartridges made it impractical to play them without special hardware.

Collecting for the Super Famicom today can be an immensely rewarding experience. The system's popularity in Japan means that hardware and software are both readily available. There are many Japan-exclusive games — usually RPGs — which are worth collecting, although the prices of these must-have releases are usually high due to the lack of a western release. When buying hardware, be wary of badly-yellowed systems — the Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene used to manufacture the Super Famicom's casing has a habit of ageing quite badly, an apparent after-effect of the fire-retardant chemicals used in its production. This issue only impacts certain models manufactured up to a particular date, and can be reversed by using Retr0bright.

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User Comments (70)

hamsterfactor

#3

hamsterfactor said:

I love that we got the Japanese design in Europe :) My Super Nintendo is still in great shape and works perfectly.

bahooney

#5

bahooney said:

Gotta say, I love these Hardware Classics features! The writing and pictures are so cool. That said, I grew up with the US SNES, and by God, would I have taken the SFC over the SNES any day! Soooo sexy.

__efac

#6

efac said:

What a classic!

Wasn't my first console, but still the best!!

My original is still going strong (although Mario Kart is starting to play up), one console to rule them all!

THENAMESNORM

#7

THENAMESNORM said:

It was only a few years ago that I was aware of the different look for the US Snes over the UK one, but I have always and will always love the UK/Jap design more!

mandlecreed

#9

mandlecreed said:

I have the US version (a minor cart slot modification with a stanley knife allows for use of SFC carts), and UK one, and 99 games in total. To this day the library of games I have for the SNES beats that of any other console I own :)

MrGawain

#10

MrGawain said:

Having games like Super Mario World, Pilotwings, Unirally, Sim City, Castlevania IV, Desert Strike, The Addams Family, Zelda: A Link to the Past, NBA Jam, Super Mario Kart, Super Star Wars, Secret of Mana Star Fox, Pop n' Twinbee, Aladdin, Tiny Toon Adventures, Lemmings, Bomberman, Mortal Kombat, Super Punch Out, and Donkey Kong Country made this a great system, but the real star that changed gaming forever was Street Fighter 2. I can't help thinking that was the first game I had and it may have come in a bundle pack. It was the game that made it OK for your parents and older brothers and sisters want to play a video game.

Looking at this list, I can't think of 20+ games the Wii had that were real classics....

PinkSpider

#11

PinkSpider said:

yeah I have to agree the American designed snes was seriously ugly. God knows who thought it was a good idea to change it, even the cartridges were ugly.

1958Fury

#13

1958Fury said:

I spent a significant portion of my high school years in furious debate, defending the SNES's honor from Genesis lovers.

ajcismo

#14

ajcismo said:

I love debating if this was the greatest console ever and its not even my personal favorite. What a classic piece of controller design, functionality, innovation and games. Too bad the American version is super ugly, I would've much rather had the Japanese (and apparently European) model back in the day.

bedouin

#15

bedouin said:

The Japanese Famicom was butt-ugly while the US release was unlike any other console before it in design. Seems like they flipped it around for the SNES: give Japan the elegant system and let the US have the Playskool version. The Genesis definitely won the battle in design — at least in the US.

mookysam

#16

mookysam said:

I never owned a SNES but have since played many of its games either through emulation on the Wii Virtual Console or ports/remakes on systems such as the GBA or DS. It may have been 20 or so years since they were originally made, but they don't feel like they've aged at all. I think that pixel art has a timeless quality and the sound capabilities of the system were rather awesome for the time, too. Based on what I've played the SNES must have had an amazing library and surely represents one of gaming's golden ages.

Two of my all-time favourite games, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, were never originally released in Europe, buy we've been lucky to get them since. :D

Squashie

#17

Squashie said:

I think this was the generation in which Nintendo truly ruled, so many great classics came out the SNES era, it was a great example of how far Nintendo can move.

TheRavingTimes

#18

TheRavingTimes said:

Now if only Nintendo can bring several Super Famicom titles like Dragon Quest V, Fire Emblem Thracia 776, and the BS Legend of Zelda to the west.

Dpullam

#19

Dpullam said:

Unfortunately, I never had the chance to own this great system so I had to go over to my cousin's house and play it every chance I had. Good times.

RudysaurusRex

#20

RudysaurusRex said:

Super Famicom looks so much prettier than the SNES. The 4 colors vs purple and gray. The sleek vs rectangular shape.

teknik

#21

teknik said:

I had the snes in college and a few games for it starfox and donkey kong country being the stand outs that I remember. I guess with that time being before the internet age I never really knew how popular the machine was. I was a geek then and I'm a geek now! At age 40 I never did outgrow that gaming habit.

For me the NES will always be the definitive gaming machine, I mean we finially had games that were as good as the arcade! Still, there were plenty of good times with me and my snes.

KingMike

#23

KingMike said:

I've thought the US console always looked like a Kleenex box. :P

I do remember some games referred to the buttons by color, which made that a bit confusing when they forgot to change it for the US (Breath of Fire II's music minigame).

Reef7009

#24

Reef7009 said:

Ah yes , the the old super nintendo , a machine that defined the coming age of home video games. A very special era. Got this at launch way back when and was super excited . Super mario world , super r type , super castlevania , super ghouls n ghosts etc etc. A magical time.

dragon_rider

#26

dragon_rider said:

Bought one from Japan in 2006 and still works just fine. Also bought Final Fantasy V and Chrono Trigger, both games work as well :D

fluggy

#27

fluggy said:

Still the greatest. Whiling away the time in Super Mario World, Hyrule and Zebes. This was when we had 4 TV channels, cartoons were only on after school or Saturday morn and gaming was simple, sweet and innocent. A time before trophies, kill streaks, win streaks and all that online nonsense. The ultimate in multiplayer was a Sunday 'noon Mario Kart marathon on battle mode course 4 or Mana or Super bomberman with a multitap! So glad I witnessed those days before the joy got sucked out of it and where the "1" game you were playing at the time could suck you into a new world! Only time I've felt anything like that since is when playing Journey. Long live the SNES!!!

briwipdx

#28

briwipdx said:

SO many memories made. one of my biggest regrets was trading this and ALL the games i had to get the N64 (which i still loved and have.) My naive younger self was convinced that newer would be better, it wasnt. long live the SNES and thanks be to baby jesus for the GBA and Virtual Console as ive somewhat regained my collection. i heart Nintendo and their genius in game design!

HaNks

#29

HaNks said:

Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke, man I couldn't picture this.

Ryno

#32

Ryno said:

Truly, i tell you, best system ever!
Im still collecting SNES games CIB today and its not cheap but worth it!

Zeldalover

#33

Zeldalover said:

Red_Kinetic said: The only Nintendo System to have just 1 Zelda game!
And what a Zelda game it was..
The most innovative and revolutionary Zelda title to date!

I doubt Nintendo will ever be this good again.
I've never experienced anything as atmospheric as Super Metroid till this very day. My third favorite would be Yoshi's Island, and that game had the most unique graphical art style for a 2d platformer. The SNES' library shines with great games like Chrono Trigger, FFVI, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Mario Kart and more...

Lyndexer

#36

Lyndexer said:

Ah... The legendary system with unforgettable games that run threw are minds forever. My Uncle had SMB3 along with other great games that ran on this console. I wish I could get it from him...

GreatCrippler

#39

GreatCrippler said:

There were 2 little tabs in the US SNES... Break them both, and viola... you could play the J games.

Pichuka97

#40

Pichuka97 said:

Hey, this was up the other day. What happened to it cause I posted like 3 comments.

Tasuki

#41

Tasuki said:

The SNES and PS2 are possibly my favorite consoles. I still have my SNES hooked up in my man cave for quick sessions of Super Punch Out!!, Final Fight 3 or ALttP among many other games.

strenny

#42

strenny said:

The Super Nintendo really started my love for gaming. I fondly remember that 90s Xmas when it was first available in Germany. Along with two friends in my neighborhood, I made a plan already during thesummer before Christmas. We all owned gameboys and were used to hang around outside on summer evenings and negotiated wich game each of us should wish for regarding Christmas. In September I took all my pocket money savings and bought f zero. 3 month later, finally, Christmas eve... I got the Snes along with Zelda. One friend got his Snes with Mario World and SF2, and the other friend got the console with pilotwings and Sim City... What a mix of games... AWESOME!

strenny

#43

strenny said:

The Super Nintendo really started my love for gaming. I fondly remember that 90s Xmas when it was first available in Germany. Along with two friends in my neighborhood, I made a plan already during thesummer before Christmas. We all owned gameboys and were used to hang around outside on summer evenings and negotiated wich game each of us should wish for regarding Christmas. In September I took all my pocket money savings and bought f zero. 3 month later, finally, Christmas eve... I got the Snes along with Zelda. One friend got his Snes with Mario World and SF2, and the other friend got the console with pilotwings and Sim City... What a mix of games... AWESOME!

Blue-Thunder

#45

Blue-Thunder said:

Everything about the SNES was right, the controller, the games, the buzz, everything. Nintendo hit every nail on the head. Thanks for the tip about 'Retr0bright' I hadn't heard of it before might try to clean up my SNES

Albender

#47

Albender said:

Games are what define if a console is good or not. Crativity was at it's best on the SNES era.

Zodiak13

#48

Zodiak13 said:

I actually don't like the look of the Euro/Japanese version and it's not just because I'm from the U.S. I really dislike the color scheme, or lack there of, on the non U.S. model. I can't stand plain color model i.e grey/white. Probably why my white Wii is hidden in my son's room. All my other systems from the past I modified their design personally.

Neram

#49

Neram said:

"Japanese and American consoles both used the same region chip because of the aforementioned physical incompatibility of the cartridges made it impractical to play them without special hardware."

Actually you just take some needle nose pliers and take off the two tabs inside the cartridge bay. I did that to mine and I play the Japanese version of Mega Man 7 all the time.

MegaWattsAdmin

#50

MegaWatts said:

I love how the Japanese game box art is just so much cooler. F-Zero looks stunning.

A brilliant system, and my very first in fact. I too prefer the JP/Euro design!

Meaty-cheeky

#51

Meaty-cheeky said:

What a legendary console, the Super Nintendo is still one of the greatest of all time.
My love for gaming really started in this era with the SNES, GAMEBOY, and the SEGA GENESIS.

FluttershyGuy

#52

FluttershyGuy said:

Four console generations later, despite all the advances in technology, the SNES is still my all-time favorite console (and probably will be four generations from now, when we're playing holographic games, or something).

WhiteTrashGuy

#54

WhiteTrashGuy said:

Was a Genesis/SegaCD kid. Had great times with my system, but boy were there games I had to either rent the system to play over a weekend or go over to a friend's house. The same thing happened when I decided to get an N64 over a PSN. Regardless, the SNES is the best system of all time. (SSF2 with the 6-button pad trumps any of the SNES versions)

Zombie_Barioth

#55

Zombie_Barioth said:

Such a great system with so many fond memories attached to it. We had a Genesis and while I have fond memories of playing a few games on it too, Its the SNES I remember the most from my childhood.

When I finally got a new one a few years ago I got such a rush of nostalgia from the clink and chatter of the SMB Allstars menu, and discovered some new favorites to boot. I still need to get around to repairing it after the plug on the input jack broke, I keep putting it off.

Still a great console to this day, the games can easily hold up to the "modern retro" and retro-style games of today. I think Chrono Trigger being one of my favorite DS games says a lot about their quality.

retro_player_22

#56

retro_player_22 said:

These are the best games exclusive only on the Super Famicom:

  • Tales of Phantasia
  • Final Fantasy V
  • Seiken Densetsu 3
  • Romancing SaGa 3
  • Star Ocean
  • Ys IV: Mask of the Sun
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wings: Endless Duels
  • Clock Tower
  • Tactics Ogre
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
  • Popful Mail
  • Fire Emblem: Geneology of Holy Wars
  • Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
  • Front Mission
  • Dragon Quest V
  • Dragon Quest VI
  • Kirby's Super StarStacker
  • Dragon Ball Z: Legend of the Saiyans
  • Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension
  • Sailor Moon: Another Story
  • Tenchi Muyo RPG
  • YuYu Hakusho

I would had included Terranigma then again Europe also got that game.

Wheels2050

#57

Wheels2050 said:

I have a lot of fond memories of the SNES. My sister and I got the Yoshi's Island bundle for Christmas one year, and I've loved the console ever since (I still own that one - my sister turned out not to like video games nearly as much as me!).

I haven't played a huge number of SNES games, but I absolutely adore the ones I have: Yoshi's Island, F-Zero, Donkey Kong Country, Super Tennis among others.

A year or so ago I picked up a few more games that are sitting there waiting for me to play them: Link to the Past, the Super Star Wars trilogy, DKC2, Unirally, Super Metroid and Pilotwings.

Unfortunately I really only want to buy games complete with boxes and manuals, which puts many out of my price range, but I'll probably add a few more games to my collection over the next few years.

The SNES is undeniably a classic!

FOURSIDE_BOY

#58

FOURSIDE_BOY said:

@MrGawain Ok, here goes:

-SUPER MARIO GALAXY 1 AND 2
-THE LEGEND OF ZELDA SKYWARD SWORD
-KIRBY'S EPIC YARN
-KIRBY'S RETURN TO DREAMLAND
-SUPER SMASH BROS BRAWL
-MARIO KART WII (ALTHOUGH I DON'T LIKE IT)
-NEW SUPER MARIO BROS WII
-SUPER PAPER MARIO
-PUNCH OUT
-DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS
-TATSUNOKO VS CAPCOM
-SIN AND PUNISHMENT 2: SUCCESSOR OF THE SKIES
-MURAMASA THE DEMON BLADE
-SONIC COLORS
-GUILTY GEAR XX
-METROID OTHER M
-METROID PRIME TRILOGY (INCLUDES PRIME 3, A WII GAME)
-KIRBY'S DREAM COLLECTION (DON'T KNOW IF IT COUNTS BUT IT IS A WONDERFUL COLLECTION)
-WARIO LAND SHAKE-IT!
-MARIO PARTY 8 AND 9
-METAL SLUG ANTHOLOGY

THERE!, NOW YOU HAVE A LIST WITH THE BEST TITLES FOR THE SYSTEM, NOW YOU KNOW IT'S POSSIBLE, EVEN WHEN THE SNES/SFAMICOM IS THE BEST SYSTEM ALL AROUND. ALL WII EXCLUSIVES, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF GUILTY GEAR XX AND METAL SLUG ANTHOLOGY.

FOURSIDE_BOY

#59

FOURSIDE_BOY said:

@Wheels2050 Then you're going to have a hard time catching an earthbound copy, trust me; expensive as heck but the best snes game all around, good luck.

luminalace

#60

luminalace said:

Still my favourite system ever. Great 1st party titles as well as excellent 3rd party support. I had both the PAL version and the NA purple block version.

Wheels2050

#61

Wheels2050 said:

@FOURSIDE_BOY: Earthbound isn't a game I've got a lot of ambition to own - partly because I have a PAL SNES, and partly because I simply can't justify forking out its asking price.

I wouldn't mind playing it at some point to see what all the fuss is about, but I've got plenty of other games to get to in the meantime!

WOLFER

#63

WOLFER said:

Snes era.... the Golden Age of RPG's... unmatched still to this day...

BulbasaurusRex

#67

BulbasaurusRex said:

Other than its D-Pad, I still think the GameCube Controller is the best controller Nintendo has ever designed.

Sun

#68

Sun said:

@BulbasaurusRex Agreed! GC controller features the best grip and comfort.

SNES still is my favourite Nintendo console: Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Secret of Mana, Super Mario Kart, Super Street Fighter II, Super Mario All Starts... :D

Short article by the way, it looks too incomplete.

Moviefan2k4

#69

Moviefan2k4 said:

The SNES is by far one of the best systems Nintendo has ever done. I bought a refurbished one last year, and its brought back so many memories. My favorite games are "Super Mario World", the "All-Stars" combo, "Super Metroid", and "Link to the Past".

Eddsnake

#70

Eddsnake said:

The best console ever, so many classics:
Super Mario World
The Legend of Zelda: A link to the past
Super Metroid
Super Mario Kart
F-Zero
Pilotwings
Sim City
Super Castlevania IV
Streetfighter II Turbo, Super SFII & Streetfighter Alpha 2
Super Tennis
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
Actraiser
Axelay
Super Probotector (Contra III)
Super Bomberman (brilliant with 4 players via the Multitap)
Starwing (Starfox)
Yoshi's Island
Super Mario All Stars
Cybernator
Kirby's Ghost Trap (Super Puyo Puyo)
International Superstar Soccer and ISS Deluxe
Donkey Kong Country
Secret of Mana
Super Ghouls 'N' Ghosts
UN Squadron

And then there are so many great games that were never even released in Europe, foremost among them:

Final Fantasy III (VI)
Chrono Trigger
Super Mario RPG
Earthbound
Gradius III

Still have mine in use, and as well as 24 games that were bought back in the day, I'm slowly working my way through the classics that were unreleased in Europe, or that I missed first time round, via the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles.

For me the SNES will probably never be bettered.

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