Nintendo’s Response to the Console Wars Left a Mark on Video Game History
The late 1980s through most of the 1990s consists of an era video game historians refer to as The Console Wars. During this time developers of home video game consoles were vying for market domination, using advances in technology to prove which home console was the best.
While there were plenty of combatants during these console wars, most agree that the most bitter rivalry was between Sega and Nintendo. The competition between them would eventually give rise to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, colloquially referred to as the SNES.
In order to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System, known as the Family Computer or Famicom in Japan, Sega launched the Mega Drive system in 1988. This would be known as the Sega Genesis in North America.
It was an attempt to top the NES’ 8-bit graphics with new 16-bit graphics and audio, and NEC Electronics’ Turbografx-16 (Known as the PC Engine in Japan) also attempted to get in on the competition.
What Made the Super Nintendo Super?
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or Super Famicom in Japan, was designed by Masayuki Uemura, who designed the original Famicom. It made use of 16-bit graphics, as well as 8-channel audio.
One of its technical calling cards was its use of Mode 7 graphics, which is a specific graphical mode that allows a background layer of pixels to be rotated and scaled scanline by scanline, which can create a variety of different visual effects.
One of these is an approximation of three-dimensional effects and can be seen in games like F-Zero, Final Fantasy VI, and Super Mario Kart.
The SNES’ casing was given an upgrade as well, making it less flat and moving the ventilation port to the back. These developments were done in part to make the system seem more inviting, but also to dissuade gamers from placing cups and bowls on top of it.
Short-circuiting was a common problem for the flat, apparently countertop-like NES system, as players would knock their drinks over and the liquid would seep into the vent slots on top of the console.
The Super Nintendo was given two different initial looks in Japan and America. In Japan the system was more curvy and soft, and featured brightly-colored accents on the casing and the controller.
However, Nintendo of America was afraid that the SNES would be perceived as a childrens’ toy, as interest in video games around the time of launch seemed to be waning. Instead the SNES was given a muted purple and gray color scheme, and the casing was designed to be more angular.
The Super Nintendo controllers were also updated from the previous NES controllers. The new controllers were rounded and more ergonomic, as opposed to the rectangular NES controllers. Also the gamepads were given two extra face buttons, along with two more shoulder buttons on top of the controller.
When the Super Nintendo was released in Japan in 1990, it quickly reasserted Nintendo’s dominance over the Japanese console market, despite only launching with three titles and no backwards compatibility.
When it was released a year later in America, the Super Nintendo had F-Zero and Pilotwings, two titles that allowed the Super Nintendo to show off its Mode 7 capabilities. Gamers could also purchase SimCity and Gradius III, as well as Super Mario World, which was often bundled with the console itself. These launch titles are part of what made the SNES so immediately powerful in the gaming market.
Did Genesis Do What Nintendon’t? Didn’t?
Much has been written about the ensuing Console Wars between Nintendo and Sega soon after the Super Nintendo was released, but it can largely be distilled down to attempts to control public perception of the game libraries available to each company.
Nintendo had a largely “family-friendly” image which it more or less maintains to this day, and to do so the company had to approve of every single game that was to be released for their consoles according to a fairly rigorous set of standards. Sega took advantage of this by positioning itself as a purveyor of more “mature” games, and not necessarily in terms of gore or viscera.
While shooter games were more or less equally available on both systems, Sega had a variety of sports games in their library, more than Nintendo did at the time. Further contributing to this image was the release of a console version of the infamously violent and gory Mortal Kombat.
While it was available for both systems, the Super Nintendo version changed the color of the blood effects, and altered the more visceral Fatality finishers. The Genesis version left the game completely intact, bolstering its “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” marketing slogan.
To further push this idea, many Genesis ads would make use of the phrase “blast processing”, implying that it was the secret to the Sega Genesis’ superiority over Nintendo. Marketing execs and even programmers would admit much later that they weren’t entirely sure what the phrase was supposed to reference to begin with, and at the time provided multiple different answers as to what “blast processing” actually referred to.
Despite this the Super Nintendo would eventually become the best-selling console of its era, not quite out-selling the NES, but still surpassing the Sega Genesis and Turbografx-16. The system is still widely beloved by fans of Nintendo, who will often come together to discuss which are the best Super Nintendo games to own.
With the release of the Nintendo Switch, players were able to replay their old favorite SNES games through a special mode available through Nintendo’s online services. Players have access to a set library of games that is continually updated to bring in old favorites as well as more obscure titles.
This mode also comes with a unique bonus, as players can pause and rewind their games up to a minute, cutting down on the amount of lives lost trying to defeat various Koopalings. Players can also purchase Switch Controllers that look like the original SNES controllers for added nostalgia.
Later in 2017 Nintendo also released a miniature version of the SNES, the Super NES Classic system. This was a follow-up to a similar console, the NES Classic. It’s a great deal smaller than the original SNES, able to fit in the palm of one’s hand.
The SNES Classic came with 21 games pre-installed, such as Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country, Street Fighter 2, and Star Fox. It also comes with the previously-unreleased sequel to Star Fox, Star Fox 2, which is unlockable after beating the first level of the original Star Fox. The system comes with two wired SNES controllers that can be plugged into Wii Controllers that allow for gameplay on the Wii and Wii U.
Similar to the system on the Switch Virtual Console, the SNES Classic also allows players to rewind their games up to a minute, but they have to designate a specific “suspend point”.
This somewhat counts as saving one’s game, so if players know they’re going up against a particularly difficult boss battle, they can create a suspend point right before to ensure they can recover from any disasters. Players can also add special borders to their games, because something’s gotta go in the spaces left by the aspect ratio.
With so many ways to play the SNES so long after it came out, it’s clear that it had a major impact on the gaming landscape and a generation of gamers. No one else could do what NintenDid, and it shows in the longevity and contemporary acclaim for the system.