Nintendo’s follow-up to the insanely popular NES, the Super NES, was just as Super as its name implied. Known as the Super Famicom in Japan and officially the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, the SNES would go on to be the most popular game console of its generation, selling over 50 million consoles worldwide. Even today, the game console has incredible popularity among those who continue emulating the system on PCs and mobile devices.
While the SNES still lived in a 2D world, it had some tricks up its sleeve that allowed it to essentially fake a bit of 3D, allowing for innovative new games like Super Mario Kart that would go on to take the world by storm. Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and Street Fighter II also saw insane popularity and sales on this system; it’s no wonder many people are still emulating these games today.
At the time of the SNES’s release, though, it was pretty late to the 16-bit generation of gaming. The Sega Genesis, its main competitor, and the less well-received TurboGrafx-16 both launched 2-3 years earlier than the SNES. Whereas the Genesis launched in Japan in 1988 and North America in 1989, the SNES only came to Japan in 1990 and North America in 1991. Despite this, the SNES would go on to crush the competition and pave the way for Nintendo to become a gaming powerhouse.
In Japan, the Super Famicom had a dark grey and light grey design, toning down the color aesthetics from the previous Famicom (the Japanese NES). However, it had a distinctive design due to the colorful front-facing buttons on the controller that were green, blue, yellow, and red, heavily contrasting with the rest of the system. The controllers were now removable (they were hardwired on the Famicom) and the controller got several new buttons: X, Y, L, and R, as well as taking on a slightly more curved design to facilitate the L and R triggers. The console still loaded cartridges from the top, but the cartridges were now longer and greyer, resembling the North American NES cartridges much more than the previous generation’s Famicom cartridges.
In North America, the console got a slight redesign, but not as dramatic of a change as had been made to the NES. The SNES now loaded cartridges from the top, just like its Japanese counterpart, but it got a lighter color scheme with purple accents instead of the four bright colors. Otherwise, it was very much the same console.
Region locks on games, however, made it impossible to share games between regions. The cartridges were made to be slightly physically different, just enough so that they wouldn’t fit in the other’s slot, and also included a region verification chip that needed to activate in the console for the game to work.
After the release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996, Nintendo came out with a redesigned SNES in 1997, the SNS-101, which was essentially a more compact version of the original console at a lower price point. Japan saw a new slimmer Super Famicom as well in the Super Famicom Jr. that debuted in 1998. These redesigned versions allowed the 16-bit console to continue competing well into the 64-bit era.
In fact, many were surprised at the longevity of the SNES despite its 16-bit processor. After the SNES’s release, many 32-bit consoles were released including the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, the Sega Saturn, the Atari Jaguar, and the Sony PlayStation — but the SNES held its own as a viable console even against these physically superior machines. Nintendo even opted to forgo the 32-bit era altogether, instead jumping straight to 64-bit with the release of the N64.
As a 16-bit console, though, the SNES really earned its title as the best gaming console of its generation and paved the way for the modern game series and consoles we have today. With more buttons than the NES and near-3D graphics, this is a perfect console for retro emulation that strikes a balance between the old and the new.