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Super Nintendo Entertainment System

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Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Logo)

Super Nintendo North America Model

Manufacturer Nintendo
Released JP November 21, 1990
NA August 13, 1991
EU April 11, 1992
AU July 3, 1992
KO 1992
NAOctober 1997 (SNES 2)
JPMarch 27, 1998 (Super Famicom Jr.)
Generation Fourth
Media ROM cartridge
Controller input 2 controller ports
Online service Satellaview XBAND
Units shipped 49.10 million
Best-selling game Super Mario World
Predecessor Nintendo Entertainment System
(1983)
Successor Nintendo 64
(1996)

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, also known as Super Nintendo, Super NES or SNES, is a 16-bit video game console released by Nintendo in North America, Brazil, Europe, and Australia. In Japan, it is known as the Super Famicom. In South Korea, the Super Nintendo was distributed as the Super Comboy by Hyundai Electronics. Unlike the Hyundai Comboy, which is a renamed American NES, the Super Comboy is a renamed Japanese/European model.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is the second video game home console released by Nintendo internationally. The successor to the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System featured enhanced graphics, a brand new controller, better sound and more features. While not as successful as the Nintendo Entertainment System before it, the SNES still proved a formidable competitor in the 16-bit era, claiming second place behind the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive in Europe and Japan) initially, and far surpassing NEC's TurboGrafx-16.

Later, due to higher technology capabilities, the SNES managed to hold it's ground during the 32-Bit era, while Sega and NEC had dropped out earlier. Nintendo's overall success during both generations can be attributed in part to the fact that Sega left the 16-bit market early in favor of the 32-bit market.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was host to numerous classic video games, including titles such as Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country, Street Fighter II, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Star Fox and Super Mario Kart. These titles sold millions of copies and would help cement the SNES as the leader of the fourth generation. Third parties such as Square, Enix and Capcom would assist in the huge success of the console.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was first released in Japan under the name Super Famicom (the Nintendo Entertainment System was named the Famicom in Japan) on November 21, 1990. In a little over half a year, the system was released in North America in August of 1991 and in Europe and Australia in 1992. Nintendo would eventually manufacture SNES systems with different casings and label them with new names such as Super Famicom Jr. and SNS-101. The new systems didn't offer anything new to the gaming experience, though were meant to spark interest in the system once again long after the initial shipment.

History and development

The Nintendo Entertainment System was going strong years after it was released. Near the end of the eighties, system-sellers were still being launched for the console such as Super Mario Bros. 3, which went on to become one of the best selling video games of all time. Several Nintendo competitors wanted a piece of the pie, however, and thus released more advanced systems meant to compete with the NES.

The first on the scene was Hudson Soft and NEC Corporation with the TurboGrafx-16 (also known as the PC Engine), which they released in 1987, three years before the Super Famicom would be launched in Japan. One year later Sega unleashed the Sega Genesis, which proved to be a worthy competitor to the throne. The competition developed advertisements that would downplay the NES, showcasing the clear strengths of the more powerful systems. Nintendo realized that they needed to act quickly in order to counter the effect imposed by the new hardware, and in response to the competition started development on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Now retired Nintendo employee Masayuki Uemura was brought on board to direct the development of the new system. He had previously worked as the designer of the Famicom. Nintendo would initially release the Super Famicom in Japan on November 21, 1990 at a price of ¥25,000. The first shipment contained 300,000 SNES units, which all sold within a matter of a few hours. Nintendo shipped the Super Famicom units in secret as not to gain the attention of the Yakuza, who they feared would potentially steal the hardware and software. The system proved so successful in its first day in part because of a launch lineup that, while astonishingly small (two games only), featured impressive titles including Super Mario World and F-Zero.

Super Mario World, the successor to Super Mario Bros. 3, is best known for introducing Mario's sidekick Yoshi while F-Zero made extensive use of Mode 7, allowing the game to do things that would have been impossible on the NES.

Super Famicom prototype

Prototype for the Super Famicom.

Due the impressive figures of the Super Famicom, several third party developers who supported Nintendo with the Famicom announced their commitment to the new system.

These third parties would be pivotal to the success of the system, especially companies such as Square (Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger), Enix in Japan (Dragon Quest series), Capcom (Street Fighter II, its successors and Mega Man X), and others. Western companies in North America and Europe would eventually start to develop titles for the system as well including companies such as Midway (Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam). Most hard hitting titles, however, came from Japanese developers.

Nintendo would release the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America on August 23, 1991 for $199 (slightly cheaper than when the Super Famicom was released (by around $10)). Unlike in Japan, Nintendo of America packaged Super Mario World with the system for free, similarly to how they packaged Super Mario Bros. with the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The North American launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System contained more titles than the Japanese launch, including Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings, Gradius III, and SimCity.

While still not a particularly large launch, it did contain many titles that would go on to sell millions. Interestingly, the Japanese branch of Nintendo did not design the American Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Instead, a man by the name of Lance Barr designed the hardware (he also designed the NES). Lance Barr explained that he didn't like the look of the Super Famicom, saying that it was too "soft and had no edge" [1]. Nintendo Power revealed several unused designs that were drawn by Barr, all of which led to the final creation. Barr explained that he designed the Super Famicom in a way so that drinks could not placed on it, and that the indention in the X and Y buttons were made so that players could tell the difference between them and the A and B buttons.

A year after the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America, the system made its way into Europe and Australia. The European Super NES was a near direct copy of the Japanese model. The colors and shape were all the same, and the buttons on the controller were red, blue, yellow and green like the Super Famicom controller (the American controller were shades of purple). After the release in PAL territories, Nintendo launched the system in other parts of the world including Brazil and South Korea.

Technical specifications

CPU reference
Processor Ricoh 5A22, based on a 16-bit 65c816 core
Clock Rates
NTSC
Input: 21.47727 MHz
Bus: 3.58 MHz, 2.68 MHz, or 1.79 MHz
PAL
Input: 21.28137 MHz
Bus: 3.55 MHz, 2.66 MHz, or 1.77 MHz
Buses 3.55 MHz, 2.66 MHz, or 1.77 MHz
Other features
  1. DMA and HDMA
  2. Times IRQ
  3. Parallel I/O processing
  4. Hardware mu
Video references
Resolutions Progressive: 256x224, 512x224, 256x239, 512x239
Interlaced: 512x448, 512x478
Pixel depth 2, 4, 7, or 8 bpp indexed; 8 or 11 bpp direct
Total colors 32768 (15-bit)
Sprites 128, 32 max per line; up to 64x64 pixels
Backgrounds Up to 4 planes; each up to 1024x1024 pixels
Effects •Pixelization (mosaic) per background
•Color addition and subtraction
•Clipping windows (per background, affecting color, math, or both)
•Scrolling per 8x8 tile
•Mode 7 matrix operations
Audio references
Processors Sony SPC700, Sony DSP
Clock Rates Input: 24.576 MHz
SPC700 1.024 MHz
Format 16-bit ADPCM, 8 channels
Output 32 kHz 16-bit stereo
Effects •ADSR envelope control
•Frequency scaling and modulation using Gaussian interpolation
•Echo: 8-tap FIR filter, with up to .24s delay
•Noise generation
Memory reference
Main RAM 128 kB
Video RAM 64 kB main RAM
512 + 32 bytes sprite RAM
256 × 15 bits palette RAM
Audio RAM 64 kB

Games

Super Mario World (NA)

Super Mario World is the best selling SNES game.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is popular due to its wide selection of triple-A titles from Nintendo and numerous third parties. Some of the most popular games released on the system by Nintendo include Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and its sequels, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Star Fox, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Pilotwings and others.

Third parties were also largely successful on the SNES, with Square, Enix, Capcom, Midway and others striking it big with titles such as Final Fantasy IV-VI, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest VI, NBA Jam, Street Fighter II (and its various incarnations), Disney titles and more. 

With the release of the Game Boy Advance, many classic SNES titles were ported over to the handheld, once again receiving a large amount of success. Some of the SNES games re-released as Game Boy Advance titles include Super Mario Bros. 2-3, Super Mario World 1-2, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the entire SNES Final Fantasy library, all three Donkey Kong Country games, and others. 

The Nintendo DS was also used to recreate classic SNES titles such as Chrono Trigger, Kirby Super Star Ultra and Final Fantasy IV being released to wide acclaim and large sales, proving that even though the games were over 10 years old at the time, they were still very enjoyable. Kirby Super Star Ultra, a remake of Kirby Super Star, went on to sell more than the other two Kirby games for the DS.

Top ten best selling games

The following are the top ten best-selling games in all regions.

  1. Super Mario World - 20 million copies
  2. Donkey Kong Country - 8 million copies
  3. Super Mario Kart - 8 million copies
  4. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior - 6.3 million copies
  5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - 4.61 million copies
  6. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest - 4.37 million copies
  7. Street Fighter II Turbo - 4.1 million copies
  8. Star Fox - 4 million copies
  9. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island - 4 million copies
  10. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie - 3.2 million copies

Variations

Several variations of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System were released. The Japanese version, known as the Super Famicom, was the initial pieces of hardware. The European and Australian version, collectively known as the PAL version, retains a similar appearance to the Japanese version while the American SNES was built from scratch and designed by Lance Barr. Both Japan and North America received upgrades to the SNES in the form of the Super Famicom Jr. in Japan and the SNES-101 in North America. Japan also received a Sharp-developed television set with a Super Famicom built in called SF1. 

Peripherals

Like the NES before it, a diverse set of accessories were released for the Super Nintendo over the course of its lifetime. Some of the peripherals, such as the Super Scope, were evolutions of NES accessories (in this case, an evolution of the NES Zapper), while others were wholly unique to the system such as the SNES Mouse. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller is a huge improvement over the Nintendo Entertainment System controller.

It features two shoulder buttons (a first for a video game controller), four face buttons (two more than the NES controller had), a D-pad (pioneered by the Game & Watch game Donkey Kong), and a start and select button. The controller itself is often called a "dog-bone". This controller style has become very popular among aftermarket controller companies, and the button selection and layout is the basis for many other console controllers.


Main article: SNES CD-Rom
The SNES-CD was a CD-ROM drive add-on for the SNES, developed jointly by Nintendo and Sony. The device was eventually made standalone and revealed at CES 1991. However, Nintendo had by then made a deal with Philips to create the CD drive, and attempts by Nintendo and Sony to repair relations failed. The Philips CD drive eventually became the Philips CD-i, and the Sony standalone device eventually became the Sony PlayStation.

Reception and Legacy

Today the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is looked back at with high regard. When critics and publications list the greatest video game systems of all time, the Super Nintendo is commonly near the top. CNET columnist Don Reisinger wrote an article titled "The SNES is the greatest console of all time", listing its strengths over other systems that also regularly hold that title including the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the SEGA Genesis, and the PlayStation, saying "... think of the world the SNES spawned. Instead of releasing a veiled copy of the NES to get in on the fight with Sega earlier, Nintendo created a follow-up that was worthy of the 'Super' moniker and gave developers the license they needed to create the legendary titles that we still play today."

During the seventh generation, IGN posted an article on their website listing the top twenty five video game consoles. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was listed as number four, being surpassed only by the PlayStation 2 (3), Atari 2600 (2), and Nintendo Entertainment System (1). IGN highly praised the SNES, stating that "when it comes to a pure concentration of AAA titles, few consoles – if any – can stand up to the Super NES.". In the article, Nintendo writer Craig Harris claimed that the SNES was his first system that he bought on day one, and that he spent more time playing Pilotwings than Super Mario World.

Chris Buffa of GameDaily.com listed the Super Nintendo Entertainment System as the fifth best system of all time in 2008, saying "when it comes to a pure concentration of AAA titles, few consoles – if any – can stand up to the Super NES."

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was the last console to have a different design built for American and Japanese audiences. A trend that didn't last long, Lance Barr claims that building a unique design for the major territories had its ups and its downs, saying "Individually designing a product for a given market would definitely appeal to more consumers, and would be seen as having a more current, in style look." He went on to say that while the designs for each market are similar, there are occasionally subtle differences, such as in the color of the system. This is especially evident in Nintendo's newer handhelds and, to a lesser extent, accessories.

During the launch of the Super NES, TIME magazine wrote an article discussing the release of the system and ended with a piece wondering whether or not Nintendo would be successful with the SNES or end up like Atari, saying "Nintendo should be able to drum up enough excitement to sell out this year's supply of 2 million Super NES sets. What's less clear is how long that enthusiasm will last. At best, say analysts, over the next five years Nintendo will sell about two-thirds as many of the new systems as it sold of the old. At worst, Nintendo could end up like Atari, which in the early 1980s tried to replace a wildly successful video-game player with one that was more powerful but incompatible. Atari ended up with a mountain of unsold game cartridges that got loaded onto dump trucks and used as landfill." [2]

Sales

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System performed phenomenally, selling 49.10 million units worldwide (23.35 million in North America and 17.17 million in Japan). The Super Nintendo's main competitor was SEGA's Genesis system, which became popular due to SEGA's advertising and the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as several "mature" titles intended for older gamers. Some credit the SNES's success over the Genesis to Capcom's Street Fighter 2 video game, which took over a year to port to the Genesis. Another important factor was the fact that Sega discontinued the Genesis far earlier than the SNES, as while the Genesis died around 1997, the SNES remained popular well into the 5th Generation.

The games released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System also performed admirably. Super Mario World is the best selling game for the system, partly due to the fact that in several territories it was packaged with the system. Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Kart proved to be the most successful stand alone titles at an estimated eight million copies sold each. Capcom sold millions of copies of its Street Fighter II series, of which several iterations were released for the SNES. Capcom also released the game for the Genesis, though it wouldn't release until a year after the SNES version launched.

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