The Video Game Critic's Console Reviews
Super Nintendo (SNES) (1991-1997)

Manufacturer: Nintendo
Format: Cartridge
Controller ports: 2
Save Capability: None
Number of Games: Over 500
Video Output: RF, Composite, S-Video
Original Price: $199
system

Until the Super Nintendo (SNES) was released, the Sega Genesis ruled the 16-bit video game market unopposed. The SNES proved a worthy adversary however, and an intense rivalry soon developed between Sega and Nintendo, one which would generate sparks well into the mid-90s. Although Sega may have boasted about the Genesis' so-called "blast processing", the SNES graphics and sound were clearly superior. Nintendo's system featured a much larger color palette, built-in rotation/scaling capabilities, and its sound chip could generate deep bass and clear digitized sound. In addition, the SNES introduced an innovative six-button controller, perfectly suited to support the burgeoning one-on-one fighter market. Nintendo wisely purchased the exclusive rights to the red-hot Street Fighter 2, and its arcade-quality SNES conversion practically carried the system in the early going. The SNES ran neck-and-neck with the Genesis for several years, until it finally took the lead in the mid-90s. During this time, many groundbreaking titles were released for the system, including Super Mario Kart, NBA Jam, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, Star Fox, and Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past.

Console design: A-. The SNES was initially ridiculed for its cream and purple color scheme, as well as its low-tech "fisher price" design. In retrospect however, this clean, contemporary design was well ahead of its time. Unlike the original Genesis system, the SNES still looks attractive today. With only two switches, reset and power, the system is elegant and simple. There's also a not-so-obvious gray eject panel in the middle of the unit, but this is rarely used (I didn't notice it for years). The video output in the back of the unit supports S-video, which was a first for video game consoles.

Console durability: A. With its light weight, few moving parts, and solid-state design, the SNES is extremely durable.

controller Controllers: A. Not only did the SNES controller sport 6 buttons (not including start and select), but it was the first to feature the handy "shoulder" buttons. Located on the top of the controller, these made it easy to press multiple button combinations, facilitating the "turbo" control in NBA Jam. The controllers are compact, durable, and comfortable.

game Media: A. The wide, gray SNES cartridges feel sturdy and well constructed. The glossy labels age well, and you can easily identify the game from the front or top.

Packaging: C+. SNES games were packaged in attractive, glossy black boxes. The cartridges came with a clear plastic cap to protect their opening, but these proved unnecessary and were usually discarded. The game manuals are extremely colorful and attractive as well (although highly susceptible to fingerprints). My friend Eric used to always comment how Nintendo's packaging suggested a high quality product. But while SNES boxes look great when new, they don't age as well as the sturdy Genesis containers. As a result, it's difficult to find old SNES titles complete and in good condition.

Games: A-. Like the Genesis, the SNES has a huge library of games that cross all genres. The system excelled in role playing games (Final Fantasy III, Secret of Mana, Legend of Zelda) and fighters (Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat II, Clayfighter, Killer Instinct). Although its early shooters were plagued by excessive slowdown (Gradius III, Super R-Type), eventually the developers would harness the technology and produce spectacular shooters such as Axelay and Contra III. Early SNES sports games were also plagued with slow-down, allowing the Genesis to gain a reputation for being a superior sports console. In time, games were released for the SNES which took advantage of the system's unique strengths, including classics like Super Mario Kart and Donkey Kong Country. Nintendo's Star Fox also pushed the boundaries of gaming by including a special chip that generated 3D polygon graphics. Although the game was a huge hit, the excessive cost of the chip prevented Nintendo from using it in future games.

Graphics: A-. In terms of visual quality, the SNES generated remarkably clean, crisp graphics in a multitude of colors. Gamers were blown away to discover that the SNES version of Street Fighter 2 was almost identical to the spectacular arcade game. Mario Kart utilized the system's "mode 7" capabilities with roadways that moved smoothly under the wheels of the karts. The system's only downside is that its processor could not easily handle many objects moving on the screen at once, causing certain titles to be choppy or hampered by slow-down.

Audio: A. In terms of sound, the SNES is practically flawless. Not only can it generate lush orchestrated music (Super Star Wars, Final Fantasy III), but it produces crystal-clear digitized voices and sound effects. The Genesis simply could not compete with the SNES on this front. The difference is obvious when you compare versions of the same game for both systems.

Collectability: B+. Super Nintendo systems and controllers are inexpensive, but the games are more pricey than their Genesis counterparts. In addition, due to their cardboard packaging, it's difficult to find complete SNES games, and complete games in mint condition tend to go for hefty sums on Ebay. Loose cartridges are common and tend to age well, but locating an instruction manual can be a challenge. Still, the SNES library is so strong and loaded with classic titles that it would be difficult for a collector to overlook this system.

Innovations: 6 button controller (with shoulder buttons), mode 7 effects, built-in scaling and rotation, S-video output.

Pros and Cons:
+ Sharp graphics and S-Video output
+ Crystal clear audio
+ Six button controller
+ Excels in terms of RPGs and fighting games
- Sports games and shooters not as fluid as Genesis versions
- Complete games rare and expensive.

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