Until the Super Nintendo (SNES) arrived the Sega Genesis was ruling the roost of the 16-bit video game market. The SNES proved a worthy adversary however, the intense rivalry that ensued would generate sparks well into the mid-90s. Although Sega may have boasted "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 a sound chip that 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 scene. Nintendo wisely purchased the exclusive rights to the red-hot Street Fighter 2, and its arcade-quality SNES conversion practically carried the system in its early years.
The SNES ran neck-and-neck with the Genesis for several years, until it finally took the lead in the mid-90s. During this period many groundbreaking titles were released for the system including Super Mario Kart, NBA Jam, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox.
Console design: A-. The SNES was initially ridiculed for its cream and purple color scheme, giving it the appearance of a Fisher Price toy. In retrospect however, its clean, contemporary design was ahead of its time. Unlike the original Genesis, the SNES still looks fashionable 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 highly reliable.
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 nearly identical to its spectacular arcade counterpart. 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 (namely sports) 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.
Controllers: A. Not only did the SNES controller sport six buttons (not including start and select), it was the first to feature handy "shoulder" buttons. Located on the top edge 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.
Media: A. The wide, gray SNES cartridges feel sturdy and well-constructed. Their glossy labels remain intact and you can easily identify the games 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 were usually discarded. The game manuals are extremely colorful and attractive, although highly susceptible to fingerprints. My friend Eric used to always comment how Nintendo's packaging suggested a higher quality product (compared to the Genesis). 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 SNES titles complete and still in good condition.
Pack-In Game: A. With the exception of Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World was perhaps the best launch title imaginable, taking the mega-popular 2D platform series to new heights.
Launch Titles: D+. Beyond Super Mario World the selection was fairly meager, with F-Zero, Gradius III, Pilotwings, and SimCity. Of these only F-Zero was subject to any degree of critical acclaim, largely due to its effective use of the system's "mode 7" graphics.
Library: A-. Like the Genesis, the SNES boasts 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 however games were released for the SNES that 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.
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 games, which tend to go for hefty sums on Ebay. Loose cartridges are common but locating instruction manuals can be a challenge. Overall the SNES library is so strong and loaded with classic titles that it would be difficult for a collector to overlook this system.
Innovations: six-button controller (with shoulder buttons), mode 7 effects, built-in scaling and rotation, S-video output.
Pros and Cons:
+ Sharp graphics
+ Clear audio
+ Six button controller
+ Excellent RPGs and fighting games
- Sports games and shooters lacking
- Complete games hard to acquire