A Brief History of: The SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)

From the original launch in 1990 to it’s re-imagining as the SNES Classic/SNES Mini in 2017 – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is an era-defining retro console.

The Super Nintendo was probably one of the most anticipated follow-up consoles of all time, coming as the successor to the ultra-successful Nintendo Entertainment System, the console single-handedly credited with resurrecting the whole industry from the crash of 1983.

SNES Logo

SNES Logo

Built in collaboration with a star roster of technology giants, Nintendo’s follow-up saw inputs from the likes of Sony and other Japanese industry luminaries to produce everything one would expect the next iteration of a Nintendo would be. We’re talking slick graphics, huge sprites, a large color palette, and killer sound and music. When people fondly reminisce about some of the best chiptune OSTs on the market, they’re usually talking about the music first made on the SNES.

But the SNES was not without competition and Sega’s Genesis/Mega Drive system, released to the market much earlier to the SNES, was proving capable of not only bringing the heat but also transforming the home into an arcade center. Previous Atari consoles had promised this but the Sega Mega Drive made it a reality in many ways, translating Sega’s library of arcade hits to the home screen.

sega mega drive

The SEGA Mega Drive

In fact, when Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog, the 16-bit race was truly on and Nintendo pushed out some of its best titles in response, among them Donkey Kong Country and Super Metroid. One big misstep for the system later was in its decision to not include blood in the SNES version of the hyper popular Mortal Kombat. This move left Sega an opening that the Mega Drive ran away with bringing parity in consoles sold for much of the two systems’ collective competition.

sega mega drive sonic

SEGA’s Sonic the Hedgehog

What the SNES brought to gaming that the Sega system couldn’t and what many expected from the next iteration was basically the raison d’etre for the system entirely – an upgraded NES. The addition of four more buttons to the controller, while welcome, wasn’t the biggest leap for the SNES. Really the major leap forward was in the power it brought to publishers that envisioned more for their NES classics but didn’t have the power to do it. We’re talking Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI, Earthbound, Super Metroid, Super Castlevania IV, and so on. These games represented concepts that could be done on the NES but were realized in a much more visual and spectacular way using the SNES’ tech.

Super Castlevania IV on SNES

Super Castlevania IV on SNES

Another thing the SNES breathed life into was co-op gaming and competitive gaming. While we would have to wait until the Nintendo 64 to get the four front-facing controller ports, the SNES launched titles like Super Mario Kart on to the scene. Further, the hype that was Street Fighter II didn’t slow down one bit and became one of the best games on the system, recreating the arcade experience for a system not envisioned for that.

Super Mario Kart on the SNES

Super Mario Kart on the SNES

The SNES is remembered fondly for two main reasons: Nostalgia and legacy. It is remembered in terms of nostalgia because no single system has singularly captured both the magic of the 16-bit era in general and the wonder that was the NES. The SNES, relying upon a catalogue of updated classic series and a few new revolutionary titles, bridges the gap between Atari and modern gaming, basically marrying the era when narrative, sound, music, etc. were limited by the technology available with the new world of cinematic gaming that the PlayStation would perfect. The SNES also represented the first home console not beholden to the arcade scene in any major way, signaling the drift between the two segments that would eventually end in the arcade’s demise.