The System of Choice for the Serious Game Player (or So Nintendo Says)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
In 1990 NintendoSince 1983 (with the release of the Famicom gaming system in Japan), Nintendo has proven to be a gaming company dedicated to finding what gamers want, even when the gamers don't know it themselves. From dual-screen systems, to motion controls, to convertible home console/portable consoles, Nintendo regularly proves that the weirdest innovation is exactly what the gaming community needs. was riding high. For the better part of a decade they rules the video game market, both in their homeland of Japan as well as in overseas markets. They were the uncontested king of the 8-bit era and anyone other system that had come along -- the Atari 7800, the Sega Master System -- was crushed under Super Mario's boots. Nothing could stop them and they knew they could go on controlling the 8-bit market until it died. Which, sadly, it was going to do now that technology had improved and people expected the next big thing.
Enter the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (aka the SNES), Nintendo's answer to gamer's question of "what's next?" From a marketing perspective the SNES was everything gamers asked for: better graphics, better sound, and so much more that the system could do. You could see it's power in early games, such as Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. If you were a Nintendo fan through and through, this was the system you wanted.
There was only one small snag: the Sega Genesis. Sega, an also ran in Japan and not even a distant competitor in the West, saw that the had to strike while Nintendo milked the Nintendo Entertainment System for all it was worth. Two years before Nintendo could get their SNES out, Sega put out the Genesis, a prettier system with more impressive graphics and sound along with "blast processing", all meant to kick Nintendo off their pearch. As the phrase went, "Sega did what Nintendon't," and, for a while, that meant 16-bit graphics.
Sure, the NES had good games at the time but the Genesis was 16-bit. Nintendo needed the SNES to compete on even footing, especially with Sega having functionally a two year lead in the market. Trick is, while the SNES was in many ways a great system, and a solid competitor to the Genesis, it didn't exactly blow Sega out of the water. Nintendo moved methodically, building a piece of tech that evolved the NES, sharing some parts of the hardware while upgrading more. It was solid, and fast, and dependable, but it wasn't quite as fast as Sega's system. What it had were Nintendo's games and their knowledge. In just two years, then, the market went from Nintendo in the dominant position to an actual war.
I won't lie, I'm an unabashed Nintendo fan. I've always liked their characters and their products better than other console makers. I will buy the other consoles (I have just about every major console since the Atari 2600), but Nintendo's systems are always top of my list. I recognize this makes me less than impartial when it comes to the Sega vs. Nintendo war, but stll I will state: I think Nintendo won that war. They had a solid console that, in the end, edged out the Genesis in sales. They won the hearts and minds of many gamers over the years, with most still fondly remembering the SNES. And, most importantly, Nintendo was able to weather the coming changes in the market whereas Sega ran their console business into the ground.
Naturally that comes later, but at the start of the era it was Sega, with Sonic the Hedgehod timed to fight against Nintendo's big SNES killer ap Supe Mario World. Mario's game was prettier, and sounded better (I really don't like the Genesis sound board which, I acknowledge, is an acquired taste), but Sonic was faster and seemed more cutting edge. That was something Sega played up a lot: they were edgier. They got the "proper" version of Mortal Kombat (uncensored) than the SNES wasn't allowed to have. Their were the renegade punks fighting against Nintendo's stodgy ways.
Nintendo did have plenty of tricks they could pull off, though, which long run helped them take the lead. They could do speed and power in their own way, with games like F-Zero showing true speed. The console was also built with a lot of tricks in like, like the ever famous "Modes" that the console could do. These were display modes for the graphics, the most famous of which was the mode that let the system rotate and scale graphic planes on the fly, Mode 7. This allowed the SNES to do pseudo-3D effects that the Genesis struggled to match.
It also had a killer collection of games. Sega, in fairness, had some fantastic titles, like the Phantasy Star, Shining, and Ecco series, but Nintendo was able to couple their market dominance to many of the companies they'd worked with, getting truly amazing games on their systems. They had Square-EnixFormed from the unification of Squaresoft (home studio of Final Fantasy) and Enix (creators of Dragon Quest) this combined company is the largest game studios in the world. From action to adventure titles and, of course, JRPGs, Square Enix has become one of the biggest names in gaming. and the Final Fantasy games, Capcom and Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world., Konami and ContraStarted by Konami in 1988 the run-n-gun platform series Contra was, for a time, one of the flagship franchises for the company. and Castlevania. While some of these franchises eventually came to Genesis, it was in drips and drabs while Nintendo got the lion's share of great third party titles.
And that went along with all their first pary games that were built to use all the great tricks of the SNES. Sega's arcade shooters, like After Burner were great but they didn't compare to the eventual showcase title Star Fox. I'd argue, though, that it was Donkey Kong Country that really put a nail in the coffin. Sega didn't have anything that got the same kind of heady buzz that the SNES had with DK's pre-rendered graphics and amazing soundtrack. Nintendo's greatest weapons were its games and Sega just couldn't compete.
Naturally, it's easy to gush about the many, many games in the SNES library. That console had so many great titles from Nintendo and others, launching so many franchises during this era that carry on today. Yoshi? Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2. Donkey Kong lead to the continuing Donkey Kong Country series. Mario got his own RPG with Square that proved the plumber could do more than platformers. Super Mario Kart launched the Kart Racer genre. Nintendo was creatively at their peak and, once hey got going, Sega had to play catch up every step of the way.
From the perspective of the SNES, though, I don't think this was a bad thing. Competition drove Nintendo to keep pushed their games creatively and it made the SNES library one of the best collections of games ever. Both consoles ended up with deep, unique libraries that are simply unmatched by anything produced today. That said, competition was a duble-edged sword for Nintendo as, once they had beaten the Genesis, they then turned insular once more, cutting ties on some projects that might have lead to new hardware. The most faous was a CD attachment meant for the SNES that was co-developed with Sony that would have been called the "Play Station". Nintendo screwing Sony on that deal pushed Sony to make their own console that would, then, become the dominant console of the 32-bit generation (and beyond).
Meanwhile, poor Sega drove their hardware out of business trying to find the next big thing. Just in this generation along they released the 32X and then the Sega CD for the Genesis, and that over-saturation, trying to find an edge against Nintendo, only helped to prove that peripherals are a hard sell. They also tanked opinion on Sega hardware, sending shockwaves down their spreadsheets for years to come. Nintendo getting out of the CD attachment business probably was a good call when it came to dilluting the SNES's presence, but it was a bad way to handle things with Sony, for sure.
Still, whatever came after doesn't taint the respect the SNES requires. It wasn't the most powerful 16-bit console on the market but what it could do it did much better than the competition. Prettier, better sounding, and with a library of games that sold the console year after year, the SNES was a monster on the market. And, to this day, it remains one of the best consoles Nintendo ever released. Focused, ambitious, and absolutely Nintendo through and through.