The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, is almost certainly one of the best games consoles ever made. There are literally hundreds of quality games available across a huge range of genres, but perhaps most notable are the arcade conversions, platformers and RPG's. Super Mario World set the standard for everything that was to come when it debuted in 1990 in Japan.
Super Famicom (November 1990 - Japan)
Known as the Super Famicom (family computer) in Japan, it's almost identical to the UK SNES, apart from the region lockout and the 60Hz video output. The controller leads are also much shorter and the control deck obviously had Super Famicom printed on it, instead of Super Nintendo.
On release it cost ¥32,000 and came with two controllers and Super Mario World. There was such a high demand that the initial 300,000 units were sold out almost immediately. Nintendo even shipped the units by night, as there were rumors that Yakuza gangs might try to steal the consoles!
US Super Nintendo (August 1991 - US)
The launch of the SNES in North America was not very well coordinated. Some stores had stock as early as 13th August while others didn't get stock until September.
The US version of the SNES had a new case design and more rectangular shaped game cartridges than the Japanese Super Famicom.
UK Super Nintendo (June 1992 - Europe)
The European version wasn't released until almost two years after the original Japanese release. However, this meant that there was a huge catalogue of quality games available at release. The PAL (European) version plays games approximately 17% slower than the NTSC (US and Japanese) versions, with large black borders at the top and bottom of the screen. The European version of the SNES can be modified to play games at full speed, full screen, without the large borders.
SNS-101 Slimline SNES
It was available in various box sets on release, the most popular being Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. There were also several versions which did not include the power supply in the box!
|CPU||65816 16-bit (2.68 / 3.58 Mhz) Picture Processing Unit|
|Cart Size||2Mb - 48Mb|
|Max Resolution||512 x 448|
|Colours||32,768 colours, 256 at once|
|Sprites||128 max sprites at once, 64 x 64 max sprite size|
|Video Output||PAL version outputs RF, RGB and S-Video.|
|Sound||8-bit Sony SPC700, 8 channels|
|Features||2 controller ports, Ext. port, Mode 7, DSP chips on certain carts|
Most games console manufacturers employ some kind of regional protection to prevent games from being played in a region before its official release date. The most well known and widely used system is the DVD CSS protection and regional coding.
US carts won't physically fit in the slot of Japanese or European consoles because of their rectangular shape. Japanese and European carts won't fit in a US SNES either, due to the two small tabs which correspond to grooves on the bottom of the cartridges. However, it is possible to remove these tabs. It is also possible to widen the cartridge slot on Japanese and European consoles. A similar system was also used on the Nintendo 64.
Every SNES control deck has a regional lockout chip (known as a CIC), as does every original SNES game cartridge. Before a game is loaded, the console will attempt to communicate with the CIC chip on the game cartridge. If the CIC chip doesn't respond or does not correspond with the consoles CIC, the console won't load the game. In most cases, a black screen is displayed.
PPU Frequency Checks
Many later SNES games contain code to detect the frequency of the PPU (Picture Processing Unit). Since the PPU's in all PAL consoles operate at 50Hz, whilst NTSC (US and Japanese) models operate at 60Hz, this could be used to check if an NTSC game was being used on a PAL console, regardless of the region detected by the CIC chip. Many of these games display the message: "THIS GAME PAK IS NOT DESIGNED FOR YOUR SUPER FAMICOM OR SUPER NES."
This was a response from Nintendo to the widespread use of universal adapters in Europe, which used the CIC chip from a PAL game to load an NTSC game. Since these universal adapters could not tamper with the PPU frequency, this rendered them useless with imports with this protection. Luckily, there are very few games with this protection. The only way to get round this protection is a modified console.
Later versions of the SNES output a lower voltage to the cartridge connector, presumably to hinder the operation of copier units and other third party devices which drew power from the console. Having said this, we have never come across a copier unit that did not work with any SNES model.
Cartridge Enhancement Chips
One of the unique features of the SNES is the use of special chips in many of the game cartidges, used to enhance graphics and increase the processing power of the existing hardware.
DSP (Digital Signal Processor) Chip
The DSP chip was used in a number of games to produce more realistic 3D effects, by carrying out some of the data processing on the cartridge itself. Games that use the DSP chip include Pilotwings, Super Air Diver and Super Mario Kart. There is also a DSP2 chip.
Super FX Chip
The Super FX chip was used to create 3D polygon effects in games such as Star Wing (known as Star Fox in the US and Japan). The Super FX chip makes use of the twin 8-pin connectors on the game cartridges, which give the game direct access to certain aspects of the SNES' hardware including the PPU's.
The Super FX2 chip is a faster version of the original FX chip and was used in games such as Doom, Dirt Trax FX and Stunt Race FX.
The C4 chip is a graphics chip designed by Capcom to create the transparent visual effects in Mega Man X2/X3.
There are loads of quality SNES games available, including many excellent arcade conversions, a selection of Mario games and a number of memorable RPG's.
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario Kart is one of the best, if not the best, game on the SNES and perhaps one of the best games ever made. Mode 7 graphics created using the DSP chip, superb courses and excellent handling make it a real pleasure to play.
It's also 2 player split screen compatible, with three modes of play; Mario Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Battle Mode where you attempt to burst the three bubbles orbiting your opponent, using whatever power ups and weapons are to hand!
Super Mario World
Super Mario World has often been compared to the original Super Mario Bros on the NES, in that it raised the bar for all side-scrollers to come. It introduced many of the now common concepts, such as allowing the player to revisit an area to find missed items, and rewarding the player for collecting everything.
It was also one of the first games to move away from the flat looking sprites of the NES, in favor of a more 3D look. Different shading and lighting techniques were used to accomplish this, as well as some Mode 7 graphics, sprite scaling and rotation effects.
The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
You're woken in the middle of the night by a girls voice. You jump out of bed, not knowing whether the voice was a dream or not, to find your uncle ready to go out for battle. "I'll be back by morning" he says as he leaves, "Don't leave the house!".
Featuring a vast world with dozens of characters and loads of huge dungeons to explore filled with traps and puzzles, Link to the Past is Link's first 16-bit appearance and remains one of the best games in the Zelda series to date. Other RPG's released for the SNES include, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Equinox, and Illusion of Time.
Street Fighter 2
Four Street Fighter games were produced by Capcom exclusively for the SNES. The original was released in July 1992 and features 8 fighters plus 4 bosses (and later another 4 characters), each with their own fighting style and special moves.
After the initial release, the hype surrounding the sequel (SF2 Turbo) was immense. The bosses were all playable characters and the others got extra moves and abilities. The speed was also hugely increased (hence the name), as well as a number of other tweaks. It was the SNES' flagship game and was available as a console and game bundle when it was released in the UK.
There were loads of accessories released for the SNES by Nintendo. There were also a number of third party accessories, including a number of cheat carts and universal adapters for playing imports on a European SNES, as well as dozens of different controllers and a couple of arcade sticks. However, the official Nintendo controller remains the best and most comfortable control pad.
Like the NES, there is a multi-tap adapter available for the SNES, although it was not manufactured by Nintendo. When it was introduced, the Multi-tap sold for $59 and came packaged with the Super Bomberman game. Other games that support the multi-tap include, Madden '97, NHL '97, NBA Live '97, Lord of the Rings, Firestriker and Street Racer.
The SNES mouse was released in the fall of 1992 and was bundled with the Mario Paint game. This gave users the opportunity to interactively paint pictures and create cartoon animations, which can be set to music by using a selection of automated instruments.
Although the mouse was undoubtedly originally intended for other games as well, not many games support it. The handful that do are, Jurassic Park, Civilization, Lemmings 2: The Tribes, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Eye of the Beholder and Shien's Revenge.
Nintendo Super Scope
Obviously inspired by the NES Zapper light gun, but much different in design, this wireless bazooka includes a receiver that plugs into the controller port. Sporting a gun sight, a shoulder mount and hand grip, it runs on 6 AA batteries and cost $49.95 on release in the US. It was bundled with the Super Scope 6 game cartridge. Other games that support the Super Scope include, Terminator 2: The Arcade Game, Tin Star, X-Zone, Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge, Battle Clash, Bazooka Blitzkrieg, Lamborghini American Challenge and Yoshi's Safari.
Super Game Boy
Quite a unique accessory, the Super Game Boy allows you to play Game Boy games on a regular TV set through a SNES. It acts as a pass through adapter - you insert a Game Boy game in the top of the adapter and slot it into the SNES like any other game.
The Super Game Boy features a few useful features as well as being a straight forward adapter. For example, you can now add colours appropriate to the game you're playing by replacing the four shades of grey-scale (or green-scale!). Many games are detected and an appropriate colour scheme is applied automatically. There are also a number "SGB Enhanced" Game Boy games which can display up to 256 colours!
Allows imports to be played on a PAL SNES.
There were quite a few cheat carts for the SNES, the most notable from Code Masters and Action Reply (MK3 picture). You put the cheat cart in your SNES console and the game you want to play into the top of the cheat cart. When you turn the console on, you're presented with a menu that gives you the option to apply one or more cheats. Some of the most common cheats include extra weapons, secret characters, infinite health, lives, etc. Many cheat carts allow you to enter your own codes, which you can create yourself or copy from the internet or magasines.
Stereo A/V Cable
The original SNES models shipped with a standard RF cable. A composite stereo A/V (Audio / Video) cable gives much improved video quality, as well as the ability to connect the SNES' audio to a seperate stereo system. The SNS-101 model SNES shipped with a Stereo A/V cable when it was released.
Only realeased in Japan, the Nintendo Satelliview allows the SNES to connect to a special satellite channel called "St GIGA". Games and demos could be downloaded at particular times to a BS-X Special Broadcast Cassette, containing 1Mb of flash memory.
Games included BS F-Zero, Grand Prix 2 and Excite Bike Bum Bum Mario Battle.
Copier units allow you to back-up the contents of a game cartridges ROM. Back-up's are usually stored on the copier's internal RAM or a floppy disk, which you can then load the game from. There are dozens of copiers available (Super Wild Card X3 pictured), many supporting more than one console. Prices start from around £80 for a basic unit, but a more feature rich unit can cost considerably more.
Of course, there are a couple of draw backs. Some games have built-in protection against copiers. Other games require the copier to have an additional chip, in order to play. Some games are quite large and may not fit into the copiers limited memory, or may require more than one floppy disk. There are copiers to get round these problems, but they tend to be the more expensive units.