Happy 10th Birthday, Super Famicom!!

The Super Famicom

Ten years ago on this day, November 21, 1990 in Japan, Nintendo's highly-anticipated 16-bit system went on sale in stores. Within hours they were all gone off the shelves, fanatic players having waited for hours in queue, skipping school, even mugging other purchasers to get their hands on this system. Although its time has come and gone, thousands of people around the world today still get enjoyment from this super system. This short article will celebrate the good times in the SFC's life, with a few pictures of the SFC's most memorable games. After the article is my regular personal opinion and analysis of this system in its American counterpart, the Super Nintendo.

The tension was mounting in 1990. Everybody knew that Nintendo was working on a 16-bit system to duplicate the unrivalled success of its 8-bit Famicom system. Sega had already had a 16-bit system on the market for two years; NEC, a thriving competitor for three. Nintendo had to get this out fast and right.

Well, from what I saw of the SFC (as I could only capture still glimpses of its true power from magazines), it looked amazing. Luscious colours, giant sprites, smooth scaling and rotation; these were things that no home system had complete possession of yet. Plus, the music capabilities of this system were rumoured to be fantastic; and the rumours weren't wrong.

However, many factors crippled the growth of the Super Famicom, and its American version, the Super NES. The first was that it was released in America (and possibly even Japan) too late to catch all of the ex-NES players who had jumped ship to the Genesis. Plus, Sega had been developing a Mario-beater in its new mascot, Sonic. Third, but maybe not finally, the main processor of the SFC ran at three different speeds, none of which exceeded 3.58 Mhz; which was simply too slow to handle many moving sprites, or polygon graphics -- something that the Genesis could do with relative ease. As a result, many of the earlier SFC/SNES games were plagued with slowdown and flicker. It took a couple of years before the programmers could fully get to grips with the peculiarities of this system.

It seems weird to think that a full decade has passed since the world's anticipation for this system has been quenched. In the end, I won't spend hours analyzing the Super Famicom/Super NES; rather, I'll remember back to those days of yore, yearning for, and then finally experiencing the fun and often amazing games that it had to offer. If you feel the need for a little nostalgia, or just to experience it for the first time, hunt down a used SNES at a pawn shop or in your local classifieds. Let us all join in celebration of this great system. Happy Birthday, Super Famicom! O-Tanjoobi Omedetoo Gozaimasu!

The Super NES

The Super NES was supposed to be the ultimate Nintendo system -- with tons of 16-bit versions of our favourite NES games. The first time that I remember hearing about the Super NES was way back in 1989 sometime, when a friend of my brother's said that something called the "Super Fammy Con" was going to come out in Japan, and this thing was supposed to be a 16-bit NES system with controllers that had 8 buttons. I didn't altogether believe him, but the thought of a souped-up NES system made me salivate.

When I finally found out more news about the Super Famicom in the Summer of 1990, I was awakening more and more to the mystique of Japanese video games; and the SF's impending arrival in Japan (November 1990, and eventually in the U.S., I hoped) had me dreaming of all the possibilities of an awesome new system. The screenshots of the first batch of games -- Super Mario 4, F-Zero, Pilotwings, Actraiser, Gradius III, and others -- made me really wish that I were in Japan. I could see the graphics of the games, but I wanted to play them, to see them moving, to hear the spectacular music that the magazines raved about. Well, I was kept in this state until the Fall of 1991, when the SNES was officially released in North America. 1991 had been a year of waiting, and finally to see the games, finally to touch the system, was pure delight.

And then... what? Where were all the great, souped-up versions of the NES games that we so dearly loved? Where were the Bionic Commandos, the Mega Mans, the Contras, the Duck Tales, the Little Nemos, the Striders, the Batmans, the Blaster Masters, the Ninja Gaidens of the 16-bit era? The conversions and updates trickled out, but it was not what we had expected, was it? We had to be happy with the different type of games that the SNES had. We were no longer playing a 16-bit NES system; it was something different.

The SNES did rack up its selection of great games, but clearly it was no longer the phenom that the NES was. The Genesis had drawn too many people over to its camp, and then Street Fighter 2 came out and changed the course of videogames forever. What did SFII do? To games in general: it made the beat-em-up genre replace the traditional side-scrolling platform game genre as the most popular game type, both in the arcades and on home systems. Every company and their dog began filling the market with SFII derivatives, while development of the more traditional (American) genres slowed down: platformers & shooters. To Capcom: SFII made them filthy stinking rich, then nearly bankrupted them. For years afterwards, SFII became their #1 franchise, displacing all others. Capcom themselves made so many SFII derivatives that the quality of their other games suffered. People eventually got sick of anything with the words SFII in it. Capcom nearly went out of business because they put almost all their eggs in one basket. To wit: Nintendo had to release Mega Man 6 for the NES themselves because Capcom (I surmise) couldn't afford to take the risk.

What did SFII do to the SNES? Simply, SFII and Mortal Kombat became the talk of the system for a couple of years afterwards. During those years, the focus of attention was taken off the genres of games that made the NES popular: platformers, action games, action adventures. I know it's a narrow view of games, but it's the bread-and-butter of my videogame world, at least. One thing that the SNES was well-stocked in was RPGs, and that really now is what the SNES is to people. The majority of the ROMs traded on the Internet are RPGs like the Final Fantasy series, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Quest, etc. Platformers are still very popular, too. But there is a palpable sense that (now that the SNES is largely dead) people are rediscovering all the good games that were ignored during the "great beat-em-up battle" of the 1990s. The SNES had a shorter life than the NES, and became less relevant much sooner than anticipated. Street Fighter II contributed significantly to this premature death.

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