May 23 2008
The Super Nintendo was released into a Sega dominated market. Many felt that Nintendo had simply left it too late to enter the 16 bit console war. These critics had forgotten the millions of loyal Nintendo fans brought up on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Nintendo’s best and brightest were put to work on games for the new system and it was Shigeru Myamoto, surely Nintendo’s employee of the decade, who delivered the goods again. Super Mario World was an instant success. Combining classic 2D platform action with the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 draw card made for a fantastic platform game with the depth that was missing from Sega’s Megadrive offerings in Sonic, Alex Kidd et al.
Mode 7 reared its bitmapped head in most of the SNES’ initial hits. Super Mario Kart became quite simply one of the best racing games to ever hit the consoles and F-Zero followed closely behind it. Both were developed under the watchful eye of Myamoto.
Then the war began in earnest. Sega released arcade conversion after arcade conversion, which although capturing the imaginations of its target market, failed to deliver on many counts. Arcade games are simply not designed to be played for months on end. This is where Nintendo capitalised – releasing good-looking, replayable games with both gameplay and depth. Nintendo’s mantra of Quality not Quantity seemed to be working. Gamers were hooked.
The SNES’ 256 color palette occasionally put the Megadrive’s 64 to shame. Colours on the SNES were vibrant and the shading smooth. With many developers happy to develop for both systems, the difference in the games could be seen when running side by side. Capcom’s Street Fighter II was a perfect example.
To keep the SNES up-to-date with the 3D trend, the FX chip was developed by Argonaut, headed by Jez San, an ex-Amiga coder famous for his pioneering 3D work. Rather than release another ill-fated peripheral, Nintendo built the chip into the cartridge, giving rise to one of the best shooters ever made – Starfox! A superb romp through a 3D landscape, Starfox looked superb and played even better. For a machine with a 3.12 Mhz processor in it, the SNES + FX chip could really throw some polygons around. Other games using the chip were Stunt Race FX (Excellent), Super Mario World 2 and Doom.
Rare then produced Killer Instinct for the arcade, a beat em up featuring the same ACM from Donkey Kong Country, which while not as popular as the Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats of the time, garnered a significant following. The SNES version, which inevitably followed, was spot on too.
Nintendo’s very public boardroom brawl with Sony over a CD-Rom expansion for the cartridge-based SNES resulted in Sony going ahead with their own plans for a play-station and it wasn’t until the release of the Wii that Nintendo recovered.