Early concept designs for the SNES, referred to as the "Nintendo Entertainment System 2"
To compete with the popular Family Computer in Japan, NEC Home Electronics launched the PC Engine in 1987, and Sega followed suit with the Mega Drive in 1988. The two platforms were later launched in North America in 1989 as the TurboGrafx-16 and the Sega Genesis respectively. Both systems were built on 16-bit architectures and offered improved graphics and sound over the 8-bit NES. However, it took several years for Sega's system to become successful. Nintendo executives were in no rush to design a new system, but they reconsidered when they began to see their dominance in the market slipping.
The four-color Super Famicom mark (left) is part of the Super NES logo in the PAL and JP regions. The colors correspond to those of the ABXY buttons of the control pad in those regions. A different logo was used for the North American version (right), consisting of a striped background outlining four oval shapes.
Designed by Masayuki Uemura, the designer of the original Famicom, the Super Famicom was released in Japan on Wednesday, November 21, 1990 for ¥25,000 (equivalent to 27,800 yen in 2019). It was an instant success; Nintendo's initial shipment of 300,000 units sold out within hours, and the resulting social disturbance led the Japanese government to ask video game manufacturers to schedule future console releases on weekends. The system's release also gained the attention of the Yakuza, leading to a decision to ship the devices at night to avoid robbery.
With the Super Famicom quickly outselling its rivals, Nintendo reasserted itself as the leader of the Japanese console market. Nintendo's success was partially due to the retention of most of its key third-party developers, including Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square, Koei, and Enix.
Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a redesigned version of the Super Famicom, in North America for $199 (equivalent to $374 in 2019). It began shipping in limited quantities on August 23, 1991,[a] with an official nationwide release date of September 9, 1991. The SNES was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in April 1992 for £150 (equivalent to £313 in 2019), with a German release following a few weeks later.
Most of the PAL region versions of the console use the Japanese Super Famicom design, except for labeling and the length of the joypad leads. The Playtronic Super NES in Brazil, although PAL-M, uses the North American design. Both the NES and SNES were released in Brazil in 1993 by Playtronic, a joint venture between the toy company Estrela and consumer electronics company Gradiente.
The SNES and Super Famicom launched with few games, but these games were well received in the marketplace. In Japan, only two games were initially available: Super Mario World and F-Zero. (A third game, Bombuzal, was released during the launch week.) In North America, Super Mario World launched as a bundle with the console; other launch games include F-Zero, Pilotwings (both of which demonstrate the console's Mode 7 pseudo-3D rendering capability), SimCity, and Gradius III.
The rivalry between Nintendo and Sega resulted in what has been described as one of the most notable console wars in video game history, in which Sega positioned the Genesis as the "cool" console, with games aimed at older audiences, and aggressive advertisements that occasionally attacked the competition. Nintendo, however, scored an early public-relations advantage by securing the first console conversion of Capcom's arcade classic Street Fighter II for SNES, which took more than a year to make the transition to the Genesis. Though the Genesis had a two-year lead to launch time, a much larger library of games, and a lower price point, it only represented an estimated 60% of the American 16-bit console market in June 1992, and neither console could maintain a definitive lead for several years. Donkey Kong Country is said to have helped establish the SNES's market prominence in the latter years of the 16-bit generation, and for a time, maintain against the PlayStation and Saturn. According to Nintendo, the company had sold more than 20 million SNES units in the U.S. According to a 2014 Wedbush Securities report based on NPD sales data, the SNES outsold the Genesis in the U.S. market.
Changes in policy
During the NES era, Nintendo maintained exclusive control over games released for the system—the company had to approve every game, each third-party developer could only release up to five games per year (but some third parties got around this by using different names, such as Konami's "Ultra Games" brand), those games could not be released on another console within two years, and Nintendo was the exclusive manufacturer and supplier of NES cartridges. However, competition from Sega's console brought an end to this practice; in 1991, Acclaim began releasing games for both platforms, with most of Nintendo's other licensees following suit over the next several years; Capcom (which licensed some games to Sega instead of producing them directly) and Square were the most notable holdouts.
Nintendo continued to carefully review submitted games, scoring them on a 40-point scale and allocating marketing resources accordingly. Each region performed separate evaluations. Nintendo of America also maintained a policy that, among other things, limited the amount of violence in the games on its systems. The surprise arcade hit Mortal Kombat (1992), a gory fighting game with huge splashes of blood and graphically violent fatality moves, was heavily censored by Nintendo.[g] Because the Genesis version retains all of the gore, it outsold the censored SNES version by a ratio of nearly three to one.
U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Joe Lieberman convened a Congressional hearing on December 9, 1993, to investigate the marketing of violent video games to children.[h] Though Nintendo took the high ground with moderate success, the hearings led to the creation of the Interactive Digital Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board and the inclusion of ratings on all video games. With these ratings in place, Nintendo decided its censorship policies were no longer needed.
32-bit era and beyond
While other companies were moving on to 32-bit systems, Rare and Nintendo proved that the SNES was still a strong contender in the market. In November 1994, Rare released Donkey Kong Country, a platform game featuring 3D models and textures pre-rendered on SGI workstations. With its detailed graphics, fluid animation and high-quality music, Donkey Kong Country rivals the aesthetic quality of games that were being released on newer 32-bit CD-based consoles. In the last 45 days of 1994, 6.1 million copies were sold, making it the fastest-selling video game in history to that date. This game sent a message that early 32-bit systems had little to offer over the SNES, and proved the market for the more advanced consoles of the near future. According to TRSTS reports, two of the top five best-selling games in the U.S. for December 1996 are Super NES games.
In October 1997, Nintendo released a redesigned model of the SNES (the SNS-101 model referred to as "New-Style Super NES") in North America for US$99, with some units including the pack-in game Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. Like the earlier redesign of the NES (model NES-101), the new model is slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, but it lacks S-Video and RGB output, and it is among the last major SNES-related releases in the region. A similarly redesigned Super Famicom Jr. was released in Japan at around the same time. However, the redesign did not make it to Europe.
Nintendo ceased the production of the SNES in North America in 1999, about two years after releasing Kirby's Dream Land 3 (its final first-party game in the US) on November 27, 1997, and a year after releasing Frogger (its final third-party game in the US). In Japan, Nintendo continued production of both the Family Computer and the Super Famicom until September 25, 2003, and new games were produced until the year 2000, ending with the release of Metal Slader Glory Director's Cut on November 29, 2000.
Many popular SNES games were ported to the Game Boy Advance, which has similar video capabilities. In 2005, Nintendo announced that SNES games would be made available for download via the Wii's Virtual Console service. On October 31, 2007, Nintendo Co., Ltd. announced that it would no longer repair Family Computer or Super Famicom systems due to an increasing shortage of the necessary parts. On March 3, 2016, Nintendo Co., Ltd. announced that it would bring SNES games to the New Nintendo 3DS and New Nintendo 3DS XL (and later the New Nintendo 2DS XL) via its eShop download service. At the Nintendo Direct event on September 4, 2019, Nintendo announced that it would be bringing select SNES games to the Nintendo Switch Online platform.