Super Nintendo (SNES) 101: A Beginners Guide

SNES 101

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console or handheld that they don’t know much about yet. Those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured machine, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial into the comments section. If you are new to the featured console, and still have questions, you can also use the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was one of the big players in one of the most heated console wars of all time and remains as one of the most treasured consoles of all time. Its robust game library and high nostalgia level make it commonplace in a classic gaming collection. This guide should help classic Nintendo newbies jump right in and long-lost SNES owners find their way back to their former love.

I want to thank racketboy contributer, Integrity for piecing much of this guide together and those other members on the forum that helped list points of interest for this post as well.

Background Information

  • Nintendo’s second console (known as the Super Famicom in Japan) was designed by Masayuki Uemura, who also designed the NES.
  • Nintendo did not originally intend to make a successor to the successful NES, but as Sega’s Genesis/Megadrive started picking up steam and Nintendo saw its numbers slip in the market, this sparked the planning of a new console.
  • Brief History of the SNES from GeekComix

Historical Impact

  • The release of the Super Nintendo started one of the greatest console wars in history between Nintendo’s Super Nintendo System and Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis.
  • The Super Nintendo has some of the greatest pack in games of all time, starting with the American launch title, Super Mario World. Super Mario All-Stars was also included with the system at a later date.
  • Even with the launch of 32 bit systems SNES still proved it was a strong contender in the market. Nintendo of America didn’t stop producing the Super Nintendo until 1999. In Japan the Super Famicom continued to be produced until September 2003.
  • Nintendo continued to innovate with controller designs by having four face buttons and two shoulder/trigger buttons. This design served as the primary inspiration to nearly every modern console controler after the 16/32-bit era.
  • Nintendo took a firm stand on the type of content in SNES game with its censorship standards. The most famous example was the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, which did not contain its tradmark gore. Nintendo eventually loosened its censorship standards once the ESRB rating system was implemented.
  • Nintendo started development with Sony for a CD add-on for the SNES (similar to the Sega CD) which was code-named Play Station.

Game Library

  • The SNES had a very well-rounded game library supported by both first-party and third-part developers.
  • Games That Defined The SNES – these games are the most famous and memorable of the SNES library. They were the best games for the machine at the time of its release, and many still hold up well to this day.
  • The Best Undiscovered SNES Games – if you want to explore the hidden gems of the Super Nintendo to round up your collection, this is the guide to explore.
  • The Cheapest SNES Games Worth Your Time – If you want to quickly build up a collection of high-quality games without spending much money, take a look at these favorites — many of which are under $10.

Variations in Hardware

  • The Japanese Super Famicom and the PAL Super Nintendo Entertainment system share the same design while the American release is a bit bulkier (and more sturdy)
  • In October of 1997 Nintendo released an SNES 2, this version was slimmer, stripped of the S Video connection and RF output. It came bundled with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island at a price of US$99. A similar Super Famicom Jr. was released in Japan around the same time.
  • In recent years, there have been a number of SNES clones reaching the market, so of which play both NES and SNES games. These clone are affordable, but reliability may be a concern.

Strengths

  • Well-Rounded Game Libary: with particular stengths in RPGs, platformers, and racing games
  • In addition to an obvious plethora of great first party titles, Nintendo had an extremely strong third party showing including but not limited to strong support from: Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square Co., and Enix.
  • Arguably the strongest RPG library In the history of gaming. (Right up there with the PS1 and PS2)
  • The system was able to, in most cases, was able to reproduce more accurate arcade experiences (primarily Street Fighter 2) that the Sega Genesis.
  • The console hardware is extremely durable and has a long life span.
  • The Super Nintendo’s powerful graphics, sound, and add-on processors made up for its slower primary CPU.
  • The video PPU (Picture Processing Unit) allowed the use of Mode-7 effects and 32768 colors.
  • The audio subsystem is almost completely independent from the rest of the system and produced some impressive soundtracks and sound effects during its lifetime.
  • Games that required more graphic processing power were shipped with internal chips, such as the Super FX ship in Starfox, Stunt Race FX, and Yoshi’s Island.
  • The Super FX was the most famous add-on chip, but there were many others that were implemented in a variety of games.
  • Easy to play imports (With devices such as the Action Replay or a simple mod )
  • The Super Nintendo can use AV and S-Video cables from the N64 and Gamecube, and vice-versa.

Weaknesses

  • Slow CPU meant little bits of lag on earlier games upon start up and sometimes while playing, specifically in fighters and shooters.
  • Strange specialized video hardware meant inconsistent performance.
  • The SNES 2 model lacked S-Video output.
  • The machine little pricier than you would expect when searching on eBay or Amazon (however finding them at a thrift store, pawn shop, etc is pretty common).
  • The console’s plastic shell is infamous for becoming highly discolored. While many machines still look as they originally did, there are a relatively high percentage of machines that have a strong yellowed tint.
  • Due to the cardboard boxes used, games can be a challenge to find complete and in excellent condition. Be prepared to pay a premium if you want to collect complete games.

Accessories To Maximize SNES Experience

  • Use S-Video For Best AV Quality – Don’t get stuck with the RF adapter. S-Video is the best quality you can get for the SNES, followed by Composite (RCA).
  • Wireless SNES Controllers – Messiah Entertainment has produced some modern wireless controllers for the Super Nintendo that have recieved some great reviews.
  • Multi-tap– allowing simultaneous play of up to six players (to my knowledge the only games that take advantage of this are Bomberman and Secret of Mana).
  • Converters such as Action Replay– Allowed the use of cheats in games and the playing of imported games. Usually featured a slot for a game for your region and the import you wanted to load.
  • Nintendo Super Advantage – The follow-up to the popular NES joystick is great for arcade ports like Street Fighter 2.
  • SNES-to-USB Adapter – In case you want to emulate SNES games on computer, you can get afforable adapters to turn your standard SNES controllers into gamepads for your PC for a more authentic experience.

Other Unique Accessories

  • Super Scope– The SNES Light gun. Not a very strong library of games that support this, most likely due to the fact that is considered one of the worst Light Guns in video game history by many fans.
  • Official Nintendo Two Button Mouse– This plugged into controller port 1 or 2. Only a few games were compatible with it such as Mario Paint and Might and Magic III.
  • The Satellaview– Only released in Japan, this accessory allowed the Super Famicom to connect to a Satellite network “St. GIGA”. Games and demos could be downloaded at a certain time to a BS-X Special Broadcast Cassette containing 1 megabit of flash ram.

Emulation & Ports

  • ZSNES is generally regarded as one of the best SNES emulators out there and has been ported to many different platforms. Check out our ZSNES installation and configuration guide for more details on getting started (tge Windows PC version was used for the guide).
  • Snes9X is also a top-notch emulator and is also the source of many emulators on other platforms
  • There is a particularly strong SNES emulation community for handhelds such as the PSP, Nintendo DS, Gizmondo, and GP2X.
  • Nintendo’s Virtual Console service for the Nintendo Wii console marks the introduction of officially sanctioned SNES emulation. Games are usually available for a small cost.
  • There haven’t really been any SNES-based compilations, but many SNES games have been ported to the Gameboy Advance.

Affordability

  • You can usually find an SNES with a couple of games and a controller on eBay for around US$50.
  • The Cheapest SNES Games Worth Your Time – If you want to quickly build up a collection of high-quality games without spending much money, take a look at these favorites — many of which are under $10.
  • Some of the more rare titles can run you between US$50 and US$100 (with some exceptions breaking the hundred dollar mark) but many titles are available at a fraction of that cost.

34 Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Very informative. Thanks! I’ve only had a SNES for less than a year and didn’t know some of the stuff you mention existed. I’m definitely going to get a Super Advantage controller now.

  2. Great read, I can’t think of anything to add to what has been posted. Although you should have stressed how fowl the NTSC SNES looks. Seriously as a PAL I am so pleased that I didn’t have to play my game on that thing.

    I love the SNES, been playing through some classics lately. I’m 99% thru the original Donkey Kong Country. ><

  3. Integrity says:

    Glad you guys are enjoying it!

  4. PharmaceuticalCowboy says:

    Just wondering if all the releases of the SNES 2 (in the U.S. at least) came with Yoshi’s Island? I remember getting the console when my original SNES broke down, but don’t remember any games with it. I only ask because I wonder if I was getting screwed out of playing one of the best platformers until last year.

  5. The Apprentice says:

    Why is the super advantage layed out like that when it could have had a 6 button arrangement?

  6. SaurianOverlord says:

    I knew nothing about the Satellaview; that’s awesome! I want one now, of course. Too bad they didn’t keep it running longer, hmm? 😉

  7. marurun says:

    Actually, many of the slow title screen loads and start-up times, not to mention mid-game loads, are due not so much to the slower CPU but the fact that the CPU must be idled to read from the cartridge (I think this can be circumvented under certain circumstances, however).

  8. gord says:

    The system was able to, in most cases, was able to reproduce more accurate arcade experiences (primarily Street Fighter 2) that the Sega Genesis.

    im not sure about that at all, it could reproduce the colours of later generation arcade games better but the mega-drive (genesis) is much better at handling the speed and sound (with the fm synth).

  9. Curlypaul says:

    Agreed, the Megadrive version of SF2 ran much much faster but I think on the whole the SNES did have the edge on most games when it came to graphics.

    Great article though

  10. kevinski says:

    I loved BS Zelda. Too bad I was playing what must’ve been an unpatched ROM, as I eventually got stuck at some point where time ran out, so the game would just freeze.

  11. Droid Party says:

    Damn it. Now I’m gonna have to hunt down a copy of Yoshi island again.

  12. butane bob says:

    “Use S-Video For Best AV Quality – Don’t get stuck with the RF adapter. S-Video is the best quality you can get for the SNES, followed by Composite (RCA).”

    That’s wrong, RGB is a lot better than svideo and the SNES supports it.

  13. jamie says:

    i loved my snes so much back in the day – it was one of those consoles that just could not be touched – at least until i got my psx.

  14. Carmen says:

    “Just wondering if all the releases of the SNES 2 (in the U.S. at least) came with Yoshi’s Island?”

    No, it was selective.

    “That’s wrong, RGB is a lot better than svideo and the SNES supports it.”

    As I understand its a weird sort of 21-pin adaptor made for some specialised TVs in Japan, not the basic ones used in modern TVs.

    “Nintendo did not originally intend to make a successor to the successful NES, but as Sega’s Genesis/Megadrive started picking up steam and Nintendo saw its numbers slip in the market, this sparked the planning of a new console.”

    Don’t forget Hudson’s PC-Engine! In Japan it actually did much, much better then the Megadrive, so much so that Nintendo considered it its chief rival there.

    “Multi-tap- allowing simultaneous play of up to six players (to my knowledge the only games that take advantage of this are Bomberman and Secret of Mana”

    NBA Jam! 😛

    General addedum: finding SFC games is usually cheaper then SNES games, and as mentioned, a simple mod allows them to be played. Though, finding complete/excellent or better of either games is still tough and fairly pricey. Though if you’re just playing, carts can be horribly beat up and still work – they are VERY durable.

    Great article guys!

  15. crux says:

    The multitap only allowed up to five players and was supported by a large slew of sports games and a few oddball games aside.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Multitap

  16. stephen says:

    Racketboy,

    you mentioned that Bomberman and Secret of Mana are the only games utilizing the 6 player option. Just so you know, Captain America and the Avengers is also a six player game. THANKS!

    Stephen

  17. Krispy89 says:

    Just recieved some old accessories from a very good friend, can remember going around to his house after school and playing on the snes for hours or until we were forcibly removed from the house for dinner. Very interested in the snes to USB adapter. Will look on eBay asap. Very informative article, didn’t know about the rumour about the yakuza though.

  18. shaurz says:

    > As I understand its a weird sort of 21-pin adaptor made for some specialised TVs in Japan, not the basic ones used in modern TVs.

    Or plug into any RGB SCART telly in Europe, cables easily found on ebay or you can make them yourself (Google for console scart pinout). Americans might find a TV with RGB component inputs.

  19. Thomas says:

    I need some help. Can anyone tell me which super nintendo games have a save feature? Is there a list somewhere, just want to know which games I can save my progress on? Thank you for any help you can give!

  20. sewart says:

    Great article, though I think it should be noted that Nintendo did not loosen their censorship stance after the ESRB came into effect. Games like Mortal Kombat II and Lethal Enforcers were released onto the SNES with self-imposed age ratings on the box.

    I think it’s more accurate to say Nintendo loosened their stance a bit after the graphically inferior Mortal Kombat on the Genesis did so well thanks to the gore remaining in that version.

  21. sewart says:

    Also, in “historical impact,” it’s safe to say Nintendo’s simultaneous CD drive deal with Phillips lead directly to Sony entering the console business on their own. That pretty much changed the course of the console business.

  22. BroBuzz says:

    Why does the SES turn yellow after a long time?

  23. james says:

    i was wondering if anyone knows if you can play a super famicom on a u.s tv with out any adapters

  24. i don’t really own a super nintendo. but i played emulated games for the super nintendo. i enjoyed playin em very much.
    my favorite games were, Alien 3, Mortal Kombat 3, Lethal Enforcers, Cybernator, Contra 3, Star Fox, Gunforce, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4, Batman Forever, Demolition Man, and Arkanoid: Doh It Again. hey, did you know that there was an imported SNES version of Doom and Wolfenstein 3d. man, those sucked. and im not sayin that Doom sucks, its just the SNES version. it very poor graphics and so did SNES Wolfenstein. but i enjoyed playin the rest of the SNES games.

  25. C says:

    Love the SNES. I remember having an earlier model and it had a nasty little design flaw. The power cable hooked onto a piece of plastic that stuck out of the back. One day someone stepped on the cord and it broke that piece right out. It was such a pain that I just got rid of that one and bought another for cheap (which had a recessed spot for the plug).

    Interesting you suggest an action replay for imports. I just removed the tabs out of the inside with a chisel and hey presto, it works lol.

  26. s says:

    the reason the snes turned yellow is cheap plastic used in the case. it oxidized. same thing happens to old action figures packages when the bubble is punctured

  27. Jesse D says:

    I’ve had my Super Nintendo since 1995, and it still looks as good as it did back then! No yellowing whatsoever! And thank god for ebay, as now i’m finally collecting the great games I missed the first time around, like Earthbound and the like.

  28. Patrick says:

    My SNES from 1992 is still working and I own 30 games. My older model PS2 suffers from Disc Read Error and a broken Disc Drive. now, My PS3 has died.

  29. Patrick BBE says:

    Looking for Super Metroid….

  30. Zombie says:

    Anyway to make sure my snes doesn’t start turning yellow ?

  31. Jesse D says:

    I think with some machines it’s inevitable, but keeping it out of direct sunlight should help!

  32. Dean says:

    Where can I buy one of these in India?

  33. Wario says:

    Aw man! I really want an SNES again! I have a bunch of working games that I play on my uncle’s console but I barely visit. Mine is currently dead, and oddly enough the plastic turned blackish rather than yellow. I also have a working Genesis, but Sonic can’t hold a candle to Super Mario All-Stars + World, Kirby Super Star, Zelda, DKC 1 + 2, and others. At least my lovely N64 works…

  34. Kevin says:

    @ Sewart […] Also, in “historical impact,” it’s safe to say Nintendo’s simultaneous CD drive deal with Phillips lead directly to Sony entering the console business on their own. That pretty much changed the course of the console business. […]

    I do not think you fully understand what it means,but you sure about that,Sewart?….
    Nintendo wanted to create a CDRom drive for their Snes only and unicaente to compete with the Sega in first,by the Sega CD / Mega CD,for compete with the new wave of interactive video games FMV launched by Sega CD,and then with the Nec PC Engine CDRom2 / TurboGrapX-16 CD-Rom,to the idea of ​​technological innovation based on CDRom support,followed in turn by Sega, with the Mega CD / Sega CD.
    In the end they did not succeed and some went the PlayStation, but that’s another story!