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From top to bottom: The North American Super NES, the Japanese Super Famicom, and the European Super NES.
"Now you're playing with power. Super power."
— The first slogan, carrying over from the NES
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The Nintendo Entertainment System had a long run, and was still quite popular years after it launched. Yet competition wouldn't stay away forever, as 16-bit systems were coming into vogue. The PC Engine would end up butting heads with the Famicom's in Japan starting in 1987, while the Sega Genesis was beginning make a name for itself with its North American launch in 1989. Nintendo had been also told that their demands for third party exclusivity in the United States were an illegal monopoly, and were forced to relent out of fear of legal retribution.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), or Super NES for short, was made to keep up, and so began one of the fiercest Console Wars in history. It was known as the Super Famicom in Japan (officially adopting the "Famicom" nickname of its predecessor, the Family Computer) while in South Korea, it was known as the Super Comboy (슈퍼 컴보이) and it was distributed by Hynixnote . While the Super NES was very much a success (eventually matching the rival Genesis in market share), Nintendo would still make some mistakes behind the scenes. Nintendo originally had a deal to make a CD-ROM drive for the Super NES, and signed with Sony for the latter to make the device. But the contract for the add-on Sony made included a clause where Sony would receive all software royalties. The President of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, decided to drop the contract and sign with Philips midway through development (and behind Sony's back), which turned the relationship into a rocky one. Eventually Nintendo, Sony, and Philips consolidated forces to work on the CD add-on, until Sony decided to go it alone, using the already-constructed hardware to launch their own console, the PlayStation.

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One add-on for the system did get made: The Super Game Boy, a cartridge attachment that allowed the system to play Game Boy games, and even add color to them. Japan received a second add-on, the Satellaview, a downloadable game service similar in principle to Sega's attempts at cable-based gaming services.

Possibly the most important and enduring contribution of the Super NES was its controller design. Not only was it the first controller to feature shoulder buttons, but also the first to sport four face buttons laid out in a cross shape to mirror the position of the D-pad. These two design elements have become the basis of pretty much every gamepad ever since, though it wasn't until Sony decided to copy it for the PlayStation that it really took off as the standard.

Also notable for having very different casings on both the console and the games between the American and European versions. The top picture shows the American version, with harder edges and lighter shades of grey compared to the more rounded Japanese and European editions. The controllers are also different; while Japan and the PAL region got controllers with multi-colored red A, yellow B, blue X, and green Y convex face buttons, which matches the colored Super Famicom logo, the North American controller got purple-colored convex A and B face buttons and lavender-colored concave X and Y face buttons, though at least both North America and the rest of the world have the same overall controller shape and plugs/ports (unlike the cartridges).

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In Japan, Sharp would also announce a successor to the C-1 NES TV in 1990. Called the Sharp Super Famicom Naizou TV SF1, the TV has a built in cartridge slot on the top of the TV and would also have an expansion port with full support for SFC accessories like the Satellaview (its predecessor was widely criticized by Japanese gamers for not supporting the Famicom Disk System, among other accessories), and came in both 21" and 14" models, as well as offer a video-out connector so one could hook a VCR up and record game footage from the TV. Ultimately the TV remained only in Japan - there were rumors that a North American version was in the works with a release date of late 1991, but nothing came of it.

A smaller version of the console was issued in North America (the model SNS-101) in 1997 and Japan (the Super Famicom Jr.) in 1998. The slimmed-down redesign removed the expansion port (meaning the SFC Jr. was incompatible with the Satellaview), the RF output (though the Nintendo 64's optional RF modulator was compatible), and the eject button. Support for S-Video and RGB output was also Dummied Out, though console modders could reinstate those features without any additional hardware. PAL regions did not receive the redesigned console. Internally these consoles use the 1CHIP-03 revision which unifies the CPU, PPU1 and PPU2 into a single package and with some modifications can output the cleanest RGB video signal at the cost of some minor graphical issues with certain games. note 

On June 26, 2017, Nintendo would announce that its popular NES Classic Edition plug-and-play console would be followed up by the Super NES Classic Edition, released on September 29 of that same year. Like its predecessor, the Super NES Classic Edition features 21 built-in gamesList 


Technical Specifications:

Processors

  • Like the NES, the Super NES has a Central Processing Unit for main data processing, and a Picture Processing Unit (in this case, a pair of tightly interlocked units) for the graphics. Also like the NES, the Super NES has a master clock speed of 21.477 MHz or 21.281 MHz in PAL regions, which is different from the NES at 26.602 MHz, but the CPU divides it down to between 1.79, 2.68 and 3.58 MHz.note  This was to make it cheaper to make the system with said clock speed, and for compatibility with slow/cheap cartridge ROM. This led to the belief that the Super NES is a slow system, and that too much on screen action would slow it down.
    • The processor itself was a Ricoh 5A22 which was based on the Western Design Center 65C816, a 16-bit successor to the MOS Technology 6502 used in the NES, Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari consoles and computers. One popular rumor has it that Nintendo actually used Apple IIGS computers as development systems, since they also used the 65C816. This is mostly untrue: while some western third party development houses used Apple IIGS machines for development (specifically, rapid prototyping), the official development kit actually consisted of a Sony NEWS workstation that ran a Motorola M68k family processor and an old version of BSD, and was attached to a development console for testing, a fact that had been confirmed by John Pickford of Rare. Since the 6502 family has only one accumulator register, every operation that uses a second operand must reference the RAM. Accessing the RAM is limited by the 8-bit data bus. Therefore, 16-bit operations were slower than 8 bit operations, but the 16-bit operations were still faster than emulating them with 8-bit instructions.

  • Two Picture Processing Units or PPU'S divided into PPU1 and PPU2 respectively to form the S-PPU. These are an evolution of the original PPU design found in the Nintendo Entertainment System. PPU1 is used to render sprites, tiles and various scale and rotation functions whereas PPU2 is dedicated to effects such as fading, windowing and mosaic effects over rendered assets.
    • The S-PPU Has support for up to 4 background layers. This is further divided into a series of modes between 0 through to 7 which all have different restrictions and limitations on how many layers you could use and more importantly how many colors were available. Mode 1 & 5 were the most commonly used for games but the most famous mode is none other than "Mode 7" which allows a single 8bpp background layer to be modified using affine transformations in tandem with the S-CPU such as shearing, scaling, rotating, reflection and translation. As only one background could be used in this mode developers would often put characters or objects on this layer to be modified and then build the foreground assets using sprites directly to mask the effect as it was very resource intensive on the CPU.

  • The system also has its own series of sound processors in the form of the S-DSP and SPC700, made by Sony (naturally, this was before Sony made its own system)note . This wasn't made just to generate sound, but to also mix it, like a MOD with its own custom instruments/samples, with 8 16-bit ADPCM sample-playback channels available. This sound accelerator is notable for producing 16-bit sound in the base model of the console while its main competitors were limited to lower sample sizes like 5, 8, 9, or 10 bits per sample in the TurboGrafx-16, 9 bits per sample of FM music from the Mega Drive, or 8 bits per sample of PCM encoded sound from the Mega Drive. Even though this hardware was advanced, it is bottlenecked by the low amount of space provided by the cartridges, the limited sound RAM, and the requirement to use sampled sound that uses more memory than FM sound because it is incapable of generating FM sound; even with all this, though, the expanded qualities of this chip were heavily used by many developers of this era with often legendary results. The filtering hardware managed to remove aliasing in heavily compressed audio samples. However, it also muffled certain types of audio samples. It also did reverb and other post-processing effects. The processor core has an ISA that was derived from a Zilog Z80 with registers added and changed about to resemble a 6502, essentially making it a proprietary hybrid of both CPUs.

Enhancement Chips

  • The 8-bit wide data bus speed is a problem, but the system has a lot of memory, and like the NES before, it has a cart-accessible expansion bus, which meant carts could add their own extra processors to run at higher speeds or perform extra functions independant of the main CPU.

    • The most famous of these chips is the "Super FX" chip, codenamed the MARIO chip note  and known internally as the GSU-1 and GSU-2 are a highly specialized 16-bit RISC CPU designed by Argonaut Software which is generally used for running Polygonal Graphics as well as sprite transformations, scaling and rotating. It included some extra RAM for use as a rendering buffer, and for general computing if needed although its performance was notoriously poor for doing so. The Super FX went through a number of revisions over its lifetime; the MARIO chip and GSU-1 version used in Star Fox was underclocked to run at 10.74MHz where as the GSU-2 revision in Yoshi's Island and Doom ran at the full 21.4MHz clock speed and could address twice as much ROM & RAM memory as the original revision. Only 8 games were ever made using the Super FX; mainly due to higher production costs in producing the chip leading to these games retailing at $70 and the complexities of managing 2 completely independent and different CPUs at once.

    • Another famous chip and the most widely used enhancement chip is called the Super Accelerator 1 or SA-1 for short, which was mostly known for being used in Kirby Super Star and Super Mario RPG. The SA-1 is a second and much faster 65C816 clocked at 10.74 MHz that could act independently of the main CPU or in parallel and came with a slew of extra features such as faster RAM access, memory mapping support, decompression routines, DMA modes for bitmap graphics, new mathematical routines, a hardware timer and a special intergrated CIC lockout chip to act as an extra layer of Copy Protection. As this CPU can function identically to the main CPU fan patches have been developed to convert games to use the SA-1 chip and it's higher clockspeed to eliminate slowdown.

    • One of the most widely used add-on chips (second only to the SA-1 by number of games) was the DSP-1 through DSP-4 series; a 8MHz NEC µPD77C25 math co-processor typically used to speed up 3D calculations and trigonometry in games like Pilotwings and Super Mario Kart. This chip also happened to be used in Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer, which led to a team of engineers borrowing code from the Super NES emulator higan when developing their own emulator for Hawking's synthesizer after it started to break down. Apart from the DSP-1A and DSP-1B which reduced the chip size and fixed several software bugs note  each DSP chip is the same with different microcode to serve different functions. DSP-2 was used in Dungeon Master to convert Atari ST graphics into SNES tiles, DSP-3 was used to assist in AI calculations, bitplane conversions and decompression in SD Gundam GX and lastly, DSP-4 was used to assist in drawing the multiple branching tracks of Top Gear 3000.

    • The CX4 or "Capcom Consumer Custom Chip" is a 20MHz Hitachi HG51B169 math co-processor that was used for trigonometry functions, wireframe drawing and plotting, sprite manipulation and extra Copy Protection in Mega Man X2 & Mega Man X3

    • The Sharp LR35902 was used as the Super Game Boy CPU. It's identical to the CPU used in the Game Boy Pocket revision. However, due to the clock speed being divided by the SNES' master clock instead of the Game Boy's own games would run 2.4% faster than they would on the handheld, although a mod would eventually be devised to allow the Super GameBoy to run at accurate speeds. This speed deviation also caused the device to be banned in Speedrunning communities. The revised "Super Game Boy 2" corrected this mistake as well as added a serial port to allow it to communicate with other Game Boy units. Neither of these revisions can run Game Boy Color games as the CPU is slightly different between them unless the game has original DMG and SGB support.

    • The MX15001TFC was used as an authentication chip in the Japan exclusive "Nintendo Power" cartridge service where customers could buy flash memory based Super Famicom or Game Boy cartridges and use kiosks at retail stores nationwide to write games onto them for a small fee similar to the Famicom Disk System. A small number of Satellaview games were ported to this service before seeing physical releases late into the systems lifespan.

    • The S-DD1 is a custom ASIC designed by Nintendo and Ricoh to allow games to store heavily compressed assets to fit within the largest 4MB ROM cartridge size Nintendo manufactured at the time. It was only used in Street Fighter Alpha 2 & Star Ocean. A unique property of this chip allows it to feed other data to the S-PPU or CPU while the S-DD1 also handles the decompression routines before sending the assets to the S-PPU directly at the cost of adding loading times to complete the procedure. This chip was originally unemulated by most SNES emulators due to a lack of understanding the decompression routines, requiring "Graphic Packs" of the already decompressed assets to run the games until the late 2000's when it was finally reverse engineered.

    • The SPC7110 (Not to be confused with the SPC700) is another decompression co-processor used by Hudson Soft most notably in Far East of Eden Zero with the addition of having a real time clock onboard for various ingame events similar to the earlier S-RTC co-processor.

    • The ST-01X series designed and manufactured by Seta Corporation is a NEC μPD7720 running at either 10 or 15MHz mainly used for running AI routines in several shogi games. The final chip of the series that was released in 1995; the ST-018 is actually an 21.47MHz ARMV3 chip making it a direct ancestor to the Game Boy Advance CPU note  that would be used SIX year's later and is the most powerful enhancement chip made for the SNES officially.

    • Lastly there is the Media Synchronisation Unit 1 or MSU-1; A theoretical chip designed by "Near", the late author of bsnes, Higan and Ares in the early 2010's as a hypothetical of what the SNESCD Rom could have been prior to the discovery of the last known surviving prototype several year's later. It takes advantage of several unused analog audio pins on the cartridge connector to allow CD quality PCM audio to be streamed into the SPC700 as well as Full Motion Video data in a similar fashion to the Sega CD. It also takes advantage of an FPGA to allow 32 bit addressing support to increase game sizes of up to 4GB in size; WAY beyond the official capacity of original game cartridges. Later modifications of the MSU-1 has allowed it to work in cojunction with other co-processors such as the SuperFX series, SA-1, DSP-X series and even the Super Game Boy. Most modern flash cartridges have support for this allowing the MSU-1 to run on real hardware.

Memory

  • The system has 128 KB of main Random Access Memory and 64 KB of Video RAM. That alone gave the Super NES more on-board memory than either of its 16-bit competitors. This doesn't count including extra memory on the carts, as the other systems may have been able to do that as well. Unfortunately, the data bus for the system is 8 bits wide and therefore severely limited RAM throughput and the system speed because all CPUs in the MOS Technology 6502 family are bottlenecked by RAM throughput and clock speed.
  • The system also has 64 KB of sound memory. Some games (Final Fantasy VI being an excellent example) loaded up to 10 minutes of music into the sound RAM and played it entirely from there. However 64KBs of RAM was a bottleneck to high quality samples which either had to be compressed heavily or relied on streamed data from the cartridge in order to overcome the RAM limitation. Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean are known games that used a specialized engine for this.
  • The ROM size could range from 256 KB (Frogger, Space Invaders) to 6 MB (Star Ocean and Tales of Phantasia). Keep in mind that these were advertised by their bit size, not their byte size, so they would be listed as 2 megabits to 48 megabits.
    • The system's main address bus is 24-bit, allowing it to access up to 16 MB, but this included RAM and hardware registers mirrored across banks, and ROM is generally mirrored as well (it's complicated). The largest official memory maps allowed up to 8 MB (64 Mbits) of read-only memory. The largest known program for the Super NES is a chip-free hack of Star Ocean that weighs in at 12 MB (96 Mbits). (The official version of Star Ocean used an S-DD1 data decompression chip, allowing it to fit into only 48 Mbits of expensive mask ROM.)
      • Bankswitching chips were sometimes used to fit large ROMs into small memory maps. In principle, this could have allowed games to bypass the limit imposed by the 24-bit addressing scheme, but in practice no games ever got that big. note 
  • Like competing video game systems, the Super NES had a DMA unit to rapidly move data between different areas of memory. It also had a special mode called H-DMA whereby it could be set to automatically write up to eight small handfuls of data pretty much anywhere in the system in between one scanline and the next. These data packets could be read or addressed from tables in ROM or RAM, allowing sophisticated raster effects to be executed with minimal CPU time.note 

Sprites

  • The sprites can be as large as 64×64 pixels, with up to 128 on screen, but flickering may still occur if more than 32 sprites (or 34 8x8 sprite tiles, whichever comes first) are on the same horizontal line (although that's much rarer than on an NES, which allows only 8 sprites of 8 pixels wide, totalling 64 pixels).
  • The backgrounds can be more complex, with up to four layers of background graphics, although games rarely used that many due to severe color limitations with more than three layers. Or instead of a layered background, games could set the PPU into Mode 7, which was used to achieve the scaling and rotating backgrounds that were part of what set the Super NES apart in those days.
  • While the system could in principle scale and rotate individual sprites in software (as demonstrated by homebrewers in recent years), there was no hardware support for it. This meant that it was generally considered too resource intensive to be practical, and so was mostly reserved for titles in the system's latter years, where this task could be offloaded to chips such as the Super FX or Capcom Cx4. It was also possible to use a Mode 7 background as a sprite, but this meant you could have only one such sprite on a given scanline and had to use regular sprites to build the background; Super Mario World does this with certain bosses.
  • The system had no dedicated 3D hardware, but contrary to popular belief, it was indeed capable of doing basic polygonal graphics without the Super FX chip, such as the Triforce pieces in the opening of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Display

  • The standard resolution is 256×224 pixels. The reason the vertical display is shorter than the NES is that on a typical NTSC television, the extra scanlines would be off the screen anyway, and since the CPU can't send graphics to the PPU while the latter is busy drawing the screen, the system would be wasting precious VRAM update time drawing scanlines nobody would ever see.note  The Super NES does have an "overscan" mode that gives it the same resolution as the NES, but developers rarely used it. There were also higher resolutions such as 512×448, but these had limited color depth and were not for sprites; RPM Racing was the only game to use hi-res graphics outside of menus and such.
  • The total color depth is 15-bit (or 32,768 colors), but everything drawn to the screen can only use 256 of those colors at any one time. Unless you start to mess with transparencies. Or direct-color modes. Or HDMA (the storied "scanline trick")... It is theoretically possible to display all 32,768 colors onscreen at the same time, with certain limits on what colors can appear where.
  • The system could blend the colors of backgrounds and/or sprites through color addition, subtraction, or averaging, which allowed transparencies to be used, and override the normal on-screen color palette limits.
  • The system supported RF coaxial, composite, S-video, and RGB SCART. Nintendo never released an official PAL SCART cable, so European gamers looking for a SCART cable should avoid the Nintendo-branded SCART cable, since it was only released in Japan and is in fact based on the JP21 standard which has a different pinout from European SCART cables despite having an identical connector- this article goes into the details on why you should never use Japanese "SCART" cables on European TVs. S-video and RGB support was removed from the "new-style" console but can be modded back in.

Peripherals and Accessories

  • Super Scope (Nintendo Scope in Europe): A bazooka-shaped light gun that is essentially the successor to the NES Zapper. Unlike the Zapper, the Super Scope was battery-operated and connected to the console via a wireless receiver that plugged into the second controller port. It came with a six game compilation titled Super Scope 6. Most light gun games supported it, with the notable exception of Konami's Lethal Enforcers, which used its own light gun known as The Justifier (also released released on the Genesis).
    • The US military would develop their own light gun based accessory for their "Multi-purpose Arcade Combat Simulator" in the mid 90's to train recruits with light gun replicas of the Jäger AP 74. Only 600 of these were ever made.
  • Super NES Mouse: Two button mouse bundled with Mario Paint, and allowed for the Super NES to utilize point-and-click controls. Several other games supported it following Mario Paint's success.
  • Super Game Boy: Accessory that allowed Game Boy games to be played on a television. The game would be surrounded by a user-selectable border (or it could even be a user-made one, and allowed the user to create one with the aforementioned mouse) and the game palette could be colored any way the user desired. Some games even had special enhancements specifically for the accessory such as special borders and color palettes. The Japan exclusive Super Game Boy 2 had a new set of default borders and link cable functionality. Neither model is capable of playing Game Boy Color exclusive games, though hybrid Game Boy Color cartridges that also worked with the original Game Boy will play on it (and some hybrid games like Tetris DX do also contain Super Game Boy support).
  • Multi-Player Adapter: Various models were released by different companies, but in essence this allows up to four additional controllers to be connected onto the control deck's 2nd controller port, allowing for up to five simultaneous players. The most popular was the Super Multitap by Hudson Soft, designed for Super Bomberman. Other models include the Hori Multitap (rebranded the Super Links in the U.S., where it was sold by Bullet-Proof Software) and Optec's Multi-Adaptor Auto. No first-party adapters were made or sold by Nintendo.
  • Satellaview: A Japan exclusive satellite modem accessory that allowed the console to receive games, radio broadcasts, competitions and digital magazines over satellite radio via the St.GIGA satellite radio provider. The service was active from 1995 to 2000 before St. GIGA folded in 2003.
  • Super 8: A device that plugged into the cartridge slot that allowed you to play NES and Famicom games. Also included a pass through for SNES games that had the added benefit of lacking the physical lockout of the SNES itselfnote , meaning it could play Japanese-market Super Famicom games. Obviously not licensed or approved by Nintendo and very difficult to find today.
  • XBAND: A officially licensed but short lived online subscription service that was also available on the Sega Genesis and the later Sega Saturn. The XBAND would act as a middle man connector between the game cartridge and the SNES adding a dial up modem for supported games to play online against other players for a subscription fee.


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Tropes Related To The System And Its Add-Ons:

  • Ascended Fanon: The "Famicom" moniker was originally just a popular Fan Nickname for the Family Computer (the Japanese NES). Nintendo decided to adopt it officially for their new machine, the Super Famicom.
  • Bowdlerize: Played straight with the Super NES port of the original Mortal Kombat, as well as some others released early in the system's life. Once the controversy regarding video game violence was resolved with the creation of the ESRB, however, Nintendo decided to relax their censorship standards, which led to the Super NES port of Mortal Kombat II averting this with extreme prejudice.
  • Chromatic Arrangement: The A, B, X and Y buttons are respectively colored red, yellow, blue and green on the Japanese and European versions of the console.
  • Game Mod: If you own a Super NES Classic Edition, it is very possible to add games into the system using a simple PC program due to its emulation-based software. Save Scumming will save your life (and time) when you play notorious Nintendo Hard games such as the original Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. This would involve finding ROMs for said games.
  • Growing the Beard: This happened to quite a few franchises on this system, with several landmark titles setting the standard for future games in their series; Final Fantasy IV, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid.
  • Killer App: Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II in the console's early years, Donkey Kong Country later on.
  • Separated by a Common Language: In the English-speaking world, the console is often referred to by its initials, SNES, normally pronounced as an initialism (ess-en-ee-ess) in North America, and as an acronym (sness or snezz) in the United Kingdom.
  • Stock Control Settings: Was the exemplar of the "cross" button layout (four face buttons shaped like the points on a cross) and the L and R shoulder buttons.
  • Save Scumming: The Mini allows you to save a game in its save states. This is extremely helpful on Nintendo Hard games, and you can rewind parts of a game you missed.
  • Simple, yet Awesome: The legendary Super NES controller. Enough buttons for almost any game that operates on two dimensions, but arranged in an easy-to-understand layout. It has been the gold standard for 2D gaming controllers for over 25 years with Nintendo heavily reusing aspects of its design in future products, including their Nintendo GameCube controller, Wii Classic Pro controller, Wii U Pro controller, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS consoles and handheld systems. Other console manufacturers have also borrowed from the design, with virtually every console since the original PlayStation replicating the four diamond patterned face buttons, and shoulder buttons combo that the Super NES pioneered, usually only adding analog sticks or a second pair of shoulder buttons.
  • Super Title 64 Advance: A trend that took off with this console, often used to differentiate Super NES games from prior versions or installments on the original NES. Though not all games with "Super" in their title are the result of this trope (the Super Mario Bros. franchise being an obvious example).
  • Vindicated by History: The 32-bit era's arrival wasn't kind to games like Super Metroid, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, or EarthBound (1994), which were often lost in the shuffle of more technologically advanced games on other systems. However, they would eventually become among the most acclaimed and highly-ranked video games of all time. Especially Super Metroid, which nowadays is often placed on top of lists of the best Super NES games ever.

Alternative Title(s): Super NES, SNES, Super Nintendo, Super Famicom

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