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SNES History

Snes Arena

This article was obtained directly from N64 Gamer magazine issue 15 with minor editing.

After owning the worldwide 8-bit market for five years, the NES had had its day. Sega had released the 16-bit Meagdrive (Genesis) in 1989 which stomped all over the NES, in technical sense. Nintendo had been working on the follow up system, imaginatively called the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or Super Famicom). The SNES was released in 1990 in Japan, 1991 worldwide. The release date was continually pushed back as Nintendo worked on improvements. The machine was in final stages when Sega released the Megadrive. The SNES was delayed and improved so the machine would be technically superior to Sega's console.

The biggest improvement was "Mode 7". This was a feature of the hardware the enabled it scale both backgrounds and sprites with ease. Previously if programmers wanted to scale a sprite into the screen then each individual frame that changed size, would have to be drawn separately. Mode 7 was used to great effect in games such as Super Ghouls 'n Ghost's, where the camera zooms smoothly in on the Arthur's castle. Possibly the best use of Mode 7 was in Super Mario Kart. The ability to auto zoom made for a much smoother driving game than had ever been available on the older systems.

Early titles for the SNES included Capcom's arcade game Final Fight, the third game in the Ghouls 'n Ghost's series and Super R-Type. But, the biggest news was Mario's 16-bit debut, Super Mario World. Again Mario was responsible for selling a massive number of Nintendo machines. Super Mario World had depth of game play never before seen in a platform game. There were 96 levels to play. Unlike most platformers which were very linear in there design, Super Mario World improved upon the idea of using a map to select levels that had been introduced in Super Mario’s Bro's 3.

Even though the SNES was technically superior to the Megadrive, Sega's machine had a huge head start when it came to sales. Even with brilliant titles, the SNES had to play catch up for a year, if there was one game which helped the SNES catch up more than Mario, it was Street fighter 2. The Street fighter games are now an institution but back in 1991 there was nothing like them. One on one fighting games had been around for years but it was Street fighter 2 that redefined the genre. The Complexity and depth of game play, combos and complicated joystick and button moves were vast improvements over the earlier button bashers. The game took the world by storm.

Another Nintendo invention was the SFX chip. This chip was placed inside cartridges to help the SNES process 3D graphics. A prime example is Starwing, the prequel to the N64 game, Lylat Wars. Starwing used polygons to create 3D environments in much the same way that the current generation of console do. By using the SFX chip and Mode 7, Starwing was a game which was beyond the abilities of the supposedly comparable Sega Megadrive. Even though the SFX chip was designed for creation of 3D graphics, Yoshi's Island showed what could be achieved when that technology was used in 2D games.

A 32-Bit CD add on drive was on the drawing board for the SNES at one stage. Nintendo and Sony were working together to create the new accessory, but due to differing ideas of what from the CD drive should take, Sony and Nintendo parted company. Sony, having a taste of the gaming industry, went on to create the Playstation.

By 1994 Sega and Sony had both released CD based 32-bit consoles, as well as Panasonic with their ill-fated 3DO. With Nintendo's new machine a long way off it looked like Sony and Sega would leave the SNES behind to be enjoyed by retro gamers alone. It was then that a previously minor third party developer stepped in to deliver three of the most graphically advance games seen on a 16-Bit console. The developer was Rare and the game was Donkey Kong Country.

Rare had invested a lot of time, effort and money into Donkey Kong Country. When it was finally released it breathed life back into the ailing SNES, which doomsayers had been prematurely dismissing as a dying machine. That Nintendo trusted Rare enough to licence them with the monkey responsible for Nintendo's rise to dominance more than ten years earlier, showed the growing ties between the companies.

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