A lot can change in 30 years, but on the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in North America, the gray and purple brick is still one of the greatest consoles of all time.
Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox are all busy doing some really fascinating things right now, and perhaps that could change some people’s brackets. But for many years, conversations about the greatest video game consoles of all time often concluded with a toss-up between SNES and PlayStation 2. And there’s a clear reason for it: Each one took the tremendous success of its predecessor console and just did all the same things, but much better, thanks to stronger hardware and evolved developer skill sets.
In the case of SNES, Mario got a whole world. Link got two worlds. Star Fox presented an actual 3D world! Arcade ports were sometimes nearly indistinguishable from their original versions, with huge sprites moving with an impressive range of animation. Everything that developers ever attempted on NES — they learned to perfect for their SNES outings, from the tense, high-fidelity action of Street Fighter II (and its hundred updated versions) to the innovative cinematic storytelling of Final Fantasy II and III.
Every genre of the era is accounted for on SNES too. The amount of legendary RPGs is lengthy in itself, including the aforementioned FF titles, Chrono Trigger, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, and EarthBound, just to name a few. But platformers, racers, shooters, puzzlers, fighting games, adventure games, simulation games, and more genres all find various high-water marks too. Heck, Doom got a relatively competent port.
Of course, that’s not to say that all innovation stopped after SNES and that we’ve been sitting through 30 years of unremarkable games since. It’s quite the opposite. SNES established paradigms that have continued to be explored in different ways ever since.
30 years of SNES influence
For instance, PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn innovated little in the 2D video game space, but they did push 2D sprite work to its limit (to incredible effect) to create more beautiful SNES-like experiences. Meanwhile, Nintendo 64 (and, to be fair, PS1) took on the incredible task of attempting to translate SNES experiences into fully 3D interpretations, like with Super Mario 64. And today, myriad indie games tap into the gameplay paradigms and artistic aesthetics of SNES games, not just because of nostalgia (though that certainly is a factor) but because these are proven methodologies. In SNES we trust.
Its competition, Sega Genesis, receives its fair share of love as well, as it should with the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, Phantasy Star IV, and dozens of high-quality sports, sidescroller, and arcade titles. But Sega constantly muddied its own waters with expensive add-ons like Sega CD (which, to be fair, rules because it gave me Lunar) and 32X, and it doesn’t quite have the same broad genre appeal of SNES.
And if we’re going to play that very old game of comparing bits and bytes, SNES had a vastly superior color and (sampled) audio range that resulted in overall prettier and better-sounding games, even if Genesis had palpably superior processing speeds. So in effect, when indie games look or sound like Genesis games, it’s specifically because indie developers really love those particular styles. But when they look or sound like SNES games, it’s more likely to be because that’s the comfortable default — and I say that in praise of the paradigm-establishing effect of SNES.
Whether 30 years removed or 100, the influence of SNES on the future of gaming feels endless. It codified what had begun with NES and provided the structural blueprints for nearly all types of future 2D video games to follow, while also providing starting points for the development of 3D game design. In these ways, there will never be a time that SNES is not relevant to modern game design discussion.
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) August 23, 2021
The title image was created with images helpfully found at The Video Game Museum.