A Super NES Story
(Originally published in 2017)
Console launches are very special events, and Nintendo console launches for many are particularly so. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch on the horizon, I’ve decided to tell my stories of Nintendo console launches past, and why those systems are special to me.
A Super NES Story…
The Super NES was the first time I had ever properly experienced the sensation known as "hype." I had been excited for things in the past, like when Mikey yelled "God I love being a turtle" in the trailer for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. I was beyond excited to get my hands on Super Mario Bros. 3 after the fantastic climax of The Wizard. Those things were effectively my entire world during their respective times, but true hype, the kind that gets in your blood and sinks into the very fabric of your being, the kind that keeps you up at night just imagining what it will be like, that's what hit me the moment I saw this.
This is a page from issue 20 of Nintendo Power, and it was my first peek at what 16-bit Nintendo was going to look like. Yes, F-Zero and Pilotwings looked awesome, but Mario was Mario, and holy crap did this look light years better than the already awesome-looking Super Mario Bros. 3. I must have read this page a hundred times over at my friend Jeff's house (he was the one with the Nintendo Power subscription). Mario had a cape! He was jumping on dolphins! AND LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT BULLET BILL! The colors, the clouds in the background, the dinosaur he was riding, my mind lit up like a Christmas tree, and it only got more intense the closer I got to the system's release.
And then I saw this.
There were other Super NES ads out there, and most of them were very loud and edgy. This one though, was the first one I saw, and it's still my very favorite commercial to this day. Everything about this ad was pure joy. The announcer injected this incredible sense of whimsy into it, and finally seeing what Super Mario World looked like in motion left my jaw on the floor. Then at the end when they show that Super Mario World is just one of a giant lineup of games coming to the system, I kid you not, I couldn't sleep at night.
My sister and I were all over our parents on this one, and somehow they wound up getting us one on what I believe to have been launch day or at least very close to it. We were allowed 2 games, one for each of us. I claimed Super Mario World and my sister got F-Zero. Both were amazing, but Super Mario World kept me away from pretty much everything else for a long time.
I will never forget the feeling that came with opening that box. One of the first things I did was look at the giant poster that came with it. Moments after unfolding that massive piece of paper, that hype that finally paid off with my shiny new SNES started right back up again. Not having had unfettered access to Nintendo Power, I wasn't extremely aware of the first 16-bit Zelda game, but when I saw "Zelda III" at the bottom of this poster I just about lost my mind. Of the 5 games on the poster, Zelda was the only one that said "coming soon" on it, and that was it. The hype train was back in full swing.
Zelda III in all its red-haired glory
Zelda was about as big a deal to my little mind as anything could have possibly been. I my favorite part of every week was Friday afternoons when the Super Mario Bros. Super Show played episodes of the Zelda cartoon. My mom made me a Link costume for hHalloween (that everyone thought was Peter Pan, but whatever. Zelda was my jam, and after seeing what Super Mario World looked like, the gears wouldn't stop spinning at the prospect of a new 16-bit Zelda.
Meanwhile, I played Super Mario World like it was my job, then moved on to F-Zero, then Pilotwings, then Sim City, UN Squadron, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls n Ghosts, each game showing me the time of my life until Zelda came out and blew my mind all over again.
And that never stopped. There was never a period of time when I had my SNES where I wasn't looking forward to some crazy game on the horizon. Whether it was seeing a screenshot of Super Metroid on the cover of some gaming magazine (I can't remember which) with the phrase "How does Nintendo make games this good?" underneath it, or watching that crazy Donkey Kong Country VHS tape, my SNES was an unstoppable juggernaut of incredible gaming experiences. Sure, I enjoyed going to my friend's house to play Sonic the Hedgehog and Quackshot, but as cool as the Genesis was, I never regretted my choice to stick with Nintendo even a little. The SNES was and still is amazing in nearly every regard.
I mean, think about the games released on this system. Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Yoshi's Island, Final Fantasy III, Turtles in Time, Contra III, Kirby's Dream Course, Mega Man X, Super Mario Kart, Star Fox, there's almost no end to the amount of completely legendary games of every variety available, and it has some of the best controllers in history to boot. It remains my favorite game console of all time, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I could probably write a book about each individual game I played on SNES and why it was cool (or terrible, there were certainly bad games on the platform too). The unforgettable moments are too numerous to mention. Just look at this picture!
Look at how amazingly colorful these images are! The SNES is incredible.
So why do I love my Super NES? The reason above all else is witnessing unprecedented evolution in gaming. There's an argument to be made about the 16 to 32-bit generation leap being the biggest, and I can't really argue against that except to say that in that instance we saw a huge leap forward at the cost of some pretty big steps back, where NES to SNES was 100% forward. There was nothing at all superior about the NES after SNES came out (excepting game library, but that's kind of subjective).
The SNES moved video games forward in incredibly exciting ways, and the best of those games I believe still look, sound, and play fantastic today. There are very few instances of great SNES games that haven't aged well. Even something as choppy as Star Fox is still as fun today as it was back when it was released. The SNES was the first home console where the in-game art direction came close to matching what was on the front of the box, and that's a sensation that's hard to put into context for those who didn't live through it.
Spritework in games like Super Metroid, Mega Man X, and Chrono Trigger displays the mastery of an industry that had grown and learned from the simple squares of the Atari 2600 era, and this stuff absolutely holds up. the 32/64-bit generation was magnificent for a number of reasons (that I will get to soon) but there's no denying that a lot of it was UGLY. Certain games managed to pull off their blocky looks with grace, but by and large, that generation was the ugliest in gaming history.
Meanwhile, the Super NES was stunningly beautiful, and the best ways to really appreciate that was through the evolutions of older series. I loved looking at my NES games and imagining what they would look like on SNES, and I was rarely disappointed. (What I would have given for a Super NES Kid Icarus game...) Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario world, Mega Man 5 to Mega Man X, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse to Super Castlevania IV, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Metroid II: Return of Samus to Super Metroid, these are all examples of true video game evolution, and watching them happen to this degree is something we will never see again.
Video game graphics have reached a saturation point that's becoming more and more difficult to top. Yes, I can look at a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn and be impressed by how much better it looks than Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but Uncharted wasn't exactly ugly to begin with. In-game graphics are straight up representations of what the game creators want you to see now. The only difference technology provides today is what fidelity you get to see them in, and how quickly you can get there. Back when the Super NES came out, that wasn't the case. In-game graphics were still interpretations of artwork, and seeing that leap from 8 to 16-bit was one of the coolest things I've ever lived through. What an amazing piece of hardware.
What’s your Super NES story?