The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is the greatest video game console of all time.
Originally released in Japan in 1990, with a wider release spread across the following three years, the SNES went on to be the home of perhaps the most impressive catalogue of games in history. While its predecessor, the NES, had more or less saved the entire medium from dying in a New Mexico landfill, the SNES defined it.
The box itself is nothing to write home about (especially as grey plastic inevitably yellows with age—look it up, it’s nasty), but before I wax lyrical about the games themselves, let’s take a look at the controller.
A beauty, ain’t it? It’s perfect. There is simply no better way to control 2D games, even 30 years on. It’s a clear evolution of the NES controller, only far more comfortable and functional—eight buttons! Ever try to pull off a combo in a fighting game on the Mega Drive? Yikes. There’s a reason USB controllers mimicking this design are so popular. It’s ergonomic as hell, and innovations like the shoulder buttons and the ‘diamond’ layout of the face buttons are still used on every controller today.
So, what are you actually playing with this thing? Why, only the single greatest library of video games to ever grace a console! Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VI (the best one), and Donkey Kong Country are all here, and these timeless classics are only scratching the surface. All of these titles are bywords for videogame excellence and are still championed as being among the best of their respective genres to this day.
It’s taking everything in my power to stop myself turning this into a “listicle” (call me, Buzzfeed), but suffice to say the SNES had its fair share of heavy hitters. But there’s so much more beyond the big names. I turn 30 years old in six months’ time, I grew up with a SNES, I have a hacked SNES Classic in a place of pride under my television, and I’m still discovering hidden gems for the system! Just this year I’ve been pleasantly surprised by games like DoReMi Fantasy, Go Go Ackman, and The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang to name but a few. Additionally, fan efforts to offer translations of games that never made it to these shores, or even the creation of fully-fledged sequels to beloved titles, keep the system nestled alongside my PS4 and Switch. Fans do what NintenDon’t.
The best part is, you don‘t have to have grown up with one to dive in. Where many of the titles of its immediate predecessor and successor have fallen victim to the ravages of time, this isn’t the case for the SNES. It was the end of an era, and everything in video games had been leading up to that hefty grey box. Video games, as they were, had been perfected. The SNES was the crowning achievement of a medium that had come back from the brink.
The next generation was a new, polygonal frontier where different rules and design philosophies were necessary. It was back to square one, as developers tackled the challenge of navigating a true 3D space. With the dawn of 3D, video games were renewed, forever changed, but still learning to walk. Where the later N64 and PS1 games have aged, SNES games have not. With the SNES era, design was refined; timeless pixel art and fluid animation renders them accessible even to those accustomed to the now impressive spectacle of a third dimension.
This thing sounds great too: the sweeping score of Final Fantasy VI still brings a tear to my eye, the moody tones of Super Metroid still send a chill down my spine, and literally every Mario tune remains a certified bop.
But I hear you. You’re a modern gamer! You don’t want stupid pixels, you’re all about the polygons! You want scale and spectacle! Now, you’re wrong. Wrong and rude. But the SNES has you covered, because the SNES cares about you. The SNES loves you, and wants you to be happy, which is why the SNES has Mode 7 and Super FX.
Look at that! 3D! Three whole Ds! Kind of!
Sure, it’s not true 3D, and its best uses were often smaller effects that enhanced 2D games as opposed to going the whole hog as above, but it’s one foot firmly in the future, and a testament to the ingenuity on display throughout the console’s library despite the technical limitations of the day.
While Nintendo’s laughably lacking paid online service drip feeds a very small collection of SNES titles to subscribers, the much sought-after SNES Classic is definitely the best way to play. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s love of manufacturing scarcity means these were discontinued, and prices of existing models have doubled on sites like Amazon. But that’s Nintendo for you, perched atop their horde of treasures like Smaug, occasionally flicking a solitary gold coin our way. Personally, I’d like to see the unrivalled library of the greatest video game console of all time preserved and readily available for future generations, but what do I know? I’m not a monolithic Japanese consumer tech giant. I’m just a guy sat around in his pants.
And maybe that’s why.