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Super Nintendo (SNES) 101: A Beginners Guide

The Super Nintendo Beginner's Guide

By Racketboy with Rawblink, Raycommend and samsonlonghair, Kyuss015 + Special thanks to SNESDrunk
Most of the photos provided by SuperSparkster (read his collecting interview)

The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console or handheld that they don’t know much about yet. Those of you that are especially knowledgeable about the featured machine, I encourage you to add any information that you think would be beneficial into the comments section. If you are new to the featured console, and still have questions, you can also use the comments section and I will do my best to help you out.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was one of the big players in one of the most heated console wars of all time and remains as one of the most treasured consoles of all time. Its robust game library and high nostalgia level make it commonplace in a classic gaming collection. This guide should help classic Nintendo newbies jump right in and long-lost SNES owners find their way back to their former love.

Background Information

  • Nintendo’s second home console (known as the Super Famicom in Japan) was designed by Masayuki Uemura, who also designed the NES.
  • Nintendo did not originally intend to make a successor to the successful NES, but as Sega’s Genesis/Megadrive started picking up steam and Nintendo saw its numbers slip in the market, this sparked the planning of a new console.

Historical Impact

  • The release of the Super Nintendo started one of the greatest console wars in history between Nintendo’s Super Nintendo System and Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis.
  • The Super Nintendo had some of the greatest pack-in games of all time, starting with the American launch title, Super Mario World. Bundles including Super Mario All-Stars or Donkey Kong Country were also sold at a later date.  There were also some bundles later on that threw in extra titles to sweeten the deal.
  • Even with the launch of 32 bit systems SNES still proved it was a strong contender in the market. Nintendo of America didn’t stop producing the Super Nintendo until 1999. In Japan the Super Famicom continued to be produced until September 2003.
  • Nintendo continued to innovate with controller designs by having four face buttons and two shoulder/trigger buttons. This design served as the primary inspiration to nearly every modern console controller after the 16/32-bit era.
  • Nintendo took a firm stand on the type of content in SNES games with its censorship standards. The most famous example was the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, which did not contain its trademark bloody gore. Nintendo eventually loosened its censorship standards a bit once the ESRB rating system was implemented.  However, one could argue some of this was due to seeing higher sales on Mortal Kombat on the Sega Genesis/Megadrive.
  • Nintendo started development with Sony for a CD add-on for the SNES (similar to the Sega CD) which was code-named Play Station.  Nintendo ended up ending that arrangement and working with Phillips to collaborate on CD-I.  This was surprise and insult to Sony and helped trigger Sony into entering the video game console wars themselves.  This could be viewed as one of the largest business moves that changed the landscape of the video game industry.
  • If you would like to learn more about the above topics and more, I highly suggest reading the book, Super Mario by Jeff Ryan.  Console Wars by Blake Harris is also another excellent choice covering this era.

Super Mario World in North American SNES Console – photo by SuperSparkster

Console Strengths

  • Well-Rounded Game Library: with particular strengths in RPGs, platformers, and racing games.
  • Strong Third-Party Support: In addition to an obvious plethora of great first party titles, Nintendo had an extremely strong third party showing including but not limited to strong support from: Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square Co., and Enix.
  • One of the Best RPG Libraries: Thanks to strong support from Squaresoft, Namco, Nintendo’s own development, and others, the SNES has arguably the strongest RPG library in the history of console gaming. (Right up there with the PS1 and PS2)
  • Tough Hardware: The console hardware is extremely durable and has a long life span, with most well cared for units still working today.
  • Top-Notch Complementary Components: The Super Nintendo’s powerful graphics, sound, and add-on processors made up for its slower primary CPU.
  • Capable of Great Visual Effects: The video PPU (Picture Processing Unit) allowed the use of Mode-7 effects and 32768 colors. You can see some of the best examples in our Games That Pushed The Limits on the SNES guide
  • Impressive Audio Capabilities: The audio subsystem is almost completely independent from the rest of the system and produced some impressive soundtracks and sound effects during its lifetime.
  • Extra Chips on Cartridges Extended System Capabilities: Games that required more graphic processing power were shipped with internal chips, such as the Super FX ship in StarFox, Stunt Race FX, and Yoshi’s Island. The Super FX was the most famous add-on chip, but there were many others that were implemented in a variety of games.
  • Relatively Easy Importing: It was somewhat easy to play imports on the Super Nintendo with devices such as the Action Replay or a simple hardware modification that doesn’t require any soldering or knowledge of circuits and boards. Learn more about SNES Importing in the “Importing” section below
  • Multi-Era Video Cable Standardization: The Super Nintendo can use AV and S-Video cables from the N64 and Gamecube, and vice-versa. In fact, some have actually got the N64 HDMI adapter to work with the SNES.

Console Weaknesses

  • Slower Main Processor Exposed Limitations – Despite being newer, the Super Nintendo had a slower, more cost-effective main processor (but supplemented by other complementary hardware). The slow CPU resulted in laggy sections of games specifically in fighters and shooters. The reason so many shooters bog down is that the SNES just doesn’t seem to be able to perform a ton of collision calculations efficiently. Space Megaforce is one of the few SNES games where the developers (Compile, apparent masters of collision code) really figured out an approach to collision math that the SNES could do well with. Other SNES shooters are good despite slowdown. There are also a handful of other good examples of game developers that learned to make the best use of the SNES hardware in our Games That Pushed the Limits of the SNES guide.
  • Lag During Cartridge Reading – The SNES CPU must also be idled to read from the cartridge, resulting in many of the slow title screen loads, start-up times, and even mid-game loads. It is, however, thought that this can be circumvented under certain circumstances.
  • Downsides of Cutting-Edge Components – Strange specialized video hardware meant inconsistent performance.
  • Higher Resale Value for Mainstream Machine– Despite being one of the most common consoles of the 90s, the SNES consoles are a little pricier than you might expect when searching on eBay or Amazon (however finding them at a thrift store, pawn shop, etc is pretty common).
  • Console Susceptible to Discoloration – The console’s plastic shell is infamous for becoming highly discolored. While many machines still look as they originally did, there are a relatively high percentage of machines that have a strong yellowed tint.
  • High Premium on Cardboard Packaging – Due to the cardboard boxes used, games can be a challenge to find complete and in excellent condition. Be prepared to pay a premium if you want to collect complete games. Manuals are also increasingly becoming a hot part of the collecting package. If you’re interested in seeing the differences between cartridge only and mint complete copies, just survey the lower and higher range values in our Rare and Valuable SNES guide.

Misconceptions

Superior Arcade Ports

There is a general assumption that the Super Nintendo was able to reproduce the the most accurate arcade experiences compared to the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter II was one of the primary examples of this situation.

While the Super Nintendo was able to better reproduce the color palette of these games (thereby looking better in screenshots), the Sega Megadrive/Genesis is typically better at handling the speed and sound (with the FM synth capabilities). In the example of Street Fighter II, the Genesis ran much faster, but the SNES did have the edge on most games when it came to graphics.

The situation also played out in the case of the 2D shooter/shmup genre. While the Super Nintendo did eventually have some solid shooter games in its library, the faster Sega CPU was naturally better suited to handle the genre and its high-performance needs. Most of the best SNES shmups were also those that were specifically designed with the Super Nintendo hardware in mind.

Lots of Miscellaneous Misconceptions

Since the Super Nintendo has been such a powerful piece of gaming history over the last few decades, there were always lots of myths floating in the world between playgrounds in the 90s, Internet Forums, and Youtube. If you’re looking for an entertaining video series that goes through a lot of of these myths (either debunking or confirming), SNES Drunk has a 3-part Youtube series [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]

Later-Generation SNES 2 Console – photo by SuperSparkster

Most Common & Essential Hardware Options

The original Super Nintendo / Super Famicom Console

This 1990 hardware design is the most iconic of Nintendo’s 16-bit era. The Japanese Super Famicom and the PAL Super Nintendo Entertainment system share the same design while the American release is a bit bulkier (and more sturdy). There’s also some slight color differences between the region variants. These units originally were used with RF, Composite or S-Video output, but they can output native RGB with recent cables like HD Retrovision. It should be noted that there are two era variations of this model: a 1CHIP and a 2CHIP that have differences in video quality. You can read more on this topic at RetroRGB.

  • Shop for Super Nintendo Console on eBay

SNES 2 / Super Famicom Jr.

In October of 1997 Nintendo released an SNES 2, this version was slimmer, stripped off the S Video connection and RF output. It came bundled with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island at a price of US$99. A similar Super Famicom Jr. was released in Japan around the same time. The SNES Mini/Jr requires a modification to support RGB video output. However, it should be mentioned that a Modded SNES Mini (read more info) can have some of the best video output with its “1CHIP” setup. Read more about this at RetroRGB’s guide to SNES Version Comparisons.

  • Shop for SNES 2 Console on eBay

Analogue Super Nt

There have been a lot of cheap SNES clones over the last couple of decades, but Analogue is essentially the Apple of modern retro console hardware. They developed a full FPGA-based SNES console that produces very accurate hardware emulation with great HDMI video output. It is designed to play everyone’s SNES cartridges, but also has a firmware upgrade that lets you run SNES ROMs off of an SD Card and have a lot configuration options for retro tech geeks. If you want the easier way to play SNES classics on your modern TV, this is your best bet. It is also robust enough hardware and software that you can learn more about the settings and such as you become more comfortable with it. The only downside is that Analogue tends to push out their products in varied stock waves so keep tabs on their social media accounts for the latest updates.

  • Shop for Analogue Super Nt Console on eBay

Nintendo Super NES Classic Edition (SNES Mini)

Even though this is a software emulation solution, it is an official Nintendo product and is a pretty solid solution for certain use cases. While die-hard retro gamers wouldn’t choose it as their only Super Nintendo, it’s great for either those new to classic gaming or want to re-explore something they grew up with or as an extra low-cost, easy family machine that works wonderfully on modern TVs via HDMI video output. It comes bundled with a lot of the best games in the library (and there are hacks to allow you to add extra game ROMs) and the software interface is pretty nice — including a great interface for save states. The unit even comes with a couple wired controllers that are great replicas of the original. The Controller ports are the same connection as the bottom of the Wii remotes, that can be used with 8Bitdo Wireless controllers and some other controller adapters.

  • Shop for Nintendo Super NES Classic Edition on eBay

Additional SNES Hardware Options

  • Hyperkin Supaboy (eBay)
  • RetroDuo Portable (eBay)
  • Hyperkin Retron5 (eBay)
  • Lots of other Cheap Clones

RetroDuo Third-Party Clone Handheld – photo by SuperSparkster

Modern Video Output Options

On old-school commercial CRT TVs

The SNES models mostly support RF, Composite, and S-Video output. There’s nothing wrong with using one of these on a CRT TV the way it was originally intended.

CRTs and Flat Screens that Support RGB / Component video

The original SNES hardware can be used with HD Retrovision Component cables or you can mod the SNES 2 systems to output RGB.

Easiest Output to Most Modern Displays: HDMI adapters

  • The best rated HDMI adapter for the SNES as of this writing is the RAD2X cables, but they are currently backordered and ship from the UK.
  • While they aren’t as good as the RAD2X cables, a quick and cheap option to hook a SNES up via HDMI is the Pound HDMI cables (eBay / Amazon)
  • And don’t forget, the HDMI-equipped non-original hard options mentioned above for other possibilities to play SNES games on modern TVs via HDMI.

North American SNES Controller showing mix of Convex and Concave Buttons – photo by SuperSparkster

Accessories to Maximize SNES Experience

Standard SNES / Super Famicom Controller

Nintendo stayed with one standard controller design throughout the life of the system (aside from subtle region and generation revisions, mentioned below). It’s hard to blame them, however as it is one of the most classic, beloved and influential controller designs of all time.

The overall form factor was an iteration of the late NES “dog bone” format with more curves on the sides for added comfort. It, of course, also increased the face buttons from 2 to 4 buttons.

However, the largest and most influential item for modern controllers was the L and R trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller.

The D-Pad is still regarded as one of the best of all time. In fact WIRED chose the SNES D-Pad as one of the the Best Game Controller Buttons of All Time, saying:

“As a whole, the D-Pad is just the right mix of firm and squishy, its edges subtly rounded so as not to mangle your thumb too much as it twirls around like a tiny, fleshy conductor. To the uninitiated, a D-Pad is just a D-Pad. Incorrect. The GameCube D-Pad, a minuscule, cheap insult, is testament to how something so simple can go so wrong. The SNES D-Pad, with its seminal right-facing prong, is pure, simple brilliance. “

Not only was the SNES pad very comfortable to hold, it was also responsive and incredibly well built. Over the years, the D-pad internals could get a bit mushy, but the controllers are otherwise built like a tank.

Shop for Original SNES Controller on eBay

Learn More:

  • If you are interested, SF Design Week has a design breakdown of Nintendo’s first three major controller designs. https://sfdesignweek.org/nintendo-controller-teardown/
  • My Life in Gaming published a great video about first party retro controllers. Click here to jump right to the SNES section where it discusses variations and how they differ. We’ll cover some brief notes in variations of the standard controller below.

Variations in the Standard SNES/SFC Controllers

  • The PAL regions and Japanese Super Famicom controllers had a multi-color visual scheme and convex (domed) X, Y, A, and B buttons.
  • The North American controllers had a grey and purple color scheme and concave X and Y buttons. However, the A and B buttons are convex just like the SFC.
  • The Super Famicom controllers also have much shorter cord than their North American and PAL counterparts.
  • The SNS-102 controller was released alongside the Newer Style SNES console (SNES 2 / Super Famicom Jr. / SNS-101) in 1997. It was also sold separately at the same time. It features a molded Nintendo logo instead of printed. And as mentioned in My Life in Gaming’s controller video, Try mentioned he thought this revised controller seems to have slightly improved responsiveness in D-Pad and buttons. Intrigued by these comments, Ben Abresch at RetroRGB did a tear down of the SNS-102 controller and couldn’t tell any noticeable differences.

Controller Degrading / Testing / Refurbishment

  • As great as the SNES controller design is for its era and for 2D games in general, the responsiveness of the controller has been known to degrade over time if the controller in question has received a lot of use over the decades.
  • As mentioned in MLiG’s controller video, a great way to test responsiveness is to use Kirby’s Avalanche or Puyo Puyo, which have input tests in their menus.
  • Of course, searching for a new-in-box SNES controller can be a great, but costly option to re-experience an official controller in its prime.
  • You can, however also swap out the internal contact pads. Jump to MLiG’s conversation and demo of this process.

Wireless Controller Options

8Bitdo SN30 Controllers

It took decades, but we finally got a mass market, solid quality set of wireless controllers that not only use modern 2.4G wireless technology and decent rechargeable batteries. 8bitdo sells both North American SNES grey and purple style controllers, but also a Black Edition. The collaboration with Analogue and the co-release alongside the Super Nt helped bring these into the mainstream of the retro community. We have since seen some knockoffs of these controllers all over eBay and Amazon. If you’d like to see some video and info about 8Bitdo’s SNES controllers, check out this segment My Life in Gaming’s third-party controller video.

  • Shop for 8Bitdo SN30 Controller on eBay
  • Shop for 8Bitdo SN30 Controller on Amazon

8Bitdo SN30 Pro Controllers

8bitdo wasn’t content to make a quality modern wireless replica of the original SNES controller, but they produced a “Pro” version that incorporates even more modern features in addition to a more ergonomic design. These pro versions Add dual analogue sticks, additional triggers, customizable vibration and button mapping and macro programming. Many of the additional buttons on the Pro controller is so that is better suited to be used with the Nintendo Switch, but it’s still a great option for a real SNES with 8bitdo’s receiver.

  • Shop for 8Bitdo SN30 Pro Controller on eBay
  • Shop for 8Bitdo SN30 Pro Controller on Amazon

8Bitdo Wireless Mod Kit

8bitdo also took their manufacturing run to their advantage to offer the wireless guts as stand-alone modification kits to let the DIY crowd turn their older controllers or custom creations (such as arcade-style joysticks) into a modern wireless controller.

These kits also happen to be suited for relative beginners to modding as they are designed to be easy to install without soldering.

  • Shop for 8Bitdo Wireless Mod Kit on eBay

Messiah Controllers (discontinued)

Before wireless controllers became mainstream (but the Nintendo Wavebird modernized the concept for the Gamecube), Messiah Entertainment has produced some modern wireless controllers for the Super Nintendo that have received some great reviews.

However, it seems that they were a bit ahead of its time and never seemed to be produced outside of their initial production run. You can still find them on eBay, however — often with the original lunchbox-style packaging

  • Shop for Messiah Controllers on eBay

Nintendo Super Advantage

The follow-up to the popular NES Advantage joystick is great for arcade ports like Street Fighter 2. Unlike the original NES stick, this one is produced by a third party, Asciiware but with Nintendo’s full blessing.

The Super Advantage has a slow button, an eight direction joystick, the turbo sliders, and speed sliders. Unlike the NES Advantage, the Super Advantage uses sliders instead of knobs, and also has new speed sliders, to speed up the turbo sliders.

  • Shop for Nintendo Super Advantage on eBay

Licensed Third-Party Control Pads

asciiPad Turbo Controller

There are a lot of third-party/knockoff SNES controller, but most aren’t really worth bothering with. However, this asciiPad this is fully licensed by Nintendo, but is a third party controller that fills in some features that Nintendo didn’t want to provide itself. Compared to some alternatives, the asciiPad is a little bit pricier, but it’s got turbo switches, and the d-pad is remarkably similar to the original SNES controller. One of my favorite Youtube buddies, SNESDrunk shared, “i’ve had two asciipads going back 25 years, one has been my main controller for years, and its held up just as well as a regular SNES controller”

If you want more Retro Youtuber love about the asciiPad Turbo, Try from My Life in Gaming raved about it in their Third-Party Controller video — jump right to that section

  • Shop for asciiPad Turbo Controller on eBay

Hori Fighting Commander Pad

Another fully-licensed piece, this gem from fighting gamer favorite, Hori is essentially a SNES controller but the shoulder buttons have been moved to the face of the controller as you can see. It makes playing fighting games a lot easier and each button also features variable auto functionality . The way the other face buttons are in place doesn’t make it useful for some games such as Super Mario World but it can be useful for games that let you remap buttons . I noticed this was released alongside the SNES classic but was surprised to see an actual SNES version released . Since I prefer six button pads like the Saturn, this has become quite a functional controller for me. Like other Hori controllers it is also a licensed Nintendo product.

There was even a “remake” of this controller for the SNES Classic.

  • Shop for Hori Fighting Commander Pad on eBay

Super Game Boy

Released in all regions, the Super Game Boy was an adapter for original Game Boy games and black Game Boy Color games which allowed them to be played via the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo on a television set. Some color customization options and game borders were built into the cartridge. It’s a pretty decent solution for “consolizing” the first generation of Game Boy games on a budget if you already happen to have a SNES. There was also a Super Game Boy 2 that was only released in Japan. It supported multiplayer and offered new border options.

  • Shop for Super Game Boy on eBay
  • Shop for Super Game Boy on Amazon

Multi-tap

Allowing simultaneous play of up to six players.  However, to my knowledge, the only games that take advantage of this are Bomberman, Secret of Mana, and Captain American and the Avengers.

  • Shop for Multi-tap on eBay

Two-Button Mouse

Official Nintendo Two Button Mouse

Nintendo created their own official mouse, mostly to support Mario Paint (which happens to be a worthwhile title that many SNES fans still adore and use). The only other game to support the mouse is Might and Magic III. The mouse can be plugged into controller port 1 or 2. For those that grew up in the 90s, it should be no surprise that Nintendo’s mouse uses the little rollerball mechanism that was commonplace in the era. This mechanism hasn’t aged well over the years — it isn’t super accurate and is prone to getting dirty.

  • Shop for Official Nintendo Two Button Mouse on eBay
  • Shop for Official Nintendo Two Button Mouse on Amazon

Hyperkin Optical Mouse

It took a few decades, but Hyperkin released a new mouse for the Super Nintendo that uses modern optical technology. Try and Coury from MliG talk about the differences from the official Nintendo mouse and how the Hyperkin revision hold up.

  • Shop for Hyperkin Optical Mouse on eBay
  • Shop for Hyperkin Optical Mouse on Amazon

Super Scope

The SNES Light gun. Not a very strong library of games that support this (although you can see the supported games in our SNES Light Gun game guide), most likely due to the fact that it is considered one of the worst Light Guns in video game history by many fans. However, one can argue that if you’re really looking to experience the SNES in all its glory, you should give it a shot. Casual fans of the system can skip the stuff though.

  • Shop for Super Scope on eBay

Other Interesting & Useful SNES Console Accessories

  • The Satellaview – Only released in Japan, this accessory allowed the Super Famicom to connect to a Satellite network “St. GIGA”. Games and demos could be downloaded at a certain time to a BS-X Special Broadcast Cassette containing 1 megabit of flash RAM.
  • Hori Fighting Stick Dual / Dual Heavy Weight – this joystick supports both the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. There was also the Fighting Stick Multi, also from Hori that also supported the PC Engine. These are quite pricey these days, if you can find them, but you have to admit, it would be cool to have a solid joystick from the era that supports all these system.
  • Cartridge Adapters – there’s a few different cartridge adapters on the market to let you play cartridges from all regions. We’ll get into that more in the Importing section below.

Extras for Emulation

  • SNES-to-USB Adapter – in case you want to emulate SNES games on a computer, you can get affordable adapters to turn your standard SNES controllers into gamepads for your PC for a more authentic experience. eBay / Amazon
  • 8bitdo Bluetooth Controllers & Adapters – 8bitdo also made a SF30 Bluetooth controllers in a few different SNES-like styles that is made for Windows, MacOS, Android and the Nintendo Switch. They also made USB Bluetooth Adapters to help support them. eBay / Amazon

Super Advantage Joystick – photo by Pablo_0151 – Click for more photos

Flash Carts

A flash cart is a video game cartridge that will allow you to play games (ROMs) on real hardware. This is not only a way for you to try out a full library of games on original hardware, but also make switching games easier and not worrying about cleaning cartridges as much.

In most cases, playing a game from a flash cart is identical to playing the actual game cart. Flash carts can vary in features between models, each with their own pros and cons. Most flash carts are extremely easy to use. All the newer flash carts have the games stored on memory cards, such as SD or CF.

There are a small handful of Super Nintendo Flash carts available, but we have two main recommendations for you:

FXPAK Pro (formerly the Sd2snes): $197

This is the Rolls Royce of SNES flash carts. The original hardware was named Sd2snes. The FPGA that was used in the original version was becoming harder to source, so they went with a newer incarnation which happened to be more powerful. And so the name was changed to Sd2snes Pro. It supports everything the original Sd2snes did, but since it has a more powerful FPGA there are hopes for some new features.

If you want enhancement chip support outside of DSP1, this is your only choice! It’s a little annoying that there is still no menu support for cheat codes. Hopefully that’ll get implemented already. And with the more powerful “Pro” hardware, there’s speculation of adding save state support.

  • Shop for FXPAK Pro on eBay
  • Shop for FXPAK Pro on Amazon

Super Everdrive X5: $89

A no-frills SNES flash cart. It does not support any games that use an enhancement chip but supports virtually every other game. Popular examples of affected games would be the GSU (aka Super FX) found in Star Fox and Yoshi’s Island, the SA-1 found in Super Mario RPG, the DSP1 found in Super Mario Kart, or the S-DD1 found in Star Ocean. They are proprietary hardware; you can’t buy them. For this reason, it’s not easy implementing the ability to play such games on SNES flash carts.

  • Shop for Super Everdrive X5 on eBay
  • Shop for Super Everdrive X5 on Amazon

Bottom Line:

So to sum it up: If you want the best game compatibility, then you must get the FXPAK Pro. If you want the best value, then get the Super Everdrive X5.  If you’d like to dig in deeper (and see recommendations for other systems, check out Ziggy’s RB forum thread

RetroArch playing on an Nvidia Shield TV

Emulation

Most dedicated retro gaming fans prefer to play their Super Nintendo games on the original hard



This post first appeared on Retro Gaming | RetroGaming With Racketboy, please read the originial post: here

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Super Nintendo (SNES) 101: A Beginners Guide

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