30 years ago tomorrow, Nintendo released the Super Famicom in Japan, a system that would later become known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System upon its worldwide release. The system would go on to sell nearly 50 million units worldwide, and is considered by many one of the greatest video game consoles ever created.
With some all time classics launching alongside the system (Super Mario World, F-Zero, and Gradius III) also turning 30, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at the SNES and the 16-bit era. So many retro games have stood the test of time, some of them even going toe-to-toe with some of the big boys of today.
But what is it about these games that has made them so timeless? Now, this is not going to be some long winded “back in my day” rant, or to somehow imply that the current generation of gaming is inferior, I promise. What I am going to do, however, is take a nostalgic look back at the system through the lens of my personal experience with it, my discovering of the gold mine of retro gaming, and why it’s my favorite console of all time. As a bonus, I’m going to give a couple of my favorite games on the system, because you absolutely have to try them!
Now, this may come as a shock to you, but I never actually owned a Super Nintendo as a kid *gasps*. I was born in 1995 and the console was already about to give way to the next gen consoles with the PS1 and Nintendo 64 about to release (the PS1 technically already had released, but whatever). My first console was a Nintendo 64, and I absolutely loved the thing.
Before I go any further, I feel it necessary to say, my entire life I’ve had an absurd memory. Not unlike Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds or Mike Ross in suits, though not quite that absurd. But I’ve always been able to recall anything that had more than a fleeting impact on me with near perfect detail.
I was in 7th grade and we were in band class being given a new piece of music. I don’t remember the actual title of the song, or what it sounds like (I wasn’t exactly what you’d call “good” at an instrument, and quit after that year) but what I do remember is that the word “Chrono” was in the title. A kid named Allan, who I sat next to, said “Oh like Chrono Trigger!”
Now, Allan and I weren’t exactly close, and when I look back on my time in middle school, he’s towards the top of the list of people I wish I’d treated better, but I remember asking him “what’s that?” to which he said, “literally the best video game of all time!” and honestly, we kind of left it at that.
Later that year, we had to learn some ridiculous song for Spanish, not like some Latin pop song, one of those songs they teach you in language class to learn some rule in the language. In this case, the song was called “Hago un Zapato” and was supposed to teach us how to conjugate irregular verbs. Apparently it was an effective teaching tool considering that I still remember it almost 15 years later.
Here’s the kicker, Allan had a (now defunct) YouTube channel, and as a way to promote that channel he would leave some series of questions at the end of a video, and whoever guessed it right got to choose his next video. Someone from our grade, I can’t remember who, guessed right and chose that Allan would sing “Hago un Zapato” for his next video. Naturally I tuned in as soon as I could because, well, it was middle school, and someone was willing to make a fool out of themselves on the internet (a quality in a person I didn’t appreciate as much as I should have).
After watching, I saw his channel had about a dozen other videos, so I decided to check it out. I stumbled on “the top 10 video games EVARR” Yes, EVARR, it was 2007, we were in middle school, what’d you expect?
Now, I don’t remember all of the specifics of the list, but I do remember getting to the #2 entry, Chrono Trigger. When I saw that, the lightbulb went off. It was the second time I’d heard about that game, and took it as a sign that I had to try it out.
I had discovered emulation as a way to play all of the old Pokémon games I loved, so my first move was to download an emulator and a rom. I loaded it up for the first time and I was absolutely in love. The beautiful sprite work, the music, the combat system, the story, everything about it was done perfectly. I spent that whole weekend playing it until it was done, and I knew I needed more.
I started devouring every piece of content about retro gaming that I could find. I saw every top 10 video on YouTube about the SNES, the Genesis, the TurboGrafx-16, and everything in between. It hit a point where I found myself more interested in learning about the games than I was actually playing them, but I was absolutely obsessed.
Then, during my sophomore year of college, I got a job working for a political 501(c)3 non profit. The beautiful part of that job was that in order for a political organization to maintain their tax free status, they had to dedicate X% of their revenue to employee salaries, with only a few employees and a ton of cash flow we got paid really well (at least for a bunch of college kids with no real expenses).
Suddenly I found myself at 20 years old, with a steady income, no expenses, and more free time than I’d ever had in my entire life. While most kids my age would have blown all of that money going to the bars and clubs, or taking expensive trips, I did the responsible, adult thing to do. I invested. By invested I mean I blew all of my money on buying physical copies of the games I had emulated for so long.
My friends all laughed at me, but 5 years later, all of that money they spent on alcohol was gone the moment they finished drinking it, I can still go pull Final Fantasy VI off my shelf whenever I damn well please. So, who’s the idiot now?
My collection grew over time and at its peak it looked something like this
The images are somewhat blurry, but my prized possession was my copy of Earthbound, a notoriously hard game to find.
*Note the old style TV because lord knows you don’t want to play 4:3 games in16:9 aspect ratio, that’s just barbaric
The best part of all of this, is that the person who owned the local store that sold me most of these, Levi, eventually became one of my best friends, and was even one of my groomsmen in my wedding in August. In fact he played a very big part in me meeting my wife when he pushed me to take a job as the Youth Pastor of the church where I met her. (His store has an online shop you can check out HERE) I’ve also made tons of friends off of our shared love of old games.
Honestly that’s the beauty of these old consoles. Here I am, 25 years old, writing about how much the Super Nintendo changed my life, a console that came out 5 years before I was born. I don’t want to go on some “Today’s kids won’t understand” rant, but let’s be honest, do you think a kid born this year is going to be writing an article 25 years from now on how important the XBOX 360 was to his life? Heck do you think any XBOX 360’s will still work 25 years from now?
The Super Nintendo is absolutely timeless, and its legacy will live on for as long as we’re still gaming. Honestly the biggest reason for that is the creativity and care put into those games. That’s not to say that today’s games lack any of that (Seriously, go play Breath of the Wild or Genshin Impact), but because it was impossible to make realistic looking games on that hardware, developers didn’t try to push the boundaries of realism with graphics. Rather than making a game look incredible because of the realism, they added a creative charm to it and made it beautiful in a different way. There’s just so much charm in these games, and 16 bit sprite art will absolutely always be amazing. I mean just look at these!
These games are just so well designed, and were made in a style that is somewhat lost in todays world of gaming.
No matter where gaming goes from here, what I can say with 100% certainty is that no matter how much I end up loving the new games coming out, I will always end up pulling the old 16-bit games off the shelf now and again. And every time I do, just as it is now, I’ll be whisked away back to being 12 years old, sitting in the blue hue of my computer monitor playing Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo for the first time.
Happy 30th birthday to the SNES! Thank you for all of the memories
P.S. I did promise a few recommendations, so here are a few I didn’t mention directly in the article
Final Fantasy III -Squaresoft
Super Mario RPG -Squaresoft
Super Castlevania IV -Konami
Donkey Kong Country 1-3 -Nintendo
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past -Nintendo