It’s a bit belated, but November 21, 2020 was the 30th birthday of one of the greatest video game consoles of all time, Nintendo’s Super Famicom!
The 16-bit follow-up to the monstrously popular Famicom/NES was highly anticipated in the months before its release, and with Sega’s Mega Drive and NEC’s PC Engine already leading the way into the 16-bit era, all eyes were on Nintendo to see what their machine would deliver.
The Super Famicom’s legacy has been so firmly cemented in the past 30 years that there’s not much more commentary I can offer that wouldn’t be a reiteration of anything that’s already been said. So instead, on this monumental three-decade anniversary, my mind drifts back to my memories of what the vibe was like leading up to the launch of the SFC, as those are some of my most nostalgic feelings of video game excitement.
The first time I ever even heard of the Super Famicom was in the first issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, which I bought, and still own. It showed a small, blurry, black-and-white photo of the prototype hardware, considerably different from the final model, and listed some now-interesting inaccuracies, such as a “four button” pad (not realizing there were shoulder buttons, which was a whole new concept at the time) and backward compatibility with existing Famicom cartridges (which we all wished for, but did not come to pass).
The thing I really remember from the pre-launch of the SFC was the absolute fever pitch of the hype. Magazines like EGM covered the Super Famicom in every issue, dropping screenshots and vague information. And boy, did I gobble up and study every little tidbit I could find.
I stared and pored over those images and scraps of info for hours, then spent my high school classes daydreaming about arcade-quality games in my own home. And what were some of these cool-looking original games? Act-Lazer? Super Deformer? F-Zero? Gdleen? Ultraman? These looked amazing!
I’ve told the story in several blog posts here before, but around that time, there was a small, independent video game rental shop here in my town, which was one of the only places that rented Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 games at a time when most video stores only carried NES games. This little shop got a Super Famicom and several of the games from Japan when it launched, so I got to play the SFC long before the SNES was released in North America. Months before anyone else, my friends and I experienced Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings, and Actraiser, and we were completely gobsmacked by not only the audio/visual presentation, but the gameplay as well, with the Super Famicom controller being probably my favorite control pad until the invention of the DualShock.
Of course, I bought the SNES on the day it was released just shy of a year later, and the rest was 16-bit history. The Super Famicom/SNES went on to become one of my favorite consoles of all time, bringing us magical titles like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Mother 2, Final Fantasy VI, Axelay, and hundreds more. Even though I have at least 2 SNESes, unfortunately, in all my years of collecting, I never did acquire an original Japanese Super Famicom console, although I do have several SFC games in my library. To this day, I love the industrial design of the SFC, the VHS-like design of the game packaging, the way its games pushed the limits of 2D pixel artistry, and the fact that I’m still learning about titles that I’d never heard of before. In fact, after all this time, there are still lots of SFC games that I still need to play, like the Ranma 1/2 RPG, Magic Knight RayEarth, Super Wrestle Angels, Popful Mail, and Marvelous!
So, happy birthday, Nintendo Super Famicom! I love you so much I’ll almost forgive you for the SFC-CD never coming out.
My Top 5 Super Famicom/SNES games!
Final Fantasy VI