Today, on August 28, 1990, Nintendo finally lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding its upcoming 16-bit powerhouse console in Japan. We first heard about it back in 1988, but some small changes have been made to the hardware and controller since then. The finalized version of the Super Famicom, as it will be called in Japan, is a top-loading console, much like the Japanese 8-bit was. This differed in the US with the NES having a front-loading VCR-like outer shell. It’s unknown what it will inevitably look like when Nintendo releases it over here, but if the naming conventions stick you can expect to call it the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES for short). Rumors abound that Nintendo might try to go the attachment route in the States by simply allowing owners of the NES to attach the SNES to the bottom and play from there. We don’t buy that theory though and expect the US branch to basically follow what their Japanese counterpart has done – release separate and incompatible machines.
The Super Famicom is scheduled to release in Japan on November 21, 1990, at a suggested retail price of 25,000 yen ($180-$200). Nintendo has revamped the controllers for its 16-bit system and there are now more buttons than ever before. The B and A action buttons return, but this time they’re joined by the Y and X inputs on the face of the controller. The directional pad is off to the left like normal with select and start once again in the middle of the controller. In a truly innovative move, Nintendo has added to shoulder buttons to the topside of the controller, which can serve as more action buttons if needed, but most likely will be used for some auxiliary functions in games that need them. Thankfully Nintendo has ditched the rectangular molding of the NES controllers for more rounded edges with the Super Famicom, which should be much better for long play sessions. The controller feels great in my hands and features precision controls, something the Genesis pad has difficulty pulling off with its mushy inputs. Two controllers will come in the box in Japan.
On the hardware side the Super Famicom has some special tricks up its processing sleeves. In almost every category it outdoes the competition, including flashier graphics and amazing stereo sound. The biggest upgrade comes in the visuals department with the ability to choose from 32,768 colors (up from the NES’s 52 colors and Genesis’s 512) and display 256 colors on the screen simultaneously (up from NES’s 16 and Genesis’s 64). The size of the sprites has been increased to 64×64 (up from NES’s 8×8 and Genesis’s 32×32) and the maximum number of sprites on the screen is now 128 (up from NES’s 64 and Genesis’s 80). The resolution of the system is 512×448, double that of the NES for more detailed graphics.
The system also boasts special graphic techniques built into the hardware that all software makers can take advantage of. Two of them are going to be used heavily in a few early games from Nintendo (F-Zero and Pilotwings): scaling and rotation – part of what’s called Mode 7 graphics. Put simply, these games can spin the entire backgrounds around at high speeds as well as scale sprites in and out of the screen to allow for a 3D effect that has to be seen to be believed. Since these special functions are built into the system’s hardware, developers won’t have to spend time and precious resources to create stunning looking 3D games.
Of course the system is powerful enough to handle all sorts of parallax scrolling and the like. We’ve seen recent NES games even pull of that trick with ease (we’re looking at you Ninja Gaiden II), but it doesn’t stop there. With advanced processing chips the Super Famicom can utilize color layering so transparent backgrounds, like fog, clouds, and water look more realistic as they pass over or under the various on-screen objects. Faster animation refresh rates will allow for more realistic character movements, something we saw firsthand with Nintendo’s flagship title, Super Mario Bros. 4: Super Mario World.
But before we jump into the software, there’s one more area where the Super Famicom has been super-charged and that’s in the audio department. One thing we’ve learned over the past five years is that the NES is capable of some truly remarkable music. Audiophiles are in for a real treat with the new system thanks to a bunch of extra channels that will allow for synthesized sounds and melodies to play in complete stereo. Both the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 allow for stereo sound (as does the Game Boy), but most of the music generated on those machines thus far has been only slightly improved over the 8-bit machines. Sure there are more voice samples and bigger and badder explosion sound effects, but we’ve yet to truly fall in love with most of the soundtracks on those competing systems. Granted, we still haven’t spent a ton of time with the Turbo’s CD-ROM attachment, which will no doubt be the cream of the crop when it comes to audio, but that’s an extra $400 on top of the base machine.
The Super Famicom really has some amazing music right out of the gate. Super Mario World has that familiar Nintendo flair to it, but it’s just so much better with the rich soundscape adding to the action on-screen. Nintendo claims that a full orchestra can come out of the tiny system, and we’re excited to hear more!
We’ve already mentioned a few of the games coming to the Super Famicom, but at today’s unveiling there were plenty of titles on display and some of them could even be played if you were willing to wait in the long lines. Nintendo’s flagship title was of course the aforementioned Super Mario World. This time around the game is saturated with bright colors, multiple layered backgrounds and loaded with secrets and new gameplay mechanics. Mario can once again fly around the screen, but this time instead of brandishing a raccoon tail like in Super Mario Bros. 3, he dons a yellow cape and can take to the skies like Superman! Flying takes a bit of getting used to, but it seems like he can traverse greater distances and even plummet headfirst into the ground to take out enemies!
Also new to the game is a green lizard/dinosaur that Mario can ride. The creature can suck up enemies with its tongue and eat them whole! Some enemies, like red Koopa Troopas will even give your cute buddy the ability to exhale fireballs back at other foes. Speaking of fireballs, the fire flower power-up returns once again so you can take out enemies from afar. Mario can now climb fences and there are gates that he can pound with his fists to flip over to the other side. This sort of 3D effect is pretty cool to see in motion and adds to the immersion. The enemies are more detailed and even in the first level there’s a huge Bullet Bill that takes up 1/4 of the screen! Like the last game, an overworld map is utilized to select courses, but instead of segmented lands we are treated to a huge continuous world to explore. We’re sure there are plenty of secrets and levels to discover in the final game and from what we can tell the stages are much longer than those in Mario 3. This game will release alongside the Super Famicom on November 21, 1990.
Also mentioned earlier, both F-Zero and Pilotwings are due out by the end of the year from Nintendo. The former is a brand new futuristic racing game where you pilot hovercraft-like vehicles around the various racetracks. The game moves at such a fast clip that it might take some players a few minutes to get accustomed to the crazy rotation and scaling used throughout the races. One cool feature is that the game uses the top L and R shoulder buttons to allow players to really dig in and make sharper turns. This one seems really cool and fresh, although we didn’t see a two player option.
Pilotwings has you performing a bunch of different aerial tricks and feats with various vehicles. It’s part flight simulator and part screwball fun. You’ll get to pilot a small biplane as well as strap on a jetpack and zoom around the levels. There are targets for you to try and land on to rack up bonus points as well. We’re not sold on this one quite yet, but then again it’s one of those games you probably have to spend some time with to get used to the controls.
One of the most impressive games at the show was Capcom’s Final Fight. Seeing this arcade port up and running on the Super Famicom with such big and detailed sprites was truly awesome. It’s one of my favorite go-to games in the arcades and I’m stoked to finally play a home conversion that looks almost as good. Oddly enough Guy is missing from the roster of playable characters (only Cody and Haggar are selectable). Perhaps this is to save on memory or maybe the game is being rushed in order to make it out this year? We hope the two player co-op mode makes it in because at the show they only had one controller hooked up to the demo systems.
Konami was showing off Gradius III, another arcade port. It featured tons of enemies on the screen and big bosses. Although the plaguing NES flicker seems to have been mostly eliminated with this super sequel, the game still had plenty of slowdown, which is disappointing to see. Hopefully they can fix that issue before its scheduled December release date. We also can’t help but miss the 2 player simultaneous mode from Life Force.
Enix, makers of Dragon Warrior had a new game called ActRaiser on display. It’s sort of a 2D action slasher that looked pretty good and reminded us of something like Legendary Axe. There might be more than meets the eye with this one, but we’ll have to wait to learn more. We’re told it’s one of the best sounding games on the system with a full on orchestrated soundtrack so we’re looking forward to hearing that for ourselves!
A bunch of other software was either shown or announced at the show as well. Surprisingly two PC-centric strategy games are on their way to the Nintendo 16-bitter: SimCity and Populous. It remains to be seen how these are adapted to a controller and how the menus work on the TV, but here’s hoping they figure that out. A pair of shooters are on the way with a sequel to R-Type and Super Darius. A few RPGs are coming, including Gdleen, Drakkhen, and Super Deformer. It goes without saying that some of these games are likely to remain in Japan and never see the light of day over here. Also on the docket are Ultraman, Hole-In-One Golf, Big Run, and Dynamite Bombuzal.
For the most part all of the games sported very pretty graphics that are a nice upgrade over what’s been seen on the NES. There are a ton more games in development across most third parties and of course Nintendo has much more in the works, including a new sequel in the Legend of Zelda series. We expect to learn much more as the year rolls on and can’t wait to see what else is in the pipeline. US gamers will most likely have to wait until next fall to get their hands on the Super Nintendo (or whatever it ends up being called). Right now Nintendo of America is staying silent regarding its 16-bit plans. No doubt they’ll loosen their lips once the new year begins. Start saving those pennies!