These Looking Back retrospective articles, while fun to research and write, do serve a secondary, less happy purpose. You see, these make me feel increasingly old, as I write about games like the Devil May Cry HD Collection, which at the time of writing is ten years old. It seems scarcely believable that games that I clearly remember playing are so old now, comparatively, and it does make me wonder where the time goes these days.
The subject of this article though is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short (although back in the day, one of my friends was convinced it was pronounced “sneeze” and it kind of stuck), and its launch in Europe. Frighteningly, this was back in 1992, some thirty years ago. Yes, 3-0, years ago, when your author was a fresh faced boy of 19. So, come with me, back into the mists of time and let’s see what we can dredge up from the old long term memory banks, shall we?
Now, the first thing to mention is that our house when I was growing up was like a microcosm of the bitter Sega/Nintendo console wars of the era. You think the Sony/Xbox console wars are bad? You ain’t seen nothing. The first person in my family to buy one of these new fangled 16-Bit consoles was actually my grandfather, who bought a Sega Mega Drive so he could play Arnold Palmer’s Golf. Yes, my grandad was the cool one in our family, we were still struggling by with an Atari 2600 and a ZX Spectrum. Still, it wasn’t long before my dad bought a Mega Drive to go under the honking great CRT telly in the corner of the living room, and for a couple of years all was well.
In the meantime, I had fallen in love with Street Fighter II in the arcades, and when the news broke that the home version of this game was only going to be available on Nintendo’s new super console, well my path was set. I would become a SNES owner or bust.
At the time, I was working in a warehouse on Sundays, unloading huge great 40 foot trailers on my hands and knees for a popular catalogue brand, earning the princely sum of £30 for 8 hours back breaking graft. There was no minimum wage in those days. Bearing in mind that this £30 had to pay my rent at home, provide for going out with my girlfriend at the time (luckily beer was only around £1 a pint in those days) and then save up for a shiny new SNES when they launched, I’m not sure how I managed it.
Bundled with the SNES was one of the finest games ever made, Super Mario World, and this kept me ticking over until the games that I wanted to play actually came out. Super Mario World was my first introduction to Mario games, and the jump to 16-Bit graphics made things look amazing (in the day, these visuals were about as good as it got). Eventually, the release of Street Fighter II came about, and I couldn’t wait for it to be released in this country, and I decided to grab an imported copy of the game.
However, Nintendo didn’t want us to do this, so there were a couple of hurdles to overcome. The first was the actual shape of the cartridge, its physical dimensions: an NTSC cartridge in a PAL SNES just didn’t go; it wouldn’t fit. The second was a software lock, where the cartridge would realise it was being played on the “wrong” machine and refuse to work. We had to buy a remarkably Heath-Robinson looking bit of kit to get around both of these constraints. Basically, we had to buy an adapter that had the proper cartridge in the back (in this case, Super Mario World) and the imported cartridge (Street Fighter II) in the top. This adapter then fooled the console by reading the regional code from the real game, and then allowed the import cartridge to play through it. Amazing technology for the 1990s, let me tell you!
In the fullness of time, Street Fighter II was released for the Mega Drive, but it took a while, and in the meantime I could still lord it over my brother who had adopted the family Mega Drive. This wasn’t the only game I have fond memories of playing, however, and the SNES was to prove a hotbed of invention for games. F-Zero and Super Mario Kart showed off the graphical prowess of the machine, especially the Mode 7 graphics that allowed games to move at a good pace. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past I actually bought after standing in Boots, at a demo machine, and playing for more than an hour as I couldn’t put it down. Donkey Kong Country was a brilliant game back in its day, with revolutionary graphics, and Contra III: The Alien Wars was an amazing shooter.
All in all, back at a time when a game cost between £40 and £50, which was a lot of money for a poor student, the quality was still so high that it made it worth buying. I have clear memories of buying Donkey Kong Country in the Virgin Megastore in Nottingham, and paying with a cheque, that’s how long ago it was.
Despite the Mega Drive having a two year headstart to the market, I honestly feel that the SNES was the superior machine. Having played both on the regular, it was the software that lifted the console to the next level. Mario Kart got me and my house mates through University, and the post pub sessions were always the best, even if they did sometimes end in fisticuffs. Beating A Link to the Past, in the days before internet walkthroughs is still an achievement (in my eyes at least) and figuring out how to get to the end of the game took some doing – and maybe the purchase of a magazine or two to try and see where to go.
Basically put though – the SNES was an awesome machine and if you want to experience all it had, but in mini-form, the Classic Mini Console: Super Nintendo System from Amazon should sort you out. It’ll let you play a number of the games I’ve mentioned in this piece.
But these are my memories of the launch of the SNES in Europe from back in 1992. But what about you guys out there? Are you sufficiently long in the tooth that you can remember it too? Did you have a SNES in your house, or were you a SEGA person? Let us know in the comments!