The Super Nintendo: A Retrospective

Here’s another video game-related blog entry, but this time with a more of a positive light.

You can always tell the lasting factor of a console, not only by its durability, but by the games created for it. There were a lot of really great games on the Super Nintendo – maybe more so than its predecessor. I mean, I’m not saying this out of personal opinion. It’s true. Ask anyone who owned a Super Nintendo: the good-to-bad ratio of games was ridiculously high; likely around 75 – 80 per cent, and was something I never saw again until the Sony PlayStation.

Just like in the days of NES, Capcom and Konami were ready at the flanks, but this time, backing the rear was Squaresoft, who tried to make a name for itself on the NES, but was successful only with Final Fantasy. This time around, however, Square was ready to take on anything, and although there were still really annoying things about its games (My biggest gripe being broken AI in Secret of Mana), the company easily made up for it this time around with immersive stories and characters, unforgettable soundtracks, and continnual innovation in the RPG genre. They hit a goldmine with Final Fantasy, and throughout the 16-bit era, stayed with what worked for them best, bringing us classics such as Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy II, Breath of Fire (even though Capcom developed it), and what is known throughout the “hardcore gaming” community as The Masterpiece Trilogy: Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy III, and Chrono Trigger.

Man, what a great system. I still remember when I opened it up Christmas morning, in 1992. Instead of most kids who got Super Mario World with the console, my pack-in was Mario Paint – which I always assumed was my mom’s doing, as she knew I was a pretty artsy kid. Alongside that, my brother gave (or rather, I later found out, lent) me some of his own games, such as Super Star Wars and Equinox,

As a kid, it was amazing to come off of Super Mario Bros. 3 – which I got for my birthday just that past April – onto such an upgrade in Super Mario World. Everything about that game just blew me away: rotating walls, giant Bullet Bills, and Goombas that looked kind of three-dimensional somehow in their waddle, in comparison to their NES ancestors. As a six-year-old kid, playing Super Mario World was quite a surreal feeling for me.

I remember on Boxing Day that year, my dad took me to a place in the neighbouring town. I’m not sure how to describe the store properly, but at the time, I guess it was kind of like a Hock Shop, but I don’t remember there being anything other than video games (but that could be attributed to the fact that all the games were at the front of the store, and that was the only thing I cared about at the time). There were glass cases in the middle of the front area, all lined with loose cartridges – that may or may not have the coveted instruction booklet with them. The walls in the front area were stocked with games that were either in their original packaging, or in the cheap plastic rental cases.

The place had the weirdest name for a store, and it’s always stuck with me:

The Green Door.

It was on that fateful day that I, for the first time ever, bought a video game with my own money: Super Ghouls N Ghosts, complete in the box with manual, for thirty dollars; money from my grandmother.

From that point on, figuratively speaking, a sacred trinity had been: myself, my consoles, and that store – up until The Green Door finally swung shut a good five or so years later.

The SNES Jr. came out in late ’97, offering parents an affordable alternative
($99.95, packed-in with Yoshi’s Island) to the newer N64 and PSX.

One of the most incredible things about the SNES, is the fact that Miyamoto was so confident in their current winner of the legendary “Console War of the ‘90s”, that he experimented with going fully 3D through Star Fox, despite three years into the console’s life cycle. For the task, Nintendo created something called the Super FX chip. Only a handful of games in total ever used this chip (and its predecessor – the Super FX Chip 2), which could harness a basic idea of early three-dimensional technology in console gaming.

And then on top of that, ID and Williams Entertainment announced they were going to port DOOM, a gargantuan PC DOS game, onto the Super Nintendo, through use of the Super FX chip. …And somehow they did it. The game lost a lot of its visual flare, and it controls like a tank, but in some ways, it’s a better port than the 32X version, which came out later. The music in the SNES port of DOOM is great, though – far better than its PC version, I think.

And when I didn’t think things could get any better, I saw this commercial one Saturday morning:

Whoa, are you serious?! Game Boy games? On your Super Nintendo?! At the time, I thought I died and went to heaven. When the Super Game Boy came out, my dad rented it and Super Wario Land for me, and for that entire weekend, I refused to come out of my bedroom.

Although I had a good, healthy relationship with The Green Door, I didn’t have nearly as many games as a lot of people I went to school with. To be honest, I rented games more than actually bought them, and I think my parents used our local video store as a tool to get a good idea of games I liked and what to get me for birthdays and Christmas. And then there was that one time where both Santa AND one of my brothers got me Wario’s Woods. I remember thinking Santa must have been incredibly drunk out of his mind for that kind of doosey to happen.

Turns out my dad and brother just don’t talk.

In addition to this little retrospective, I thought I would also go ahead and say a little bit about particular games on the console that I’ve enjoyed.

What can I say about Super Metroid that hasn’t already been said? The game is visually stunning, the soundtrack is one of the most beautiful (and haunting) on the console, and as far as sequels go, this one takes the cake, building off of the original Metroid and refining it in almost every — no, not almost — in EVERY single way.

One thing people don’t don’t really ever seem to touch on (or at least that’s what I’ve noticed) when talking about how great Super Metroid is, is the subtle use of a non-textual narrative. Yeah, all right, there’s still that text scroll prologue at the beginning of the game, but outside of that, Super Metroid’s entire narrative is told through things Samus crosses paths with on her journey to the bowels of Planet Zebes.

A great example of the game’s use of non-textual narrative is when you first stumble across Kraid’s Lair. You find yourself face to face with a creature that very much resembles a mid-boss from the first Metroid game, called Kraid. You blow him apart with a couple of super missiles, collect the goods, and head on your way — until you get to the opposite side of the next room, and discover, laying before the door that lead’s to the real boss lair…:

Who is this poor soul? Is he an astronaut from the wrecked ship found later on in the game? Is he a bounty hunter, like Samus Aran? Who knows? — But that’s the greatness of this game: it doesn’t force-feed exposition down the player’s throat, instead allowing a sense of imagination to flow. This was a great implantation, and I think it totally works in this game.

In my mind, he is a  bounty hunter, just like Samus. So every time I see him for the “first time” in Kraid’s lair, I always be sure to have Samus kneel in front of him as a sign of respect. Silly, I know, but whatever.

I love this game. A Link to the Past is by far, hands down, the best entry in the Zelda series after the NES original, and before Minish Cap on the Game Boy Advance. I’m not sure what resonates so well with me about A Link to the Past. I suppose it has to do with the grand sense of adventure that I feel every time I pop this cartridge in. And I think the great atmosphere about this game — that I feel, even now as I write this blurb — has a LOT to do with the game’s soundtrack.

Koji Kondo did a great job capturing the feel of his soundtrack on the first Zelda on the NES in this game, and while I do think gameplay takes precedent in what makes a video game good, I’m not sure how much enjoyment I would get out of A Link to the Past if somebody else other than Kondo composed.

Don’t get me wrong, there are so many other things that makes A Link to the Past an incredible game, such as the solid gameplay, beautiful graphics, and the masterful dungeon design (except for Turtle Rock. Screw that first area. So much magic WASTED trying to navigate those moving platforms properly. Ugh), but the music plays such a huge part in why I love the game.

Role Playing Games (RPGs) were a huge part of my childhood as a … child. Hurf. And when Square made games on the Super Nintendo, I was consistently lost in a world of magic, magic, swords, and monsters. Final Fantasy II, I remember I got very unexpectedly for Christmas one year, and right from the start, I was drawn in by the tragic story of a conflicted knight torn between his duties for his country and the morale of his heart. A story built around the idea of one man’s repentance wasn’t something I saw much in video games back in the day.

Parasite EVE on the Sony PlayStation (also by Square) was toted around its release to be “THE CINEMATIC RPG”, but I highly disagree. Square had been making “cinematic RPGs” long before that time, and I really think Final Fantasy II on Super Nintendo really holds true to that kind of feeling. This game brought out the importance of great story-telling for me, which has played an integral role in my own fiction writing.

You can also find this game, remade, on the Nintendo DS — and the cinematic aspects are even more prevalent there. When the game first came out, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on it, and I feel it was wise for Square to choose Final Fantasy II over the other classic entries in the series to bring to the DS. Just the trailer alone sent shivers down my spine at the time.

Shadowrun is a best known as a table-top RPG (think Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Superheroes), and has seen several adaptions, in both novel and video game form. There was a version of Shadowrun on the Sega Genesis which was totally different from the SNES game (and fans tote to be superior). I’ve never played the Genesis version, but even so, Shadowrun on the Super Nintendo has to be one of the best Western RPGs I’ve played.

The atmosphere of Shadowrun is what sticks out the most to me. It’s pretty dark and gritty for a SNES game, and while it is very loosely based on the official Shadowrun lore, the atmosphere of the game keeps me coming back. When I first bought the game about a year ago (although having played it briefly a couple times in my childhood), I got really far — until a glitch happened and my file was deleted. Normally, I’d ragequit all together and refuse to touch the game for six months or so — but Shadowrun drew me right back in, and I didn’t at all mind  restarting my game.

Shadowrun is classified as a Cyberpunk RPG, and I think a lot of its inspiration stems from Bladerunner — although I can’t really exactly place any one thing that proves this, but that’s the overall feeling I get. And I guess that’s the most important thing: feeling.

Star Fox was the first game on the Super Nintendo to utilize the Super FX Chip, Nintendo’s basic “Eff You” to other companies who felt the itch to upgrade to more powerful console  resources that could harness the power of three-dimensional graphics. You wouldn’t think a sixteen-bit console from 1991 would be able to harness polygons without an add-on, but Nintendo proved otherwise.

There were only a handful of games on the console that utilized the Super FX Chip and the Super FX Chip 2 (Yoshi’s Island being one of them), and I think it’s safe to say that Star Fox is one of the few (if not the only) fully 3D games on the console that has actually aged well over time. It’s fast-paced, intense, and it’s hard to not get sucked in when you’re faced with not only hundreds of baddies firing at you, but with the task of making sure your allies survive the end of the level.

I always find myself in conversation with Slippy, Falco, and Peppy, almost like I’m actually inside the cockpit (especially on those outer-space first person levels), and I think because of that grasp the game has on me (and other people) it’s no wonder why we’ve seen several Star Fox sequels, as oppose to ANY Stunt Race FX sequels.

There are several other games on the console that really resonate with me for one reason or another — but for some reason, I just can’t think of any one specific thing that sticks out as to why I love these games. They’re amazing all in their own right, and for that, I feel that they have a powerful grip over how I view them. I think in general, if you love something so much that you can’t find the words to describe WHY you love it — that says a whole lot more than a few descriptors you can pull out your ear.

Anyway, I just wanted to pay tribute to what I think is one of the greatest consoles of all time. The ‘90s were what a lot of game hobbyists call The Golden Age of video games. Those of us who grew up in that decade might have been shrugged off by the “glory” of the ‘80s, but at least we did something Ferris Bueller, Teddy Ruxpin, and Stevie Nicks couldn’t for once:

We played with Power. Super Power.

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