5 Lessons the Super Nintendo Teaches

5 Lessons the Super Nintendo Teaches

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System turned 20 on August 23, 2011. There have been a lot of raised pints and touching memoirs written about Nintendo’s 16-bit grey girl, which isn’t a surprise: For many twenty- and- thirty-somethings, the Super Nintendo or “SNES” was an anchor in our formative years. The system’s solid library zipped us across racetracks, led us through epic side-scrolling adventures, and set us on role-playing journeys that are still ranked amongst the very best in existence.

Video game systems can help define a generation, but can we also learn lessons from them? Arguably, yes. The SNES had a few things to teach us, after all.

You Can’t Believe Everything You See on TV — Not every lesson given by Professor SNES was taught directly through the system itself: Game players learned a bit through the attacks that its main competition, Sega’s 16-bit Genesis system, made on Nintendo. For instance, Sega sold kids a two-litre bottle of snake oil with “Blast Processing,” a feature that was supposedly exclusive to the Genesis hardware. Blast Processing, according to its now-famous commercial, is what let Sonic the Hedgehog blast through the land of Mobius while dumpy old Mario hoofed slowly through the Mushroom Kingdom. Truthfully, the SNES was considerably more powerful than the Genesis, and more than a few SNES games were capable of granting a sense of extreme speed. Nevertheless, a little clever marketing was all it took for Sega to make the SNES look old and tired.

There’s More Than One Way to Enjoy a Genre — In the same vein, it was Sega’s attacks on the SNES that slowly made gamers realize that developers often intend for two games in the same genre to play very differently. Going back to Sega’s “Blast Processing” commercial, Super Mario Kart is compared to a clunker of a van whereas Sega’s titles are held up against race cars. But Super Mario Kart, which has consistently ranked as one of the most popular franchises in the world, was never about speed. Similarly, Sonic the Hedgehog was slick, fast, and a much-loved sidescroller, but Nintendo never intended for the Mario games to be about anything but methodical exploration. Again, an example of clever marketing on Sega’s part, but not hard to peer around.

Game Music Can Stir Emotions — The chiptune soundtracks for Nintendo games are still looked back upon with nostalgia, but it was the Super Nintendo’s sophisticated soundchip that birthed game music that truly wrung emotion out of players. From the system’s earliest days, the music accompanying titles like Castlevania IV and Actraiser was gorgeous, and composers refined themselves on what followed (Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Mega Man X, Illusion of Gaia, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and dozens more).

Video Games can Tell a Story– The SNES had a healthy library of role-playing games, which in turn had fantastic stories to tell us. Said RPG stories could be classic and in-your-face (Final Fantasy II), or else they could be subtle, a little weird, and posses a heart the size of the Moon (Earthbound). It’s especially impressive when you consider that North America only received a tiny fraction of the role-playing games that Japan eventually ended up with for the Super Famicom.

Game Consoles Need to Evolve — By the time the SNES hit the market, video game consoles had already experienced a few growth spurts. After all, the market had moved from Atari’s systems to the 8-bit NES, and the 16-bit Genesis was rarin’ to compete head-to-head with the SNES. Nevertheless, parents were outraged at Nintendo for having the gall to upgrade the NES and charge more money for it. It was a conspiracy, they said. A sham. A money trap–

No, it was just an upgrade. The SNES made it clear to parents that game consoles need to evolve, just like every other piece of technology formed by humankind.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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