It’s late August 1991. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You is the number one song in the country. Hot Shots! is the biggest movie at the box office. Roseanne, Cheers, and Full House are dominating the TV ratings. The era of grunge music is about to begin, with the release of albums including Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, and Nirvana’s Nevermind to come within the next few weeks.
And… oh, by the way: The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was shipped to stores and sold to customers beginning in late August of 1991, two years after the SEGA Genesis had done the same. The 16-Bit Wars were finally set to begin in earnest, and video game fans– like myself– were very excited.
I was living outside of Worcester, Massachusetts at the time. I had a core group of friends and we all got together pretty often to play video games. We had NES consoles and the decision to upgrade to the Super NES was a no-brainer for all of us. I was the biggest nerd in my group who bought all of the monthly video game magazines, so my friends always asked me about what games looked good and what to expect once the console came out. A couple of my friends got their consoles in late August, while the rest of us got ours in later weeks. (Because bills.)
By the end of 1991, my SNES library looked like this:
- Super Mario World
- Final Fantasy II
- John Madden Football
- Super Bases Loaded
- Super Castlevania IV
That’s a pretty crazy lineup of games, about four months after launch. Super Mario World and Super Castlevania IV are both arguably the best games in their respective series. F-Zero was a fantastic new racing game that really showed off this Mode 7 business that all of the video game magazines at the time were talking about. ActRaiser was part-action, part-simulation, and all amazing. Final Fantasy II (or, for you semantics, Final Fantasy IV Easy Type) was my first foray into the world of role-playing games, and I would go on to buy new Final Fantasy games over the next three console generations because I enjoyed this one so much. Super Castlevania IV was my first Castlevania game, and it remains my favorite game in the series to this day, just ahead of Symphony of the Night (PlayStation, 1997). Unfortunately, the early sports games were a mixed bag; while Super Bases Loaded was decent, John Madden Football was kind of a bust (and Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball was downright awful).
All told, more than 30 games were released for the Super NES by the end of 1991– and that was just the beginning. Nearly 700 more games were released over the next seven years, including some of the most beloved console video games of all time. Super Mario Kart (1992) helped to launch a genre of games that remains popular to this day. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992) still fights it out with Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, 1998) for the top spot on many fans’ lists of favorite games in the series. Super Metroid (1994) is not only a fantastic game in its own right, but it also helped to pave the way for a new kind of Castlevania in the next console generation. Donkey Kong Country (1994) dropped jaws with its Advanced Computer Modeling technology and was the decisive factor in catapulting the Super NES into the sales lead for the 16-bit console generation. Final Fantasy III (otherwise known as Final Fantasy VI, 1994) is considered by many to be the high point of RPGs in the 16-bit era. These are only a few of the most significant releases for the Super NES. I could write an additional piece listing 20, 30, and even 50 of my favorite games for the console, and I’d still wind up having to make some painful cuts.
As I did my research for this article, I was reminded of just how many games that I played during that time… and the memories that still stay with me today. I’m reminded of how I made the dumb decision to be late on a couple of bills so that I could afford to buy that last copy of Street Fighter II from Kay-Bee Toys on launch day. I’m reminded of the times when I hung out at my then-girlfriend’s house, and the epic battles in NHLPA Hockey ’93 that her brother and I had while she cheered me on. I’m reminded of when I used to record music from Super NES games onto cassette tapes and listen to the music in my car. I’m reminded of when my group of friends and I used to hang out together and gun for each other’s best lap and track times in F-Zero. I’m reminded of how I spent my 21st birthday in April of 1993, as I drove to three different malls in order to play as many rounds during the Super Star Fox Weekend Competition as I could.
To me, the Super NES isn’t just what I consider to be one of the best video game consoles of all time, with some of the best video games of all time. It also represents an important part of the life that I have lived, and it offers me a window back to my youth that I’m grateful to crawl back into every so often as my clock ticks inexorably closer to midnight.
Happy 25th anniversary, Super Nintendo Entertainment System. May you and your games continue to age gracefully, even if that 3.58 MHz processor slows you down at times. Thanks for all of the good times then, now, and in the future.