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The Super Famicom (abbreviated SFC) is the Japanese version of the American Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It was released in Japan on November 21, 1990 - which was 9 months before the SNES was released in North America on August 23, 1991. The Super Famicom was the successor to the wildly popular Nintendo Family Computer, or Famicom for short, which was sold as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) outside of Japan.
16-bit Console Wars: Japanese Edition
Any adolescent who was playing video games in the late 80's and early 90's remembers well the 16-bit gaming wars between Nintendo and Sega. In Japan, however, Sega was much less of a threat, and to take their place was NEC - one of the world's largest chip makers at the time.
In the mid-late 80's, NEC attempted on several occasions to sell Nintendo custom graphics chips for use in Nintendo's upcoming 16-bit game console, which was at that point in the very early stages of development. Nintendo repeatedly chose to brush NEC off and declared that it would "go in a different direction," which left NEC with some major components with which to build a console.
NEC decided to team up with Hudson Soft and begin work on their own game console, which would ultimately become the PC-Engine. Unlike the cartridge technology used by Nintendo, NEC chose to use "HuCards," which were small chip-based cards with exposed contacts on one end. HuCards were similar to the Sega Cards used by Sega on the Mark III and Master System consoles, which were approximately the size of a credit card though slightly thicker.
Though some argue if the PC-Engine was a true 16-bit console or not, due to the fact that it's main processor was only 8-bit even though it's graphics processor was 16-bit, the simple architecture, affordable price, and general appeal were enough to win over many Japanese gamers.
While the Sega Genesis was busy dethroning Nintendo in the West, the NEC PC-Engine was doing the same in the East. Nintendo's aging Famicom's sales were beginning to dwindle, and they needed to expedite development of their own 16-bit console, while still keeping the price low enough to compete with Sega and NEC.
To cut costs, Nintendo would eventually remove some of the rumored features of the 16-bit Super Famicom. The most notable being backwards-compatibility with the original Famicom. Since NEC had no previous consoles, they didn't have to take backward compatibility in to account. Sega was able to retain backwards compatibility with the Mega Drive/Genesis all the way back to their first console, the SG-1000, by incorporating the Zilog Z80 CPU in to the Mega Drive hardware. Nintendo intended to create a similar backwards compatibility with the original Famicom, but would later decide to scrap backwards compatibility to save costs.
Other internal changes were required to cut costs as well. It is widely rumored that Nintendo had originally intended to use a Motorola 68000 CPU, the same type of CPU used in most arcade hardware of the time, the Sega Mega Drive, and the Neo Geo AES/MVS console and arcade hardware. The intention was that the CPU operate at anywhere between 10Mhz and 12.5Mhz, which would be several Mhz faster than the 7.67Mhz CPU in the Mega Drive. Ultimately the console would utilize a 3.58Mhz Ricoh 5A22 CPU. The result of this last minute change is rumored to be a major factor in "SNES game slow-down," which affected many launch titles, including Super Mario World.
In the Box
The initial Super Famicom offering came packed with the console itself, AC adapter, RCA-style AV cables, and two controllers. Unlike the North American version, the Japanese Super Famicom did not come with an RF adapter, nor did it come with a pack-in game.
The physical layout of the Super Famicom is noticeably different than that of a North American Super Nintendo. The console is a deeper gray, and has no purple accents. The Power button slides forward and back to toggle between on and off states. The Rest button, unlike the SNES, pushes straight down on the SFC. It does not slide back and forth like the power button. The Eject button also pushes straight down, and doesn't hinge at a slight angle to eject the game cartridges as does the SNES. The result is a more solid-feeling Eject button. The European console, like the North American version, is also called the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but has the same physical exterior as the Super Famicom.
Like the SNES, the SFC has two controller ports directly on the front of the console. The controller ports are the same as the North American SNES controller ports, and controllers and peripherals are interchangeable between the two consoles. The controllers themselves are only slightly different. The four action buttons (A, B, Y, and X) are red, yellow, green, and blue respectively, which differs from the SNES controllers on which the buttons are dark and light shades of purple. Another minor difference with the controller action buttons is that all of the action buttons on the SFC controller are convex, whereas on the SNES controller the B and A buttons are convex and the X and Y buttons are concave.
There is a logo on the console itself that also shares the four colors of the action buttons - green, blue, yellow and red. This same logo appears on the North American NES packaging and literature, but never appears in color and is not on the SNES console itself.
The back of the console features an AV port, which is identical to the SNES AV port and can use the same cable, a DC input port, and a RF port. The RF output on Japanese game consoles is NTSC-J, which differs from standard NTSC in North America. As a result, a North American RF adapter can't be used with a Japanese console, and even if a Japanese RF adapter is used, the console won't work as intended because RF modulation is different between the two standards. Luckily, the composite video from the AV output is the same in North America and Japan, so standard composite AV cables can be used to play an SFC on a standard American TV - even modern LED/LCD TVs. The Super Famicom manual explains that if RF connectivity is required, since the SFC didn't come with an RF adapter, that the RF adapter from an original Famicom can be used.
AC power for the system also interoperates without issue on standard 115V North American wall power, even though input on the AC adapters that ship with Japanese consoles are rated for 100V. The power difference from 100V to 115V AC is not enough difference to cause instability.
On the bottom of the Super Famicom is an EXT port, similar to the EXT port on the bottom of the SNES. In North America, the EXT port was never used. On the SFC in Japan, only one peripheral was released which utilized this port - the Nintendo Satellaview. The Satellaview was an add-on module released in 1995, which contained a modem and came packed with a "BS-X" cartridge and an 8Mbit memory pack. The Satellaview could be used to download games via a subscription service. Unlike modern services that operate over broadband, the Satellaview service was broadcast only, so subscribers basically got whatever games Nintendo chose to send them.
The Satellaview was only released in Japan and would never see the light of day anywhere else in the world. Had the Nintendo/Sony deal for the Nintendo Super CD add-on been released, that peripheral would have also used the EXT port.
Region lockout between the SFC and the SNES is only regulated by cartridge shape. Cartridges designed for the SFC will not physically fit in to the top of a North American SNES and vice versa. However, there is no circuitry inside either the SFC or SNES which keeps cartridges from one region from working on systems from another region.
Super Famicom games can be played on a standard North American Super Nintendo by either purchasing a passive adapter, or by cutting the two tabs in the game cartridge slot, which can be seen when manually opening the cartridge dust door on the top of an SNES console. After these two tabs are removed, SFC cartridges will fully seat in the SNES and are fully playable.
The story is not the same when attempting to play SNES games in the SFC console. Because SNES cartridges are wider and longer than SFC cartridges, similar simple modification cannot be performed on a Super Famicom console to accommodate the larger cartridges. Passive, third-party converters are available, however.
Using a third-party game enhancement device in either situation, like a Game Shark or Game Genie, may work as well.
Super Famicom Jr.
Late in the life of the Super Famicom, and similar to the second revision of Super Nintendo in North America, Nintendo released a new version of the Super Famicom called the Super Famicom Jr. The SFC Jr. is nearly identical to the second revision of SNES released in North America. Unlike the original SFC, the SFC Jr. is the same light grey color as the original North American SNES. Unlike the second North American SNES revision, the power and reset buttons on the SFC Jr. are dark grey as opposed to purple.
The SFC Jr. came packaged with one controller and no pack-in game. The controller is the same type that shipped with the original SFC, with colored action buttons.
The Super Famicom was a huge hit in Japan, so they are relatively easy to find. Typically there are many eBay sellers in Japan willing to ship Super Famicom systems to North America, and there seem to be quite a few consoles that come complete with the original boxes and instructions. Prices can vary wildly depending on completeness and condition of the consoles and packaging materials.
Similar to the yellowing issue with North American Super NES consoles, some Super Famicoms do have a lot of yellowing in their plastics which can not be cleaned or removed. Yellowed consoles are typically worth much less than consoles that still have their original grey color. Clean, non-yellow consoles typically sell loose for anywhere from $70-$90 depending on condition. Complete in-box consoles with all literature typically fetch from $150-$200, and SFC Jr. consoles typically sell more than the standard SFC in any configuration due to the fact that they're a bit more rare than the large original model SFC.
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Vintage Console Spotlight
The Sega Mark III was only released in Japan. It is Sega's third major console release after the SG-1000 and the SG-1000 Mark II. The console would later see a re-incarnation as the Sega Master System. In this article I explore the Mark III hardware.