Sunday, 20 January 2013

16 bits, 2 bytes - A rather Super experience


The bits and byte have now doubled because if my Speccy and C64 epics weren't enough, get ready for the SNES.

I won the war with the Neo Geo so now I need a new challenge.

This will be slightly different as I’ll be focusing on hardware, specs, peripherals, convertors, cock-ups and miscellany.

Unlike 8 bits, a console isn't complicated when it comes to getting a game to work so I’m not going to insult anybody’s intelligence by explaining how.

Unless there’s some kind of bizarre internal fault or a cart has damaged connectors, a game is going to work.

An Azimuth screwdriver, tape deck, pen or paper and general luck is not required.  In the 1980’s, technology asked you to do so much more and in a strange sort of way, I miss the frustration.

This will be fairly in-depth as I feel it important to detail everything what I know and remember.

Powering up...

Innovation favoured over power

You have Sony, Microsoft and sandwiched in between, there’s Nintendo.

If this was a boxing match in terms of endurance, skill and style, Nintendo would probably win on points.

Is there anybody more influential in the video game market in terms of novelty and fan base?

I bet anybody would struggle to make a case more solid than a super glued Jenga tower. 

Nintendo has never been fanatical about extreme specs and incredible clout; it’s always about being different than your average HD super machine.

This statement is demonstrated ever since the inclusions of the DS and Wii as both gave the player a different direction on how a game could be played.

Buttons and d-pad remain but both are a bit less essential then what they were years ago.

Of course, it wasn't always like that because while the games were undeniably different and interactive, the countless consoles whether portable or CRT driven relied on the good old fashioned pad.

You could use fairly pointless sticks and other peripherals to play but many games really didn't need another object unless it was specifically required.

The recently released Wii U is the first console by Nintendo to support high definition graphics.  However, originality was not ignored as a touch screen controller talking to the TV takes care of that.

If you ignore the very early years and other bits and bobs, the electronic market saw the release of a console that would become possibly the most famous retro console of all time.

The NES made its mark in 1983 and then globally during this decade.


It wasn't exactly the most attractively designed brick and letting it look in any mirror may cause seven years bad luck.

The cartridges didn't exactly improve its personality.


Still, it’s what inside that counts…

Another ‘hot’ looking console was Amstrad’s ill-fated GX4000.


What a wonderful name and just look at it, a rejected Star Wars spaceship design perhaps?

In Japan, it’s known as the Famicom (or Family Computer) but to the world, NES (Nintendo Entertainment System).

On paper, it was nothing new to the market as it already felt as though these numerously shaped bricks had been around forever and a day.

So another year, another console but this was already exciting as it promised games would be far more colourful than those that had gone before.

Along with Metroid, Zelda and the birth of a certain Italian plumber, these are probably the most important video game franchises of all time.

Apart from 80s fashion, was there anything more important to kids and even parents in this decade?

Err…

Its popularity rocketed and enjoyed ‘modest’ success.

Oh yeah, a few years later, Gunpei Yokoi designed this thing called the Game Boy and was pretty dominant too.

We all know about that certain individuals may be prone epileptic seizures due to light flashing and patterns produced by video games.

Photosensitivity seems to be the new buzz word.

The general health and safety precautions are readily available for all to see.

I wonder how many millions ignore the advised 10-15 minute break after each hour, playing in a well lit room and cease playing when eyes begin to droop.

That’s unimportant as the next save point must be reached or that boss just needs to be tackled once more…

We've all been in this situation at daft o’clock in the morning many, many times, right?

Before we continue, I must talk about experiments and one in particular that was hazardous to your health.

Nintendo weren't perfect and did release some peculiar looking shit storms and peripherals so I’ll touch on the famous (for all the wrong reasons).

Oh dear

The Super Scope 6 (or Nintendo Scope 6) was the official successor to the Zapper and boy, WTF?

It worked like any other lightgun that had gone before and because of technology and scan lines, it only worked on a CRT.

The Mega Drive equivalent was the Menacer and was released after the Scope.  It was virtually the same principle albeit, a different design.

Both were wireless and required an infrared receiver that plugged into a controller port which balanced uneasily on top of your set.

In those days, peripherals that were wireless came at a price – batteries.

Thank heavens for Bluetooth and USB…


Modelled on a ‘bazooka’, this was as aesthetically pleasing of drunken walrus in a tutu and less reliable than a cowboy builder.  Appropriately, a handful of nettles was better received.

Storing this thing was a real pain in the ass as it was about as foldable as reinforced steel.

Still, it was difficult to miss but easier to trip over.

This was a double AA device.

Six, yes six of these is what this piece of junk needed to be powered and wow, this hog sucked battery life quicker than the average vampire sucked blood.

Considering that the Wii remote only needs two and lasts a heck of a lot longer, how times have changed.

So after you spent a few minutes inserting those batteries, you were ready to shoot (yourself).

For all the use it was, you could attach a crappy plastic sight to make it apparently feel like a highly authentic rocket projectile firing replica.

Yeah and I’m a one-legged ballerina.

I had the misfortune of using one and this was plainer than colourful shit.

So what wonderful games were made available?  Well, not many and I can only remember some of those that came on the equivalent of its Wii Sports cart (if you like).

There were more but I don’t really care, do you?

Power up your machine and calibration was required and good luck is all I can say.

If you managed some kind of success, away you went.

The games included some kind of Tetris shower; blasting rockets and a mole thing (much like those at seaside resorts where you smack a plastic object that pops up and/or out of a hole with a hammer).

Rewinding time, the Zapper was a cheap looking but eminently manageable object but one problem existed, it worked when it was in a good mood.

Compared to the infamous Power Glove, it was God though.

To be fair, the Scope was a marked improvement in the functionality stakes but in order to have a chance of actually hitting a target, this oversized train wreck practically asked the handler not to aim directly, but instead a bit ahead of the target.

I’m only going by what worked for me. 

Whatever, it’s about as ideal as my ass.

Namco’s G-Con 45, (first released on the PS1) was literally the shit as shots were instantly fired.  What was cool is that it was also compatible with lightgun shooters on PS2 as the same technology was still used.

Okay, most would outgrow this and use the G-Con 2 because of the bonus of USB but to me, neither really worked any worse.

It also had a d-pad built for further gameplay usage but was largely redundant.

The G-Con 3 is only for use on PS3 so CRT televisions are a definite no no.  Hence the need for an image sensor…

Its design is unnecessary and ironically, the worse of the three.

Now what about the colour scheme for the G-Con 3?

You know when you’ve been tangoed…

Well as I’ve mentioned it, let’s chat about that mitten known as the Power Glove.  This was innovative, audacious but an absolute shower of the proverbial.


Fairly predictably, you wore this thing and attempted to control games using your hand that apparently conveyed movement to the sensors that had to be mounted on your old-fashioned box.

If you’re using any kind of peripheral to play a game, it’s pretty damn important that it worked.

The Power Glove begged to differ on this overriding and essential principle.

No matter what you did, it virtually failed to understand your desperation and frustration poured from every paw

This wonderful invention even demanded that codes be inputted to play compatible games.

If this was a joke, it would be described as cruel and fairly sick.

The next ‘item’ deserves to be heaped with a delicious amount of negatives and it’s important that you adjust your vision, now.

In 1995, the late Mr. Yokoi decided to create a ‘portable’ machine utilising so-called Virtual Reality technology named the Virtual Boy.

His idea was commendable in theory but in practice, a hideous headache.

Forgive me, but this was fucking awful.

Here’s a starter for ten and no conferring.

Even the name is a misleading lie because this isn't even a virtual experience.

If I was kind, I’d call it virtual shit but that would be insulting the tortoise’s head.

The concept of virtual reality was clearly misinterpreted because the player didn't become part of the experience.

It’s about as immersive as been trapped in a goldfish bowl.

This invention asked the lunatic who purchased this lump of dung to only use exactly the same vision that he/she would when playing a game on any regular CRT, with the only difference being sticking your eyes inside a headset.

If I wanted one vision, I’d listen to Queen.

To achieve a 3D effect, the two LED screens projected separate images in the chalk and cheese colours of black and red giving the impression of depth.

The idea was that when your optical tackle begrudgingly met both screens, the illusion of imagery popping up was fashioned.

I mean c’mon, what a spectacularly depressing choice of colours.

Blue with pink dots would have been a better alternative to this eye induced violence because at least you’d feel the effect of illegal hallucinogen.

As his previous world beater was monochrome, you’d think the obvious step up was a machine allowing games to bask in full colour but obviously not.

Discounting the already released Game Boy Colour which cheated slightly, Nintendo’s first handheld bursting with colour was the Game Boy Advance in 2001.

I used the word portable in inverted commas for good reason and not just for my health.

If anybody can truly say this is portable, just a long hard look.
Can you really imagine taking this out and about to ease the boredom during a long journey to wherever?

Even now, I don’t think a back pack would be able to accommodate such an unnecessarily large obscenity.

This is the console equivalent of a Russian camcorder as seen in Only Fools and Horses.

You see that stand it’s mounted on, well guess what?  It won’t and can’t be budged so masochists can expect stiffness, soreness and a cricked Gregory Peck.

I've got an idea; why not hack at the legs of your favourite table so the height dimensions will go hand in hand with this loathsome object.

That’s about as insane as somebody turning a CRT on its side to play Ikaruga like a regular horizontal shmup like R-Type, Gradius etc etc on the Gamecube.

The game actually issued a warning what went something like “Warning, flipping a television on its side may cause permanent damage.”

Is it elementary my dear Watson?  No shit Sherlock.

Anyway, that really was an excellent game.

Let’s head back into the red mist.

Yer’ know that 100 times out of a 100 that all handhelds have the d-pad and buttons built in, well this had a separate wired joypad and even required a battery pack in order for this thing to work.  The on/off switch for the system was found on the controller.

This crate needed batteries and half a dozen of them – great.  Okay, you could use a PSU but this just added to the nightmare.


This should come with a health warning… oh, it did and of the pretty serious kind too.

The threat of ‘permanent eye injury’ was to form part of the disclaimer.

Marvellous!

So purchasing a Virtual Boy comes with the risk of eyestrain, a very sore neck, together with headaches and seizures.

Other unofficial warnings include long-term psychological damage, personality disorders, violent tendencies, drooling and gibbering.

There were less than 15 games released and while that sounds a terrible catalogue, even this failed bio-weapon beat SNK’s Hyper Neo Geo 64 which didn't even reach double figures.

That must be a world record for any console or board.

The 3D element was virtually redundant which meant the games on this thing could easily be played on a regular and risk free console.

It was that successful, it lasted less than a year.

I suppose it would be a cool collectors item to own, as long as it was never played.

Even in this day and age of technological wonderment, 3D should still be respected without independent glasses.

Like the Virtual Boy, the 3DS warns of vision damage to children aged 7 and under.

The parental control feature is there to restrict the display of 3D images so in theory; that covers Nintendo’s backsides.

Its selling point can also be completely turned off so reverts back to being a regular DS with a new lick of paint.

If only consoles could use telescopic rather than stereoscopic vision as it would save so much hassle.

I don’t work for Spec Savers or claim to be an expert in optometry but visual aids goes through a lot of adjustment and development during those tender years.

Largely though, I reckon that any company is erring on the side of caution for any unexpected side effects that this technology may cause.

Medical professionals remain coy on confirming whether this sort of stereoscopic imagery will have long-term effects.

Right, I hope your eyes aren't too strained so let’s get back to it.

Sega vs Nintendo

We knew of Mario starring in Donkey Kong but lest we forget that Mario didn't have his own game until Super Mario Bros.

Many big money franchises were born on the NES and sequels, updates and re-releases continue to be spawned above and beyond.

The pressure cooker has been brought to the boil and it’s just whistled.

In 1990, the Superior Nihilistic Extreme Salvation became a reality and the comfy slippers that Sega and the Mega Drive happily wore started to emanate a nasty niff.

Like the NES, the world would soon appreciate it sooner rather than later.

This ‘Super’ machine had the same ‘bits’ but was far more colourful and capable of oozing more effects than a Hollywood spectacular.

Sega had a rival, one that was bitterer than a matured lemon and Nintendo meant business in knocking Sega off its perch.

Compared to the more jovial rivalries of yesteryear including C64 vs the Speccy and Atari ST vs Commodore Amiga, this was personal.

Sonic and the Mega Drive, or you like, the Genesis was still bigger than your average bus and fans were torn between both.

This ensured the first ‘console war’ began.

It was fun at first stating ‘the Mega Drive and/or SNES was better than the Mega Drive and/or SNES because of Sonic and/or Mario’ etc etc.

Banter started to turn into something more irritating than a fly you couldn't quite swat and more boring than a long-running soap storyline.

Whatever console you swore allegiance to; would you travel with East Yorkshire Motor Services or Stagecoach?

Like the above public transport rivalry, both offered different perks but if the pros heavily outweighed the cons, I think the decision is made without thinking about it too much.

One thing’s for sure, this console changed the face of gaming – forever.

If the NES made ripples in a puddle, this thing made a splash that emptied a swimming pool.

This was [delayed pause] big.

Some will remember the advertising campaigns and both camps didn't hold back.

To be a success, it had to be technically superior and offer something more than the Mega Drive.

With Sega’s equivalent still extremely popular, the competition was rife and fiercer than two fleas arguing over who should be next to have the dog.

We know that the Mega Drive had already been out a few years and hence, had an obvious head start with an established library of games but Nintendo had an ace hidden in their cartridge slot – Super Mario World.

This seminal classic was bundled and wasn't built-in a la Alexi Kidd and the Master System.

This proved to be such a popular manoeuvre; crowds had to be dispersed with rubber bullets.

Okay they weren't. Ha ha!

Other early games included Mode 7 show offs Pilotwings and F-Zero.

It didn't take long for powerhouses such as Square, Konami and Capcom to provide the muscle for third-party support and the world was at Nintendo’s feet.

Konami did eventually make games for its nearest rival but it was never the same.

With a system as popular as this, consoles were unsurprisingly bundled with popular games which dangled more enticing carrots.

Surely the most pointless was the solus pack which was just the SNES and all necessary essentials but unless you had a cart… pointless.

Sega also started to whore out Sonic…

So apart from Super Mario World, what about the others?

Well, here’s a yummy selection:

Super Game Boy, Super Mario Kart, Super Scope, Killer Instinct, Super Mario All-Stars, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Turbo, Donkey Kong Country, Starwing and Killer Instinct.

Oh yeah, the Super Game Boy was basically an adapter that allowed your SNES to transfer Game Boy pixels onto the big screen.  The games were controlled using a regular SNES pad which made for a different but same experience.

That’s just a few choices on offer and I think the only bundle that was generous enough to give gamers an extra pad was Super Mario World.

A certain game involving men in white and red pyjamas shooting fireballs started off a particular craze.  This was the gaming equivalent of Beatlemania and many would have already shelled out a daft amount on Japanese import.

Consoles containing Super Mario Kart and Super Mario All-Stars meant that thousands of systems would literally fly off the shelves.

So what made the SNES a potentially more attractive option than its nearest competitor?

Let's have a shufty.

Colours, modes and bleeps

This won’t become a tech spec lesson as I intend just to soak up the meat and gravy.

VRAM, Co-processors, PPU etc will be purposely ignored.  I also won’t be taking the Bus because it’s never on time.

If the SNES versed the Mega Drive in a battle on strength, it would barely have to break sweat.

Palette particulars

SNES – 32,768 (up to 256 on-screen at any time)
MD – 512 (up to 64 on-screen at any time)

Sprite success

SNES – up to 128
MD – up to 80

As a general rule of thumb, when programmers make sprites of numerous sizes, a different amount of pixels is used to create a particular type of sprite to accommodate the situation.  So that’s why I've used ‘up to’ as a combination of progressively differently sized and coloured sprites is commonly used.

At its most basic, the SNES and MD (and others) used the standard resolution of 256 x 224.

So while the Mega Drive certainly had a colour or 512 to choose from, when mentioning that aspect in the same breath as the SNES, it was about as bright as an eclipse.

Pixels were awash with a wonderful colour scheme.

However, it was really all about a unique type of graphical wizardry that the SNES invented called Mode 7 that excited millions.  This special effect wouldn't look out of place in a big budget movie as it allowed 3D screen scaling and rotation.

Despite not being able to rotate sprites, there were ways around this annoying obstacle…

Some developers would just use Mode 7, for the sake of using Mode 7 and ultimately failed to mask a shitty game.

There were other Modes which all used different amounts of colours and graphical processes but this is what everybody remembers.

Although this is only associated with the SNES, the Mega Drive learnt how to create pseudo effects and although not as well known, the more obscure and hugely underrated PC Engine was easily capable of mind warp.

This is one of those consoles that should have kicked ass as it was host to excellent arcade conversions and countless high quality shmups.

Unfortunately though, it was not to be. 

Beautiful bleeps

SNES – Sony SPC700
MD – Yamaha YM2612

In this department, the SNES just blew the MD out of the water because of so many orchestral accomplishments.

No fluke and no shit, the SNES could belt out compositions of practical genius.

The sound is almost as classic as the SNES itself.

Okay, the Mega Drive was far from a bleeping mess but sorry, this is a battle that Sega couldn't ever hope to win.

The tortoise and the hare

This is when the SNES can’t be defended as for all its superlatives, it was undeniably sssllllooowww.

Getting from A to B

SNES – Richoh 5A22 based on 65c816 (3.58 Mhz)
MD – Motorolla 68000 (7.67 Mhz)

For many of the early SNES games and beyond, things could grind to an embarrassing halt.

The SNES also activated a notorious cloaking device as it could only handle a maximum of 256 pixels per scan line before the graphics processor got overloaded and started to switch off certain sprites.

Today, frame rate is the new form of slowdown and is pop up the new flicker?

Depending on the type of game, draw distance is also important.

In the early to late 90’s, slowdown and flicker was a huge deal amongst console gamers and could make the game effectively unplayable and even benefit the player's progress.

It was frustrating because like the cost of living, there’s absolutely nothing you could do about it apart from clearing a screen of enemies so those pesky sprites couldn't force a game to crawl.

Whatever technique you employed, this bugbear would be back more times than Arnie.

The genre of shmup was inherently blessed with such problems as activity and pixel invisibility were all commonplace.

It’s funny because when I used to be a magazine junkie, most reviewers made it their principal aim to point out such issues.

For example, ‘great graphics and excellent sound but terrible slowdown’ may have been such a comment.

There was an endless stream of dedicated magazines but in my opinion, the best was Super Play.

To be fair, programmers became smarter and went some way in solving the problem but even they couldn't prevent flicker.

Off the top of my head, here are the top three that would compliment a snail speeding backwards.

3. Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts
2. Gradius III

Drum roll please as the audience waits nervously, biting their nails in anticipation and the unlucky winner is…

1. Super R-Type

Trust me, the legendary R-9 and members of the evil Bydo Empire have never moved so slowly.

Compile’s Super Aleste proved the SNES could handle bustling activity as sprites zipped around the screen faster than a rat up a drainpipe with minimal slowdown. 

Another notable example was Super Smash TV. 

So apart from a select few, the Mega Drive generally kicked ass.

Of course Mega Drive games could apply the brakes and flicker but the idea of a SNES game moving at a pace like Sonic would be a match made in hell.

Everybody Hertz

There were essentially three types of SNES and us Brits got the bum deal.

PAL (Phase Alternating Line) or NTSC (National Television System Committee) were your companions to console your every need.
PAL (UK)
USA (NTSC)
Japanese (NTSC)
Nintendo improved the aesthetic look of the NES somewhat with the Japanese/PAL effort but the American version climbed the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

A grey and purple breezeblock rejected from the nearest building site signals an attractive design.

The creamy coloured consoles were famously prone to jaundice.

No matter what console you had, (despite the US colour) the pads still rank among one of the best designs for any console.
 


The total of eight buttons (if you include Select and Start) weren't always used but boy, was it handy for playing Street Fighter.

They were also extremely durable, comfortable to use and all in all, a mega thumbs up.

Similarly, the carts hold go hand in hand…

PAL
USA
Japanese
Although pointless, the SNES did have an Eject button which was obviously used to remove a cart.  I generally just yanked it out like you would for any other console as when this button was pressed, it sort of flipped out.

This was merely two bits of plastic that prodded it out when prompted and was much the same as those towers (which never worked properly) in Screwball Scramble.

Nearly as 'necessary' was the Reset button.

RPG carts had a battery housed inside so you could continue a saved game after you turned the console off.

That’s awesome as nobody would entertain the idea of battling through Zelda (or any equivalent) without being able to take a break as that would be about as practical as building a house out of paper.

As with any battery, these could run out of power but could be replaced if you had the know-how.

However, I never experienced such a situation as I never had a game long enough to worry about it.

I suppose it would be the same as a watch battery that is used to power a PC’s motherboard.

Still, it could be far worse as owning a Saturn meant it was an essential requirement because the console needed a battery actually inside to store calendar settings and save states.

If this died, all is lost.

I’m not even sure if there was a way of checking its battery life or if it flashed up with a warning.

Okay, it was slightly older technology than the original Playstation but still, what a pain in the ass.

Anyway, the region of your system depends on whether your decision was bordering on the insane.

In laman’s terms, the PAL UK console jogged at 50hz and the NTSC Japanese/US consoles sprinted at 60hz.

The differences are the frame rate per second and colour frequency which obviously meant NTSC left the other behind.

PAL games ran about 17.5% slower.

However, there was some light at the end of this tunnel as PAL offered a more detailed image with more lines per second but also suffered with the infamous letterbox display.

This caused huge confusion at the time because when powering up a PAL game, ugly black borders stuck weren't leaving in a hurry.

It’s ironic that a widescreen presentation in regards to a film is the way that God intended, i.e. recreating the cinema experience at home, albeit on a much smaller scale.

To really appreciate this, you needed a widescreen television as a regular square shaped CRT didn't cut the mustard.

Back then, you only had VHS and not DVDs.  Those were the days, right?

Many didn't like it and refused to adapt.

Street Fighter II was most offended by PAL and the Monty Python foot couldn't do a better job in squashing projection.

People got used to it but it still didn't stop them bitching and moaning.

NTSC boasted ‘full screen, full speed’ and was true with most but even then, SF II was not perfect.

Still, given the choice...

It was possible to get an NTSC system working in the UK by using a step-down convertor but the hassle in doing so put even the most determined off.

Among tech guys, ‘modding’ not just the SNES, but any PAL system is extremely popular to make regional problems irrelevant.

Incorporating a switch seems to be the order of the day but back then; it was a massive deal.

I, along with others, found there was a way of remedying the PAL border problem on an analogue TV and wasn't technical at all.

The vertical and less so, horizontal hold were usually located inside your CRT and using these knob(s), it was possible to stretch and reposition the image and thus, those borders were a memory.

However, the cons outweighed the pros.

1. This was very dangerous as live voltage doesn't mix well with human hands.
2. It was only useful if the TV was used for games only; and
3. The problem was only partially solved because the image is now stretched, distorted and still ran at 50hz.

So all in all, it was only a partial solution.

The SNES was a console that wasn’t region-free and as an example, SNK’s Neo Geo wasn't so hampered.

The cartridges were region-locked and only designed to work for that country.

Just to tease us, the Japanese carts were the same size as a PAL cart but US carts were wider.

On purpose, there was a very safe way to get around the problem of not being able to play import games on a UK console and that solution was a convertor.

The system and hertz issue brought more problems than speed and borders…

Convertors, logos and meg count

This was one the few inventions that usually worked faultlessly and came in many forms.

I remember a particular type that asked you to build a tower out of cartridges so was slightly unstable.

The best type was Games Master as this was as solid as a rock (it was no way endorsed by Dominic Diamond nor the late and great Patrick Moore).


As you can see, it was basically an empty console with two unseen cartridge slots with another that ahem, slotted into the SNES.

However, you needed a PAL cart and if you didn't – unlucky.

So assuming you had one of those, prep it with both carts, penetrate the flaps and stick it in, nudge nudge, wink wink… and bingo.

The lazy (mentioning no names), could permanently leave the convertor inside because a standard PAL game would still be detected. 

This gizmo would successfully fool the host machine into playing a foreign cart and most would have as yet unused connectors prepped for future Super FX games.

Impatience came at a cost and looking back, I don’t know how a) I could afford so many and b) why I just didn't wait.

Before buying, it was important to identify which region of game you were committing to because blowing all that dosh and finding that it was next to useless apart from making a nice ornament would be heartbreaking.

Shops had a returns policy that was allergic to common sense…

So I learnt almost immediately that it’s all about the Nintendo seal of approval.




The Japanese box art wasn't just steep, it was always vertical.

Such advantages apart from the obvious time factor were few and far between.

Buying a US game was obviously in American English and for the purists, a sturdy plastic cover fitted snugly over the bottom of a cart but was absolutely pointless.

The Japanese box art was usually more aesthetically pleasing, unlike the notorious US and UK art which were usually the same.

There weren't particularly any censorship issues with Japanese versions (famously swapping prostitutes for punks).

I've already touched upon SNES censorship in my BBFC gaming feature so I’m going to resist the temptation in harping on about it again.  So if you want more in-depth insight and history of this controversial hot potato, please give this link a click.


Japanese RPG’s were obviously virtually unplayable (unless you were fluent in Japanese) and meant that trial and error would only help to a certain extent.  Anyway, what’s the fun using pure guesswork in order to progress?

Pick up and play games such as action, shmup and fighting weren't really affected by this language barrier as the text was predetermined and apart from curiosity, meant absolutely nothing in terms of importance and continuation to future areas and/or levels.

The worst part of speeding up joypad jostling was on average about 50 quid a throw.  The Japanese version could sometimes be a bit cheaper but was little consolation to your wallet which was simply screaming for prudence.

When you were younger, all you cared about was getting high-end pixels months before the UK version was released.  Looking back, the cash saving wasn't astronomical and was probably about a tenner.

Back in the early 90's, some shops made it their aim to primarily stock import games (both Japanese and US) as the regular Joe seemed only keen to sell PAL.

For me, the ultimate source for foreign goodies was specialist retailer Tomorrow’s World (long since closed down) which was packed with to rafters with all manner of as yet, unreleased UK titles.  For whatever reason, the shelf height was nearly as out of reach as the asking price.

I was one of the hundreds and thousands who got the SNES bundled with the original Street Fighter II and buying import games became a drug.

The first actual game I got (apart from SF II) was the US version of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts which cost a whopping £49.99.

I mainly remember Ghouls because of the disgust displayed by my parents at that extortionate price.  Still, I managed to sweet talk by way into them also buying me a Japanese version of Parodius.

So along with the convertor, that cost in excess of 100 pounds for just two games.  I have no idea how much the SF II bundle retailed at.

The most I ever personally spent on a game was Super FX ‘the SNES can now populate polygons’ hype machine Star Fox.

Way back in 1993, it set me back a very ridiculous £65 on the day it came out on US import.  All that I can say was I must have had a few screws loose to shell out such a stupid amount of money.  Parents, why didn't you talk me out of it?

At the time, I didn't regret a penny but now…

Let’s just say youth and impatience go hand in hand.

Yes it was state of the art and blew me away but 65 quid?  I think the eventual PAL release of Star Wing cost £50.

Even I resisted the import version of SF II Turbo as I’m pretty certain the Japanese import went for £120. I’m really not jesting.

The meg count of a SNES ROM was sometimes a wild boast in itself as when a game bragged double figures, that was enough to entice some into purchasing as theoretically, bigger is better.

SNES games were measured in Megabits.  Ironically, 8 Megabits equates to a Megabyte just like 8 bits make 1 byte.

Magazines may have spoken of Megabits when reviewing but the ‘in word’ was simply Meg.

The majority of games counted 8 Megs but others could flex their muscles way into double figures with the highest being Star Ocean weighing in at an even 48 megs.  Yeah, this RPG franchise started on the SNES and not PS1.

The original Street Fighter II and Super Star Wars were both 16 megs, SF II Turbo showed off with 20 megs, Donkey Kong Country and Super SF II were both a meaty 32 megs.  In contrast, Super Turrican was only a 4 meg cart.

One title is not enough

I found this to be pretty annoying as along with other systems such as the PS1; some games were usually given a different title when it made its way to the UK or sometimes vice versa.

For example, Point Blank was known as Gun Bullet in Japan.

So on face value, there could be so many of those that fell under that ‘same title, different game’ category but import veterans would already be aware of their different personas.

Those that stood out more prominent than your average sore thumb include:

Super Aleste aka Space Megaforce
Assaults Suits Valken aka Cybernator
Contra III: The Alien Wars aka Super Probotector: Alien Rebels
Star Fox aka Starwing
Super Buster Bros. aka Super Pang

Others who also wanted to be different comprised of:

Super SWIV aka Firepower 2000
Illusion of Gaia aka Illusion of Time
Out of this World aka Another World
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest aka Mystic Quest Legend
Septentrion aka SOS
The Chaos Engine aka Soldiers of Fortune

Star Fox was forced to adopt that ridiculous name due to a 1983 Atari 2600 game thinking of it first.

Septentrion just begs belief especially as there was another game called S.O.S – Sink or Swim.

So let’s assess further stupidity.

How in the hell would you know that Space Megaforce and Cybernator were Super Aleste and Assault Suits Valken respectively?

Anyway, what the fuck is a Probotector?  Is it some kind of bizarre device that detects probes or probes and detects alien activity?

In reality, it was all to do with German censorship as the humans were replaced with robots.

Its fanbase was already pissed off because years ago on 8 bits, it was named Gryzor and many will remember the Predator inspired artwork.

If you did or didn't, there you go.

Illusion of Time could quite easily be a sequel to Illusion of Gaia and not the same frakking game.  Yes, no?

Titles such as Another World, The Chaos Engine and SWIV adopted the name that everybody knew in the UK but that didn't stop them having ridiculous alternative names for their US audience for import junkies.

The barrage of bullshit ends with Mystic Quest Legend.  Why the fuck would you omit Final Fantasy and add the word ‘legend’?

Let me have a go.

Alien 3 aka Fiorina 161
Killer Instinct aka Blaster Combo
Doom aka Disaster

To prod further amusement, how about;

Harvest Moon aka Farmer Giles’ Fantastic Field Adventure

Anyway, if word of mouth didn't convince, magazines usually made the public more than aware of these crazy aliases and shoved it so down your throat that you’d end up choking.

Gone but never forgotten

There is no doubt that the SNES remains one of best selling consoles of all time and while it didn't emulate its predecessor in terms of popularity, it has long since cemented its place in history as another Nintendo triumph.

Despite the release of so-called super consoles and the dawn of 32 bits, it continued to thrive until the late 90s and even today, games have stood the test of time remaining thoroughly enjoyable and playable.

Like many retro systems, the console itself is still very common but selected games have rocketed in value.

There is still a massive following and its popularity on the collectors market continues to soar as carts with original packaging demanding a three figure sum.

I don’t think even I can appreciate the magnitude of the task I have set myself as talking about a console without games is like eating toast without butter.

Still, it’s gonna be a blast.

This alternative version of war and peace will be told in an unknown number of segments.

As you’ll recall, I originally thought it was a good idea to cram my C64 feature into one post but had my fingers burnt.

Rest assured, I won't be making the same mistake again.

I owned and played a ‘few’ games so memories will eventually be told on these pages so please bear with me.

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