Overview
Nintendo were doing well, having captured the US market and sold quite a few Famicoms while they were at it. Their main rivals, Sega, struck back in 1989 with the Mega Drive, or Genesis. This 16-bit powerhouse saw interest in the NES take a nose-dive, and made Nintendo realise they had better start working on a 16-bit system of their own. The result was the Super Famicom, or the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES).

Released in 1991, what followed will always be remembered fondly by those who lived through it. The Console Wars between Nintendo and Sega were legendary, with each company trying to out-perform the other. Sega's new mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, was met with Mario's new 16-bit adventure, Super Mario World, and an official multi-card entitled "Mario All-Stars", containing all four NES Mario games.

The SNES was both better and worse than the Mega Drive; although it used a slower CPU, it was more capable in the graphics department. Sound, however, was one of the crucial selling points of the SNES, with its Yamaha-made sound chip boasting far superior MIDI music and sampled voices than the Mega Drive's older chip. In the end, though, both systems were about as capable as the other, and they each had an excellent game library. (I own both a Mega Drive and a SNES. And a Dreamcast and GameCube. So I like both of them!)

Models
Show an American a European or Japanese SNES, and you're likely to be met with "That's a SNES?". While we Europeans had the original casing, the American launch of the SNES saw a totally different-looking machine appear, complete with new colour scheme. Luckily the famed control pad stayed the same.

Luckily, a US SNES can play imports from Europe, Japan, plus its own cartridges, as can foreign machines. However, the cartridge slots will put up a good fight. The Game Paks were redesigned to go with the new casing, being too wide to fit in a foreign machine, while having annoying 'tabs' to prevent inserting imported games. Nothing a craft knife can't change, though.

In 1997, when the SNES was all but extinct (The N64 had been released by this time), Nintendo surprised everyone by releasing a remodeled SNES, like they had done with the NES. This was only released in Japan, and was all but overlooked by consumers, but still looked cool. If you don't have a SNES and want to buy a new one, you may still be able to pick one up.

European SNES, Japanese Super Famicom
American SNES. Spot the difference?

 

Of course, the greatest feature of the SNES was sending Game Paks into orbit with the eject button. A vast improvement on the NES, cartridges were locked in place when inserted, meaning a good connection was virtually guarenteed. When the time came to remove the game, one could push the eject button and watch the Pak either pop (if pushed properly) or fly (if whacked) out of the slot.

Technical Specifications
CPU: A custom 16-bit 65C816 running at either 3.58, 2.68 or 1.79Mhz (adjustable by the SNES)
RAM: 128kb work RAM, 64kb video RAM. (Main RAM was expandable through game paks)
Screen resolution: 512x448
Total colours: 32,768
Maximum on-screen colours: 256
Maximum sprites(per screen): 128
Maximum sprites (per line): 32
Minimum sprite size: 8x8
Maximum sprite size: 64x64

Like the NES, some games expanded upon the abilities of the SNES by featuring an on-board chip. The most famous and highly-advertised game to feature such a chip was the excellent Starfox (Starwing in Europe... phooey). Featuring full 3D graphics, this flight simulator was an instant hit, and today I still enjoy popping the cart in for a good old-fashioned blast. But that's just me.

Accessories
The SNES was a typical console in the accessories that came with it. No "Robotic Operating Buddies" this time around, it was games that this machine was all about, and Nintendo delivered. Sort-of.
Controller: This never disappoints. Considered to be the greatest controller ever, it's easy to see why when you pick one up to play. The famous Nintendo D-pad is as good as ever, and the buttons are positioned perfectly. And buttons are in ample supply, with A, B, X, Y, L, R, Start and Select adorning this machine. (On European and Japanese controllers, the four main buttons are coloured the same way as the four-colour SNES logo). Looking at a Sony Playstation controller, it's easy to see the influences.
Super Scope: Now you too can have fun playing a very, very limited game library. Although the gun was highly advertised, it never really took off. This was bazooka-styled, instead of the NES Zapper's obvious pistol styling.
SNES Mouse: With 80's systems it was a keyboard, but with 90's systems a mouse seemed to be the accessory everyone tried to hype. Guess what? The SNES mouse didn't take off. It was compatible with two games, one of which came with the mouse itself (Mario Paint). Or did the mouse come with Mario Paint? In either case, it wasn't exactly successful.