Retro Discussion: Why Was The NTSC Super Nintendo So Different?

American-Super-Nintendo-DifferencesThe Super Nintendo was a major success in America, which is not a surprise since it had some amazing games. It was most known for its great role playing games such as the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger. It also had a ton of side scrolling action platformers like Super Star Wars and Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures. It did not run the scrolling shooters as well as the Mega Drive due to the slow processor, but it was forgiven when games like Donkey Kong Country were released. When I was a kid growing up in the states I never really understood the idea of importing. So I just assumed we received all the same consoles and games as Japan. I was definitely mistaken.

Had I been living a lie? How and why was our system different than the Japanese and European consoles?

As I started to get back into collecting some old consoles and games I had growing up, I came across an image of a Super Nintendo. It looked amazing! It was sleek, slim and was very appealing. Later on, I came to find out that it was a PAL region Super Nintendo console. In this one moment my world came crashing down.

Had I been living a lie? How and why was our system different than the Japanese and European consoles? Why was the American Super Nintendo so blocky? There are only three theories I could come up with on why we had this bulky console.

Super Theories

First, is because the original Nintendo Entertainment System was basically a big box with controller ports. Since the original NES was such a success in America one assumption I had is that they just kept the blocky features to keep it consistent. In America, it is very common for companies to do things the same way if it is making them money. So this idea could have had something to do with why they kept their consoles squarely shaped in the states.

The second theory I had on why our console looks like a Lego brick was to keep the cost down. It may be a cheaper option to produce a brick rather than a sleeker console. This theory seems less likely, but if the American consoles were easier to manufacture and assemble because of their design it could explain why they went for the look that they did. Since Nintendo had a high consumer base in America it would make sense if they could pump out more consoles for less money.

The last theory on why they picked the design for the console in the states is importing. The American Super Nintendo cartridges were blocky just like the system. The curves of the Japanese and European version of the machine were reflected even on how their cartridges were shaped. This means American cartridges cannot be inserted into a console from a different region. This would make importing games from America tougher and a bit more of a hassle. The only problem with this theory is that most gamers import games from Japan. America is not looked at as a place to get specialty imports.


Overall, the style and shape of the American console is not appealing to the eye. Nintendo also randomly added purple switches to make sure it looked terrible. It is apparent that the Japanese and European console owners received the better looking machines. Even the Japanese cartridges looked a lot better. The games had the smooth edges and just looked nice. I think most retro collectors would agree that the Japanese and European consoles have the sleek look that outclasses the American machine by a mile. Although I have had many good memories of playing games on my old Super Nintendo, I am still left wondering how it ended up looking so bad.

Last Updated ( 18 May 2016 )  


+1 (Link to this comment) breakupthespace 2016-05-19 20:16
This is a pretty terrible post. It's not a discussion, it's a poorly written opinion piece. Weird conjecture, stilted book report writing.

The writer says they played the SNES growing up, but then came across a picture of a Euro SNES and thought it was an American SNES? What does this paragraph even mean:

As I started to get back into collecting some old consoles and games I had growing up, I came across an image of a Super Nintendo. It looked amazing! It was sleek, slim and was very appealing. Later on, I came to find out that it was a PAL region Super Nintendo console. In this one moment my world came crashing down.


Let's actually discuss the design of the SNES - mention some of the features and differences, talk about the updated "sleeker" SNES 2, etc.
(Link to this comment) L___E___T 2016-05-20 10:47
To the above - a different opinion does not make it a terrible post.

It is not poorly written, it seems it has hurt your feelings or dented your pride though.

This is an oft-seen response to this discussion.

The summation was an enjoyable read, and the topic is why was it different, not were the differences worthwhile. On that topic there is of course conjecture, because we can't trawl Nintendo execs back in time from 20+ years ago. Luckily, there are some interviews with the Product Designer that consulted back then. If you would speak with some industry veterans they'd probably tell you that the reasons cited as theories here are not too far from the truth either. It is essentially, the globalisation approach that was afforded to NOA back then by NOJ, still seen today to lesser and greater extents and examples.
(Link to this comment) L___E___T 2016-05-20 10:48

Add to this that the NA model of the 'SNES 2' (you mean SNS-101) actually did go back and follow the design of the Japanese original (Super Famicom Jr.) which suggests in itself a strategic ''correction'.

TL;DR - one shouldn't be offended by someone saying an item you think has aesthetic appeal, is in their eyes sorely lacking it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.
+1 (Link to this comment) agentirons 2016-05-20 17:17
breakupthespace 's post is blunt, but I felt similar - If you were going to write a piece about the redesign of the American SNES, it would be helpful to go beyond a couple ideas and a closing statement that it was bad. For instance, a quick look at wikipedia's SNES entry reveals that the hardware designer was Lance Barr, who was also responsible for the American NES. Oh, hey, this is interesting too, right there on Wikipedia:

And, oh look, an interview with Lance Barr where he spells out the answer:

Point being that it's an interesting topic on which we don't actually have to conjecture that much, so getting the discussion started by doing some quick, actual research would have been a stronger approach to the article.
(Link to this comment) Marsmite 2016-05-20 19:56
I thought this was a decent, light-hearted article. More importantly, it was enjoyable to read. I have wondered about this before too, so I could relate to this post and I particularly liked the exploratory writing style. I concede that the article could have been expanded, but the interview with the designer hardly reveals anything.

I think the first theory seems the most likely. The American SNES does look like a successor to the NES and especially to the NES 2, while the Japanese and European models do not. Nintendo may have thought that the styling of the NES was a factor in its success, and maybe because of that they wanted to keep a family look to the consoles.
+1 (Link to this comment) UndeadArgos 2016-05-23 19:52
I created an account just to chime in here. The article is objectively awful for all the reasons that agentirons and breakupthespace gave.

But as long as we're giving our opinions, the Japanese/Euro SNES consoles are hideous compared to the US SNES. I think it's worth noting that the AV-Fami, NES-101, SNES, and SNES Jr all share a similar pleasing aesthetic. The Japanese/Euro design is the the one that doesn't match the design language of the rest of Nintendo's systems from that Era.
+1 (Link to this comment) UndeadArgos 2016-05-23 21:23
For the benefit of other readers, here's what Lance Barr had to say about the design of the North American SNES (credit to agentirons for the reference):

Nintendo Dojo:
"The Super NES design is quite square compared to the Super Famicom. What was your motivation for going in that design direction?"

Lance Barr:
"The Super Famicom was maybe okay for the market in Japan. For the US, I felt that it was too soft and had no edge. We were always looking at future modular components (even the NES had a connector on the bottom), so you had to design with the idea of stacking on top of other components. I though the Super Famicom didn't look good when stacked and even by itself, had a kind of "bag of bread" look."
(Link to this comment) Carruthers43 2016-06-03 17:37
I had to register to come back on this. I don't think the article was well written, backed up or anything else, I was going to move on in fact but how anyone could think the Euro/Jap Snes is hideous compared to the US Version must be half blind, or at least wearing sun glasses. I don't think the Euro SNES is a beauty, I actually don't think any Nintendo console has ever blown me away design-wise, but the US SNES is a garish plastic-toy looking piece of trash. And the coloured buttons! Those are just the finishing touches to make it look like a cheap china-made rip off of a real console that will fall apart as soon as you get it home. So Lance Barr liked it, what the guy who designed it? Come on, ask Michael Bay and he'll like his own crappy movies, he'd probably like the US SNES too with his gaudy taste. I think the fact the Euro SNES doesn't match other Nintendo designs is about the highest compliment you can pay it frankly. Thank god their games were great.

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