Super Nintendo Entertainment System

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Platform - SNES.png
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Super Nintendo Entertainment System.jpg
Released: 1990-11-21
Discontinued: 2003-09-25
Developer: Nintendo
Type: Hardware

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, is a fourth generation 16-bit video game console developed by Nintendo. The system was one of the best selling in history, most popular in Japan (where it was called the Super Famicom) and the USA. The console uses Ricoh 5A22 for its CPU and an S-SMP chip for audio.



Super Famicom

The Super Famicom.

Nintendo first released the console as the Super Famicom (family computer) in Japan on November 21, 1990. The platform was officially discontinued on September 25, 2003.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

In most other regions, the Super Famicom was released titled the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in the USA on August 23, 1991, in the UK on April 11, 1992, in Europe in June 6, 1992, and in Australia on July 3, 1992. The platform was officially discontinued in 1999 in North America.

The European version of the SNES (pronounced as a word in the UK), used the same name as the American version, yet resembled the Super Famicom in its design.

Super Game Boy

The Super Game Boy allowed players to play both Game Boy and Game Boy Color games on their SNES. A few games even rewarded the player with different music for using the Super Game Boy. The only drawback regarding sound is that the audio is raised approximately a ¼ step sharp.


A Satellaview mounted under a Super Famicom.

The Satellaview is a hardware add-on to the Super Famicom that gave it access to Nintendo's satellite which allowed the owner to watch video programs, listen to music, and download SNES games. It was released only in Japan on April 23, 1995 and officially discontinued on June 30, 2000.

Super Famicom games listed with the BS (Broadcasting Satellite) prefix means that the game was made for the Satellaview. For example, BS Zelda no Densetsu (SFC).

Music and Sound

The SNES has a 65C816-based CPU and an S-SMP audio chip, which itself has a SPC700 CPU. At the time of its release, the S-SMP was one of the most sophisticated audio chips in the consumer market.

Unlike its competitor, the Sega Genesis, which used FM synthesis, the S-SMP used samples; short recordings of an instrument. This gave the SNES a much better fidelity in audio. However, samples had to be kept extremely short, as to not use too much space on the cartridge. These samples came from various sources, and depended on the sound driver, composers, and programmers. Usually, samples were taken from keyboards the composers owned at the time.

Similar to its predecessor, the SNES cartridge slot includes two audio input pins, allowing cartridges to include additional audio chips. No commercially-released games made use of these pins, likely due the system's base sound capabilities being so powerful for the time, although the Super Game Boy used them to feed in the audio generated by its on-board DMG-CPU B.


Drivers had to be programmed in both 65C816 and SPC700 assembly. The two extremes are:

  1. Most commonly, a tiny 65C816 driver transfers a big SPC700 driver, samples and songs to the S-SMP. Then, the SPC700 driver awaits commands from the 65C816 game to start one of these songs on its own. A funny side effect is that when the game crashes, the graphics may get garbled but the music continues perfectly. Such songs only need be ripped as SPC.
  2. Less commonly, a big 65C816 driver transfers a tiny SPC700 driver and samples to the S-SMP. The 65C816 driver keeps songs for itself and only sends commands to the SPC700 driver to start single notes. Such songs must be ripped as SNSF.

Most composers created MIDI or MOD files beforehand and had them made workable within the small S-SMP, but some also continued the old-fashioned way of writing in assembly language, as they were used to the PSGs.

A lot of Japanese developers used Nintendo's Kankichi-kun sound driver. However, the samples and sound engines were modified by most developers that used it, resulting in many variants of the sound driver.