The Strange, Sad Case of the North American Super Nintendo

Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

This week is the, believe it or not, 20th anniversary of the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America.

It's a cause for celebration, of course, but also makes me wonder why Nintendo decided to bless America with its own "unique" version of the console.


When Nintendo released the Famicom in Japan in 1983, it was a...special design. All maroon and gills. I won't say ugly, just unique. So when it released (and renamed) the machine in the West two years later, a redesign made sense. Different sensibilities for a console with a different name in different markets!

But when it came time for the release of the Super Nintendo years later, this idea went out the window. The Japanese design was also used for the European and Australasian markets, while North America got its own version of the console (pictured above).

While the JAP/PAL edition featured a smoothly-curved exterior and elegant use of primary colours both a seconday logo and controller, the NA SNES was angular, its box-like appearance harking back to the original NES. It also dropped the red, yellow, blue and green of the JAP/PAL units and controllers in favour of...purple. Even the bright secondary logo of the JAP/PAL unit was changed, reduced in North America to a drab grey line of text.

It's not like this was a one-off event, either. When the Super Nintendo "Slim" was released in 1997 (usually called the SNES 2, SNES Mini, SNES Jnr. or SNS-101), this difference remained: the JAP/PAL version had coloured buttons and the bright logo, while the North American edition retained its purple highlights and dour logo.


There are two things that made this such a strange decision on Nintendo's part. One was the fact that, unlike the NES, it changed the design of the console for one Western market (North America) but not another (PAL). The other is that the NES design was, and I'm sorry any nostalgic Americans or Canadians reading this, terrible.


Where the "original" SNES still to this day looks compact and cute, its bright colours mirroring those found in the system's hallmark games (and its bright official box art), the North American version does nothing to evoke the spirit of the company of the time, or its games. And while aesthetics are a case of to each their own, I never liked the NA console, finding it boring, blocky and too similar to the outdated NES it had replaced.

The JAP/PAL console, on the other hand, still looks great today, as evidence by the rush on the re-released controllers that worked on the Wii a few years back.


The North American console was even more susceptible to "yellowing", the curse that afflicts many old SNES consoles as their plastic oxidises on contact with air. Why? Because the NA console used more light grey plastic than the JAP/PAL unit (whose top was covered in a dark grey surface).


Not that any of this ever affected your experience with the most important thing about the SNES - its games - but it's still interesting to look back on, especially since it's the last time Nintendo ever made drastic changes between its regional hardware (subsequent consoles being almost identical across markets).

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


(Photography by Evan Amos | Wikipedia)

You can contact Luke Plunkett, the author of this post, at You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

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