The Strange, Sad Case Of The North American Super Nintendo

The Strange, Sad Case Of The North American Super Nintendo

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 secondary 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are a case of to each their own, I never liked the NA console, finding it boring, blocky and too similar to the outdated NES it had replaced.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).

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  • God damn I loved that machine. I especially loved smashing the eject button and hard as possible to see how high I could make the cartidge go. Good Time.

  • Hey, did any other Megadrive owners, after getting a SNES as well, just yank the SNES cartridges out forgetting to press the button? I did it so many times and always felt like I’d destroyed my SNES…

  • Although our console was better looking – I always liked the NA boxes with that grey shuttered design of the SNES logo, they looked cool, the NA console however looks bizarre.

    I remember being suprised when Australia got the Japanese design – but remember the same thing happened with the Megadrive (called the Genesis in the US for some odd reason)

  • i’ve always wanted to know, are the X and Y buttons on the american SNES concave buttons or is it a trick of the camera and they are convex like the pal/jpn versions?
    if they are concave, how comfortable are they?

    • The concave buttons are a brilliant little bit of ergonomic design. YOu have to try them to feel it, but you can basically use the convex surface of the A and B buttons as a lever to hit the X and Y buttons. You also can feel which button you’re on very easily, not confusing A&B for X&Y. Remember this was the early days when a controller with 8 buttons and a D-pad was considered complicated.

  • In what universe is that SNES “colorful”? It’s 99% grey with a couple specs of primary colors. The American version is every bit as “colorful”…probably more so if you go by percentage of the surface area that isn’t grey.

    The bit about the yellowing is very true, but it’s not the color of the plastic or exposure to air, it’s the exposure to UV light. Plastics need to be treated with certain chemicals to resist yellowing. The different pieces of plastic may have come from different plants, or were made with different grades of plastic, which is why some seem to yellow more than others, the body will yellow, but other components and the controllers remain the same.

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