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04.10.2013
I think it’s safe to say that everyone who has played Secret of Mana is in love with the game. Well, the exploits are half the fun of Secret of Mana, and Square Enix acknowledged this when porting the game to iPad by not changing a thing.
For clarity’s sake, Seiken Densetsu 2 is Secret of Mana in Japan, a game already on iPad, Virtual Console, and now coming to Android. Seiken Densetsu 3 has never been officially localized in English, and again, I doubt Oyamada is referring to an American audience in this article.
A fourth game exists as Dawn of Mana in America, but I think it would be best if we just forget about that one. The announcement comes a day after Square Enix released Rise of Mana for Android devices in Japan. All this focus on mobile doesn’t rub me the wrong way like Final Fantasy, mostly because it means Square Enix acknowledges it exists.
Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last five years, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. Can anybody find me a nice big version of the image from the JP SFC boxart, but without the text?
In the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, Nintendo was notorious for dragging out the life-cycles of their consoles, which gave developers plenty of time to perfect their programming and graphical techniques to make the most of the hardware. With CD-based consoles already providing growing competition and powerful next-generation machines from Sega and Sony on the horizon, Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country in time for Christmas of 1994. Rare’s development teams employed cutting edge SGI hardware to render all their graphical work in quality, ray-traced 3D.
Rare took significant financial risks in purchasing the expensive SGI equipment used to render the graphics.
Released in early 1993 Star Fox was one of the first console games to take full advantage of 3D polygon-based technology and do it well. To accomplish this feat Star Fox used the Super FX chip — a custom-made co-processor that was co-developed by Nintendo and Star Fox developer Argonaut.
The Super FX chip did the heavy 3D lifting and freed up the system resources inside the SNES to do other tasks and made for one very fast, great-looking, and great-playing 3D shooter to boot. The game itself is far less revolutionary, being an on-rails shooter in which the player takes control of a ship equipped with a single- and double-shot laser and a screen-clearing bomb. In some ways this off-shoot of traditional Mario platformers was one of the most advanced Super Nintendo games ever released.
Obviously the power of the new Super FX2 hardware gave Nintendo the opportunity to display all sorts of great visual effects that had never been seen before. The entire game is also filled with small details and little enhancements that really push it over the top. The Super Nintendo was famous for the scaling and rotating background effects made possible by Mode 7. As you’ll see below, Super Mario Kart was another great Mode 7-based racer, but despite being a launch title F-Zero moves considerably faster and can be played in full-screen mode.
As far as racers and graphics go F-Zero is a great example of early life-cycle titles that took full advantage of what the Super NES could do. Even though F-Zero was an impressive technical feat and blazing fast considering it was an early SNES game, Super Mario Kart remains the quintessential Mode 7 game for many Nintendo fans. Graphically, it expanded upon F-Zero’s formula by adding scaled spites as obstacles (such as pipes and Thwomps) and more detail to the track surfaces. Because of all these extra elements putting a heavier load on Mode 7 processing, some may claim that Super Mario Kart actually pushed the SNES hardware more than F-Zero did. Axelay is a Shmup made by Konami that alternates between 3rd person, pseudo-3D Mode 7 stages and horizontal side-scrolling stages. The “3D” stages in Axelay have a gorgeous horizon effect, giving them a nice feeling of depth. Like any great shmup Axelay has some large, crazy, memorable bosses, not the least of which is a huge, flaming ogre surrounded by moving lava who waves his multi-segmented arms at your ship while spitting reams of fireballs.
It’s tough not to mention a bunch of SquareSoft games in any conversation about the Super NES. Overall the music in Secret of Mana was stunning for its time, even for the more-than-able Super NES sound hardware. Even though most of the world did get some amazing RPGs on the SNES, Japan still kept some of the greats to themselves.  Between the fact that RPG fans adored the original Secret of Mana and the fact that the game looks spectacular, it’s no surprise that there are many SNES owners who are bitter that we were promised the game but given Secret of Evermore instead.
Right off the bat Seiken Densetu 3’s opening sequence provides a great example of how the SNES’ Mode 7 sprite rotation technology works. Much like the Secret of Mana Seiken Densetsu 3 used Mode 7 techniques with the overworld map that will make your jaw drop. Special effects aside Seiken Densetsu 3 has some of the most stunning sprite work and backgrounds on the Super Famicom.
Seiken Densetsu 3 also uses the Super Famicom’s rarely-utilized high-resolution mode for character selection and information screens, allowing detailed character portraits and all their vital stats to share screen space and be clear, clean, and readable. If you want to really know how much this game squeezed out the SNES hardware, consider this: the game was also released on the Playstation and Saturn in 1996, six months after its SNES debut. This 1994 racing title was the only other game to truly make full use of the Super FX chip. There are some nice graphical touches as well, like the transparent and color-shifting Ectoplasms in the Entrance Hall and when whole rooms rotate around Simon as he hangs from a fixture on his whip.  For rotating environments the programmers at Konami got creative to work around Mode 7’s limitations. Actraiser was one of the first wave Super Nintendo games and was up against the likes of Super Castlevania IV.
Actraiser is a hybrid genre game in which you unlock map areas in a side-scrolling action level and then manage the expanding world overhead-sim style, ala Populous or Sim City only with monsters. What really made Actraiser stand out was the impressive soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, of Streets of Rage and Revenge of Shinobi fame. An orchestral arrangement of the game’s music was released on CD a bit after the game came out.
If you’ve ever played Dracula X on the SNES you may think, gameplay-wise, that it’s a step back from Super Castlevania IV.
Purists knock this game because it is, in many ways, something of a cheap knock-off of the PC-Engine Super CD game that inspired it (and is available on PSP currently in original and 3D remade form). Powered by its custom overworld engine (which was first used in the original Amiga version of Drakkhen), Drakkhen II did an excellent job of simulating three-dimensional depth without a Super FX chip or Mode 7 technology (instead using sprite scaling and rudimentary rendering.). Because just a bit more than half of the screen was used by the main game navigation display, it was able to run smoothly on stock SNES hardware.
The character sprites for Super Mario RPG were created on SGI workstations, much like those used in Donkey Kong Country, and the game used Mode 7 to express a 3D-like environment. Since we’re seen this landmark series so much over the years, it might not seem like that flashy or demanding of a title, but Capcom worked hard to bring as much of the arcade classic to the SNES as possible.   There were three ports of Street Fighter II on the Super NES.
Though some frames of animation and some other minor aesthetic details were cut, the important details – the size of the character sprites, the little animations occurring in the background of each stage, the sound effects, the music, every special move and all four bosses – made it into the 16-megabit cartridge. Yes, there are plenty of frames of animation missing, the sound quality took a hit, and there are miniature bouts of load times sprinkled into the start-up sequences before each match – but the game remains quite playable.
Tales of Phantasia is also known for one of the few Mode-7 graphical techniques that doesn’t involve pre-drawing or the use of external chips.
Another 48 meg JRPG, Star Ocean was the only other game to use the S-DD1 chip to aid in compression of almost all sprite graphics and map data. Star Ocean also took a page from Tales of Phantasia as it also did its Mode-7 processing via software. Tengai Makyou Zero (known better as Far East of Eden in the West) is one of the those RPGs that is part of a long-running series in Japan but never really made it out of its native country.
Most of this was made possible with the supplemental SPC7110 chip which allowed the Super Famicom to decompress all the extra graphics and audio data jam-packed into the cartridge.  This little chip helped this Super Famicom game shine in the graphics department (the spell animations are particularly impressive) and produce a soundtrack that was notable for its varied sound textures. In addition to the great graphics and audio technology, Far East of Eden also has a built-in battery to keep track of the date and time to have an Animal Crossing-like real-time experience.


Contra games seemed to push any piece of hardware they appeared on in the 1980s and early ’90s, and this game was no different. Remember seeing that bomber fly from the background into the foreground in the first stage?
The classic FPS was ported to nearly every post-16-bit piece of hardware under the sun and even the SNES got in on the action. First of all it features almost every level from the PC version, which is quite impressive considering its running off a relatively limited 16-megabit cartridge format.
SNES DOOM also features the bigger Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind monsters that the Atari Jaguar and Sega 32X versions lack.
Killer Instinct – As mentioned above it used the same graphical technique as DKC and brought it to the 2D fighter genre. Super Turrican – Graphically it’s enjoyable and features enough Mode 7 effects to remind you just what the SNES is capable of.
Kirby Super Star (Fun Pack) – This is another SNES Kirby game that made use of the SA-1 chip for extra processing power.  Super Star had a lot to offer in terms of variety and extremely colorful graphics, so it needed all the extra help it could get.
Pilotwings – Much like F-Zero Pilotwings was an early demo of the SNES’s Mode 7 capabilities. NCAA Basketball & Stanley Cup – They were both a giant step forward in the sports genre at the time. Alien 3 – It had some very nice dynamic lighting effects, gritty environment, and some very slick motion capture, something not many games of that era could pull off.
Wolfenstein 3D – not nearly as impressive as its successor, DOOM, but it is still cool to see this classic running on a stock SNES cart. Has any other game been considered to be a such a masterpiece with so many exploitable glitches, broken mechanics, and janky animation bugs? Coincidentally, or not, it is also generally accepted as one of Square Enix’s best iOS ports out there.
In a recent interview with Dengeki, Producer Masaru Oyamada confirmed that he is currently working on an Android port for the beloved classic.
The free-to-play entry in the series is not considered to be a major release despite Oyamada himself producing it.
However, like most fans, I would prefer to sit back and enjoy a new full-fledged Mana game on my PlayStation 4 or Nintendo 3DS. Developed by Rare, the game featured pre-rendered CGI graphics that stood out from anything else offered on consoles at the time. They ported those pre-rendered 3D stills to the SNES as 2D sprites and background tiles and created a game that was not only beautiful but beautifully animated. They also developed their arcade and SNES fighter, Killer Instinct, around the same time using the same graphical process. The brainchild of Turrican creator, Manfred Trenz, R2 was in development for over two years and transitioned from being a standard horizontal Shmup to the game we see today (a combination of Run-N-Gun and Shmup levels). In addition to the massive sprites, drop-dead, stunning explosions, transparent foregrounds, and backgrounds crammed full of parallax effects, there are many situations that would typically make the SNES sweat bullets.
However, these and other such customized co-processor carts were very expensive to produce and it was not long before Nintendo began other, cheaper avenues of assault on Sega. But the varied settings – from planetary surface assaults to runs through asteroid belts and tight tunnels – helped Star Fox play as good as it looked.
Nintendo used the add-on Super FX 2 chip (successor to the original Super FX chip used in Star Fox) to create polygon-based obstacles that rotate seemingly in three dimensions.
Yoshi’s Island’s children’s book-like style is very colorful, with sketchy, hand drawn looking effects that pop up and warp in real-time. The effect was used to create pseudo-3D environments by quickly and smoothly rotating a large texture map background around player-controlled sprites.
This might not sound like a big deal but when you learn about the limitations of Mode 7 you start to appreciate the extra work that went into implementing these extra elements. However, we have to remember that Super Mario Kart also used a DSP chip to enhance the Mode 7 graphics, a chip F-Zero did not use (and then there’s the whole full-screen vs. The 2D stages feature large sprites and lots of action with little slowdown, putting slowdown-fests like Gradius III and Super R-Type to shame (not that those aren’t good games).
The SNES wasn’t exactly known for Shmups, but of the ones that did appear on the console Axelay stands out for its memorable settings, rockin’ sound track, and Mode 7 enhanced graphics.
While Secret of Mana certainly had beautifully detailed graphics and made better use of Mode 7 tech with its world map flight sequences than most Square games (they all had them), Secret of Mana is mentioned on this list chiefly for its soundtrack. Square and Kikuta managed to emulate the sounds of all sorts of instruments with stunning accuracy. It really was a suitable precursor to some of the cutscenes we would see in SquareSoft’s Playstation RPGs. First of all everything is fluidly animated and has a beautiful hand-drawn appearance — this is another one of those games that could easily pass for a Saturn or Playstation game. It’s the Cx4 chip, a custom chip created by Capcom for adding enhanced visual effects. The best example of the latter effect is the final boss battle with Sigma’s floating robot head in X2.
There was little difference in the game itself, though cut scenes and CD-quality music and sound were added – along with long load times. The arcade-flavored game features a variety of vehicles, including a motorcycle and a semi truck, for the player to control.  The tracks include paved courses, dirt tracks, icy tracks and even one with an underwater glass tunnel. Since you can only use Mode 7 on backgrounds and not sprites, they made sprites for the foreground elements like platforms (which would typically be part of the background) and actually had the rest of background rotate. The year they were both released the Nintendo Power best music award went to Super Castlevania IV. In addition to the compelling hybrid gameplay the graphics were pretty good for the time, too, though nothing other SNES games hadn’t already done. Not only are his compositions for the game incredibly beautiful and appropriate to the scenery, they pushed the SNES sound chip to the limit.
It’s amazing how close the game versions of the tracks sound to those performed by a real orchestra. Play it for the solid animation, the pretty visuals, and rock out the soundtrack, because the soundtrack really pushed the limits of the later-generation SNES. Unlike the characters of most Squaresoft RPGs of the era, Mario has a higher level of mobility and animation. The addition of some fancy light and shadow effects make some game elements, like stairs and pillars, appear to be real-time 3D.
Super Mario RPG was one of the few SNES games released outside of Japan that made use of Nintendo’s SA-1 chip. Nintendo’s console was graced by the first-ever home conversion of the game in 1992, about a year after the original swept through arcades and kicked off the fighting game craze.
For many gamers, the excitement of seeing the intro and the character select screen on their TV at home was pretty amazing. Instead, the game handles re-rendering of sprites on the fly purely through its own software. It also began as a PC Engine CD series, so bringing it to the Super Famicom was not without its challenges.
Remember hitting the top-down stages with a friend and seeing both halves of the screen seamlessly spinning independently of each other? A notable workaround does exist and can be seen in the second boss battle in Contra 3 and the battles against Morton, Ludwig, Roy, and Bowser in Super Mario World. Cutting edge PC tech came to the Super NES nearly two years after the PC release, and though it was significantly gimped in terms of some textures and animation, it was still had some elements to be proud of. This addition definitely let the SNES port pull off some things that the more powerful Sega 32X and Atari Jaguar could not. Some of the maps used in the Super Nintendo port are actually more intricate and detailed than other early console ports.


It also managed to retain the soundtrack that the relatively silent Jaguar port was missing and is more accurate to the original than the 32X version. The flat-shaded polygonal programming set in two dimensions signaled a meeting point between traditional console conventions and what was to come later in the 1990s. With better programming these games might not have suffered from such a flaw, but hey, they were released in the first year of the hardware’s life. It’s so surprising that this is actually a SNES game, I would say it actually rivals, at least in some ways, its Saturn sequel, Assualt Suit Leynos 2. While many Nintendo fans adored the game it unfortunately wasn’t quite as nice as the arcade version. However, other than those tricks and the sheer size of the game, it isn’t a full-blown SNES-pusher. Oshaberi Parodius – The fourth game in the classic shmup franchise was released on the Super Famicom in Japan and used the SA-1 chip to help out with its rather advanced graphics. Plus there are times there are large number of sprites on the screen with out a hint of slowdown. However, from a technical standpoint, this classic really did get out-done by Tengai Makyo Zero, Seiken Densetsu 3, Tales of Phantasia, and Star Ocean. I suppose if your graphics are beautiful enough, co-op is fun enough, and music is out-of-this-world enough, fans are willing to forgive a lot. I don’t think Square Enix sees much lost revenue from that status quo, or it would have acted a long time ago.
Here’s to hoping that happens some day, which Oyamada also hints in the interview that it might. Each machine has had its strengths and weaknesses, and as a programmer, I’m amazed by some of the ways developers have harnessed the power of consoles and pushed them to their limits resulting is some marvelous games. By working in 3D they were able to make sure all the animations were fluid and consistent and the SNES’s color palette was utilized excellently to keep that 3D sheen. Donkey Kong Country also is supposedly the first SNES game to use the scanline trick to push the max on screen colors from 256 to 4096.
In R2, you can have large amounts of sprites flying around the screen without even a hint of slowdown. That has a lot to do with the art direction – Yoshi’s Island is essentially Super Mario World channeled through a surreal coloring-book prism.
Slick transparency effects, smooth sprite scaling, and plenty of parallax are just icing on the cake. High-velocity racer F-Zero was based entirely on Mode 7 and was a launch title for the Super Famicom and Super NES.
While the Super NES sound chip was better than anything found in other cart-based game machines of the time, few games used it as effectively as Secret of Mana. Rich and resonant chimes, piano lines and organ chords, woodwind instruments, lush synthesizers and percussion instruments such as snare drums just seem to leap out of the soundtrack of this game. The bosses often fill the screen and use multiple sprites that are animated independently to appear as one large and dynamic entity. From the haunting organ melody in the opening level to the sparse, jazzy music in the library stage, Castlevania scores with a soundtrack that set a new bar – especially for being one of the first big releases on the hardware. In the case of the boss, Koranot was actually part of the background instead of an actual sprite so it could be scaled and rotated. Square’s Uematsu is often credited with orchestral soundtracks composed for the SNES APU (Audio Processing Unit). Whether stark with simple instrumentation or busy with overlapping instruments and themes, this is the closest the SNES APU has ever sounded to an orchestra performing in-game, in style if not always in sample quality. You may have noticed that the graphics are pretty darn colorful, the animation is quite good, and the levels are, well, a bit uninspired.
Nintendo and Squaresoft also used a number of Mode 7 tricks throughout the game to keep the things from feeling just like every other RPG on the market.
This little chip allows the game to squeeze more processing, memory capabilities, and data storage and compression, among other things, out of the SNES. To say the home port was anticipated would be an understatement, and this game was probably the most important port of an arcade game since Space Invaders turned around the fortunes of the Atari 2600.
About a year later, Super Street Fighter II arrived, featuring all of the newly-tweaked stage backgrounds from the coin-op, and of course the four new characters. This technique is used when a player sprite stretches vertically when stepping onto a save spot. Due to the extra tiles needed for such rendering and the other high system demands throughout those games, such rendering was limited to those few scenes. There aren’t too many series that have a remarkable CD-to-cartridge transition, but Tengai Makyo Zero is a rare exception to the trend. Toss in a screaming-fast motorcycle, er, hovercycle, ride and an area where you hang from missiles while blasting stuff and you have one fine example of what the Super NES is capable of doing. The Kirby cart also takes advantage of the SA-1 chip to boost processing for the larger number of bitmaps and special effects.
It most impressive technical achievement is the fully scalable 3D polygons that show up in one of the stages. One of the more impressive things about Super Turrican at the time of its released was support for Dolby Surround Sound. Considering its 1994 vintage, it’s all quite impressive, but developers improved their techniques later on.
It was convincing enough that many a fan has been fooled into thinking the SNES really could to SGI-quality 3D in real-time. Even with their large size the bosses are all interesting, detailed, and serve well as motivation to reach the end of each level.
The hand-drawn look stands the test of time, as other more modern games like the Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker and Okami have shown.
Yoshi’s Island was indeed a labor of love for Miyamoto and his team and it is one of the greatest masterpieces of the Super Nintendo library. Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, both Super Mario Kart and F-Zero are showcases for the flexibility of SNES Mode 7 graphics. The combination of Koshiro’s composing skills and his technical mastery of the SNES APU is truly a masterpiece and pushed the still young SNES to its first-generation limit. And while you may not have had your socks rocked by the game itself, I bet you were sure jamming to the soundtrack, and you should well have been.
What gamers got with the Super NES version of SFII was a game that was by and large an accurate representation of a high-powered arcade title.
At 32 megs, it was the largest Super NES game ever at that time (if the bullet points on the box are to be believed) and it was arguably one of the best ports of the 16-bit era. If it’s any indication of the quality of this game, it was was later ported to both the Saturn and Playstation.
Jurassic Park actually beat it to the punch by about a month but it was one of the first console games to support it. However, with this series, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at games that were the most demanding when it came to a console’s limited system resources.
The SNES programmers didn’t let the absence of a CD drive get in the way and tried their damndest to cram in the next best thing, a chip-based near copy of the CD soundtrack. The problem was that Actraiser was also on the market, and Actraiser should have taken the title. Being released later in the life of the SNES meant the Konami programmers had the latest sound tools at their disposal, and boy did they make the best of them.



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