NES or SNES – Which is Better?

Many new to retro gaming may be wondering which of these consoles is better for a variety of reasons. While this question may seem straightforward, it is actually much more difficult to answer than one would think. Each had their own strengths and weaknesses, and were released during different console generations. The NES and SNES provided unique console experiences that are beloved by fans to this very day, which we will compare here to provide retro gamers with a little more insight into these two consoles.

NES

Released to North American audiences in 1985, this console revolutionized the console gaming market. After the gaming crash of the early 80’s, it seemed that no one was interested in video games. Nintendo’s genius marketing decided to sell the NES as a toy rather than a gaming console, attracting young children and families to this new form of entertainment. The graphics and sound were much different than those of previous consoles, giving young gamers more of an arcade experience rather than the weird blockiness that the Atari 2600 provided. Throughout its 10 year lifespan, the console sold 61.91 million units worldwide, making it one of the most successful consoles to date.

Technical Specifications

This may seem like a no-brainer, but while the NES was advanced for the time, the SNES easily surpassed the NES’s technical capabilities. The NES was only capable of displaying 8-bit graphics due to the small microprocessor and 2 kB of RAM. Due to the limited capabilities of the console, only 25 colors can be displayed at once with only 64 sprites on screen at the same time. These technical limitations created a challenge for developers, making some games extremely creative in putting their vision on the screen. Many developers added their own hardware to their cartridges to boost the capabilities of the console, such as adding new sound channels or some extra processing power.

SNES

Nintendo’s successor to the NES was released to North American audiences in 1991, giving players a much needed upgrade to their gaming experience. While the SNES had a longer supported lifecycle than the NES, it only sold 49.1 million over its entire lifetime. Even though it sold less than the NES, it was still massively successful and revolutionized gaming in its own right. Its main competitor during its heyday was the Sega Genesis, which was released a couple years before the SNES and also featured 16-bit graphics.

Technical Specifications

Obviously, the SNES was more powerful than the NES, featuring 16-bit graphics compared to the older 8-bit. Not only were the graphics better, but the SNES could display 256 colors on screen at once with a total of 128 sprites. This made the games more vibrant and engaging, providing players a more realistic and exciting experience overall. There were 8 different sound channels which provided more realistic and less beeping noises. One amazing feature for the SNES was the Mode-7, SuperFX chip which could simulate 3D before 3D became standard. Titles like F-Zero and Star Fox became possible due to this new chip.

Final Thoughts

It is hard to look at these two amazing consoles and really call one better than the other. From a purely technical standpoint, the SNES outperforms the NES easily. This allowed the SNES to give players a more enjoyable long-term experience in each title, which gave rise to more story-based games on the SNES than the NES. The NES provided gamers with an arcadey experience that some gamers prefer.  The 8-bit graphics are definitely dated, but they are pretty charming along with the chiptune music. All of these components make an objective decision difficult. Looking at these consoles subjectively, each provided their own unique experiences that suit some gamers over others.

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  • Updated September 18, 2020
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