It’s a debate that to this very day causes bloodshed. It turns brother against brother, and sons against fathers: The 16-bit Sega-Nintendo console war. That’s what it became known as, anyway. At the time, although people picked sides and advertisers took cheap shots, it was all in good fun.
I’ve been lucky enough to play and eventually own all the Sega and Nintendo consoles. In the early to mid nineties, I went from Sega to Nintendo and back again – my friends would happily swap consoles back and forth so we all got to play each others’ systems. I can say that the Super Nintendo was my favourite, but armed with experience, I feel it is my duty to put an end to hostilities once and for all. So, which console really was better? The Mega Drive or the Super Nintendo? Read my completely objective comparison to find out.
Round One: Processing Specs
The SNES had a processing speed of 3.6MHz, which any mathematician can tell you is faster than the speed of light. The Mega Drive’s Motorola processor is clocked at 7.6MHz, which is of course much slower. Your common or garden idiot may assume that because the number is higher that means it’s faster. Not so. You have to take into account the flops. Duh.
The Mega Drive could display a measly 64 colours at once, from a puritanical pallete of 512. That may be alright for grandma’s house, but in the nineties us kids demanded more. Nintendo delivered – the SNES’s incredible power allowed it to display 256 simultaneous colours from a selection of thirty-two thousand, seven hundred and sixty eight. This is actually more colours than are perceptible to the human eye.
Take into account that the SNES had twice the RAM, could display sprites twice the size, and had twice the resolution of the Mega Drive, and it’s pretty obvious that it is six times better. That’s science.
Round Two: The Games
To make this a fair comparison, I’m only going to pick the best of the best – the classic games that are as much a part of Nintendo and Sega’s history as the consoles themselves. They’re inexorable from each other – to own the console means to own these games and vice versa.
On Nintendo’s side we have:
Super Mario World
And from Sega we have:
Crystal’s Pony Tale
Round Three: Design
People used to say that the Mega Drive was “cool”. What they really meant was “black”. The Mk.I looked very much like a CD player that Raymond Burr found under his chair after a lap-dance from Lisa Riley. It had a little volume slider and headphone port – if you wanted stereo sound, you had to plug a set of headphones into the Mega Drive itself. Nintendo conversely decided to use brand-new twentieth century technology for its AV output.
The SNES had a futuristic, smooth, edgeless design. For safety. Predicting the litigious direction that society was headed, Hiroshi Yamauchi wisely decreed that any angle sharper than 170 degrees be removed from the Super Nintendo’s outer casing. The cartridges were ejected from the console by depressing a large paddle – the Mega Drive requires that you take them out yourself, like a chimpanzee pulling up turnips.
The power status of Sega’s console was indicated by a cheap, harsh red LED in the centre. This was necessary as during pilot tests, consumers had trouble discerning whether or not the console was actually on while playing games.
The SNES’ indicator light was located in the bottom right-hand corner and glowed a soft, reassuring pink.
Round Four: The Controller
There is but one aspect of the console wars that everybody agrees on. The Super Nintendo controller was genius. An oft-imitated dogbone design, it sported no less than eight buttons with four simultaneously available, or five if you’re really good with your thumbs.
The Mega Drive pad was designed by Batman, it seems, and had four fewer buttons than the SNES. The three action buttons were arranged in a row. Rather stupid, if you ask me – this means that you can only press one at a time, and you have to skip over a button if for some reason you need to press A and C in quick succession. I can only imagine that it was made this way on purpose to level the playing field between humans and lower creatures like Champion the Wonder Horse, or a lobster. Their single-digit appendages are ideally suited to such a design, and their tiny brains capable of understanding the simpler Sega games.
Well, the results are in. In truth the contest was more one-sided than a fight between Muhammad Ali and Gandhi, but I had a responsibility to be an objective and impartial observer. Nintendo is the clear winner of the 16-bit console war.
“Display a measly”