Note: This article exists because I think we’ve seen the spreading of a false narrative around the SNES/Super Famicom and Genesis/Mega Drive consoles in recent times, which basically conveys that the SNES really only has more colours than Genesis but is otherwise just very slow, and that the Genesis basically does everything else better and/or can simply duplicate anything SNES does anyway through pretty much sheer CPU power alone, which simply isn’t the objective truth at all.
So, this a list full of things the stock SNES does better than the stock Genesis in terms of technical specs, plus some things it does that Genesis simply can’t, as well as some ways it just measurably beat the Genesis based on official numbers like sales and such–and all of them are facts:
Can display four times as many colours onscreen total (256 vs 64, before any standard HDMA, colour math or special raster tricks).
Has a master palette of colours to choose from that is 64 times larger (32,768 vs 512).
Can use up to twice as many full-screen, fully overlapping background layers (4 vs 2).
SNES’ max tilemap size is 64×64 tiles at 16×16 pixels per tile (1024×1024 or 1,048,576 total pixels) vs Genesis’ 64×64 or 128×32/32×128 tiles at 8×8 pixels per tile (512×512 or 1024×256/256×1024 or 262,144 total pixels).
SNES’ max number of unique background tiles is 4096 (in Mode 0) vs Genesis’ 2048 (in its only mode). This is not accounting for the likes of tilemaps and sprites, which take up memory and would reduce available tiles on both systems similarly.
Can process a max 128 sprites vs Genesis’ max of 80.
Its largest in-built sprite size is 64×64 vs Genesis 32×32.
Can display a max 32 sprites per scanline vs Genesis’ max of 20.
Can do column scrolling down to every 8 pixels vs every 16 on Genesis (lower is better here).
Can use two window/shape masks to either visibly draw shapes on top of or cut shapes out of one/some/all layers, which is used to create various effects like spotlights or beams of light (when combined with colour math), interesting shapes when fading in/out the screen, hiding certain objects or parts of the level from view, faking simple additional layer/sprite elements, etc.
Can do proper colour math for the likes of transparency effects on both sprites and backgrounds.
Has built-in mosaicing.
Has built-in HDMA that can be used to change the main background colours every single scanline, change scroll speeds on up to four layers at once on every scanline, can be used for afine transforations of a background layer to create all the Mode 7 effects the SNES is known for, can adjust the two window/layer maskes on a per-scanline basis, and much more besides.
Has a higher maximum resolution of 512×448 vs Genesis 320×448.
Can actually use the 448 interlaced mode to properly double the vertical resolution at no extra VRAM or processing cost when in Modes 5 and 6, which is done by allowing the use of built-in double-height background tiles that take the vertical resolution doubling into account (at the cost of the usual third background layer). This works similarly in horizontal 512 mode too.
Can have up to eight channels of PCM sampled sound, and can output audio at a max of 32KHz and 16-bit depth in stereo, which is more than Genesis when playing like for like.
Can do Dobly Surround Sound.
It has eight times as much audio RAM, at 64KB vs 8KB.
Has twice as much work RAM at 128KB vs Genesis’ 64KB.
Can apparently compute roughly 1.7 million CPU instructions per second vs Genesis’ roughly 900,000 (min I’ve read) to 1.4 million (max I’ve read), due the fact the SNES can execute instructions in fewer clock cycles than Genesis (I’ve read 2-3 cycles on SNES and 4-8 cycles on Genesis). And this seems like it’s along the same lines: “every time the m68000 accessed memory, it’s 4 clock cycles wait per 16 bits, whereas the 65816 [is] 1 clock cycle per byte [a byte is 8 bits]. So for instance doing 8-bit operations (very common then), 65816 would have an advantage over the m68000 and be roughly equal for 16-bit operations, just by memory wait time.” Basically, even though the Genesis has a faster CPU, it typically takes more clock cycles to perform instructions.
The standard controller that comes free in the box has nine main inputs, four more than Genesis’ 3-button pad and one more even that Genesis 6-button pad (which over half of Genesis systems didn’t ship with and owners had to pay extra for), with a far more versatile design.
SNES’ total library of official games is roughly 1757 vs Genesis’ at roughly 878.
SNES sold 49.1 million units worldwide. Genesis sold around 35 million (including the bargain-bin $50 Genesis 3 and the various Brazilian models).
SNES has 49 games that sold over one millions copies vs 18 on Genesis.
SNES’ top selling game sold 20.6 million copies. Genesis’ top selling game sold 15 million.
More SNES games still appear in pretty much every Top 100 Games of All Time list than Genesis. For example, IGN’s latest list has seven for SNES and zero for Genesis.
Genesis is very cool and all, and it does indeed have quite a few advantages over SNES, just as SNES clearly has quite a few notable advantages over Genesis, which I think more people should be aware of in modern times, just to make sure the narrative and indeed the facts around these two classsic systems aren’t being constantly distorted and history re-written by certain bad actors.
Now, anyone from the Genesis camp is free to post their own similar list of facts.
Note: I have tried to be as accurate as possible with all the data here, but, if you spot any mistakes, please let me know. If you’re being honest, I’ll update the details accordingly.
PS. Oh, and you can apply the same thinking to some SNES vs PC Engine debate also.
5 thoughts on “Nintendoes . . .”
Is this all you do with your life. In your 40s and still cry about SNES being better than Genesis. It’s 2022 now, your console war was on the playground, you are not well if you are still going on about it 3 decades later.
Nobody takes IGN seriously so you shouldn’t even mention them. And many of your points are flawed, “far more versatile design” is nonsense. Many people find snes controllers hard to hold compared to Genesis. Just saying
As I said, there’s nothing but facts in my article above. So, rather than me address all your points, I’ll just respond to one of them by posting a few examples to back up my assertion that the standard SNES controller is more versatile:
First, finding one controller more comfortable is subjective. You find the Genesis controller(s) more comfortable, and I find the SNES controller more comfortable. So that’s not really worth spending any more time debating.
Now . . .
1. It has four more inputs than the standard Genesis controller and one more than even the [pay-extra-for-it, for over half of all Genesis owners] 6-button Genesis controller.
2. Not only can you use your thumbs to control the d-pad on the left and buttons on the right, as on both the standard Genesis controller and 6-button one, but you can additionally press two shoulder buttons at the same time on SNES using both your index fingers for far more button combinations.
3. You can use the now industry-standard diamond-shaped face button configuration to very intuitively and comfortably shoot in one of eight directions at exactly the same time as moving in one of eight directions with the d-pad in a game like Smash TV, which you simply can’t do on the standard Genesis controller and isn’t entirely natural on even the 6-button Genesis controller because of the layout and different sizes of the buttons.
4. You can move, jump and duel-wield weapons all at the same time in Contra III without having to take either of your thumbs off any of the main inputs and default positions, by using the additional shoulder buttons on SNES. This is basically impossible on either of the Genesis controllers, unless you combine multiple actions to one button or hold them in the most awkward way.
5. You can move, shoot and do a barrel roll in Star Fox without having to take either of your thumbs off any of the main inputs and default positions, by using the additional shoulder buttons on SNES. This is basically impossible on either of the Genesis controllers, unless you combine multiple actions to one button or hold them in the most awkward way.
6. You can intuitively move, fire and strafe all at the same time in games like Wolfenstein 3D or Doom on SNES without having to move either of your thumbs off any of the main inputs and default positions, by using the additional shoulder buttons on SNES, and there’s enough buttons left over to assign run, action, cycle weapons and the pause menu and map to different ones. This is basically impossible on either of the Genesis controllers, unless you combine multiple actions to one button or hold them in the most awkward way.
7. You can use the shoulder buttons on SNES as additional air brakes in F-Zero while still steering and holding down the accelerator, without having to move either of your thumbs from the main inputs or default positions.
8. You could have a game like Simon on SNES and actually use the coloured buttons on the face of the controller to mimic the coloured buttons on real Simon, at least with the Famicom and European SNES controller versions.
9. You can easily hold down the Y button and rock your thumb to jump at the same time in Super Mario World because of the positioning of the buttons directly where your thumb naturally rests across the two of them, which isn’t anywhere near as intuitive or comfortable on the standard Genesis controller, especially of you don’t have large hands.
10. The standard SNES controller allows every single SNES owner to play any six-button fighting games out the box, without over half of the users having to go out and pay extra for specific 6-button controllers to allow this basic function as they do on Genesis.
11. You could have a two player game on SNES where both players share the same controller and one player moves their character in eight directions using the d-pad, the other moves their character using the four face buttons for directions, and both use a shoulder button each to fire or perform whatever action plus Select as a secondary button for one player and Start as a secondary button for the other. And this would actually feel relatively comfortable and intuitive, all things considered. And you could even play a simple four-player game like this without having to buy the likes of a multi-tap, by just using two standard SNES controllers. This would be impossible on the standard Genesis controller and a clumsy mess on even the 6-button Genesis controller.
12. You can easily rotate the SNES controller around 180 degrees and use it left-handed (or right-handed depending on your point of view), as was an official option in Secret of Mana for example. Only the additional shoulder buttons are a little awkward to use here, but the rest feels totally legit (and it’s still more buttons than on the standard Genesis controller).
13. You can soft reset some original SNES games by pressing and holding START + SELECT + L + R, and it’s a console-wide feature on the SNES Classic Edition.
And so on.
So, can you tell us how the standard Genesis controller or even the [pay-extra-for-it, for over half of all Genesis owners] 6-button Genesis controller is more versatile than that?
“Can actually use the 448 interlaced mode to double the vertical resolution without squishing the graphics vertically, by allowing the use of double-height background tiles that take the vertical resolution doubling into account.”
I don’t think there’s any reason this couldn’t be done on the Genesis as well.
Apparently that is the case according to some people in Genesis-specific forums online, but I’ve yet to see a single example of this in practice, be it in official games or even any homebrew stuff. So, I’ll leave it as is for now, and if I see an example of it working without the squish, I’ll edit this part of the article to take that into account.
Note: Remember, these double-height and double-width tiles are actually officially built into the SNES, and any background graphics used here get directly processed as such when it runs in either of the 512×448 background modes. The SNES doesn’t have a “high-res” setting for the sprites, yet they always display unsquished in this mode. So, this is a proper hardware feature of the SNES, and not just someone drawing everything at double height and then doing whatever needs to be done to map that into tiles and VRAM or whatever to make everything come out looking right at the other end. And, while I belive it might indeed be possible to do something similar on Genesis, I’m not yet convinced they’re the same thing. I expect it’s akin to saying the Genesis has background scaling and rotation, just because it can be brute forced to do something very similar to it, although not quite on par. SNES has these things built in officially as actual hardware features, and that’s the point here, which I think it an important differentiator. It seems Genesis has the same interlaced display option that SNES has in background modes 5 and 6, but I’m not yet seeing the evidence of the second part, where it actually knows how to unsquish everything where and when necessary as a built-in hardware feature.
I’ve just learned a little bit more about how this works and think I am clearer on it now, so I’ve updated this paragraph accordingly. I’ve also asked about it in the AtariAge forums just to make sure I’ve got it correct that this built-in feature of the SNES to internally switch to either 8×16 or 16×16 tile/characters sizes isn’t also available on the Genesis.