A Case Against the SNES Being Declared the Greatest Console of All Time
It is often and with great loudness that I hear someone voice an argument in support of the notion that the Super Nintendo Entertainment System be declared the best console of all time. When I hear this, I am uncertain about the rationale behind such an assumption. But I also duck for cover, because I know that voicing any dissent in that stream of conversation would be like throwing a whole pig on a grease fire. I do not think that I have heard this argument come from anyone who actually owned the SNES and any other console from that same generation. Admittedly, neither did I. It was not until console generation five that I would own multiple consoles. Most of the time someone declares the SNES the best console ever, it seems like it is because it was their first console, or the one that their brother owned that they played and it is what got them into gaming; or maybe it was the first one that they bought and paid for themselves. My takedown of this premise for the SNES is not based on an argument for another console to wear that title. It is more about the application of a set of criteria that looks across the generational markets for comparison, rather than being rooted in emotional nostalgia. It is much more so based on how the world thinks about games now versus then.
The truth is, the market in console generation four, that generation that included the SNES and Sega Genesis, was just not that complex. The other consoles on the market were the Phillips CD-i, TurboGrafx, and the Neo Geo. None of these consoles came anywhere near the SNES and Genesis in sales, and so it was essentially a two-horse race. There was also no 3D accelerated PC gaming at the outset of this generation. Sega and Nintendo had been at it before through at least one console generation; they were familiar foes to each other. There were not a ton of unknowns, and the games market landscape was not as complex as it would be in later console generations.
For instance, in generation five, Sony entered the gaming market and the whole landscape tipped upside-down. 3D gaming and CD media quickly became the norm. PC gaming was quickly gaining momentum; Doom had been released two to three years before this competitive cycle started. There were more competitors, as the Jaguar, while it never really presented a sales threat, was worrisome because it brought very powerful hardware to the fight and had the legacy brand of ATARI behind it. That console, along with new entrant Sony, and age-old enemy Sega, made things require a bit more strategic thought for any players in this game. And console generation four was shorter than generations 7 and what gen 8 appears it is going to be. There were five years between the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64. Managing a console to greatness across a longer life-cycle I think warrants much more of a claim to being the best console ever than performing in a business-cycle that reflects the historical norm.
The fact of the matter is that the SNES just did not have as much of a fight on its hands. Console capabilities in generation four were relatively at parity, because, quite frankly, consoles didn't do a whole heck of a lot. Many people want to look at the sales figures and say that because the SNES put such a whalloping on the Genesis, that is why the SNES should be declared the best console of all time. But I've given several reasons why that may not be the accomplishment some might want to believe.
Back then, gaming was not mainstream. You did not have the average joe commenting on what gaming was and what it should me. Managing public opinion was a lot less complex with no internet around. The other thing to consider is that it was the SNES that made Nintendo so arrogant that they fell into the trap of believing that they did not need many of their key partners in future generations. When they elected to not adopt the CD drive that Sony had prototyped for use in their next console, Nintnedo essentially made the singular decision that is most attributable to their decline from being the number one home video game company on the planet. Because of course Sony took that tech and evolved it into the PlayStation. Do you call the console that led you to misstep the best console ever, or was it your Achilles' Heel?
Console races in more recent generations, generations five through eight, I believe, presented a much more complex and competitive market. The addition of the Internet, both in the need for connectivity for those consoles as well as the impact on marketing that the Internet has, has made things far more complicated than they were in the SNES' time. And I just cannot true up with giving the nod to a console that, seemingly, had an easier time than consoles that have hit the market since 1994/95. In later generations, for a console to be made great, it had to be backed by great service, great software, great maintainability, a great online store. The visibility of public opinion also meant you had to have great messaging, and great tier 3 support. Because if you don't, everyone will know about it.
I do not begrudge the Super NES any of its accomplishments, but sales numbers are not the sole factor to weigh when considering what console should wear this label. It is not so much that I want my own personal pick(s) for this label to be the people's champion. I just want a common set of criteria to be considered when people make this claim. I get it that the SNES occupies a space that a lot of gamers have a deep emotional connection to. But it is just fine to declare that platform your personal favorite of all time, without making the larger, and therefore highly questionable claim, that it was the best console ever.