The Console Wars Reignited: A 16-Bit Redux

The Console Wars Reignited: A 16-Bit Redux

Feel free to share away!

Here is the scenario: Sega is about to launch its new console, while Nintendo clearly owns the market. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) resuscitated the gaming market, not only creating all new gamers, but also bringing back those wayward souls that though were done with gaming. Then Nintendo followed that up with the even more succesful Super Nintendo (SNES)

But wait, this isn’t the 1990’s and i’m not 12. I don’t have a bus pass and my mother doesn’t wash my clothes (the laundromat does…it may not be full adulting but hey, it’s a start). It’s 2019 and 30 years later, the 16-bit era is back with the Sega Genesis Mini and the SNES Classic storming the market and vying for the wallets of clueless parents. Like fine wine, once you uncork it, it’s best to sip it slowly and enjoy the nostalgic buzz.

The release order may be different but the results are the same.  The Sega Genesis was released in North America in 1989, nearly a full year after its release in Japan, with an ad campaign that’s difficult to forget all these years later. In fact, Sega came out swinging: “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t.” And so, the console wars were officially in full swing.

To be fair, Sega was comparing its 16-bit machine to Nintendo’s 8-bit NES, which by then was six year old hardware at a time when technology was advancing in leaps and bounds. Nintendo was in no rush to jump the gun and wouldn’t release the SNES in North America until August of 1991.  Once Nintendo did jump into the market, they quickly began to tear into Sega’s lead, coming out swinging with Super Mario World.

Sega had also just recently debuted their own mascot, also educating the world on what a hedgehog actually was. Mario was already a gaming icon and Sonic was the cool new kid on the block ffering blast processing to boot.  So here we had a mascot tie….two with completely different gameplay styles. That particular battle would prove to not be the deciding skirmish in the war. And then Nintendo secure the ultimate exclusive…Street Fighter 2.

The finger wagging that launched a thousand school yard arguments.

I am not exaggerating when I say that when Sega debuted a 3 button controller, my mind was blown (well, maybe not quite literally). Then Nintendo went ahead and doubled the ante with 6 buttons. Personally, I didn’t get it, and for a while was not a fan of the SNES controller. But when Street Fighter 2 debuted, everything clicked and I realized what a smart play it was. 

Six is arguably greater than three.

It would take another year before we would see Street Fighter on the Genesis, along with a six button controller, but by then, Street Fighter 2 might as well have been as much an SNES exclusive as Mario. This was not all, however, as games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time, Contra 3: The Alien Wars, Castlevania IV and Final Fight were big system sellers for the SNES. These franchises would not see an iteration on the Genesis (or on the Sega CD in the case of Final Fight) until later.

However, Sega had some arcade exclusive games and their initial launch lineup remains one of the strongest launches to date. Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Revenge Of Shinobi, and Michael Jackson rescuing little kids in Moonwalker (well, maybe some of these games haven’t aged all that well). For every Final Fight, there was Streets Of Rage…. For every Phantasy Star, there was a Final Fantasy…. Phonetic spelling was up for grabs and so was the market. 

Games aside, one of the best things about the 16-bit consoles was that you couldn’t go wrong with your allegiance. Each console had its strengths and weaknesses. The SNES could handle pseudo 3-D with its Mode 7 graphics and later, polygons with the Super FX Chip. When compared to Sega’s SVP chip, Nintendo’s Super FX prevailed. Despite this, the Genesis was definitely a shoot em up goldmine and arguably, a better sports console. Beyond that, Nintendo’s first party lineup could go to war against Sega’s lineup of arcade classics. Basically, for every punch one console threw, the other had a counter. 

Mode 7 graphics at work.

More importantly, even though the SNES could display more colors, the Genesis had the best color of all … blood! If Nintendo was Disney, Sega was Tarantino. You could leave your kids alone with a SNES and it’s family friendly culture but, Sega was the cool, edgy console that was all about that M rating and pushing limits. 

Mortal Kombat is probably the most popular example of this, as the Genesis version had blood and the SNES version had…milk (I mean, it’s supposed to be sweat but, I’m eating cookies as I write this). While the SNES version had a better graphical look, the omission of blood and fatalities was a huge negative for a Mortal Kombat game (plus, everyone knows that blood beats milk any day). Granted, this would be rectified in the sequel but, first impressions are what they are.

Scorpion’s hook draws blood on the Genesis, as it should.
Look at that beautiful sweat on the SNES…looks like Sub-Zero needs some Old Spice.

Liquids aside, both consoles were pretty neck and neck, until Sega slipped, again and again. While the SNES was hit it’s stride with games like Mario Kart and Link’s Awakening, Sega gave us the Sega CD and…Sewer Shark. Even if the Sega CD was my first ever CD player, Sega’s support for it was faint, with mostly retreads of Genesis games with better audio. By 1994, Sega was already looking to the future and…it’s half future? That year, Sega would release the Saturn in Japan and less than a year later, but not before releasing the future-present generation machine and second add-on that was the Sega 32X. If you are confused, don’t worry, so was the market.  

The 32X could not help but just look a little silly.

Now, this was an important moment in my life. I was a Sega fanboy and they could do no wrong….until Christmas of 1994. That year, I received my 32X as a gift, along with Star Wars Arcade, an impressive looking game and a great showcase of what the 32X could do. While I was really happy with my gift, my best friend received Donkey Kong Country. Chances are that there are people that have never heard of the Sega 32X, but everyone has heard of Donkey Kong Country. And so, Sega was making games that needed add-ons, while Nintendo required no add-ons and was able to deliver an equal or comparable experience, and I could not have been more jealous. To me, that was pretty much when the 16-bit console war ended.

So here we are… 30 years after the 16-bit era began, we’re being presented with a redux of sorts. The Super NES Classic edition released in 2017 to great success, with mainstays like Link to the Past, Super Metroid and Castlevania IV, and even a new game in the form of Star Fox 2. Meanwhile, Sega is set to release the Sega Genesis Mini later this month (September 19, 2019 in North America), bringing with it heavy hitters like Gunstar Heroes, Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star IV, and two sort of new games of its own, with never released ports of Darius and Tetris making an appearance.

30 years later, the war is reignited. Two 16-bit consoles, no add-ons, no gimmicks, just games we love.  Now that is a nice glass of nostalgia we can all sip on.

Liked it? Take a second to support Anthony Arriaga on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *