Why Does the US SNES Look So Different?

The SNES was released to compete against Sega’s Genesis, which beat Nintendo to the 16-bit race. It was significantly more powerful than the NES and could play more advanced games with larger sprites and worlds. But when the SNES was released, gamers noticed something- the American version looked different compared to the Japanese version.

Why does the US SNES look so different? It’s because Nintendo of America wanted to market it as an “entertainment system” rather than a pure gaming console. The American SNES was designed by Lance Barr, who also designed the NES, and he was specifically told to make it look less like a toy.

The original Japanese Super Famicom has a rounded front section and a long flat top which almost makes it look like a sports car from the 1990s. In contrast, the American SNES is blocky, with a raised top section where the cartridge goes in. It also has purple “Power” and “Reset” buttons.

Why Does The US NES Look So Different?

The American version of the Super Famicom is called SNES, and many consider it to be an uglier version of the Japanese console. Instead of having smooth curves with a sleek profile, it’s blocky and fat. The color schemes are also different.

Super Famicom uses a dual-tone paint job with a cream-white base and dark grey cartridge deck. Its controllers have red, green, blue, and yellow buttons. In contrast, the SNES has a fully grey exterior with purple-colored “Power” and “Reset” buttons.\

To understand why the SNES looks so different from the Super Famicom, we must go back to the original Famicom. In the early 1980s, there was a gaming market crash that came right after the invention of game cartridges. Now, console makers no longer had to ship consoles with preloaded games.

They could release the hardware and write games for it afterward. As a result, several fly-by-night publishers turned up and started making cheap cash grabs. These were either imitating other, more successful games or lazily made with poor mechanics and terrible gameplay.

Nobody had faith in home gaming anymore, and arcades were the place to be. Because they still had quality games. However, Nintendo single-handedly saved the American home console market with their NES, which was released in 1985.

It had already launched in Japan in 1983 as the Famicom (family computer). But because home gaming was associated with being a waste of time and money, Nintendo of America decided to redesign the Famicom. They called it the Nintendo Entertainment System and hired Lance Barr to turn it into something that looked like a PC rather than a console.

In the 1990s, the stigma around home console gaming had disappeared but Nintendo of America still wanted a mature-looking console. Plus, some kids had been putting their cereal bowls and drinks on the flat top of their NES consoles. To prevent this from happening, they asked Lance to make sure the SNES didn’t have a flat top.

That’s why we got that signature ridge, where the cartridge goes in. So kids wouldn’t use their SNES as a coaster. They also went with a blocky shell that has lots of edges and angles, to make it look more like a VCR or PC rather than a game console.

Is The SNES Region Locked?

Yes, the SNES has three different versions for the three regions- Japan, America, and Europe. Region locking is enforced via two different systems- physical (cartridges for different regions have different shapes), and electrical (lockout chip). A Super Famicom cartridge won’t fit inside the slot of a SNES, because its locking tabs are different.

Even if you cut out these tabs, it will still not work because of a lockout chip. It checks the security data on the cartridge to see if it matches the data stored on the chip. In the old days, you would have to install a modchip but these days you can use a bypass cartridge like the Game Genie.

Why Does SNES Use 1-Chip?

The 1-chip is a term used by retro enthusiasts for an updated version of the SNES that combined both video chips into one. The 1Chip version is known to output better images when you plug in an RGB SCART cable. Hence, it is highly sought after by Nintendo collectors.

However, this version appeared pretty late into the SNES’s lifecycle and very few were made. There is no sure way to know if a SNES is a 1-chip version without opening the console, but you can try looking at the model number. Usually, the model number on these 1-chip consoles starts with “UN3”.

Can American SNES Play Japanese Games?

No, because the SNES is region locked with a security chip. And the shape of a Super Famicom (Japanese) cartridge is slightly different compared to a SNES cartridge. However, you can bypass the region lock with a bypass cartridge like the Game Genie (you’ll still need to cut out the tabs in the cartridge slot).

Is SNES 8-Bit Or 16-Bit?

The SNES is a 16-bit console, developed as a successor to the NES (which is an 8-bit console). To simplify things, processors compute binary data in chunks called bits (each bit can store a 0 or 1). And the more bits a CPU can process at the same time, the higher the number of calculations it can perform per clock cycle.

An 8-bit CPU can process numbers up to 256 in each clock cycle because that’s the largest value you can store. Moving up to 16-bit, you can now fit numbers up to 65,535. The SNES uses a Ricoh 5A22 processor, running at 3.58MHz (it’s derived from the WDC 65C816 microprocessor).

Does SNES Run At 60 FPS?

These days, you hear Sony and Microsoft boasting about “60-fps” gaming, and how it delivers a better experience than 30fps. Well duh, PC gamers have been enjoying 60fps since the 1990s. These days, 120 is the new standard.

But you’ll be surprised to know that a huge chunk of retro games ran at 60fps. Including the SNES, for which titles such as Zelda and Mario run at a locked 60 FPS.

That was the analog video standard for NTSC regions (it would be 50fps in PAL regions). So no, 60 fps is nothing new and has been around since the 1980s.


I hope this article helped you understand why the American version of the SFC was styled so differently. Bottomline, Nintendo of America wanted it to look more like an appliance rather than a toy. So no curves, funky logos, or colorful controllers.

Everything had to be blocky like a VCR, and colored grey like a home computer of the 1980s. And the top of the console couldn’t be flat, because kids might use it as a platform for their cereal bowls and juice mugs. Not joking, this is actually what Lance Barr was asked to do by Nintendo.


As long as I can remember myself I always enjoyed video games. I had amazing moments playing them and that's why I became a game developer, to create amazing experiences for the players. Read More About Me

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