Another Letter Of Note

1991: The year punk broke, and also the year the Nintendo Company rolled out their sixteen bit video gaming system—creatively titled Super Nintendo. Several months ahead of the August release date I caught wind that game cartridges from the regular Nintendo system would not be compatible with this new console. I want to say I felt nothing but white hot rage over this development, but cranky depression would probably be a more accurate assessment of my feelings. How could I get on board with SNES when it would instantly render my pre-existing game collection obsolete?

Putting pen to paper, I wrote Nintendo’s monthly periodical, Nintendo Power, to express my frustrations. My lede—which included a vision of future America as a soulless land of blank zombies who have forgotten Mario, Luigi, and Lolo thanks to this SNES compatibility blunder—was buried under a recollection (and artist’s rendering) of the time my father bet one hundred dollars that he could beat me at Major League Baseball, lost, and actually paid up on the spot. Below is Nintendo’s official response, dated May 17, 1991. Click to enlargenate:

Well Jane, you were on the money about Super Mario’s longevity, but for poor Lolo “quite a while” turned out to be roughly one year from the time you inked those not-so-prophetic words. Not that I’m mad. I’m sure you had nothing to do with our blue mouthless friend’s disappearance from the pop culture landscape. I can at least respect you for being so upfront about the fact my letter would probably never grace Nintendo Power’s sacred glossy pages. It didn’t, and that’s okay.

To this day, though, I’ve wondered why Nintendo decided against making the NES library compatible with SNES, According to AllGame.com, it was an issue of (what else?) money:

The head of the design team for the original NES, Masayuki Uemura was again commissioned as the architect for the new console. President of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi asked Uemura that he explore the option of making the new 16-bit system compatible with the millions of cartridges they had sold for the 8-bit NES. He knew that cross-compatibility was a major factor in the success of a second-generation system.

As before, Uemera’s primary goal in designing the SNES was to keep production costs down as much as possible. He found that in order to make the new system compatible with NES cartridges, a minimum $75 would have to be tacked on to the cost of each unit. Instead of opting for this, Yamauchi decided to make an NES cartridge adapter available at a later date; though none was ever introduced (note: the unlicensed Super Eight converter from Innovation for $59.95 does allow NES cartridges to be played on the SNES).”

I’d never heard of this Super Eight accessory until two hours ago, which goes to show how quickly I drifted away from video gaming after SNES debuted. Doesn’t sound like it was so hot anyway—I mean, what good was the thing if you couldn’t even play Battletoads correctly on it?

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