An Unexpected Turn: The Newspaper Covered Box of Destiny

6 01 2012

This mysterious package was delivered to my apartment recently:

Whatever could it be?


Actually I knew what was in the packaged when it arrived. God Bless Yahoo! Auctions.


Sweet, sweet, goodness in a box!


This is a Nintendo Satellaview, an officially licensed add-on for the Super Famicom video game system.  What’s a Satellaview, you ask?  Well, come with me on a journey into the past…

When Nintendo launched the Famicom in Japan it was 1983 and home consoles at the time were more than just mere video game machines; they were computers.  The MSX personal computer was chugging along quite nicely back then.  You could play cartridge-based games on it, as well as program, print, and what-have-you.  In fact Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Ikari Warriors were just some of the famous NES games that were first released on the MSX.


My MSX 2+ with Metal Gear in the cartridge slot and Ikari Warriors above


Nintendo wanted their machine to be competitive so they released a keyboard, tape drive, modem, and even a floppy disk drive for their Family Computer.  The peripheral that would have the biggest impact proved to be the disk drive, being so successful that Nintendo worked with Sharp Electronics to create an all in one console called the Sharp Twin.  Many games that are considered classics were originally Famicom Disk System releases, including The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Kid Icarus.


A selection of Famicom Disk titles you might recognize


Fast-forward to the 1990’s and the release of the Super Famicom.  NEC had already proven successful launching video games on CD with their PC Engine game system, and Nintendo began exploring their own CD add-on possibilities, the success of the Famicom Disk System still fresh in their minds.  First partnering with Sony Electronics, and then Phillips, working prototypes of CD enabled Super Famicom units were created; but Nintendo brass were unhappy with the load times associated with CD based games.  Remember, at the time most CD drives were 1-speed.  Nintendo was also very sensitive to the problem of piracy.  Game copiers had become a popular thorn in their side during the Famicom era, and they were becoming equally popular and accessible for the Super Famicom as well.  CD games held a lot of data and were inexpensive to manufacture; but they were also easy to copy.


We all know how well that line of thinking went...


Nintendo’s final solution?  The Satellaview.  It was the only add-on to the Super Famicom that Nintendo every really supported.




In order to get the Satellaview to work, you had to have a satellite dish and subscribe to Nintendo’s Satellaview service.  That’s right, it was subscription based.  Once everything was set up, you could download Satellaview enhanced games to an 8-meg flash cartridge that came with the unit.  Playing a game on Satellaview added CD quality music, voice, and even animated cut scenes to games.  One of the most popular games to be released in an enhanced version for the satellite add-on was the original Legend of Zelda, completely remade with modern graphics, CD quality surround sound, and the ability to play the adventure as either a boy or a girl.

It sounds great, doesn’t it?  I mean, Nintendo solved their piracy issues and delivered what was at the time, next generation quality.  There was only one problem… in order for you to use the service, Nintendo had to stream the data to the satellite, which would then stream it to the player.  This only happened at certain times of the day for fixed periods of time.  So if you woke up at 3am with the urge to get your Zelda on, you couldn’t.  You had to wait until the broadcast started at 4pm and then play it until it ended at 7pm.  All this from a company who kept complaining that the main problem with CD based games was load times.


Why settle for mere minutes when you wait for DAYS!


The Satellaview offered other features as well.  You could download game magazine and view them on you TV screen.  Some people claim that the added RAM in the Satellaview actually improved some cartridge based Super Famicom games; I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Satellaview service stopped June 30, 2000, rendering the units practically useless, although they have become very collectable.  8-meg flash carts typically sell in the Y6000 ($77.00) range now, depending on what they have on them.  Units in Japan are fairly hard to find complete.  I got mine for Y7000 ($90.00) and consider it a pretty good deal.  In America, Satellaview units can sell for hundreds of dollars.  So the next time you’re fiddling with you Super Nintendo or Super Famicom system and notice that mysterious data port on the bottom, you’ll know what it was for.  And knowing, is half the battle.



2 responses

6 01 2012
Mark E

…next time you’re fiddling with you Super Nintendo or Super Famicom system and notice that mysterious data port on the bottom, you’ll know what it was for.

I personally wonder what some of the ports on the Gamecube were intended to do…

6 01 2012

Which ones?

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