Super Famicom vs. Nintendo Wii – How to get the best picture from your retro games

I must admit that at some point during the last couple of years the Nintendo Wii got boxed up and put away in the cupboard. Because of this the first part of this week’s venture was a Nintendo Wii hunt in which I opened up a lot of old boxes and discovered that I own more Sega Megadrives than I ever remember buying. My mission: to discover how the graphics on the Wii’s Virtual Console compare against the real thing.

This started a couple of weeks ago when I decided that the next game I wanted to play through was Kirby’s Dreamland 3. For those not familiar with the title this was a Super Nintendo game that came out in 1997, making it the last first-party game for the system. It never saw a PAL release and the 2009 Wii Virtual Console version was it’s first official release in Europe.

Many of the console’s best titles not actually getting released isn’t the only problem with PAL – these games run at 50hz and their NTSC counterparts run at 60hz. Aside from a few exceptions (where the game was specifically optimised), PAL Super Nintendo tiles don’t compensate for the different refresh rate and as a result run around 17% slower than they should. Unless you’re playing Contra III (sorry, ‘Super Probotector’), you probably won’t appreciate the slowdown.

There’s a few ways around this such as modding your system, but the solution I went with was to buy a Japanese ‘Super Famicom’. I purchased this on eBay as a unit-only for the bargain price of £21.89 including postage. Aside from the logo on the front the system looks identical to the PAL Super Nintendo, but it runs Japanese games and it runs them at 60hz. It also requires different cables, and notably is NOT compatible with with a standard SNES power supply. If you were to use one it would break both your console and the power supply. The good news is that the Super Famicom can be correctly powered using a UK Mega Drive power cable. I retrieved this whilst looking for the Wii.

Finally the Super Famicom also requires its own RGB SCART cable, I’ve already wrote fairly extensively about the benefits of this type of connection so for this post I’ll keep it short and say that RBG SCARTs are great and I bought one for the Super Famicom for £5.99.

Anyway, the North American release of Kirby’s Dreamland 3 is now extremely expensive. Fortunately the Japanese version is only a fraction of the price and as an added bonus is entirely in English. I purchased it for £13.57 and that even included the manual (okay this part’s not in English). At the same time I grabbed a copy of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, because this one is also much cheaper in Japan.

Meanwhile the Nintendo Wii was nowhere to be found and the race was on to see which version of Kirby’s Dreamland 3 I’d get my hands on first. In the end the Super Famicom game arrived from Japan a full two days before the Wii finally showed up.

The Experiment:

The CRT I’m using is a Sony PVM, which gives an excellent picture quality for retro games (this is also something I’ve covered in more detail separately). It accepts input in the form of BNC connectors and I then use an RGB SCART to BNC cable followed by an RGB SCART adapter to connect multiple consoles at the same time via RGB SCART. This is the first time the Nintendo Wii will be hooked up to the PVM and I’ve bought a couple more adapters to allow it to work using component video output.

This particular PVM doesn’t support 480p progressive scan, which is essentially the biggest advantage component gives over other cable types, however specifically for the Wii Virtual Console this isn’t an issue. Outputting these games in their native 240p resolution in fact requires the Wii to be running in 480i.

The RGB SCART adapter can be used as a pass-through for the component signal (including audio), meaning everything can be connected at the same time. This requires a SCART to component lead and then some female to female RCA joiners to connect the two together. For good measure I also added in component adapter; the more consoles that can be hooked up simultaneously (currently 9) the better.

With everything connected, Kirby’s Dreamland 3 can run on both Super Famicom and Wii Virtual Console at the same time. The two can then be swapped between using the selector switch on the RBG SCART adapter. Below you can see the difference in picture quality:

Kirby’s Dreamland 3 on Super Famicom

Kirby’s Dreamland 3 on Nintendo Wii

Okay, I do realise that this is really a comparison between component and RGB SCART rather than SNES and Wii. The component image is sharper and the pixels create a more jagged edge around Kirby. Side-by-side this gives the effect of appearing clearer and more in-focus than on the Super Famicom, but there’s a softness to the original that’s easy on the eyes and works particularly well when the game is in motion. Specifically for Kirby this complements the game’s hand-drawn art style.

The colours are noticeably more vivid on Super Famicom, and this is due to the cables. RGB SCART has three colour channels whilst component only has two. Kirby himself is a brighter shade of pink and overall the colour really stands out. Meanwhile there is a slight audio hiss something I’ve noticed on every Super Nintendo I’ve owned. I believe it’s down to interference between the audio and video output, with the amount of hiss corresponds to the amount of white on screen (more white = more hiss). It’s not always noticeable when the game is playing, but it is noticeable when compared to the Nintendo Wii where you have zero audio interference.

This isn’t the only giveaway that the Super Famciom is fifteen years older than the Wii; when compared side by side the Wii loads up the game with an unsettling level of reliability. The Super Famciom is powered on by flicking a lever-like switch and then there’s a moment of anticipation when you wait to see if the game boots – a process that even the tiniest spec of dust will interrupt. Meanwhile the Wii powers up without fail, first presenting a health and safety message before loading into the sterile Wii menu that includes useless features such as the ‘Weather Channel’.

Still, the Virtual Console library is substantial and the Wii has an incredibly large selection of retro games for one single system. The games run at their native resolution and even better you can get a SNES style classic controller – the very device I’ve been using for my tests (for accuracy). These were originally Club Nintendo items that were rather hard to come by, but now they’re now the same controllers used by the SNES classic and are a little more attainable.

Paired with an authentic input device the overall experience is really quite good, but there’s still nothing that beats the original console. Not only does the Super Nintendo/Super Famicom hold up as my favourite way to play SNES games, but comes with all the fun of using and maintaining an old videogames console. It’s simply not as good when you don’t have to blow on the cartridge.

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