Sega Genesis vs Super Nintendo

1 2 3 4


Lifespan: 1989-1996
CPU: 7.67 MHz 16/32-bit 680005
Co-Processors: 3.58 MHz Z80 (Audio/SMS):
Can write to 68000's Work RAM6
Can access cartridge's ROM data7
Texas Instruments 76489 (PSG Audio):
4 Channels 8
Yamaha 2612 (FM Audio):9
6 Channels:
One 8-bit Stereo Digital Audio Channel (DAC) replaces one FM channel 10
10 Audio Channels total
Output Frequency: 52 kHz
Video Processing: VDP
Master System Compatibility 11
Hardware Shadow and Lighting 12
Direct Memory Access (DMA):
Transfer Rate: 7.2 KB per 1/60th second13
 Resolutions: 256x224, 320x224, 320x448 14
Work RAM: 64 KB
Video RAM: 64 KB
Audio RAM: 8KB
Color RAM: 72 Bytes 15
VSRAM: 40 Bytes 16
Colors On Screen: 61 (30-75 in game, average 50) 17 18
Color Palette: 512
Sprite Max & Sizes: 80 sprites at 320x224
64 sprites at 256x22419
Sprite Sizes:
8x8, 8x16, 8x24, 8x32
16x8, 16x16, 16x24, 16x32
24x8, 24x16, 24x24, 24x32
32x8, 32x16, 32x24, 32x32 20
Sprites per Scanline: 20 at 320x224, 16 at 256x224 21
Background Planes: 2 layers with 16 colors per 8x8 pixel tile22
VDP handles scrolling as single planes, independently scrolling 8 line rows, and independently scrolling lines.23
Each 8 line row can can be displayed over or under others. 24
Storage: Cartridge up to 32 Mbit (4 MByte)
Bankswitch method allows more than 32 Mbit of storage.25

Revenge of Shinobi - Genesis - 1989

  26 27 28 29 30


Lifespan: 1991-1997
CPU: 3.58 MHz 16-bit 65c816 31
6502 Compatibility (unused)
Co-Processors: SPC700 (Sound CPU)
S-DSP (Sound Generator)
8 Digital Audio Channels
Independent Stereo Panning (per channel)32
Filters for audio smoothing and echo 33
Compressed audio decoding 34
Output Frequency: 32 kHz
Video Processing: PPU 1
PPU 2 (On the same chip) 35
Transfer Rate: 5.72 KB per 1/60th second shared by 8 Channels 36
Used for per line updates 37
Resolution: 256x224, 256x448, 512x224, 512x448 38
Work RAM: 128 KB
Video RAM: 64 KB
Audio RAM: 64 KB
Sprite RAM: 512 + 32 bytes 39
Color RAM: 512 Bytes 40
Colors On Screen: 240-256 41 42
(90-150 average in game)
Color Palette: 32,768
Sprite Max & Size: 128 sprites at:
8x8 & 16x16, 8x8 & 32x32, 8x8 & 64x64, 16x16 & 32x32, 16x16 & 64x64, 32x32 & 64x64, 16x32 & 32x64, 16x32 & 32x32 43
Sprites per Scanline: 32, 34 8x8 tiles, 256 sprite pixels per line 44
Background Planes: Eight Modes Numbered 0 - 7
4 (96-colors, 24 per background, 3/tile)
3 (two 120-colors, one 24-colors)
2 (120-colors)
2 (240-colors, 120-colors)
2 (240-colors, 24-colors)
2 (120-colors, 24-colors, interlaced)
1 (120-colors, interlaced)
1 (255-color, scaled, rotated, etc) 45
Storage: Cartridge up to 32 Mbit (4 MByte)
• Tales of Phantasia (1995) (48 Mbit)
• Star Ocean (1996) (48 Mbit)
Average: 8 Mbit ('91), 16-32 Mbit ('92-'97)




SUPER Castlevania IV - SNES - 1991

      It is demonstrable that the SNES could actually display 2-3 times the colors on screen, while the Genesis could display 2-3 times the sprites and independently scrolling 2D planes. The SNES also could scale and rotate one 256 color plane, which could be made to look like large objects such as Bowser in Super Mario World or the Bomber in the first level of Contra IV.  Alternately, games on the Genesis typically ran with less slowdown, featured faster scrolling levels, "tilted" sprites and backgrounds, and featured more custom special effects like scaling backgrounds and fully polygonal gameplay without any cart loaded processors. The Genesis' software effects are best seen in Contra Hard Corp, Castlevania Bloodlines, Batman and Robin, Ranger X, Sonic 3D Blast's bonus levels, LHX Attack Chopper, and Red Zone, for starters.

     Much as was the case with the NES library, the Super Nintendo saw full fledged releases for several years after the Genesis was discontinued.  Combined with the SNES's dominance in Japan, the system consequently had a larger worldwide library by the end of its cycle. Because Square and Enix released their titles exclusively, the SNES has a greater number of  RPGs available for it in the US. 

     Despite superficial marketing tactics, the battle between NEC, Sega and Nintendo produced a wide variety of exclusive and critically acclaimed games for each platform.  The Genesis has the largest library, and eventually gained the most third party support, of any Sega console. The Genesis' action genre is packed with arcade ports and unique home offerings like the Shinobi and Streets of Rage series.  Yet the Genesis was also home to exclusive Sega RPGs like Sword of Vermillion, Phantasy Star 1-4, Shining in the Darkness, and Shining Force 1+2, amongst other notable series like Super Hydlide, Ys, and Dungeons & Dragons. Lunar the Silver Star, Lunar Eternal Blue and Vay, along with other Working Design’s localization efforts of Game Art’s games, were also released on the Sega CD.

     Regrettably, popular history uses the same measuring stick for all success stories. Sales is what most ill advised people look to in order to validate or invalidate their purchase decisions and sales is what the media is biased towards. The Genesis outsold the SNES in the US overall up until its discontinuation in 1995. The SNES managed to more than catch up in the two years before the Nintendo 64 took hold. The SNES clearly won out in sales worldwide and software sales in every region.

     The truly important thing is that the war between the two companies produced some of the best games to ever be made. The game player that has only owned one system to the exclusion of the other has definitely lost out. What is worse is that in the new millenium the entire industry is bent toward anti-competative corporations.  The preference for Mega-Corporations and Mega-Publishers are reflected by the media's excessively positive portrayal of the Super Nintendo. 


  1. 1. Sam Pettus, "SegaBase Volume 3 - Megadrive / Genesis 'Sega MK-1601'," (January 23, 2007, accessed March 31, 2010) available from ( November 7, 2007).
  2. 2. Samuel N. Hart, A Brief History of Home Video Games: Sega Genesis, Geek Comix ( June 16, 2008).
  3. 3. Legacy Sega Consoles: Sega Genesis, Sega of America ( December 8, 2002).
  4. 4. PC Vs Console - Console Specs (4th Generation), ( March 15, 2008).
  5. 5. Up to 32-bit processes internally, 16-bit data bus, Programer's Reference Manual M68000PM/AD Rev.1.
  6. 6. Are we sure MD Z80 can't write to M68K RAM? NCS does it....
  7. 7. Sega Genesis Manual.
  8. 8. 3 tone generators and 1 white noise, "Nemesis," GENESIS Technical Overview 1.00, (accessed April 1, 2010),  119.
  9. 9. Frequency Modulation is synthesized audio like PSG but considerably more complex.
  10. 10. Must be timed correctly  in software to allow 5 FM Channels to play with digital audio (Street Fighter II:CE plays multiple digital audio channels simultaneously), "Nemesis," GENESIS Technical Overview 1.00, 92.
  11. 11. Charles MacDonald,  E-mail || Homepage, Sega Genesis VDP documentation Version 1.5f (genvdp.txt)  $01 - Mode Set Register No. 2, (August 10, 2000, accessed March 11, 2010), available from; internet.
  12. 12. MacDonald,  genvdp.txt, 16.) Shadow / Hilight mode.
  13. 13. Speed at which data in RAM can be transferred to VRAM,"Nemesis," GENESIS Technical Overview 1.00, 45.
  14. 14. Interlaced double resolution mode, used in Sonic 2 splitscreen 2-player.
  15. 15. 64x9 bits, MacDonald,  genvdp.txt, 9.) CRAM.
  16. 16. Vertical scroll RAM, 40x10 bits, MacDonald, genvdp.txt, 10.) VSRAM.
  17. 17. four 15-color palettes plus one background color
  18. 18. Direct 9-bit RGB (512 colors) available at half horizontal resolution, 160x224 or 128x224 visible, "Oerg866," "Nemesis" and "Chilly Willy," "Direct Color Demo using DMA,", accessed March 1, 2013,
  19. 19. MacDonald, genvdp.txt, 15.) Sprites
  20. 20. "Nemesis," GENESIS Technical Overview 1.00, 13.
  21. 21. MacDonald, genvdp.txt, Sprite Drawing Limitations.
  22. 22. Each tile shares colors from four 15 color palettes between the background and sprite layers, MacDonald, genvdp.txt, $0B - Mode Set Register No. 3.
  23. 23. MacDonald, genvdp.txt, $0B - Mode Set Register No. 3.
  24. 24. Hardware function of the VDP, MacDonald, genvdp.txt,  14.) Priority.
  25. 25.
  26. 26. Samuel N. Hart, A Brief History of Home Video Games: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Geek Comix ( February 7, 2008).
  27. 27. Nintendo - Super NES - Detailed Specs, Nintendo of America ( June 27, 2001).
  28. 28. PC Vs Console - Console Specs (4th Generation), ( March 15, 2008).
  29. 29. Usenet, Rec.Games.Video, Ralph Barbagallo, SNES Hardware (January 19, 1992, accessed April 2, 2010) available from; internet.
  30. 30. Super NES Programming/SNES Specs, (October 29, 2007, June 14, 2008) available from
  31. 31. 1.56 MHz or 2.68 MHz in some software,  Hardware.txt, available from, 65c816
  32. 32. SPC-700 Programming Information.
  33. 33. Anomie's S-DSP Doc version WIP (e-mail) (apudsp.txt), (October 13, 2005, accessed April 8, 2010).
  34. 34. "Ledi" and "Peekin", Super Famicomm Sound Manual NOA-SFX-04/15/90 (sfsound.txt), (October 15, 2001, accessed April 9, 2010), available from
  35. 35. PPU is is called a single processor in all other documentation, Kevin Neviksti, SNES memory map and MAD-1 chip information (SNES_MemMap.txt), (accessed April 23, 2010) available from
  36. 36. 2.68MB divided by 8 (channels) divided by / 60 (frames per second), DMA occurs during VBLANK, Super NES Programming/SNES Specs, Direct memory access unit.
  37. 37. Uses DMA channels, Hardware.txt,  H-DMA
  38. 38. 448 and 478 line modes are interlaced, Qwertie, Combined Registers Document (combined.txt), Screen mode/video select register [SETINI] (accessed on April 8, 2010).
  39. 39. Super NES Programming/SNES Specs, Video RAM.
  40. 40. Each color uses 2 bytes, David Piepgrass, Qwertie's SNES Documentation Plus DMA Revision 6 (2.1),  Color Palettes, (1998, accessed April 5, 2010) available from ( July 12, 2007).
  41. 41. eight 15 color background palettes, eight 15 color sprite palettes in most common graphic modes, Charles MacDonald,  E-mail || Homepage, SNES hardware notes (snestech.txt), CGRAM, (September 17, 2003, accessed March 11, 2010), available from
  42. 42. 2048 Colors are technically possible using Direct Color Mode, Hardware.txt, Direct Colour Mode.
  43. 43. snestech.txt, Sprites
  44. 44. Super NES Programming/SNES Specs, Maximum onscreen objects (sprites).
  45. 45. 4 backgrounds limits colors per tile (8x8 pixels) to 3-colors whereas other modes are 15-colors per tile, adapted from Qwertie's SNES Documentation, Register $2105: Screen mode register (1b/W).