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What if Sony Had Released the PlayStation as a SNES-CD?

With the recent surfacing of a prototype Play Station for the SNES, Chris I re-imagines video game history if it were to release.

It's no secret that Sony originally intended to produce a CD-ROM attachment called the Play Station for the Super Nintendo console. Somewhere along the line the deal went sour and what was originally intended for the CD-ROM drive became the Sony PlayStation.

So what if the deal DIDN’T go sour and the SNES-CD actually came out? It’s not hard to immediately think of all the great PS1 games that would have been SNES-CD games, which would have launched the SNES into the next-gen stratosphere. But Sony's original plans for the SNES Play Station was not a next-gen piece of hardware. An early concept for the SNES-CD was a 16 bit add-on like the Sega CD, and later another concept unit in conjunction with Phillips was a low end 32bit model, closer to a Sega CD/32X. Would the SNES-CD have taken the game industry by storm or been another gimmicky dust collector like the Sega-CD?

Looking back at the CD-ROM technology for the time, the only benefits the CD-ROM format added to cartridges was a ton of extra storage space to increase the size and scope of the games, replaced chip based music with CD quality recorded music, and *shudder*, made grainy full motion video possible. Did these things actually make the games better? The high quality music tracks seemed unbalanced with the pixilated graphic quality of the time, and the FMV games never grew beyond a curious novelty. But when the extra storage for game data was used to potential some great quality games were possible.

So with this in mind, what games would we see on the unit? We’d probably have Super Mario Bros. CD, a huge Super Mario World-like game with animated cut scenes and fully orchestrated versions of the familiar soundtrack, with some other newfangled graphic effects forced in to show off. Add the same parameters to any other CD-ified 16 bit game.

We’d also probably see some of the best 3rd party Sega CD games make the to jump to Nintendo such as Konami’s fantastic Snatcher and the amazing Lunar RPGs. We’d also probably see some early 3D games as I’m sure the Super FX chip found in later 3D SNES games built into the CD-ROM hardware. With this we’d probably have a better looking and playing Star Fox and perhaps a rudimentary 3D Mario game. So nothing completely groundbreaking from what I can see, but the Sony Play Station CD-ROM would have extended the life of the SNES and added a few more punches to the already down for the count Sega.

We’d probably also have some sort of music CD player built in to the unit with a heavy dose of Nintendo character themed menus that let you do things like looping music tracks, interactive visualizers, and play all three of those specialized CD+G music albums. 

Now of course the other half of this “what if”; There would be no Sony PlayStation.

One of the first changes I can see in a world without a PSX is the lack of pressure on Sega to bump the 3D processing power of Sega’s 32 bit Saturn console. Sega originally wanted a 2D powerhouse console with 3D as an afterthought. When the specs for the PSX were passed around, Sega added additional 3D processors to compete. If there was no threat from Sony, Sega may have released their original vision for the Saturn, delaying the hype for 3D games. Games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Guardian Heroes, X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Dungeons & Dragons Collection, and Dragon Force would have been the norm instead of the exception. However, without decent 3D behind the Saturn, we might not have gotten the stunning Panzer Dragoon Saga.

So how long would we have to wait before we got to play the first wave of decent 3D games at home like WipeOut, Tomb Radier, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal, and so on? Without a stand-alone Sony PlayStation, and Sega unable to provide the punch with their 32 bit unit, we’d have to wait for the NEXT generation of hardware. I would have been fine with that, I think a generation of high quality 32-bit 2D games would have been splendid; imagine a trove of Neo Geo quality games at consumer level prices. Yes, please.

Where would the next generation go from there? Let's assume the Nintendo/Sony love affair continued and Sony assisted with the development of the Nintendo 64. (NES Play Station 2?) The N64 hardware would have a bit more time to gestate and we’d see more powerful 3D than we ended up getting. Both the N64 and the PSX had a different “look” to them, N64 could render polygons nice and smooth compared to the PSX jaggies, but due to Nintendo’s insistence to stick with cartridges instead of CDs limited the size of the games which made for the notorious low draw distance, birthing the nickname “Ninten-blur 64”. I think Sony would insist on sticking to CD-ROM technology to help clear up the fog. Sega would be ready for their next console, given the time frame to launch a new unit to compete with the N64, we’d probably see something similar to a watered down Dreamcast.

Put simply, the 3D revolution would have been delayed and we’d see slightly less powerful consoles than we know them now. It would have been nice to see what 2D could accomplish before it was stepped on. Luckily we have the indie game scene to fill us in on what we missed.


 

Comments

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/08/2015 at 01:44 PM

I found an interesting rumor the other day that Nintendo isn't going to have an optical drive in the NX, that it might use some sort of card-based media instead.  It makes sense, and would kind of be a cool development.  Optical drivesd fail, and the discs get scratched.  I would be totally in favore of this.  

Cary Woodham

09/09/2015 at 07:17 AM

This is a very good article.  It's good to read about what could've happened, but also what wouldn't have happened.  We wouldn't have things like Mario 64 as we know it, probably.  But who knows? 

I read somewhere that at the end of the SNES' lifecycle, Nintendo and Argonaut were working closely together on 3-D gaming, due to the success of Star Fox.  Rumor has it they worked on a 3-D Mario or Yoshi game.  But when the Nintendo PlayStation thing fell through, Argonaut made their own game and called it Croc: Legend of the Gobbos.  That may be why Croc kind of looks like Yoshi.  But it's just a rumor.  I'm kind of glad it didn't happen that way, though, because Croc really wasn't that good.

I also read that Secret of Mana was orignally planned for the CD add-on, and that's why the final game was so buggy, because it was meant for CD-ROM. 

Another interesting fact about Nnitendo and Sony is that the reason why the SNES' sound chip was so good was because Sony made it.

By the way, if you get a chance, I hope you can visit my blog and read about my PAX articles.  Have a great day!  --Cary

VisuaLIES

09/09/2015 at 02:24 PM

Who knows what would have happened?  In the best of scenarios, the partnership would have resulted in a brilliant system with great 2D games.  Well, great Nintendo games (Sony was making really crappy games back then).  I doubt the SNES CD would have caught on though (Remember the Sega CD/32X?) and Sony would probably be a footnote in gaming history.  Indeed, the biggest impact would be not having the PS one.  That thing revolutionized the game industry, and made gaming more acceptable to the masses.  Before that, videogames were seen as toys and the realm of the socially awkward.  Gaming became more acceptable and the industry grew by leaps and bounds during that generation.  We might not even have the XBOX today either, as Microsoft likely saw Sony's success as a relative newcomer to the industry and wanted a piece.  Another casualty would be all the great Sony franchises that wouldn't exist if Sony hadn't had to create first-party software to differentiate the system from Sega and Nintendo (and later Microsoft).  Imagine a world with no Last of Us, Uncharted, God of War, Ico/Shadow of the Colossus, Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo, Ratchet & Clank, Demon's Souls, etc.  They also helped facilitate the growth of Namco, Square, Level 5, From Software, Naughty Dog, Insomniac, Sucker Punch and countless other companies with publishing partnerships.  Nintendo may never have developed the Wii, which was likely a result of the company's need to move from direct competition with Sony and Microsoft.  Anyway, I remember being crushed that the SNES CD got cancelled, but it was definitely for the best.  A world without the PlayStation is one I wouldn't want to live in.    

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/09/2015 at 06:27 PM

This.  The PSONE is and always will be my favorite system.

SanAndreas

09/10/2015 at 11:02 AM

Honestly? It probably would have crashed and burned, just like the Sega CD, maybe with a few interesting games like the SCD had with Lunar and Lunar 2. Expensive gaming add-ons like that haven't generally done well. And maybe Sony would have pulled out of the gaming market after that and let Nintendo and Sega (and maybe Microsoft) thrash it out in the fifth and sixth gens. Most gamers were still young and dependent upon parental generosity back then. My parents weren't about to shell out an additional 200 bucks for either a Sega CD or a SNES CD.

It would have been nice to see Nintendo and Sony work together on a fifth-gen console. Having games like Final Fantasy VII and Ocarina of Time together in one console would have made Nintendo dominant the way they were dominant with the NES.

Super Step

09/10/2015 at 08:07 PM

At the end of the day, I'm glad it happened. It's kind of like the Metallica/Megadeth split, except where Dave Mustaine actually becomes more successful at some point.

Homelessrook

10/08/2015 at 09:39 AM

I got a Sega Saturn just the other week. I hooked it up to the RF input on my television. Once I turned the unit on I got this awful noise on my tv. Well I could only guess the issue, the line was picking up/giving off interference. So I went and got the YRW cable and boom the noise is gone and the picture is a lot better. I want to get the converter so I can upscale it to what I have read a close 720i. Now I have only seen video of this, so I am not sure how well it works. Also there was another Sega console that was prototyped and shown at a small video game show. I am not sure about it either. Anyway, awesome post!

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