If you are too much of a hipster to read the full article, check out my YouTube video on the topic:
The most well known add-on with a CD-ROM slot for a retro system would most likely be the Sega-CD (or the Mega-CD, depending on the region that you live in). Nintendo never got to see an add-on for the SNES that added this format. Or did they? In this article, I will talk about the SNES CD add-on, and the more well known “Nintendo Playstation” system.
Back in 1988, the NES had dominated the market, and Sony wanted in on the video game industry. 久夛良木 健 (Ken Kutaragi) bought a Famicom for his kids. He wasn’t impressed. He went to Nintendo, and signed a deal. With the NES successor approaching, Sony would supply the audio chips for the system.
The Famicom already had an add-on called the Famicom Disk System, and this was Nintendo’s first attempt at a disk based add-on. However, it broke often, and was unreliable. Despite this, Nintendo were still keen to use CD-based technology for their systems. Sony noticed this, and went to Nintendo for another deal; Sony would build and release a system that played both SNES cartridge games, and CD games (that Sony would provide).
The Super Disk was finally in development. A few years past, and in 1991, Nintendo re-read the contract they had signed with Sony. They were shocked. Sony (being the evil company they were), had made it so that they had all control over CD based games, and Nintendo got no money from the games.
June 1991; Sony unveils the Nintendo Playstation to the world. Games weren’t the only things this system could play; it could play movies, music, software and more. Nintendo had a plan. The day after Sony unveiled their system, Nintendo showed off the SNES (as planned), but also announced a partnership with Philips (Sony’s rival).
Philips would make a SNES CD Drive, for which Nintendo had full licensing control over. Philips wanted to make their own games console (the CD-i, as it is known now), so Nintendo let them use their characters and games on the new system. To no-ones surprise, the CD-i flopped.
This caused Nintendo’s view on CD-based systems to become sour. The Mega-CD had sold abysmally, Sony had proved themselves untrustworthy, the Famicom Disk System was unstable and Philips had created a flop. Nintendo seemed done with CDs; so much in fact that they didn’t use them until the GameCube era, and they still used mini disks to give themselves more control over the format.
Sony decided to re-imagine their system, branding it as a “gaming and an educational console”. No games were shown, but it could still play SNES games at this point. They aimed for a release date 6 months before the SNES CD add-on (the Philips one). January 1992; Nintendo pulls the plug on the Sony/Nintendo partnership.
Sony (who were mad by this), decided to make games for Sega’s CD add-on, just to get back at Nintendo. Nintendo, seeing the problems with the CD-i, decided they didn’t want to make games for their system, so they gave Philips all the rights to their characters, but they had to make the games. Philips went on to make the infamous CD-i games.
1992; the future of gaming had arrived. The Sega-CD had hit the market, and the CD-i was still flopping. But, what we all wanted to see was the SNES CD Drive, and the re-branded Sony Playstation.
October 1992; Nintendo’s biggest developers all demanded that there was one format that was standardized (as porting games to other systems was difficult). They all had to work together. They worked out their differences, and they all were going to work on the SNES CD add-on. They were even going to make it a 32 bit machine! Nintendo got all the rights to all the games on the SNES CD, AND the Playstation, while Sony had the licences to all non-gaming related content on the system. Philips got screwed over and got nothing.
However, Nintendo was starting to lose interest in the project, as they thought it wouldn’t do well. The Super-FX chip made games that could do 3D, and it was cheaper and easier for both Nintendo and consumers.
May 1993; Nintendo gave the system a release date and a price. Autumn 1994 would be the time to watch out for, and the system would be around $200. They lied.
Enter the Ultra 64. Nintendo had partnered with SiliconGraphics to make 64 bit 3D system. This means the SNES CD never made it past the prototypes. And after all that trouble, all they did was scrap it! Never mind; what we got instead was magnificent:
However, there is one question I know you are asking; what in the world happened to the Playstation? It was a finished system! 200 were made ready to be shipped! Not wanting to go through the troubles, Sony abandoned the system. Or, did they?
Sony ran away with the system. First thing they did? Removed the ability to play SNES games. They then made it a competitor to the Ultra 64 (now re-branded as the N64, due to trademarks).
Nintendo tried to sue Sony, but they failed. Sega were so worried by this new system that they announced at E3 that they would immediately release the Sega Saturn. Many retailers refused to stock the system, and those that did ran out of systems. The Atari Jaguar still sold poorly. Nintendo (with delays to the N64), announced the Virtual Boy at that same E3. We all know how that failure turned out!
Nintendo and Sony insulted each others systems in their ad campaigns. But, how would both systems fair? Nintendo was certain their system was going to beat the Playstation.
Sony’s Crash Bandicoot Advert:
They were wrong. The Sony Playstation blew the N64 out of the water with sales, and for the first time ever, they were in second place.
Well, that was the very long tale of the SNES CD, the Nintendo Playstation, the CD-i and the Sony Playstation. Who knows what would have happened if they would have stayed as partners. Maybe we would have seen Crash Bandicoot in Smash Bros…