Genesis vs SNES – The 16bit Console Battle

Nintendo SNES

Genesis vs SNES – The 16bit Console Battle

Genesis vs SNES: Eight Must-Know Facts

Sega Genesis 

  • Released in 1988 in Japan as the Mega Drive.
  • Featured two CPUs with over 11GHz of combined processing power.
  • Struggled with its controller design for fighting games, which the console was designed for.
  • Sold 18 million units in North America and 30 million worldwide.

Nintendo SNES

  • Released in 1990 in Japan as the Super Famicom.
  • Had twice the RAM as the Genesis, allowing for better graphics and more colors.
  • Its controller design became the foundation of console controllers for years to come.
  • Sold 20 million units in North America and 49 million worldwide.

Genesis vs SNES: Full Comparison

In July 1983, Nintendo released the Famicom and established itself as one of the most influential gaming companies in history. Having revitalized the gaming industry in North America, no company could touch formative releases such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. However, in 1988, one company would give them a run for their money.

Finding success in the arcade industry and trying their hand at home entertainment systems, Sega released the Genesis. With state-of-the-art processors, this new console could display stellar movements quicker than any other system on the market. How did Nintendo respond? Continue reading for more on Genesis vs SNES, one of history’s greatest console wars.

Super Mario Bros was released on September 13, 1985.

Genesis vs SNES: Side-by-Side Comparison

Sega GenesisNintendo SNES
Also Known As:Mega DriveFamicom
Released:1988 in Japan, 1989 in North America1990 in Japan, 1991 in North America
Units Sold:18 million in North America, 30 million worldwide20 million in North America, 49 million worldwide
Best Selling Games:Sonic the Hedgehog, Disney’s Aladdin, Mortal Kombat, Streets of Rage, NBA JamSuper Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II, The Legend of Zelda
CPU:Motorola 68000, Zilog Z-80WDC 65816
CPU Speed:7.67MHz, 3.58MHz3.58MHz
Audio Channels:up to 108
Resolution:320×224256×224 / 512×448
Simultaneous Colors:64256
On-screen Sprites:80128
Maximum Sprite Size:32×3264×64

Genesis: The No. 1 Competitor

The Sega Genesis dominated the North American market in 1992 with Sonic the Hedgehog.


The Sega Genesis (also known as the Mega Drive) came out in 1988 in Japan and 1989 in North America. It was the fourth generation console from the hardware company, which originally got its start designing arcade systems. While getting off to a rough start, the Genesis would eventually outpace its competitors and become Nintendo’s primary rival in that period.


The entertainment system’s strategy for success was to boost its graphics to the max. The console featured two CPUs (with 7.67MHz and 3.58MHz respectively), allowing for quick and bursty images. This allowed the Genesis to dominate game categories such as action and sports.

Because Sega frontloaded its processing power, however, it had a smaller memory capacity. With only 64KB of RAM, its images were a little blockier and its colors were less vibrant. 


On its release, the Sega Genesis featured a large, three-button controller design that made controls easy. However, with the advent of prominent fighter games, three buttons weren’t enough, and the developers released a six-button design. The new controller opted to place its buttons above the original instead of on the shoulders, which made them cramped to use. 

Best Games

Playing to its strengths, the Sega Genesis dominated fast-paced action games. Sonic the Hedgehog, the console’s most popular game, featured a platform style that scrolled across the screen in a blur. The Genesis also found success with other titles, including:

  • Disney’s Aladdin
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Streets of Rage
  • NBA Jam
  • Jurassic Park


On its initial release, the Mega Drive struggled to gain a foothold in Japan. With consecutive releases from Nintendo (Super Mario Bros. 3) and NEC (PC Engine) immediately following Sega’s debut, the company only sold 400,000 units in its first year. 

Its success in North America, however, shifted the tides. Switching their pack-in game from Altered Beast to Sonic the Hedgehog, the Genesis outsold the SNES by almost double. In 1992, Sega was the market leader, dethroning Nintendo.

By the time of its discontinuation, the SNES would regain control, but not without fierce competition. When Sega stopped its production of the console in 1997, it had sold nearly 18 million consoles in the US.

SNES: The Reigning Champion

SNES’s flagship game, Super Mario World, sold over 20 million copies and is one of the best video games ever made.


The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was released in Japan in 1990, nearly two years after its contender. Its previous success with the Famicom gave the entertainment company the extra time to design its premier 16-bit console. The time was well used, and the SNES debuted with distinct features and optimized accessories.


Sticking to a modest processor (the CPU was only capable of 3.58MHz), Nintendo opted to maximize its memory. This allowed the console more diversity in its graphics and color resolutions. The SNES could handle 256 colors simultaneously and larger sprites compared to the Genesis.


Nintendo found a lot of success in its controller, which featured six buttons (two on the shoulders). Their design was perfectly optimized for its adaptation of Street Fighter II, which launched the fighting genre for home entertainment systems. The controller’s design was so successful, that it would become the foundation of many future consoles.

Best Games

Nintendo’s success with Super Mario in previous generations exploded with the SNES. Their flagship game, Super Mario World, would go on to sell over 20 million copies. The SNES also found success with titles such as:

  • Donkey Kong Country
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Street Fighter II
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Starfox


Genesis vs SNES is one of the most heated console wars in history. With both systems performing at their max potential, Nintendo was pushed to deliver gaming experiences that had yet to be explored. By the Mid-90s, the company persisted, if only marginally.

The console was discontinued in 1999 as Nintendo directed its focus to 3-D gaming. At the end of its time, over 20 million SNES were sold in the US, despite the two-year lead its competitor had on its release.

Which One Should You Choose?

The two consoles approached 16-bit gaming in two completely different ways. While the Genesis had much greater computing power and could handle magnificent action scenes, the SNES could provide smoother and more visually appealing graphics. They both had their strengths, but Nintendo’s ability to tell a compelling story ultimately brought victory to their console.

However, it’s not exclusively Nintendo’s reputation that made the SNES the better console. The Sega Genesis was released two years earlier, setting the standard for 16-bit gaming. When Nintendo answered the call, Sega found itself circling back to catch up in areas that it lacked. Particularly in regards to fighting games, the Genesis needed to update its controller. By the time it managed to release a new one, the company lost the opportunity.

Up Next…

Frequently Asked Questions

Which has better graphics SNES or Genesis?

The SNES has 128kb of RAM, allowing it to handle smoother graphics and exceedingly more color options.

Who sold more SNES vs Genesis?

The SNES sold 20 million units in North America, more than the Genesis by only two million units.

Was Genesis faster than SNES?

The Genesis featured two CPUs with a combined processing power of over 11GHz. This allowed it to display frames at speeds nearly four times faster than the SNES.

What is Sega’s most popular game?

Sega’s most popular game is Sonic the Hedgehog, which sold over 15, million copies.

How long did the SNES last?

The SNES was released in Japan in 1990. Nintendo discontinued the console in 1999, giving the SNES a lifespan of nine years.

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