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The Story Behind Super Nintendo's Satellite Internet Capabilities

The Sega Dreamcast may have marked the first time a mainline console shipped with online connectivity when it released in the late 1990s (via TechCrunch), but the history of "online gaming" did not begin with it. Sega's swan-song system, while known as a complete commercial failure, innovated the gaming industry forever with its built-in modem that allowed online gaming and web browsing (per The Guardian). What gamers may not have heard, however, is that Nintendo offered an external modem for the Super Famicom years before the Dreamcast. This modem never ventured beyond Japan and cost a hefty sum to acquire.


The Satellaview was released in 1995 as an add-on with a megabit of ROM storage and 512 kilobytes of RAM (via IGDB). According to Dark Watcher on the Video Game Console Library, it offered a subscription-based system allowing players to receive online magazines, news, game demos, and even full games. Broadcasts on the satellite channel St. GIGA ran for five years before going offline in May 2000. The offerings via Satellaview subscription lasted for a short time as well, contributing to the scarcity of Satellaview games and demos in the modern day, even for those who can find the modem.

Satellaview and Nintendo's foray into online

As explained by TetraBitGaming, the Satellaview allowed subscribers to receive downloadable content from a geo-synchronized satellite. Information on the external modem from Nintendo itself has remained scarce, but the Video Game Console Library reported the peripheral costing 14,000 yen, or about $150 back in the day.


Aside from grading quizzes filled out by the player (via Chrono Compendium), the modem offered no real online connectivity. It primarily distributed downloadable content, which included games often released in chapters over the course of several broadcasts. Many titles updated or remixed existing Nintendo games, but the add-on apparently attracted ample third-party backing as well (per IGDB).

Nintendo has done frighteningly little to preserve games released on the Satellaview. For example, "Radical Dreamers: Nusumenai Hōseki" debuted in 1996 as a largely text-based adventure in the universe of "Chrono Trigger," and it only became widely available this year with the release of "Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition."


Hardcore "The Legend of Zelda" fans may have also heard of "BS The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets." Chapters of this lost "Zelda" game were released in 1997 over the course of four broadcasts, where Satellaview owners had no way of downloading the game if they missed out.

In short, accessing these games proved quite difficult even during the service period for the Satellaview. Broadcasts on the St. GIGA channel only occurred between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m (per Video Game Console Library), making it hard for subscribers to catch all of the service's offerings.