The Super Nintendo is an iconic part of early 90s gaming with classic titles like Super Mario World, Star Fox, and Chrono Trigger. However, the machine itself was woefully underpowered compared with the competition. Nintendo used a series of enhancement chips to compensate, but not all games had them. Now, one dedicated developer is releasing patches to emulate one of those chips in games that never had them, eliminating the annoying slowdowns that have plagued gamers for almost 30 years.
The SNES was a huge leap for Nintendo, which had become a household name with the NES launch. It stepped up to a Ricoh 5A22 CPU with a whopping 3.58 MHz of processing power from the 1.79 MHz Ricoh 2A03 used in the NES. However, by that point, Sega had launched the Genesis with a more impressive Motorola 68000 chip clocked at 7.6 MHz. That was a big performance gap in those days, so Nintendo used chips like the Super FX and SA1 in game cartridges to back up the internal CPU.
Nintendo used the SA1 in 34 SNES games like Super Mario RPG and Kirby’s Dreamland, without which the games would have rendered at a snail’s pace on the console. The SA1 had a 10.74 Mhz CPU, 2KB of faster RAM, and multiple programmable timers. Many SNES games didn’t have any co-processors, though, and they could have used one. Games like Contra III and Super R-Type ran well enough most of the time, but levels with too many sprites and effects would slow down noticeably. That’s still true in emulation to this day.
Brazilan developer Vitor Vilela has started addressing this shortcoming by patching in support for the SA1, a project known as FastROM. So far, he has released FastROM patches for Gradius III, Contra III, Super Mario World, and most recently, Super Castlevania IV. This makes the games running in emulation behave as if they had that extra processing capacity originally. Arguably, the patched games play better than they ever have in the last three decades.
FINALLY that awesome level without slowdown on stock hardware! 😀
Also, looks like more enemies are spawning. pic.twitter.com/FFsnPBBAJf
— Maxel (@MaxwelOlinda1) December 23, 2020
According to Vilela, adding FastROM to a game can make it up to 33.58 percent faster. The real-world gains depend on how often the game accesses the ROM chip, but we’re talking about at least 10 percent better performance. That could make all the difference in games like R-Type that will occasionally fill the screen with more sprites that the SNES could handle. However, the SA1 was a more general chip than something like the Super FX developed for Star Fox. Vilela says patching a sluggish 3D game like Race Drivin’ would require a complete code overhaul. Still, there are plenty of games that could benefit from FastROM. Currently, Vilela hopes to create patches for Axelay and U.N. Squadron.
You can download the patches from Vilela’s Git Hub, but you’ll have to get the game ROMs elsewhere. As we know from recent events, Nintendo is still very opposed to people hosting ROMs of its classic games.