SNES: 25 Years, 25 Games

Recently, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System turned 25 years old in North America. Generally considered one of the best all-time consoles, the SNES’s library boasts many amazing titles. So, inspired by a list made by the staff at Game Informer, here are multiple opinions on the top 25 Super Nintendo games of all-time. I asked two other people to give their thoughts, as well as supplying some of my own.

Professor Icepick

25. Nosferatu

Probably the most obscure game on this list, SETA Corporation’s Nosferatu isn’t a movie tie-in. It’s effectively a cinematic-style platformer with trappings that evoke a gothic horror setting. Nosferatu puts players in control of Kyle, a young man on his quest to save his girlfriend Erin from the dreaded titular vampire. The slower pace may be a turn off for some games, but it’s definitely a hidden gem.

24. HyperZone

A rare non-Kirby game from HAL Laboratory, HyperZone can be best described as “what if F-Zero was a shoot-‘em-up?” Utilizing the Super Nintendo’s full Mode 7 capabilities, HyperZone was effectively a predecessor to the more popular Star Fox, coming out in mid-1991. With a killer soundtrack and amazing visuals for such an early release, HyperZone was a perfect example of just what the SNES was capable of.

23. Uniracers

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Sonic the Hedgehog was strictly a racing game…and a unicycle? Wonder no more, with the SNES classic Uniracers. Co-developed by Nintendo of America and DMA Design (the future Rockstar North), Uniracers was an incredibly popular game. Unfortunately, a lawsuit from animation giant Pixar (who apparently own the concept of a computer-generated unicycle) would put the kibosh on any future the fledging game might have had.

22. Ninja Warriors

A side-scrolling beat-‘em-up from the fine folks at Natsume in the vein of Splatterhouse. Ninja Warriors, which was actually the sequel to the arcade game of the same title, takes place in a dystopian United States in the year 2035. Players could take control of one of three robot ninjas (Kunoichi – the balanced gynoid, Ninja – the strong android and newcomer Kamaitachi – the speedy but less humanoid robot) in order to save the country from the tyrant president Banglar and his vast military forces.

21. Zoop

I’ve always been a fan of puzzle games: the more unique, the better. Zoop is one of my all-time favorites, ever since I first discovered that demo disk for PC. Zoop is a fast-paced real-time puzzle game that plays like a cross between a shmup and Bejeweled. Sporting an awesome smooth jazz chiptune soundtrack, it’s a shame this game didn’t get more love when it was new, but it hit pretty much every system under the sun.

20. Star Fox

Generally considered one of the most visually impressive SNES games, Star Fox was also a blast to play. Bringing the action of such classic polygonal rail shooters like the Star Wars arcade game and Red Baron to home platforms with the graphics fully intact, Star Fox showcased the potential of the Super FX chip, which allowed the SNES to experiment with true (albeit rudimentary) 3D graphics. Despite being completely overshadowed by its successor on the Nintendo 64, the original Star Fox is still a solid title.

19. U.N. Squadron

Another case of a Japanese licensed title coming out in America under a different title, Capcom’s U.N. Squadron was originally a shoot-‘em-up based on the classic anime and manga Area 88.  Originally released in the arcades in 1989, the game would eventually get a home conversion in 1991 for the Super Nintendo. While I’m generally more of a fan of vertical shmups, U.N. Squadron won me over with both its in-game shop and its unique health system: getting hit by enemy fire causes the plane to go into a temporary danger state where one more hit will instantly destroy it unless it’s able to recover.

18. Super Punch-Out!!

Super Punch-Out!! – not to be confused with the arcade title of the same name – was a definite improvement over its NES predecessor in pretty much every sense of the world. The gameplay was tightened, larger graphics made it easier to see the action, the soundtrack was much more exhilarating and the opponents were much more wacky and off-the-wall, with an evil clown, a Jackie Chan wannabe and a giant luchador being merely a few of the game’s varied offerings.

17. Earthbound

If you’re familiar with my writing, you should know by now that I’m not a big fan of traditional turn-based JRPGs. Having said that, I love Earthbound. The story and world was a charming breath of fresh air in a unique modern setting that’s commonly unseen in most RPGs, even today. The battle system was unique and relied on quick thinking and strategy in order to survive, from beginning to end. Best of all, no random battles and – get this – you can even entirely skip pointless battles with weak enemies as the game progresses! How awesome is that?

16. MegaMan X

To be honest, I would’ve probably have put Rockman & Forte here, but since that didn’t actually come out outside of Japan – it doesn’t really count. So instead, I decided to double up on the MegaMan X games – as much as I defend MegaMan 7, it’s not “Top 25” material. Anyway, the original MegaMan X is exactly the kind of thing you want to see when bringing a classic series into the next generation of consoles: the gameplay, graphics and sound were all enhanced significantly.

15. Super Castlevania IV

Personally, I’m more of a fan of Bloodlines and Rondo of Blood, but I can’t deny the brilliance behind this game. Some people would argue that this game refined the Castlevania formula to perfection, but in reality, it threw out some iconic gameplay elements for the sheer sake of making a game that plays perfectly. Easily one of Konami’s magna opera.

14. E.V.O.: Search for Eden

Definitely one of the most unique games on this list, E.V.O.: Search for Eden gives players a first-hand look at a fictionalized account of prehistoric Earth. Starting as a rudimentary sea creature, players fight to survive through numerous biomes and time periods, slowly evolving as they defeat and ingest other creatures vying for the same resources. E.V.O. manages to straddle the line between serious science lesson and engaging adventure to create a brilliant experience that really only could have existed in the days of the Super Nintendo.

13. Wild Guns

Natsume’s Wild Guns was effectively a shooting gallery on steroids, designed from the ground-up with home consoles in mind, and it showed. Taking place in an alternate steampunk-influenced take on the American Wild West, Wild Guns allowed players to choose between Annie, a young woman trying to avenge her family, and Clint, a grizzled gun-for-hire as they take on the notorious Kid family. While most rail shooters of the time were first person affairs, Wild Guns was third person, allowing players responsive control over both their characters and their aim. I’m still in shock that this game is getting a revival on PlayStation 4.

12. Super Metroid

This is probably the most influential game on the list, effectively solidifying the formula used in the “Metroidvania” genre. (I prefer “Metroid-like, personally.)  A significant improvement over the first two Metroid games, with improved controls and an in-game map, Super Metroid is still considered by some fans to be the best game in the series to this day.

11. Tetris Attack

As you probably know by now, I love me some puzzle games. When it comes right down to it, Tetris Attack is probably the best example of the genre on the system. Despite having nothing to do with its namesake, the former Panel de Pon delivers fast-paced strategic action and I’d still consider it to be the best game in its series. It’s truly a shame that copyright issues prevent the game from being re-released in its original form.

10. Demon’s Crest

While many people are enamored with Capcom’s classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, I always preferred its spin-off series, the Gargoyle’s Quest trilogy. The best of these three games was clearly Demon’s Crest, the SNES iteration and (as of right now) final game in the series. A truly epic adventure with some truly gorgeous Mode 7 effects – and that’s coming from someone who considered the effect to be an eyesore – the game expanded on its predecessors immensely, allowing the demonic Firebrand to obtain brand new abilities, including the ability to change forms.

9. Pocky and Rocky

I would say that this one is chalked up to nostalgia, but upon replay, this game still holds up. Pocky & Rocky (better known as KiKI KaiKai: Nazo no Kuro Manto in Japan) is perhaps the best game in its sub-genre of all time. It’s effectively one of those free-walking shmup-style games in the same vein as Commando or Ikari Warriors, but the control is perfect, the graphics are beautiful and the music is glorious. The fact that its only representation in modern gaming is a rerelease of its lackluster GBA follow-up is truly gaming blasphemy.

8. MegaMan X3

I have to admit, this is perhaps the most controversial pick on the list, as the original MegaMan X is generally considered to be the best in the series (which is kind of depressing, upon reflection). Regardless, I tended to prefer X3 over its predecessors. The increased difficulty is a boon in my eyes, the ability to destroy certain recurring bosses early to unlock completely different ones later gives the game a boost in replay value and the variety of secret power-ups found late in the game keep players on their toes.

7. Super Mario World

This game pretty much has to be on any list of top SNES games, to the extent where I think there’s a law against omitting it. Of course, only a contrarian would think to omit it anyway, because this game has earned its spot in video game history. It took the already refined gameplay of Super Mario Bros. 3 and proceeded to improve on many elements. The SNES’s new controller allowed for more advanced controls and new moves; the game’s levels were significantly larger than those of SMB3 and difficulty was rebalanced as the game boasted new power-ups that would’ve broken pretty much any other Mario platformer we’ve seen before or since.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

The Super Nintendo was host to several great beat-‘em-ups in its heyday, but the best by far was Konami’s Turtles in Time. Based on the then-nearly omnipresent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise (specifically the cartoon), Turtles in Time was one of those rare examples from the 16-bit era where a home conversion, for the most part, surpassed its arcade progenitor. Improved controls, brand new stages and enemies and the ability to play at home made this version the definitive one. The only advantage the arcade version has on this one is 4-player co-op, but considering just how much of a hassle it took to set up that kind of thing on home consoles in the fourth generation, it seems like a fair trade.

5. Kirby Super Star

I may be wrong, but I think I’m in a rare minority: I actually prefer Kirby over Mario when it comes to Nintendo’s platformers. For the longest time, the acme of the Kirby series was Super Star, which still stands tall even to this day. Kirby Super Star is a total package: it includes a remake of the original Kirby’s Dream Land (Spring Breeze), a more Metroid-like adventure with treasure hunting (The Great Cave Offensive), multiple mini-games (Samurai Kirby, Megaton Punch and Gourmet Race), a boss rush (The Arena) and several other Kirby adventures. While I feel the most recent Kirby games on the 3DS have surpassed Super Star, the game still holds up remarkably well – even when considering the enhanced re-release on DS, Kirby Super Star Ultra.

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

For the longest time, I had something of an irrational hatred of this game. Maybe it was just because I loved Link’s Awakening so much and felt that ALttP was overrated by comparison. Maybe it’s because the first time I played it, I accidentally walked out the front door of Hyrule Castle with Zelda in tow and couldn’t figure out how to continue. Regardless, a couple years back, I decided to bite the bullet and play through the game and despite my snarky attitude, I ended up really enjoying the game. Definitely one of the best the Super Nintendo has to offer.

3. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Since their inception, I feel that I always gravitated towards the Donkey Kong Country series more than the Mario games. I have a theory about that: I honestly believe that Nintendo made the DKC games to compete with Sega’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. Whether that’s the case or not, the SNES Donkey Kong Country games have been one of my favorite gaming trilogies of all-time and, in my opinion, the cream of the crop had to be the second game in the series.

2. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting

Out of all the variants of Street Fighter II, Hyper Fighting – the third iteration – has always been my overall favorite. Super may have added in some brand new cast members like Cammy White and Fei Long, but SF2 Turbo was pure, unadulterated fun. With its high speed action and full access to both the boss characters from the original game and the ability to have mirror matches without cheat codes, Hyper Fighter is still considered among the best fighting games of all-time.

1. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

I pretty much had to choose Yoshi’s Island as my top choice: not simply because I love the game, but also because of what it signifies. Super Mario World effectively perfected an existing system, but Yoshi’s Island proved that a Mario platformer could go for unique mechanics rather than its tried and true formula – something we hadn’t seen since 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 2, itself a reskin of the seemingly unrelated Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. Yoshi’s Island not only delivered solid gameplay, but also made it clear that Mario could continue to innovate and evolve. It’s just a damn shame that it took almost 20 years for it to get a suitable successor in Yoshi’s Woolly World.

Honorable Mentions

  • Aero Fighters – the first entry in one of my favorite shmup series actually managed to get a home port.
  • Tetris & Dr. Mario – seriously, Mixed Match is probably one of the most fun puzzle game modes in existence.
  • Final Fight 3 – the best of the trilogy (on SNES, anyway), woefully underrated compared to the original.

NekoGamerX

25. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

The Legend of Mystical Ninja was an action-adventure game created by Konami. It could either be played as a single-player experience or a cooperative game with 2 players. I really liked this game a lot the first time I played it. The gameplay is really good, but the story is just okay. I couldn’t get into the game’s plot that much, but the controls were solid.

24. Batman Returns

Okay, I loved this movie but most of the licensed games based on it were not great. Fortunately, the game for the SNES was far and away the best adaptation: controls are great and the gameplay is fun like the movie. If only more licensed games turned out this well.

23. World Heroes

This series is good, but nowhere near the quality of SNK’s other fighters. [It was actually developed by ADK, a company that SNK would later absorb. – Ed.] That’s why it’s so low on this list, I don’t even have that much to say about it. The gameplay is really good and I like it for what it was. If I saw it in an arcade now, I’d still play it.

22. Knights of the Round

Knights of the Round is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up made by Capcom. It pretty much plays like other Capcom beat-‘em-ups, though this one is based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The gameplay and controls are really good for a console port, but I think the arcade version is a little better – though not by much. They did a good job on this game.

21. Ranma ½: Hard Battle

Okay, I’m not going to lie: I love anime and I really love Ranma ½, so I had to get this game mostly because of that. Now, the gameplay isn’t really good at all and the controls are not perfect, but there were some funny in-game events after either winning or losing a match. Sometimes, I’d start laughing at what some of the characters would do, so I had fun with it.

20. Art of Fighting

Another fighting game made by SNK, though I liked the Fatal Fury games way more. The game is fun, like all SNK fighters are. I’m just glad that this game and a lot of others live on in the King of Fighters series, which I love a lot – especially since the series is still going on, strong as ever.

19. Pocky & Rocky

Pocky & Rocky is a side-scrolling shooter with a top-down perspective made by Taito. The gameplay is really fun and the controls are really good. Too bad I don’t think there will be any new Pocky & Rocky games in the near future, but I’m glad I got to play this series.

18. Fatal Fury Special

Okay, I’ve always loved this series. When it comes to fighting games, SNK knows what they’re doing. I used to play the Fatal Fury series in the arcades and I loved Fatal Fury 2 more than the original because they added more characters, like Mai Shirunai – my all-time favorite. So when Fatal Fury Special came out on Super Nintendo, I had to get it. I mean, it’s not the best fighter on the Super NES and it wasn’t going to be arcade-perfect like the NeoGeo version, but I had fun with it. The game controls well and it had a lot of characters to choose from, which is something I like in a fighting game.

17. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Like the earlier games in the series, this game is really hard – though, I think it’s easier than the other games in the series. Being hard doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun. I mean, the gameplay is good, the controls do what they need to do and both the game and the series as a whole are really good. I’m just waiting for a new game to come out someday, but I don’t know if it will happen any time soon.

16. Tetris Attack

Okay, I played Tetris on the NES and I loved it. I’d play it for hours. Then Tetris 2 came out and while it was different, I liked it too.  Tetris Attack was the same thing: when it came out, I tried it and it was different from the other 2 games – but in a way, it was way better than the second game. I liked playing as Yoshi in Story and Endless Mode. Later on, I found out this wasn’t even really a Tetris game: it was another game called Panel de Pon, which I tried and thought was as fun as Tetris Attack. [I wonder what he’d think of Doki Doki Panic. – Ed.] It just didn’t have Yoshi and the other Mario characters, but I liked the characters in Panel de Pon. I’d like a new game using those characters if Nintendo would make one.

15. Final Fight 3

Okay, I love the Final Fight series, but the first two games weren’t really that good on the Super NES. I didn’t like how they removed a lot of things from the original Arcade game, but Final Fight 3 changed that for me. I liked the characters, the gameplay was fun and the controls were really good. I don’t know if I’d say it was the best Final Fight series, but in my opinion, it’s the best one on the SNES.

14. Kirby Super Star

Now I never really got into the Kirby series. So if you’re like me, this is a great game to start with. It’s really fun and controls very well. Kirby is cute and fun to play, I love eating enemies and getting their powers. It’s a pretty fun game and I need to play more games in the series, just because of how fun this game was.

13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

This is another beat-‘em-up made by Konami. I played the other TMNT games on NES but this game is the best by far. The gameplay is solid, it controls nice and the game is just a lot of fun. That’s really all I can say about it.

12. Killer Instinct

A fighting game made by Rare, Killer Instinct’s gameplay is a lot harder than most of the fighting games at the time. There are automatic combos in this game and, for the most part, I still can’t get the hang of it. I still had fun despite how hard the game was and I love a lot of the characters, my favorite being Black Orchid. She was pretty fun to play as and I tried to learn her combos. There were only 2 installments in the series until the latest one hit Xbox One. I still haven’t played that one, but it looks really good and I’m glad the series is still alive.

11. Super Castlevania IV

I’ve loved the Castlevania franchise ever since the NES days, but there are two gameplay styles: the classic games like this one, Castlevania 1 and 3, then there’s Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which is a lot like Metroid for the most part. I like the Metroidvanias a lot better than the classic ones, though Super Castlevania IV was really fun and a lot better than the other Castlevania game on SNES: Dracula X. There were so many things wrong with that game, it’s sad that Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine (which Dracula X is based on) was a much better game and my favorite classic Castlevania. Still, this is a list for Super NES games, and that’s why Super Castlevania IV got on this list.

10. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighter/Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers

Okay, I have always loved the Street Fighter II series, and that’s why I couldn’t pick between these two games when making this list. Hyper Fighting was really fun and felt more balanced than the other SF2 installments, but The New Challengers gave me one of my favorite characters in the series: Cammy White. She was so fun to use in Super and the gameplay was pretty good for the most part.

9. Earthbound

Known as Mother 2 in Japan, Earthbound is a JRPG made by Nintendo. You control Ness and the rest of his party of four, as they travel the world to collect the Eight Melodies to defeat the evil alien force Giygas. This game is a lot like Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest – there are no random battles, but unlike Mystic Quest, you can equip your characters’ items yourself. The enemies in this game were really funny, the story was really good and I loved the music in this game. To me, this game is a masterpiece to this day.

8. The Donkey Kong Country series

I’m not sure what I want to say about these games. It’s a really fun series and it changes everything we knew about Donkey Kong from the arcade classics Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. The games are now platformers and you can control two different characters: in the first game, it was Donkey Kong and a brand new character, Diddy Kong. You could switch between them and they had different gameplay styles, which I found to be really cool. I never really got into Donkey Kong Country 3, but I loved the second game, with its addition of Dixie Kong – who had a helicopter spin, which came in handy for some stages. All in all, the series is great and I’m glad that it came back on the Wii and Wii U.

7. Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

Now this game is nothing like the normal Final Fantasy games we’re used to. In fact, it’s really different and the game gets a lot of crap for that and it shouldn’t. I mean, most Final Fantasy games are not the same, they have different gameplay. Mystic Quest eliminates random battles, which are in most Final Fantasy games, though nowadays Square Enix has gotten rid of random battles altogether. Also, players cannot manually equip characters with armor and weapons. Instead, the newest items you get replaces the character’s current equipment. You’re also playing from a top-down perspective, which I found different. The game also had action-adventure elements. You can jump and use your sword to chop down trees that are in the way. It was a lot of fun and I think this was a hidden gem. I think everyone should give this game a shot.

6. Star Fox

This was one of Nintendo’s new IPs on the Super NES. Of all their new IPs from this time, this one stuck out and became a beloved Nintendo franchise. I still wish to this day that Star Fox 2 got released, but it got cancelled. Though the series has had its ups and downs, I think the newest installment on Wii U has gotten the series back on track.

5. Chrono Trigger

Okay, this game is Square’s best new RPG IP for the Super NES. It is way better than Secret of Mana and all of the other new Square IPs of the time are mediocre compared to it. Can’t say it’s better than most Final Fantasy games, but it’s up there – being one of the best RPGs of its time.

4. Final Fantasy III

The 6th installment of the Final Fantasy series and in my opinion, it is the best of the series. Great story, great characters and everything in this game was great. Even though I love Final Fantasy VII, it’s still 2nd place compared to Final Fantasy III.

3. Mega Man X/Mega Man X3

I put both X and X3 on this list, because out of the 3 games on the Super NES, they’re the ones I liked the most. X2 didn’t grab me like the other games did.

2. Super Mario World

Okay, this game is a great installment in the Super Mario Bros. franchise. The game was very well made – it’s like everyone involved put their heart and soul in this masterpiece. The gameplay is fun and the music is catchy. I loved everything about it.

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

The third installment in the Legend of Zelda series, I loved playing every minute of this game. It took me back to when I played the first Zelda. The gameplay is pretty much like the first game and the story was really good.


SNESMasterKI

25. Sunset Riders

It’s Contra with cowboys, there’s no point in denying that.  But that’s not a bad thing, Sunset Riders is a great run and gun shooter that is better on SNES than in the arcade thanks to there being an effort to balance the difficulty.  While we should probably just bury Konami with their money at this point, Sunset Riders is a reminder of their glory days.

24. Actraiser

I normally don’t like civilization management games, but Actraiser’s simple but satisfying town building mixed with action platforming is something special and incredibly unique.  Whether you’re slashing your way through demons as a statue controlled by “The Master” (no overt religious references allowed at the time) or building a town as a cherub from an overhead view, Actraiser is a great game that needs a REAL sequel.

23. UN Squadron

A shmup where you can take more than one hit… I didn’t think that was legal.  UN Squadron not only lets you take multiple hits, it makes your score actually mean something, since you’re technically earning money to upgrade your plane and buy weapons.  Since you can choose the order you do a lot of levels in, this adds a great element of strategy to the game.  All of this on top of a solid horizontal shooter makes for a classic that would have easily broken through the licensed game stigma, if anyone in the West knew it was a licensed game in the first place.

22. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

While there are a couple of omnipresent problems that plague the GNG series (freaking red gargoyles, and the “twists” at the end), everything else in Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is fantastic.  Great and varied level design, creative monsters, a double jump, the good will make you willing to deal with the series’ quirks.  Just remember, the dagger has been usurped: the crossbow is the best weapon in the game.  And death is better than the torch, much better.

21. Killer Instinct

There was a time when this was my favorite game (hence the KI), but now it almost feels like I respect it less than the average SNES enthusiast.  Nostalgia is a hell of a polish, I guess.  But that’s not to say Killer Instinct is a bad game, the great characters, intuitive combo system, and of course the 90s charm still holds up today.  The KI in my name may be a figurehead these days, but the game still has plenty to offer.

20. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

If you want to see why I love sequels so much, play through the original Lufia, and then play this game.  Starting as a painfully slow generic RPG, Lufia II turned the series into something great.  No random battles, Zelda style items for out of battle puzzles, even a Pokémon (which came out the same year as this game in Japan) style monster companion system.  If you want a SNES RPG that’s as fun to play as it is to read, Lufia II should be at the top of your list.

19. Gradius 3

The Konami code as an actual cheat (meaning something that makes the game easier as opposed to an Easter egg) is in fewer games than its iconic status would lead you to believe.  I think Gradius 3 is the last game to use it as such, and the game definitely warrants it.  Ten levels with new themes and ideas in each one and several options for every slot in your powerup lineup give Gradius 3 plenty of content and will make you fight your way through it.  Whether you cave in and use the Konami code or not.

18. Wild Guns

I’m still in shock that this is getting a remake.  Part of an incredibly rare but awesome sub-genre, Wild Guns combines the precision aiming of an on-rails shooter with the character movement of a run and gun.  With dodge rolls, double jumping, and environmental damage, the game is ahead of its time in many ways.  The cowboys meet giant robots setting is completely nonsensical, and that’s a good thing.  The veil of obscurity seems to be lifting from this game, somewhat, and hopefully even more people will discover this overlooked gem.

17. Illusion of Gaia

It seems like every retro action-RPG is described as being like Zelda, but Illusion of Gaia follows through on that claim.  With solid combat, great puzzles, a good story, and an intriguing ability to switch between special forms that are basically new characters, Illusion of Gaia provides everything you’d want in an action-RPG.  My favorite of the unofficial trilogy it forms the middle of, Illusion of Gaia is a must-own for Zelda fans.  I have no idea why I thought this was an edutainment game when I was a kid, but oh well, I know how good it is now.

16. Contra 3: The Alien Wars

Okay, so it’s Sunset Riders without cowboys, but still… okay, in seriousness, Contra 3 takes the iconic run and gun series and adds a level intensity that would never have been possible on the NES.  Seemingly infinite alien swarms, powerful weapons that can keep up with them, levels filled with multiple bosses, Contra 3 may be a little on the short side but with limited continues in a game this intense that’s probably a good thing.  Contra 3 is fun to play again and again, and that’s a very good thing since you will be doing that if you want to finish it.

15. Demon’s Crest

I actually like the Gargoyle/Demon spin-off series more than the GNG games they originated from, and Demon’s Crest is easily the best one.  Instead of tormenting players, you get to control a red gargoyle, Firebrand, and use his many abilities to fight a huge variety of enemies and explore secret packed levels.  The game may seem absurdly short if you rush through it, but the length will more than double if you take your time to find the secret bosses and levels.  Yeah, instead of forcing you to play the same level twice, you actually find NEW stuff to expand the game’s length. Looks like the child really surpassed the parent.

14. Earthbound

Despite initially failing in North America due to some poorly advised marketing attempts to cash in on the Ren and Stimpy gross-out cartoon fad, Earthbound has since been recognized for the creative, hilarious, and touching RPG that it is.  While the gameplay is pretty standard for JRPGs of the era (annoyance reduction aside), the setting, writing, and characters easily set the game apart and make it unforgettable.  Whether you’re freeing an arcade from ninja gang members, saving a town from a zombie invasion, or confronting an eldritch abomination to save the planet, Earthbound is a great time throughout the entire experience.

13. Super Punch-Out!!

The NES Punch-Out may be better known, but Super Punch-Out is simply a better game.  A greater number of outlandish boxers to conquer, better control, no freaking passwords, everything is improved.  This isn’t a sports game, it’s a compilation of puzzle based boss fights, and that is a great thing.  The personality from your opponents and great graphics are the icing on the cake.  So you’re playing as YOUR NAME HERE instead of Little Mac: the fact that that’s pretty much the only argument anyone can come up with for the NES game being better should tell you everything.  Punch-Out!! Wii made another huge leap forward, but Super Punch-Out!! is still a classic well worth playing today.

12. Kirby Super Star

As with many Nintendo series, Kirby floating his way onto SNES marked a dramatic upswing in quality.  Kirby Super Star considers each of its worlds a different game with a unique format and rules, giving it a huge amount of variety.  What really makes it great, though, is the gigantic assortment of power-ups, each of which has a set of different moves depending on directional input and Kirby’s position.  I have no idea why it took Nintendo 15 years to make another Kirby game with Super Star’s depth of abilities, but the series is now better than it has ever been and the variety and polish introduced in Super Star is to thank for that.

11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

Calling this game arcade perfect would be a grave insult to it.  Turtles in Time on Super Nintendo is much better than the arcade game it is based on, with more levels, more bosses, and exponentially better controls that make it my favorite beat-‘em-up of all time.  Your arsenal of moves is as varied as the enemies, settings, and level design gimmicks, and all of them can be pulled off consistently.  Add in a fantastic soundtrack and graphics that perfectly capture 90s TMNT and you have a game that does everything right.  I’m not sure why this game shot up in price so dramatically (even in comparison to other SNES games), but it’s still a must have.  And it still blows my mind that we’re closer to Neon Nightriders than the 1992 “present” featured in this game.

10. Chrono Trigger

This game personifies the best features of 16-bit JRPGs.  Some of the best graphics and music on SNES, great characters, fast paced non-random battles, one of the best uses of time travel for both gameplay and story, and a sense of optimism and triumph that won’t leave you feeling Cross like some later JRPGs.  Yeah, sorry about that terrible pun, but I really do hate what was done to Chrono Trigger’s story and characters in a certain later game.  Chrono Trigger gives you a fantastic sense of accomplishment at nearly every major plot or sidequest accomplishment, and never bogs you down with excessive grinding or playable characters that get lost in the mix.  It would be hard for this game to be more timeless even if it really could invoke time travel.

9. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie’s Double Trouble

Yes, I meant to type 3.  If you aren’t furious that Kiddy Kong lacks the “soul” of Diddy, Donkey Kong Country 3 polishes DKC2’s formula enough to slightly edge it out (since the games are so similar, I’m using this entry to represent both of them, by the way).  Every level in Donkey Kong Country 3 is unique, and they’re all fun to explore for secrets without being frustrating.  You even get to directly explore the overworld now, and you really feel like you mastered the game when you reach the best ending.  Showing how much better a few secrets in many levels is than a few levels with trillions of secrets, Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3 remained the pinnacle of the series for generations and are just as fun today as they were when pre-rendered graphics were a novelty.

8. Street Fighter II Turbo

Street Fighter II was one of the most influential games of all time, and SNES getting a nearly arcade perfect port was one of the biggest boosts it got in its early lifespan.  Street Fighter II Turbo improved it (really, this entry is for both games) with more moves, more playable characters, and faster speed.  The balance and personality of the original 12 world warriors is still some of the best in a fighting game to this day, every character with one iconic exception is unique, and they’re all up to the task if you understand them.  Fighting games spent generations trying to copy the magic of Street Fighter II, and some would argue they never fully did.  Street Fighter II Turbo is as timeless as my pick in every new Street Fighter game that comes out (Ryu, not going to risk having my main taken out!).

7. Super Castlevania IV

When the best argument anyone can make against a game is “it’s controls are too good to be real Castlevania!”, you know you have a masterpiece on your hands.  Super Castlevania IV is exactly what the title says, supercharged Castlevania.  The controls are perfect and still the best in any Castlevania game, meaning that the challenge comes from the level design and enemies instead stiff jumping and whipping.  And the stages look great, sound great, and there are tons of them.  This game is so great that it distracts me from replaying the other Classicvanias, I never seem to get tired of it when I want a fix.  As terrible as Konami’s present is, at least gems like this will be with us forever, ready to fill our nights with the good kind of curse.

6. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

I love Yoshi.  Ever since I first learned that Mario had a dinosaur friend (dinosaurs being my obsession before video games) Yoshi has been one of my favorite video game characters.  I’ve actually named one of my dogs after him.  So Yoshi getting his own platforming masterpiece on the Super Nintendo was naturally something I appreciated very much.  The 20 year wait for it to get a worthy sequel was far less welcome, but at least it eventually happened.  Despite the American name, if I was labeling Yoshi’s Island as a direct sequel to any Mario it would be the western Super Mario Bros. 2.  Huge levels with lots to explore, filled with puzzles and secrets, creative bosses that take more than five seconds, the return of the Shy Guys, there are quite a few similarities.  But regardless of what you compare it to, Yoshi’s Island is a masterpiece that gives Mario the best possible origin story.

5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Here we are, the top five.  Starting things out, the game that showed what the Zelda series could achieve.  I don’t think the NES Zelda games aged very well, but their supercharged sequel took everything good about the original Zelda, polished it until it glowed, fixed every flaw, and added tons of wonderfully implemented new ideas.  Items are more varied and useful, control and combat have been greatly improved, you don’t have to burn random bushes to find dungeons, you have a huge amount of dungeons that wouldn’t be matched until more than 20 years later, the graphics and music show off what SNES can do, this game does everything right and is everything a sequel should be.  This is when Zelda became truly legendary, and it is just as fun to play today as it was in 1992.

4. Super Metroid

It’s hard to describe what makes this game so great without copying huge chunks from the A Link to the Past write-up.  Third game in the series, first 16-bit entry after two 8-bit games that didn’t age well, fixed all the flaws, polished every strength, added tons of great new ideas.  Super Metroid just feels so satisfying, something in the control, combat, and level design clicks in a way very few games can match.  The formula it set for its genre is still largely intact today, and like A Link to the Past it is every bit as fun to play today as it was on the day it was released.  Freezing enemies to use them as platforms, building up insane momentum with the grappling hook, jumping across 10 screens after charging up a speed dash, there are so many moments in this game that feel great no matter how many times you do them.  No matter how many times you hear that the last metroid is in captivity, you will never want to leave this game in peace when you could be playing it again.

3. Tetris Attack

I’m willing to guess this game is a lot higher on the list than you would expect.  Well, let me tell you a story.  Around 20 years ago, I had absolutely no interest in puzzle games, but Blockbuster was basically giving out rentals of Tetris Attack for free when you rented something else.  So I took it home, and decided I might as well play it.  I instantly became addicted to it and I have stayed that way for decades.  Tetris Attack is puzzle perfection, simple to learn but requiring huge amounts of strategy and reflexes to master.  One thing I especially love about it is that getting hit by garbage blocks doesn’t mess up your combos the way it does in most competitive puzzle games, turning matches into indescribably intense tests of skill and speed where you have less than a second to react, but are always able to regardless of how big your opponent’s combo was.  The Yoshi’s Island theme is icing on the cake (The Tetris label would be some other kind of dessert that happened to be in the same supermarket), in all of its forms Tetris Attack is the greatest puzzle game of all time.

2. Mega Man X

What’s the best trilogy in all of gaming?  There are plenty of them that I love, but there’s usually some kind of catch.  The first game didn’t age that great, the second game tried something weird that didn’t really work, Super Mario Galaxy 3 doesn’t actually exist at this moment in time, there’s always something.  Well the Super Nintendo Mega Man X games are consistently remarkable and remarkably consistent.  Yes, the second and third games are basically level packs (hence another “this entry represents multiple games” scenario), but that’s because Mega Man X did everything perfectly.  The Mega Man series got a SNES makeover that easily measures up to Nintendo best work in that area, Mega Man X has better mechanics, more secrets, iconic characters and story scenes, perfect control, great level design, a world that looks futuristic and serious without feeling boring or bleak, fantastic music…  And while the sequels don’t quite do everything as perfectly, they recapture 99.9% of it and help form what I consider the greatest trilogy of games of all time.  And the first Mega Man X game is so incredible that I put it ahead of every Nintendo masterpiece on their best system.  Well, with one obvious exception.

1. Super Mario World

Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, and many more series underwent dramatic increases in quality when they arrived on Super Nintendo.  But Mario didn’t have to wait that long, the Super Mario Bros. series underwent its supercharging on the original NES with Super Mario Bros. 3.  So what was left for Mario to do when he made the transition to the Super Nintendo?  Make the best game of its entire century, obviously.  Super Mario World has some of the best level design and controls of all time, for any system, in any genre, in addition to every other detail that contributed to the delicious gravy.  Super Mario World defines what it means for a game to age well, it puts wine to shame.  I have a lot of memories with this game, the first game I ever 100% completed.  The seemingly never ending layers of secrets, the satisfaction when I completed Special World, finding the switch palaces, figuring out the ghost houses, Yoshi, the cape feather, the spin jump, Charging Chuck, I remember everything about this game, and I love all of it.  But you don’t need nostalgic memories to see this game for the masterpiece that it is, everything in it is made from pure Nintendium that holds up today and may very well hold up forever.  The Super Nintendo launched with a game that embodies everything great about the system itself, a mix of classic simplicity and polish that makes for a timeless experience that is just as great 25 years later as it was when it launched, and will probably still be just as great in another 25 years.

 

So who do you think got it right? Did we miss any games that you considered the best? Let us know in the comments section below.

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