By Shawn Trommeshauser
(Dreaming in Digital)
As an 80s kid, I grew up right beside video games and have fond memories of every gaming system I’ve played from the Intellivision to the PlayStation 4. Whether you’re shooting ducks with a bright orange light gun to performing in a rock concert with a plastic drum set, video games have always tried to offer a safer and cheaper way to experience any thrills you could imagine. This is the thing I love most about gaming, the advancements and imagination put into using the technology to its fullest. There is always a new gimmick, a new way to play.
My favorite era for gaming was the 90s. The console wars were in full swing with Sega trying everything in their power to chip away at Nintendo’s market share in North America. Meanwhile, Sony was getting ready to take the gaming world by storm with a 3D revolution. It was a time of desperate innovation and cutthroat competition which made the 90s one of the most amazing times to be a gamer. Every new advance in technology was changing what could be done with game design more than ever before, and these advances were arriving faster with each year that passed.
From the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s Nintendo was king. Sega had their loyal fans, but their 8-bit console, the Master System, never took off in North America the way it did in Europe. Nintendo’s first venture into the video game Market revived an industry that had fallen apart under older companies such as Atari in the early 80’s and ended up giving them a virtual monopoly on console gaming in Canada and the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) hit the market like a tidal wave and it wasn’t long before everyone was using the name ‘Nintendo’ interchangeably with the term ‘video game’.
As much as I loved the original NES, I was 12 when the hype for the Super Nintendo (SNES) started to build up in the gaming magazines of the time. Articles and screenshots showed off colors and detail we’d never imagined in a video game before. The hype had caught the imagination of the kids my age at school and this was the first time we were old enough to realize that this new technology was going to legitimately change this hobby we had fun with when we were finished our homework.
I was blown away when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1991. The first time I saw it in action was at a friend’s home when his parents had rented the system. I remember playing Super Mario World, Final Fight, and U.N. Squadron, and I was hooked. A few months later I was stunned to receive a SNES from my parents on my 14th birthday and I was able to start renting games, myself. I’m sure they regret buying the system for me, but it was certainly a long-term investment as it provided me with around a quarter century of entertainment before it finally died on me a couple of years ago after turning a sickly shade of yellow.
Looking back, I would say that The SNES is tied with the original Sony PlayStation as my favourite systems of all time. Before the SNES game development ceased in 1997 to focus on the Nintendo 64 and the upcoming Gamecube, over 700 games had been released in North America throughout the 90’s and in the last 27 years, I’ve played a good chunk of them. So here are my thoughts on the best of the best, my personal favourite Super Nintendo games of all time!
I had to narrow the field so I gave myself a pair of rules along with a limit of 25 games.
Rule 1: The game must have been released in the North American Market at the time. This eliminates several Super Famicom titles I enjoyed such as Rockman & Forte, and The Firemen.
Rule 2: It must be a game I originally played on actual hardware when it was current, not something I discovered in later years through later releases of the game, or fan-translation patches using emulation on PC. A lot of Role Playing Games got bumped due to this. Seiken Densetsu 3, Final Fantasy V, and Front Mission to name a few.
First, I have Honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list:
Romance of the Three Kingdoms III (1993, Toei)
Secret of Evermore (1995, Squaresoft)
Mortal Kombat II (1994, Acclaim)
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (1992, Squaresoft) Hush. Yes. I enjoyed it
Wing Commander (1992, Mindscape)
The Lost Vikings (1993, Interplay)
Pilotwings (1991, Nintendo)
In no particular order are my personal picks for the top 25 Super Nintendo games of all time. This list is so big, I had to split this article into three parts.
Actraiser (1991, Enix)
You play as God, battling a war against Satan where the resolve and faith of your followers is the source of your power…. Wait, sorry, no. Nintendo’s infamous self-censorship was still in effect when this game was released. You play as The Master, ridding the world of the evil Tanzra and driving his demons from the surface of the Earth.
Gameplay alternates between platforming action where you descend to the world and physically take on the demons and monsters that have taken control of the world. Once the land is clear, settlers move in and you switch to a simple, yet fun city building type of game where the goal is to guide your people to prosperity. In turn, your people bestow gifts and discoveries to you in tribute which you can use to grow more powerful or to help people in other lands.
Boasting gorgeous artwork and an amazing soundtrack that still holds up today, Actraiser is simply a work of gaming art. It’s biggest negatives are the occasional slowdown and a sequel that threw all the original game’s personality out the window to focus on bland action. Ignore the sequel, but don’t skip the original.
Axelay (1992, Konami)
Konami could do no wrong in the 90’s. They developed so many long-running franchises that I could have made a list like this out of Konami developed games alone! Gradius, Salamander, and Parodius are well-known examples of the shooters they never seemed to run out of, but Axelay stood apart from the pack. It was made specifically for the SNES and has never been ported to another system or been given a spin-off or sequel despite being a fantastic game.
Axelay is also unique in how its stages alternate between side-view horizontal levels and top-down vertical levels. They use some of the unique hardware effects that the SNES was known for to make it feel like you were almost flying into the screen.
As you progress, you unlock more weapons which you can swap out between levels to keep your own arsenal one step ahead of the swarms of enemies that you’ll be facing off against. Axelay’s amazing boss battles are intense, colorful and will push your reflexes to the edge. It definitely holds up today, and is well worth a look for anyone looking for an adrenaline rush.
Chrono Trigger (1995, Squaresoft)
Considered by many to be the best role-playing game (RPG) of all time, Chrono Trigger will send you back and forth through time to stop an ancient creature called Lavos from destroying the world. Developed by a creative team that combined the talent behind the competing Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, two of the most popular RPG franchises in the world, Chrono Trigger was a success in every way that fans of the genre could have hoped for.
You’ll find allies everywhere from the prehistoric past all the way to the distant future where you’ll discover the grim fate of the world. The repercussions of your actions will be felt across time as you manipulate history to reclaim the future of your world.
Darius Twin (1991, Taito)
Based on a series of arcade games with extremely wide screens, Darius is a horizontal sci-fi shooter where the evil alien ships are themed after aquatic life! The game looks great and sounds even better. The music in Darius Twin is fantastic and makes great use of the Super Nintendo’s audio processor to create a very distinct feel to the music that’s always been one of the more memorable aspects of the game for me.
Unlike most shooters, Darius Twin has a branching path where you select the stage you want to go to next. This makes for a lot of replay value because you simply can’t see everything the game has to offer in a single run through the game. The enemies require more effort to put down than in most shooters. Even the weaker ships take several hits to knock out of the sky. The boss designs are huge and look amazing with their sea-creature themes, and seeing all of them is a great excuse to replay and try the levels you’ve never played before.
Giant mechanical fish may sound like an odd concept, but it makes for some amazing visuals! This is definitely a game to check out if you enjoy shooters.
F-Zero (1991, Nintendo)
This is the game that changed everything. Previously, most racing games worked by carefully building an optical illusion of objects at different sizes being moves around the screen to give the impression of moving along a track. With the Super Nintendo’s ‘Mode 7’ graphics capabilities, F-Zero did the impossible and showed gamers just how limited the older ways of doing things really was. The tracks were flat, but your vehicle and viewpoint actually move the track in three-dimensional space as you race around. Today we’re all used to such simple graphical effects, so it’s very hard to describe just how different F-Zero felt at the time. But it was absolutely mind-blowing and was one of the first games to show that 3D gaming was truly on the way
The game itself still holds up very well. You’ll want to lean into every turn as you race around tracks at extremely high speeds in one of four futuristic hovering vehicles. Each track has its own kick-ass theme music and a huge variety of hairpin turns, long jumps, and other obstacles designed to slow you down or even destroy you. There’s also a pit area in each track that will regenerate your shields as you drive through it so you can hopefully stay alive long enough to complete the race. I still play F-Zero a couple times a year and cannot recommend it enough.
Please leave a comment to share your own favorite games from your past and stay tuned for part 2 of my top 25 Super Nintendo games nostalgia trip!