By Shawn Trommeshauser
(Dreaming in Digital)
It’s been a while, but here is the second part of my personal top 25 Super Nintendo games (You can read part 1 here). This time I’ll look at some of the grandest epics and most jaw-dropping technological innovations of the era. These games are widely loved and played to this day, and still inspire and affect modern game designers.
As I mentioned previously, I ended up with FAR too many games to choose from, so I had to give myself some limitations to narrow down the field.
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.
And now we continue:
Final Fantasy IV (1991, Squaresoft)
Originally released in North America as Final Fantasy 2, FFIV quickly became my favourite game on the system back when I first go to play it in 1992. The original Final Fantasy had been my go-to RPG up to that point and with the power of the SNES, Squaresoft was able to deliver more detail, better music, more monsters, more weapons, locations, and everything else I loved. The story was much more involved and it had actual characters to follow whereas the original only had the blank slates in your party that didn’t even have names of their own.
Cecil, the main character, begins the game as a military leader who finds his assignments to be immoral and distasteful. Questioning the motives of his king is his first step on a journey that will take him around the world, recruiting the other nations to help him restore freedom and sanity to his homeland. As daunting as the quest seems, things are never as simple as they appear.
While the North American “Final Fantasy 2” is a great game, it has a simplified battle system which is missing abilities, items, and the challenge of the Japanese original. Later releases of Final Fantasy IV for other systems restore the missing content. While there is a 3D recreation available on Steam, it’s a port of the Nintendo DS version and it is extremely primitive. I personally recommend the PSP version for a faithful 2D adaptation and stunning sprite artwork.
Final Fantasy VI (1994, Squaresoft)
I didn’t think RPGs could get any better than Final Fantasy IV. Squaresoft was up for the challenge.
Originally released in North America as Final Fantasy 3 and recently re-released on the Super Nintendo Classic. I had never seen this kind of detail and storytelling in a game before, and to be honest it still outshines good amount of games since. Embracing a darker and more detailed art style than its bright and colourful predecessor, FFVI starts you off as Terra Branford, a young woman with unique magical powers. Under the influence of brainwashing technology and enslaved into imperial service as a living weapon, Terra is forced to attack a mining town in the mountains. Soon after, she’s freed from the evil Empire’s control and despite having no memories of her past, is convinced to join a rebellion who wants her to use her powers in their own cause.
There is so much to praise here and I may do a full review at some point, but for this short summary, all I want to say is that no game before or since has surprised me as much as this one did. If you only play one RPG from the 16-bit era, I recommend this one with absolutely no hesitation. Many fans feel this is the high point of the entire Final Fantasy franchise, and even after a quarter of a century Final Fantasy VI is my favourite home console game of all time.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja (1992, Konami)
This game was my first encounter with the Goemon series from Japan. While not many of those titles have made the trip to North America, I’m glad Konami gave us this fun action platformer. You can take on the game solo or with a friend to (what else?) save a captured princess. This game is full of Japanese folklore references that will go completely over the heads of most Westerners, including myself at that age, but the characters are all imaginative and give the entire game a fun, lighthearted feel.
Each level is split into two sections. The second half of the levels are fast-paced platforming action along with eccentric boss battles, but if you don’t want to take on that challenge right away you can spend time in the first segment of the levels where you’ll find stores, upgrades, and a huge variety of side activities that range from relaxing at a bathhouse to whack-a-mole to hockey. If you’re in the mood for a fun, light-hearted adventure, look no further than Legend of the Mystical Ninja.
Mega Man X (1994, Capcom)
Mega Man X is simply legendary. The original games from the Nintendo Entertainment System were extremely popular and when they made the jump to the 16-bit generation, X simply turned the dial up to 11. The music was always great, but now had room to breathe with the SNES custom sound processor. The colours were more vibrant, The gameplay was even faster and more responsive, and now you had permanent upgrades hidden in every stage to search for.
The basic Mega Man formula is still intact. You play as X, a robot similar to Mega but this version is from the future! Just like in the classic games you choose from eight differently themed levels, each with a boss at the end. Defeating a boss allows you to claim their weapon as your own which you can use against another boss who is weak to that specific weapon. Once you have cleared all the bosses you then move on to a final series of stages as you hunt down the final boss of the game, Sigma.
One complaint about this game is that it is one of the easier games to finish. This is fine as it makes for a great starting point for anyone who hasn’t given this long-running franchise a chance yet. If you enjoy action and platforming, you cannot go wrong with Mega Man X and you can get it on both the Wii U and the Super Nintendo Classic.
The Secret of Mana (1993, Squaresoft)
Secret of Mana is the second game in the long-running Mana series from Squaresoft following Final Fantasy Adventure on the Game Boy. The ‘Mana’ series abandoned the traditional menu-based combat systems found in most other RPGs of the time, favouring an action style fighting system inspired by games like the Legend of Zelda.
The Secret of Mana takes you on a grand adventure as you follow Randi, a young man who ends up banished from his hometown after being blamed for bringing a horde of monsters down upon the village. As the story progresses, you are joined by a girl named Primm and a sprite named Popoi—both be controlled by your friends and making this game the first 3-player cooperative RPG in history. Though the game consoles of the time only offered two controller ports, an accessory called a multitap fixed this hitch.
With bright, colourful graphics and an amazing musical score, Secret of Mana is an all-around excellent game I recommend wholeheartedly—especially if you want to play with a friend. It’s re-released among the 21 games included on the on the Super Nintendo Classic (sadly, there’s no hack to have a 3rd player join in this version). Square Enix released a fully 3D remake which I have yet to play, but the general response says the original is far superior.
Simcity (1991, Nintendo)
Game consoles of the 80’s and early 90’s were not powerful enough to properly represent complex simulations. Home computers had much more power which allowed them to crunch numbers much faster and display more detail than you could get out of an average TV set. It’s no surprise that after Maxis released the original Simcity for the Macintosh and the Amiga in 1989, it was swiftly ported to virtually every major home computer available. Nintendo felt that the Super Nintendo was powerful enough to compete with the PC market and acquired the rights to Simcity in order to prove it.
The goal is to design a successful city from nothing but a plot of land and some starting funds. You have to offer services to your citizens such as electricity, transit, and police along with designated areas for people to live and work. The challenge is in generating enough taxes to properly fund city services as well as fund further growth. It’s an addictive balance that an entire legacy of popular games has been built upon.
Nintendo’s Simcity goes the extra mile to be much more attractive and accessible than the home computer versions. Exclusive to the SNES was an advisor named Doctor Wright who occasionally pops up in a window to explain any issues your citizens are complaining about or offer bonus rewards to commemorate achievements. The exceptional music is memorable. The amount of extra colour the Super Nintendo was made to display more of made up for the lack of fine detail a computer monitor offered. The Nintendo-specific touches, such as a Mario statue, was awarded when you reach half a million people living in your city.
While the Super Nintendo version of Simcity can feel very slow when compared to the faster PC versions, and there’s no way to turn off disasters mode, the Super Nintendo version of Simcity is probably the best way to experience the original incarnation. While future versions of would add more details and functionality, none of them have Bowser from the Mario series stomping through your city.
Star Fox (1993, Nintendo)
One of the very first fully 3D games available on a home console, Star Fox was awe-inspiring. The simple, flat coloured polygons were the kind of thing you could only see in an arcade or an expensive home PC flight simulator.
While crude by today’s standards, at the time no one cared. Nintendo installed an additional processor called the Super FX chip into the cartridge to give the console the extra horsepower it would need to display the fully rendered 3D images that made Star Fox look unlike everything else out there. The fact that the game was fun and challenging is icing on the cake.
Star Fox is a what we would now call an On-Rails shooter—your view follows behind your Arwing (space fighter) as you fly through progressively harder levels of enemies and bosses, visited a collection of planets and deep space locations while fighting off the invading forces of the evil Andross. Offering multiple paths to victory and hidden levels to discover along the way, Star Fox was such a revolutionary game that the completed sequel (Now available along with this game on the Super Nintendo classic system) was cancelled in favour of a Nintendo 64 remake. It was further refined on the 3DS. You simply can’t go wrong with this game in any form.
Super Castlevania IV (1991, Konami)
Castlevania is one of Konami‘s most legendary series and it continued with Super Castlevania. This update is considered by many to be the best looking and best sounding of all the classic level-based games in the series. Known in North America as the fourth in the series, this product is not actually a sequel. It is, instead, an enhanced and upgraded version of the original.
As Simon Belmont, your goal is to take up the Vampire Killer, a whip that has been blessed with holy power, and put an end to the evil of Dracula. You also have many other weapons such as the holy water and the boomerang-like crosses along with new abilities such as being able to whip in any direction to help you survive the 11 stages full of monsters that stand between you and the vampire.
The controls are so precise and responsive that the game actually becomes easier than the Castlevania titles on the NES as a result. That and the effects causing a lot of slow down in some levels are really the only downsides.
Super Castlevania is one of the first true examples of what the Super Nintendo was really capable of when it first launched. The music is among the best in all of gaming, and every crack of your whip is immensely satisfying. This one is a must-play and is currently available on the Wii U Virtual Console and built into the Super Nintendo Classic system.
Super Mario All Stars (1993, Nintendo)
In the late 80’s, Mario was a household name in North America and it helped sell Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3. They were easily three of the most beloved games of all time and in 1993, Nintendo gave their fans a treat by rebuilding and remastering all three titles with the power of the Super Nintendo behind them.
The games all play almost exactly like how you remember them. Despite some programming bugs and oversights which could have been squashed, they were nothing that casual players would ever notice. The music has been dramatically enhanced by the Super Nintendo’s sample-based music synthesizer, and the graphics (especially in Mario 3) are simply gorgeous. And if you’re up for the challenge, try out the included ‘Lost Levels’ game which is the original Super Mario Bros 2 from Japan. This regionalized version was much more challenging than the original title. As most people now know, the vegetable-throwing game we grew up with is a reskin of Doki-Doki Panic.
Super Mario Kart (1992, Nintendo)
Welcome to go-karting in the Mushroom Kingdom! Nobody asked for this, but Nintendo pulled off a spectacular success with this new racing game that no one knew they needed until they had it! Building on the lessons learned while making F-Zero, Nintendo was able to improve on their racing game design by adding not only a 2-player split screen but a battle mode where you played against a friend in an arena full of power-ups and weapons instead of on the racetrack!
Race through diverse locations ranging from ghost houses to King Koopa’s lava-filled castle while trying to knock out your opponents with Homing shells and banana peels strategically placed on the track. Are you good enough to unlock the Special Cup and take on the infamous Rainbow Road?
The Mario Kart series is still running to this day with a deluxe re-release of Mario Kart 8 on the new Nintendo Switch system, but this original Super Mario Kart title is still one of the best games in the bunch. Offering 3 difficulty levels, 8 characters to choose from, 4 battle arenas, and 20 colourful tracks, this game holds up to this day and is well worth putting some time into. Better yet, play with a friend and enjoy knocking them out with a perfectly aimed green shell.
Fifteen down, ten to go! I hope you’re enjoying this trip back to the ’90s and all the XTREME nostalgia that comes with it. Thanks for reading and I hope to have part 3 of my Top 25 Super Nintendo games up sooner than later.
And please remind me never to use the word ‘XTREME’ again.