(Dreaming in Digital)
Welcome to the endlessly delayed third and final part of my list of picks for the Top 25 Super Nintendo games of all time. Only ten games left and several of the greatest games of all time are showing up in this one! To make things handy, here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2. As previously stated, I had to give myself a few guidelines to keep the list at a reasonable size.
Rule 1: The game must have been released in the North American Market in the 90’s. This eliminates several foreign region titles I enjoyed such as Rockman & Forte, and The Firemen.
Rule 2: It must be a game I originally played on an actual Super Nintendo when it was current, not something I discovered in later years through re-releases, or emulation of fan-translations 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.
Legend of the Seven Stars
(1996, Nintendo, Squaresoft)
Holy crap this was an amazing game. The final Squaresoft game in this list is another of those games that no one asked for, no one expected, and completely blew us away when it came out. Who would have thought that Super Mario Bros and Squaresoft would become the digital equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter? Combining the best elements of traditional Mario gameplay with an explorable RPG style world and progression system Square managed to pack a lot more detail into the world Mario lives in.
King Koopa’s castle has been literally impaled by a giant sword from the heavens and it’s up to Mario to restore peace to the land by protecting the seven-star fragments and kicking the evil Smithy out of Koopa’s castle before this blacksmith king can use them to take over the world! Luigi stays home this time, but you’ll be joined by Princess Peach and even King Koopa himself! Also joining Mario are a pair of new additions to the Mario universe, Mallow the cloud being who believes himself to be a tadpole, and Geno the living doll, both of whom are only playable in this game much to the lament of fans.
Nintendo has since developed all of their Mario-world RPGs in-house with varying degrees of success in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series, but in my opinion, the original Super Mario RPG still stands tall over the rest. This game is a near perfect blend of charm, fun, and challenge and deserves a place in any Nintendo fan’s library. It’s well worth the price on the Virtual Console, or on the Super Nintendo Classic for the extra level of authenticity that playing on proper SNES controllers can provide.
Most longtime Nintendo fans will tell you that the best 2D Super Mario Bros game is either Mario 3 or Mario World. (Protip: it’s 3) But if I’m being honest, it’s truly such a close decision that the only reason I prefer 3 is that it’s more challenging. Super Mario World may be a touch easier, it’s certainly not lacking in the variety and personality of it’s older sibling on the NES.
Nintendo developed Mario World with the intent of showing off every trick the new Super Nintendo could pull off. More color and detail, transparency effects, stereo sound, and many more enemies on screen at once than the NES would have ever been able to handle. When it came out, we got a jaw-dropping tech demo along with a stunningly fun and responsive platformer.
Super Mario World is easily obtainable today on the Virtual Console and Super Nintendo Classic systems. If you’re a fan of Mario, you have to play this classic. It’s really that simple. Even if it’s just for the unreal sight of seeing King Koopa flying around in a bizarre clown-faced helicopter chariot.
Metroid is yet another example of Nintendo’s illustrious game series. Building on the original NES game and it’s sequel on Game Boy, the third Metroid game was extremely polished in gameplay and presented with a level of cinematic personality that had never been seen before in an action game.
Samus Aran is the main character of Super Metroid. She is a former soldier turned mercenary with connections to a now-extinct race of aliens in her past. She’s also notable as being one of the very first female protagonists in gaming and is certainly the first to achieve so much success in the industry. As with most of the Metroid games, Samus has an objective and he is set loose on a world completely free for the player to explore. There are no levels, no extra lives, and no score. Exploration is the goal every new tool and weapon you discover will allow Samus to unlock new pathways and fight her way deeper into the maze and her chance to end the schemes of her nemesis Ridley and the space pirates he leads.
To say this game was polished would be an understatement. Not only is it often seen on lists of top games of all time and was the foundation of what would became a completely new genre in gaming known today as the Metroidvania. Many superb games owe their origins to Super Metroid and are excellent in their own right from the renowned classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to modern releases like Axiom Verge and the newly announced La-mulana 2. Unless you hate action games or haven’t delved into the Super Nintendo era, there’s a very high chance that you’ve already played this game. if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
In the near future, people have come to demand more thrills and excitement from TV than ever before. Smash TV is a game show turned into a combination of The Running Man and American Gladiators where failure means death in front of millions of cheering viewers. Contestants are armed and have to survive arenas full of death-dealing robots while trying to collect every dollar and prize they can lay their hands on. The rewards are great, but does anyone really expect them to ever be claimed?
Based on the hit arcade game, Smash TV was a modernization of ‘twin-stick shooters’ like berserk from the 80’s. You use two joysticks to control your character, one moving you around the arena while the second aims and fires your weapons. The Super Nintendo pad simulated this by using the d-pad to move around while using the diamond layout of the A B X Y buttons as a makeshift substitute for a second directional control and it works very well.
With the chaos of killer robots, bullets, prizes, and power-ups everywhere, it’s amazing that the Super Nintendo can Keep up as well as it does. Bring a friend for some 2-player carnage and see if you can even reach the giant bosses at the end of each arena. Big money! Big Prizes! I love it!
Where would the fighting game scene be today without Street Fighter 2? it’s hard to say for sure, but Street Fighter 2 defined what made for a good one-on-one fighting game in the early 90’s, and has influenced virtually every single fighting game made to this day! It’s spawned countless comic books, animated series, and even two live-action films! (Watch Van Dam’s for the extreme cheesy fun, avoid the Legend of Chun Li like the plague)
Considering that the original Street Fighter was not a good game by any standard, it’s sheer ambition convinced Capcom to gamble on a sequel with refined gameplay and a colorful cast of characters. SF2 was so successful that over time, the game was continually refined and expanded from its original form. Adding combos, characters, speed, attacks, and better art with each iteration of the game, all of which are now available in the recently released Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection.
Three of these variants were released on the Super Nintendo with Super Street Fighter 2 being the last one. It’s the most enhanced release available to the 16-bit hardware of the era and offers remastered voices and music along with 16 characters and stages to choose from, more than any version of Street Fighter 2 on the market. 256 possible matches made for a lot of replays and the 6 button arcade controls translated well to the Super Nintendo controllers. if you wanted to play on the Sega Genesis you were forced to deal with an inferior presentation as well as the purchase of a non-standard 6-button controller which, while beneficial in several games, was not included with the console at the time.
Iconic characters and special moves, a rocking soundtrack, responsive controls and smooth gameplay made Street Fighter into a powerhouse that’s still dominating the fighting game scene to this day. It’s well worth trying out on the Super Nintendo if just to see how well it was ported from the arcades back in the day. And while some people point out that Street Fighter 2 Turbo on the SNES (included on the North American SNES Classic) had a better balance between the characters, I prefer the bigger variety that Super SF2 offered with four more characters.
21: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:
Turtles in Time (1992, Konami)
In the 90’s Konami was a powerhouse of gaming, offering incredible home console experiences and mind-blowing arcade fun. Turtles in Time was a near-perfect fusion of these two worlds. the gameplay was sheer joy, the graphics were fantastic, and the music was incredible. Turtles IV is still one of the best co-op experiences out there.
Konami had released TMNT: The Arcade Game to critical and commercial acclaim. It was a four-player simultaneous ‘beat-em-up’ like Double Dragon and Final Fight where each player took on the role of one of the four main characters of the series. But the TMNT license drew a lot more attention from the casual player as it was released in the height of Turtlemania. The Ninja Turtles were an unstoppable media juggernaut at the time, as recognizable as Mickey Mouse and probably more so than even Mario himself! The Arcade game was ported to the NES with a less colorful, lower fidelity presentation, but was popular enough to warrant a console-only sequel in the same style called TMNT: The Manhattan Project.
But eventually, Konami released a sequel to the arcades called Turtles in Time. it had better controls, better music, and the time travel based storyline allowed for an even greater variety of enemies and environments to show of. And the Super Nintendo version was damn near perfect. There were some cutbacks in the animation quality to accommodate the SNES having less video RAM to work with, but it’s nothing people would really notice outside of a side by side comparison. The SNES even improved on the arcade experience by adding more boss fights with classic villains and even an entirely new level!
The only criticism I can truly level against this game is the cutback to only being two-players where the arcade had four. It was a fair trade for the near perfection of the rest of the port, and adding more players on screen would have caused a lot of slowdown on the SNES hardware, but it is still the only thing keeping this from being the ultimate SNES party game.
This game is much harder to find these days as Konami doesn’t have the rights to the Turtles franchise anymore and can’t sell it, but it’s worth tracking down. Whether you buy, borrow, or emulate it, Turtles in Time is too much fun to let disappear into history. Just avoid the 2000’s remake, it doesn’t live up to the original’s quality in any way.
22: The Legend of Zelda:
A Link to the Past (1992, Nintendo)
I’ve referred to many of games in this list as ‘legendary’, and this one is one of the most deserving. A strong contender for one of the greatest games of all time, the third game in the Legend of Zelda game is still one of it’s best. . . With the exception of Mario, The Legend of Zelda is arguably Nintendo’s most famous series, and A Link to the Past is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series in its 2D top-down entries.
The opening sets the stage for the grand journey ahead of the main character, Link. The princess of Hyrule, Zelda has been imprisoned by an evil wizard named Agahnim, and Link has to set out to free her from the dungeon of the castle. Where did Agahnim come from? How can link stop his evil from spreading across the land? Rescuing Zelda is only the first step in this story that lays the foundation of gameplay and lore that the entire Zelda series has been building on to this day.
After experimenting with a side-scrolling platformer with the second Zelda title on the NES, this third entry in the series goes back to the overhead perspective of the original NES game. More items, enemies, and puzzles for the player to encounter. The twisted realm of the Dark World was also introduced. This twisted mirror of the game’s world effectively doubled the size of the game, offering a heavily altered reflection of Link’s world that’s already been conquered and overrun by the forces of darkness.
What more needs to be said? This is a must play for everyone who enjoys gaming, and is also a fantastic starting point for any gamers who are considering a trip to the lands of Hyrule. This is one legend that does not disappoint.
The Japanese commercial for Zelda 3 is an absolute treat to watch for all the wrong reasons. Damn the 90’s were weird.
Based on Area-88, a Japanese manga that ran from the 70’s to the mid-80’s. It follows the adventures of a pilot named Shin Kazama who is tricked into working for a group of mercenaries for hire. In order to buy his way back to a normal life, he has to deal with the moral issues and self-loathing that killing for hire brings him. In any case, Shin excels in his work and is left to wonder if he is fighting for survival, or is he coming to enjoy this life that he’s found?
Area-88 was brought to arcades by Capcom as a fast-paced side-scrolling shooter similar to Gradius by Konami. You choose between three pilots based on characters from the Area-88 manga. Each pilot flies a different model of plane and has different stats such as speed, armor, and rate of fire. Each level you play is a mission for Area-88 where you not only have to destroy the targets, but you make money as well. In between levels you have access to a shop where you can buy upgrades and more powerful weaponry to make future stages more survivable.
Capcom ported Area-88 to the Super Nintendo as one of the earliest games available and renamed it U.N. Squadron in North America and Europe despite the manga having a cult following. The SNES version of the game added some extra missions and gave the player the opportunity to select which mission they wanted to undertake next. The pilots retain their handling characteristics, but now they all fly the same aircraft. But the store was expanded to offer a wide selection of aircraft to fly.
The graphics are some of the best available on a home console at the time and are only a slight downgrade from the original arcade game but U.N. Squadron does suffer from slow down when the action gets intense like many early Super Nintendo games. The audio truly shines, however. Sound effects are higher quality than their arcade counterparts, even with a slightly muffled quality to them. Fortunately, the music more than makes up for it and blows the arcade’s chiptunes out of the sky with the Super Nintendo’s sample-based music processor. Taking the same tunes as the arcade and offering a much better sounding way to listen to the amazing soundtrack.
This was the second game I ever played on the Super Nintendo and it’s still one of my favorites. Give a shot and take to the sky!
Racing unicycles through loops and pulling Tony Hawk-like stunts over gaps and puddles of sticky slime to take the checkered flag sounds absolutely ridiculous as a concept, but the story of its development is even more ludicrous.
Developed by DMA Design, this silly sounding racing game came out of nowhere and surprised everyone with its responsive controls and furious speed. While criticized for having bland backgrounds and all the unicycles having the same design, players tended to overlook the negatives in favor of its addictive gameplay. It has a catchy, rocking soundtrack and used the same pre-rendered 3D graphic techniques that Nintendo used in Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario RPG. Anyone with any sense of fun should give it a chance, especially if you have a friend to race against.
Uniracers deserved a refined sequel, but sadly we’ll likely never get one. Shortly after release, the animation studio Pixar (yes, that Pixar) filed a lawsuit that DMA had stolen their design of a computer-generated unicycle from their short film Red’s Dream. Somehow Pixar actually won this lawsuit, implying that they somehow owned the very concept of unicycles, and Nintendo had to cease production of uniracer cartridges, limiting the run to only about 300,000 manufactured.
Unfortunately, this has also meant that the game was never released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service or the SNES Classic system while also making the original game a bit of a collector’s item. As this game is not for sale anywhere outside of the second-hand market, I have no qualms telling everyone to emulate this game and have a blast with it!
As for DMA, their future plans of working with Nintendo fell through. So moving on, they began development on a new title on their own and ended up releasing an obscure little game called Grand Theft Auto.
(1992, American Sammy)
I had never heard of the Ys series of Role Playing Games before I rented this title one day on my way home from school but I was quickly sucked into the world of Ys as I took control of the hero Adon and started running around, slaying monsters in this heavily anime-inspired world.
Much like Zelda 2 on the NES, this game is a side-scrolling adventure-platform game that sends you exploring a world full of magic and artifacts to find. And later I discovered another parallel to Zelda 2, it’s predecessors were played as top-down adventure games and this was a change from the norm.
I remember enjoying this lighthearted fantasy romp and I managed to finish it in a weekend. This was the first game that made me feel like I was playing a part in a fantasy anime and I couldn’t put it down. The music by Mieko Ishikawa was remade for the Super Nintendo hardware and while very synth-heavy, the crisp and energetic music always struck a chord with me. Every time I play another port of Ys 3 I end up wishing I was hearing the Super Nintendo tracks instead.
Originally made for the NEC PC-8801 & PC-9801 computers in Japan, the Ys games have been ported and remade many times over the years and can still be found for sale on several modern platforms. The SNES version of Ys 3 remains my favorite of the series for the sheer nostalgic feel of everything. If you enjoy RPGs, check out the Ys games wherever you can get your games on them and delve into the lore of this epic world that continues to grow even today.
Many of the games are currently available in a variety of forms, such as the Virtual Console section Wii U Virtual Console online store, and some are available as remakes or ports on newer systems. The SNES classic mini-console that’s currently available in retail includes many of these titles among the 21 games included (if you are fortunate enough to locate one).
I could have easily made a top 100 games for the SNES, but 25 felt like a goal that could retain my sanity and keep this list manageable. So if you feel your favorite games are missing from this list, just remember that these are the games that had the biggest impact on me personally. My opinions could still change when I finally get around to playing some popular titles I’ve never tried before. I hear a lot of good things about Earthbound.
It blows my mind to think that the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 wouldn’t exist if Pixar hadn’t sued Nintendo over a unicycle…