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3/18/2016

Top Thirty Super Nintendo Games (That Still Hold Up Two Decades Later)

As with my Sega Genesis list, this is a refinement of an older list, this time paring it down to thirty games that still stand the test of time and are fun to play today.  I've also excluded games that had superior ports on the Genesis (not many of those, but they did happen).  So with that said, let's take a look at which SNES games I think hold up the best in 2016.



30. Secret of Evermore (Squaresoft, 1995)

Another game that gets a bum rap, much of it stemming from the notion that this game got released in the west in favor of Seiken Densetsu 3 (despite the fact that its development team was hired specifically to create Evermore and that there's absolutely no evidence of Square ever working on a translation of SD3 at all).  So instead of judging Evermore on its own merits, it just got compared unfavorably to what people perceived it should have been and it was largely cast aside and forgotten.  Pity, that, as this is a highly enjoyable, humorous adventure that revels in its B-movie-esque plot and monster designs (not unlike another favorite of mine, Maniac Mansion).  The engine, while similar to Secret of Mana's, feels significantly more refined, with sharper movement and collision detection and much better character AI.   It even has a distinct, atmospheric soundtrack by Jeremy Soule that ranks among the finest ever produced by Square to this day.  Honestly, the only Achilles heel of the whole package is the lack of a two player mode.  It's also overly short, but as I've said many a time, I'd rather play a short game that's good throughout than a long game that feels padded...

29. Super Smash TV (Williams/Beam Software, 1991)

One part Running Man, one part Robotron 2084, Smash TV is a top-down shooter pitting one or two players against waves of killer mutants, robots, machines and deathtraps.  The Super Nintendo version was easily the best and most accessible one available at the time, delivering a nearly perfect arcade experience on the aesthetic front while letting players move and aim in separate directions thanks to the controller's button layout.  This, paired with nary a hint of slowdown and a ton of challenge, made Super Smash TV a stellar two-player co-op experience, as well as one of Beam Software's finest releases.


28. Shadowrun (Beam Software, 1993)

Based on the tabletop RPG of the same name, Shadowrun is not only a rare example of a western-styled RPG on a console that was well-received, but a good game by Beam Software, who spent most of the late '80s and early '90s creating mediocre-to-terrible licensed games on various platforms.  Shadowrun delivers a great experience, though, combining elements of a point-and-click adventure with an action-RPG.  And being Shadowrun, the setting has plenty of surreal charm of its own, combining elements of cyberpunk and fantasy together and crafting a bizarre new universe to explore.  It took many years before Shadowrun got another worthy video game to its name, but the Super Nintendo was the start to a killer franchise.


27. Mega Man 7 (Capcom, 1995)


I don't think anyone expected the original Mega Man series to make a comeback after the launch (and runaway critical success) of Mega Man X.  But it did, spawning three more games on consoles before going on a hiatus for many years and re-emerging in the era of the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360.  Mega Man 7 combines several elements of the previous titles, though it takes most strongly after the Game Boy games with its shop system, complex passwords and overall setup (two rotations of four bosses each, rather than being able to pick from all eight at the start).  The sound design as a whole isn't so great this time around, but the gameplay is as solid as ever, and this is definitely among the more challenging Mega Man titles out there.


26. The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse (Capcom, 1992)


The Capcom-Disney alliance of the late 80s and early 90s churned out quite a few quality games, including Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers, Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, Little Mermaid and even a side-scrolling shoot-em-up based on Tale Spin.  By far my favorite of the bunch, though, is Magical Quest.  Not only were the sights and sounds top-notch as in all Capcom games (and particularly in their Disney ones), but it also offered quite a bit of gameplay variety, starting off as a Mario-esque platformer, then edging into Mega Man territory as new suits were introduced.  From the magic suit (which allows firing magical blasts to create platforms and defeat enemies), the fireman suit (douse fires and push blocks around) and the mountain climber's suit (grappling hook fun-times), it was just a solid, well designed game from start to finish.

25. Mario Paint (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems, 1992)


Not so much a game as a piece of software, but it's easy to forget that once you sit down and start fiddling with it.  Mario Paint came bundled with the SNES mouse, which saw a surprising amount of support across the platform's lifespan (though disappointingly, relatively few of the games that utilized it were released outside of Japan) and was a brilliant introduction to the peripheral.  Not only did you have a full-fledged drawing program, but a music composer, a primitive animation studio (limited to 4-9 frames) and a fun little minigame where you could take some time out and swat various insects for a while.  Hell, even to this day we're seeing remixes of various theme songs and albums done in the music editor, so that just proves how much staying power this little app really has.  Now if only we could get an expanded remake on the Wii U...

Fun Fact: There are some handy right mouse button features that are, for some reason, not enabled by default...

24. Super Bomberman 2 (Hudson Soft, 1994)

I wasn't a fan of the original Bomberman on the NES and I never played the sequel until years later owing to its late release and resulting rarity, but that didn't matter much because the SNES is where the franchise really hit its stride.  The original Super Bomberman came packed in with the Multitap, a neat little peripheral that allowed four extra controllers to be plugged in to the system, enabling four player matches and chaotic, fast-paced mayhem on a scale unseen on a home platform to that point.  The sequel didn't get the multitap pack-in, but it did improve the gameplay, offering new stage obstacles, more powerups and a more polished presentation.  One minor nitpick comes from the unexplained removal of two-player simultaneous play in the campaign mode, but honestly, who plays the campaign mode in a Bomberman game?

23. Clock Tower (Human Entertainment, 1995 in Japan)

Horror games were still in their infancy in the mid-1990s, having only seen a few modest hits with games like Alone in the Dark and System Shock.  Before the Resident Evil franchise rocketed the genre to new heights, though, there was Clock Tower.  A point-and-click adventure with striking and creepy visuals, unsettling sound design and randomized events that make the game a slightly different experience each time it's played.  The game even features multiple endings; some good, but most with the protagonist meeting a gruesome demise in a variety of ways, giving it some considerable replay value as well.  Clock Tower is a good horror movie in video game form, and despite its obvious technical limitations, remains a surprisingly effective thrill ride even today.

22. Soul Blazer (Quintet, 1992)

The first in what's affectionately known as Quintet's "resurrection trilogy", Soul Blazer was a pretty unique concept for its time.  You play as an angel out to rid the world of the evil that has corrupted it and restore it to prosperity.  As you venture through dungeons, you gradually restore the world to its former state, causing new towns to spring up and people to reappear.  A pretty intriguing plotline unfolds involving your character and a corrupted king and queen, but I'll not spoil it here since well, action RPGs are best witnessed firsthand.  It hasn't aged as well visually as the later two games in the series (Illusion of Gaia and Terranigma), but it's still got the same top-notch score that Quintet became famous for.


21. Final Fight 3 (Capcom, 1995)


Another classic beat-em-up franchise that had a bit of a rough outing on the Super Nintendo.  The SNES port of the original game got scaled down significantly from its arcade counterpart, omitting a later stage, one of the playable characters and (most crushingly) its two player mode.  It later got a rerelease called "Final Fight Guy" that reintroduced Guy but confusingly left everything else the same.  Then came Final Fight 2, which was just okay - a by-the-numbers followup to the first Final Fight and not much else.  But Capcom finally got back on their game with Final Fight 3, a game that restored it to its two player glory and implemented a few creative new features - stages with branching routes to introduce some replay value and even some Street Fighter-esque special moves to really lay the hurt on your foes in style.  Hell, there was even option to play cooperatively with a computer-controlled partner.  The only downside was the awful music...

20. Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge (Intelligent Systems, 1993)


A light gun shooter on the SNES, and that can only mean one thing - this game utilized the Super Scope, probably the most gloriously excessive peripheral of its kind ever created.  A shoulder mounted bazooka powered by 6 AA batteries and complete with an eyepiece for aiming, who could possibly say no to that?  ...Well, Japan, apparently, since the Super Scope sold so poorly over there that Metal Combat never got a Japanese release.

They were missing out, though, because this game is brilliant and fun.  Essentially a one-on-one mecha fighter where you blast away at your opponent, whittling down their health bar while shooting down their retaliatory attacks.  It even sported some pretty realistic damage on the opponents - their armor will break away as they take damage, and even their limbs can break and fall off if they take too many hits.  There's even some replayability in the form of a two-player mode (with player 2 controlling the enemy mecha) and a second playable ST called the Tornado with much different play mechanics.

19. Donkey Kong Country (Rare, 1994)


At the height of the SNES/Genesis rivalry, Sega released the 32X addon. They believed it would be a killing blow to their rival, sporting more colors and many of the same clever visual and 3D effects the SNES hardware was capable of. Nintendo and Rare were already on the case, though, developing an eye-catching platformer that would resurrect the franchise that brought Nintendo to the world stage in style. The end result was Donkey Kong Country, a game that sported amazing 3D-rendered visuals and strong platforming gameplay with plenty of hidden secrets akin to the Mario franchise, albeit with some clever twists of its own. This was also among the first video games ever released to have its soundtrack released on a standalone CD (outside of Japan, anyway); yeah, it was just that good. Even Sega had no choice but to admit Nintendo had won that little feud...

18. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Lucasarts, 1993)

It's a Lucasarts game.  Anyone who grew up in the 90s probably knows what that means - a great sense of humor paired with some of the most intense challenge in video gaming history.  Zombies Ate My Neighbors certainly delivers on both fronts, bringing forth a quirky action game with a huge variety of weapons (ranging from soda cans to water pistols to tomatoes to an extremely deadly weed-whacker) and an equally large variety of enemies (giant worms, giant babies, Jason Voorhees lookalikes, ants, aliens, slime monsters and purple tentacles.  Oh, and zombies, of course) ranging across over forty stages of gameplay.  It's an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to game design to be certain, but it all works out thanks to some uncomplicated yet extremely engrossing gameplay and Lucasarts' tongue-in-cheek humor.  Just steer clear of the disappointing sequel "Ghoul Patrol"...

17. DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's Heart Pounding Great Adventure (Hudson Soft, 1996 in Japan)

A late arrival to the SNES party, debuting only months before the N64 was set to arrive; as a result, it was never released outside of Japan until the advent of the Virtual Console (and even then it remains untranslated).  A real shame, that, as this is an excellent platformer with colorful graphics, good music and some clever gameplay elements like one use power-ups that enable you to survive falling down pits or create ice platforms over spikes.  It may not be a great innovator for the genre and it may not have redefined platforming as we know it, but it is a very competent title with a great visual style and polished stage design that rivals even the Mario titles in quality.  A surprisingly strong showing for a sequel to an NES game nobody really liked...

16. Mega Man X (Capcom, 1994)

Mega Man was one of the most successful franchises on the NES, spawning a grand total of six games (and one odd Japan-exclusive spinoff) before the platform was finally discontinued.  Never one to let a cash cow die, though, Capcom updated the series for a new console generation.  Featuring a darker style and story, a more rock-driven soundtrack, screen-filling enemies and even some creative new powerups for Mega Man like a four-level charge, a dash and armor to reduce damage taken, it introduced a lot of new ideas while keeping the familiar run-and-gun gameplay the franchise became legendary for.  Of course, X was always overshadowed in popularity by his "sidekick" Zero, leading to him eventually being a playable character in later entries and even getting his own spinoff franchise...

15. Actraiser (Quintet, 1991)

Actraiser was among the earliest games released for the Super Nintendo, and it certainly got everyone's attention.  Not only did it show off the power of the system with its colorful visuals and an amazing orchestral soundtrack, but it had a unique blend of gameplay styles to offer as well.  In addition to Castlevania-esque platforming sections that pitted you against monsters and gigantic bosses, you were literally playing the role of a god, helping repopulate a planet decimated by demons by eliminating monsters, clearing land and helping to build farms and cities.  As humanity regains their place in the world, their faith in you increases, making your character more powerful and better preparing him for upcoming stages.  A very clever setup for a game, and a well executed one at that.

14. Kirby Super Star (HAL Laboratory, 1996)

Up until Kirby Super Star, the Kirby series was largely viewed as a kiddified and overly simple series.  I guess even his creator, Masahiro Sakurai, got tired of that image and decided to rework the franchise in a way nobody would soon forget; the end result is this gem.  Kirby Super Star is a complete re-imagining of Kirby, turning it from a leisurely platformer into a blistering-fast action title with a huge variety of powers to utilize and an expansive moveset for each.  Not to mention plenty of huge bosses to topple, stylish visuals and a grand total of nine complete games to play through, each with their own unique twists.  It even adds in two player co-op for the first time in the series, enabling a second person to take control of a Kirby-created "helper" that assumes the form of one of his enemies.  It's Kirby with a dose of the same manic energy and surprising depth that would later spawn the brilliant Smash Brothers series, and it's for that reason that I love it.

13. Donkey Kong Country 2 (Rare, 1995)


Another example of a groundbreaking game getting an equally groundbreaking sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2 had more of everything to offer.  Stage variety, hidden secrets, animal companions, sharper visuals, better music... it really was a step above the first DKC in every respect.  Hell, it even took a page from Super Mario World's book and had entire hidden worlds to discover if you found enough special coins to unlock them, and these stages were among the toughest the game, so your skills had to be honed to a T just to stand a chance at making it through them.  There were even some clever cameos from other Nintendo characters if you managed to collect enough hidden DK coins before the ending.  Now if only they could get their act together and make another sequel even a tenth as good as this...

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (Konami, 1993)

Most arcade games in this era had to make cuts when they got ported to home consoles; it was just a fact of life that those systems had less powerful hardware and things had to be scaled down as a result.  However, Turtles in Time was among the first to prove that that didn't always have to be the case in the hands of a competent team.  Actually, if anything, this game makes numerous improvements over its arcade counterpart, adding in new stages, more bosses, a more sensical story layout, and even some clever Mode 7 effects that allow you to fling foot soldiers into the screen (which is in fact necessary to defeat one of the added bosses).  It even looked, sounded every bit as excellent as its arcade cousin, and the action was no less fast-paced and intense.  Hell, I'll just go ahead and say that this is easily among the best beat-em-up games ever made, let alone made for the 16-bit era.  I still pop it in occasionally and brawl through Foot ninjas by the gross even to this day...

11. Terranigma (Quintet, 1995 in Japan, 1996 in Europe)

The final entry in Quintet's "resurrection trilogy", and unfortunately the only one to never receive a North American release. Which is a pity, as it has the most refined presentation and gameplay of the entire series by a wide margin. The visuals, sound design and character animations are top-notch for the SNES (rivaling even the great Chrono Trigger) and the combat has been significantly expanded, giving the player a larger variety of attacks to utilize based on whether he's running, jumping or attacking (or any combination thereof) when the attack button is pressed. It also has probably the most well developed plot and world of the three, with some great twists that I shall not spoil here; like all of Quintet's games, this is a title that must be experienced firsthand.

10. Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo, 1993)

A no-brainer compilation, taking Nintendo's most beloved classics of the NES era (and, well, ever) and putting them all in one big collection with improved 16-bit visuals and music. That's all well and good, but the real selling factor to most was the fact that this was the first western release of the real Super Mario Bros. 2, released under the title of "The Lost Levels".  Which of course provided a brilliant new challenge for those who had already conquered the trilogy and were looking for some new ground to tread.  All four games also now came equipped with a save feature, so you didn't have to play through the whole thing in one sitting anymore. Later editions even included Super Mario World, adding yet another golden game to an already excellent collection.  Everyone who dared to call themselves a Nintendo fan had to have this one.

9. Mega Man X2 (Capcom, 1995)

The original Mega Man X brought Mega Man into a new era in style with its reimagined story and refined gameplay.  But like Mega Man 2 before it, the sequel was what really drove the franchise into the realm of legendary platformers.  In my eyes, at least.  Following the same formula as the original but adding in much more varied stages, new gameplay innovations (including multiple routes for the story to take)  and even some impressive pseudo-3D effects thanks to an onboard chip in the cart, Mega Man X2 was as much of a leap over X as X was over the NES games.  If only they could have kept that momentum going for later games in the series as well...

8. Illusion of Gaia (Quintet, 1994)

As you've probably guessed from this list, I am a huge Quintet fan.  They definitely brought us some of the strongest music and most brilliant storytelling of the 16-bit era, not to mention some really solid gameplay.  By far my favorite example of this has to be Illusion of Gaia, an unforgettable adventure where all of Quintet's trademark elements come together perfectly.  A tale of love, adventure and redemption across a fully realized world and some brilliantly designed dungeons, featuring some of the best developed characters in any game I've played to date and - no bullshit - my single favorite soundtrack of the 16-bit era.  Illusion of Gaia is easily among my all-time favorite games; I cannot recommend it enough for any fan of action-adventure titles.  Or just strong, heartfelt stories in general.

7. Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1991)

The fact that this was the first game made for the system and yet still considered one of the strongest it has to offer is a true testament to the staying power of Mario.  Case in point, while this game may keep the formula of its predecessors relatively intact, it also introduces several new concepts to the mix.  A touch of nonlinear exploration thanks to the numerous routes through the game world (and many stages), an innovative new powerup in the form of a cape (which enables full-fledged flight), numerous new stage elements, and of course Yoshi, Mario's ever popular new companion who adds an entirely new dynamic to the gameplay by enabling him to swallow enemies to gain new powers including fire breath and flight.  All things that helped to ensure that Mario was here to stay despite some stiff competition from Sega and their new golden boy Sonic...

6. Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994)

Another game for the SNES that represents a massive leap over its predecessors, Super Metroid  has a larger environment to offer than its NES counterpart, but a significant leap forward in mechanics and design.  Samus now has several new powerups including screen-clearing super bombs, a grapple beam that enables swinging over long gaps, a Space Jump that enables infinite jumping in midair (so long as you have ample room), and even a clever innovation called the "Shine Spark" that enables rocketing through long horizontal or vertical areas at incredible speeds (so long as you have enough room to build up some substantial momentum first).  Then top that off with some eerie atmosphere, a moody soundtrack, huge boss monsters and a brilliant sense of isolation in a hostile alien world and you have this masterpiece of the action-adventure genre.  Hell, even the story is pretty damn good despite having virtually no spoken dialog in it...

5. Chrono Trigger (Squaresoft, 1995)


A legendary Square RPG that represents every facet of the company at its absolute best - brilliantly detailed visuals and animation (character designs from Akira Toriyama and art direction by Tetsuya Takahashi), an amazingly well-crafted plot (masterminded by, among others, Masato Kato), a top-notch soundtrack from Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu and Noriko Matsueda, and innovative gameplay that enabled characters to combine their various spells and abilities together for more powerful attacks that could quickly clear minor enemies from the field and inflict heavy damage to bigger bosses.  It was every element of the company at its peak, and the end result is nothing short of brilliant.  Final Fantasy may be their golden cash cow, but Chrono Trigger will always be their number one original game in my book.

4. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1992)

A game that truly earns the moniker of "legendary", A Link to the Past is not just my choice for the greatest game on the SNES, but the single best Zelda game ever created, period.  It simply does everything perfectly - a rock-solid presentation with distinctive, charming visuals and unforgettable music, ingenious dungeons and boss battles, a strong narrative with high stakes and moody atmosphere, a huge variety of gameplay features and usable items, and even two entire parallel worlds to explore, the subtle differences between then enabling a ton of secret hunting.  Its concept is solid and amazingly executed in every facet, and I've never once gotten tired of it despite owning and playing it for well over twenty years now.  As a friend of mine once stated, "every Nintendo platform has at least two Zelda games; the SNES is the exception because you can't top perfection."  Very true, sir.  Very true.

3. Super Mario RPG (Squaresoft, 1996)


Chrono Trigger is doubtlessly the best original Square game, but my favorite game overall from the Square camp has to be their take on the Mario franchise.  Utilizing all the best aspects of Mario's platforming, Donkey Kong Country's 3D-rendered graphics and Square's affinity for inventive RPG mechanics (introducing numerous minigames and "timed hit" mechanics to the mix), Super Mario RPG is a game that's equal parts innovative and fun.  Even the plot is surprisingly good, featuring some clever twists, unique boss monsters and surprisingly high stakes for a franchise that wasn't exactly renowned for its rich universe or deep storytelling in the first place.  In short, SMRPG provides intuitive pick-up-and-play gameplay for newcomers, but also manages to provide enough depth and challenge for die-hard RPG fans as well.  Simply brilliant.

2. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (Nintendo, 1995)


Another top-tier platformer from the book of Nintendo, Yoshi's Island is one of the most impressive SNES games on a technical level as well as one of the greatest games ever created in the genre. Utilizing the Super FX2 chip for its unique "hand drawn" visual style, the game features large, deformable sprites and mode 7 effects, as well as some clever sprite scaling and polygonal elements.  Even the gameplay is a big step up for the franchise, having you play as Yoshi and able to fire and ricochet eggs around the screen in order to defeat enemies and collect otherwise unreachable items.   Fresh, bizarre and undeniably charming, not to mention extremely impressive on a technical front, Yoshi's Island is a true masterpiece.  Now if only they could manage to churn out a decent sequel...

1. Earthbound (APE/HAL Laboratory, 1995)


My favorite game of all time to this day, and that's simply because it's a work of bizarre genius with a great sense of humor.  The brain-child of Shigeato Itoi, who came up with the concept of a quirky RPG set in modern times, Earthbound executes the concept brilliantly.  Flying machines, hostile fire hydrants, pencil erasers (as in, a device that erases pencils), a family of moles all claiming to be the "third strongest" and hippies that attack you with toothbrushes are all just a small example of the surreal humor this game has to offer.  Hell, it's probably also the only RPG where you can have pizza delivered mid-quest and which features its very own musical act.  All of this is perfectly with a brilliant, distinctive and memorable soundtrack and a charming visual style seemingly inspired by western comic strips like Peanuts. I could go on for hours, but I'd be doing you a disservice by doing so.  So cast aside all of your preconceptions about what an RPG should be, then sit down and enjoy Earthbound, easily among the most unforgettable experiences the genre has ever produced with a distinctive charm that will never be matched.