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

After years of market dominance (in no small part due to unfair business practices on Nintendo's part), the NES finally got some legitimate competition from Sega with the release of the Genesis - a platform with four years of technological improvement behind it that sported faster games, better graphics and even a pretty sleek, spaceship-esque design which contrasted sharply with the "gray toaster" design of the NES.  Not one to be outdone, though, Nintendo released the SNES in 1991, kicking off a fierce rivalry between the companies and their fans; Sega aggressively pushed their faster games (using marketing buzzwords like "Blast Processing"), their heavier focus on competitive sports games and being the 'big kids' console with darker and edgier titles like an uncensored version of Mortal Kombat, while Nintendo mostly stuck with what made their NES games such a big hit - impeccable design quality and fun factor above all else.  It certainly paid off for them too, as many fans (myself included) still value the SNES as the greatest console of all time with games that have never been surpassed in quality even decades later.  So, with all that said, let's look at my 30 favorite games on this legendary platform that still hold up magnificently well today. 

30. 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.

29. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (Konami, 1992)
Konami made quite a few TMNT tie-in games, but the first one to appear on the SNES was easily their best effort.  A port of the second arcade game, though as with TMNT 2 on the NES, it actually improves on it in several way, adding in two new stages and changing up several boss fights.  The action was much faster and more dynamic this time, giving you a dash that can be canceled into an evasive slide or a shoulder tackle as well as the ability to swing enemies around to clobber other foes (a very useful tactic, as it takes them out instantly and earns double points for each one you kill), or even throw them into the screen (which also gets used to clever effect in one of the boss battles).  An immensely fun beat-em-up and a great co-op experience.

28. 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 Switch...

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

27. Marvelous: Mōhitotsu no Takarajima (Nintendo R&D2, 1996 in Japan)

A game I remember being excited to try out as a kid, but sadly it came just a little too late in the Super Famicom's lifespan to be considered for localization (and it wouldn't be fan-translated until twenty years later).  A bit of a shame as it's a wonderful blend of puzzle-solving, action and adventure that draws heavy inspiration from A Link to the Past; in fact its director, Eiji Aonuma, would go on to direct and produce several games in the Zelda franchise.  You play as a trio of boys and have to work in tandem to overcome various obstacles and solve puzzles, with each having different abilities - Dion is short but fast, can squeeze into small gaps and toss baseballs to hit distant objects, Max is slow but strong and the best fighter, and Jack is the tallest of the three and can jump over hazards the other two cannot.  Each also gets a number of items only they can use, and as the game progresses there are several minigames you must complete to advance, lending the game quite a lot of variety and a great sense of humor.

26. Super Castlevania IV (Konami, 1991)

Castlevania was a pretty big success on the NES, and as one of the first major franchises to make the leap to 16-bit, people's expectations were naturally high.  Well, Super Castlevania IV went above and beyond right from the word "Go", showing off what the shiny new Super Nintendo was really capable of in flawless fashion.  The huge sprites, the fluid animation, the awesome Mode-7 graphics and layered backgrounds, and an incredible soundtrack by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo that was equal parts creepy and awesome.  The biggest improvement of all was the gameplay, though, as Simon was now a powerhouse character that could whip in eight directions, twirl his whip to block projectiles, swing from hooks and fire subweapons in an instant with the shoulder buttons.  A brilliant remake of Castlevania 1 that showed the world the SNES was here to stay.

25. Contra III: The Alien Wars (Konami, 1992)

With Super Castlevania IV already on the scene and being heralded as one of the greatest platformers of all time, the natural question was "What about Contra?".  After all, it was a huge hit in the days of the NES too, and everyone was eager to see what 16-bit tech could do for the series.  Konami did not disappoint, releasing a Contra game on SNES the following year that brought the series up to a new level of run-and-gun action.  The gameplay was fast-moving with little to no slowdown, you could carry two weapons at a time and swap freely between them (and even your basic gun was now rapid-fire rather than the dinky peashooter of earlier games), and you even got a few panic "smart bombs" that would clear all bullets and enemies on-screen and do hefty damage to bosses. They of course worked in some Mode-7 gameplay too, with rotatable top-down segments where you had to travel about a large map destroying several targets before you could take on the stage boss.  It's as tough as ever, with one-hit kills, limited lives and only two continues, but when the games are so fun and immaculately well-made, you don't mind replaying those first few stages so many times on your way to the end!

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?  There were no less than three other Bomberman games on the Super Famicom as well, but sadly this was the last one we got in the west.

23. 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.

22. Final Fantasy VI (Squaresoft, 1994)

Final Fantasy VI is the franchise's best to a lot of people.  I don't hold in quite that high of regard, but I can still say that I enjoy it for its energy and enthusiasm, even if the writing and execution of its ideas isn't always the strongest.  You get a whopping fourteen playable characters (plus a handful of miscellaneous dudes in story scenes), all of whom are loosely modeled on the classic Final Fantasy classes and have their own subplots throughout.  Visually the game looks and sounds very impressive, with stunning orchestrated tracks and very detailed monster sprites, as well as some surprisingly creative mechanics and special moves.  The story is for the most part a good one, with some strong character moments and surprisingly dark beats, though there is also quite a lot of mood whiplash as the game throws humor in at the most inappropriate of times.  The sheer amount of side-content and party customization it offers is immense, and seeing its oddities (like Wind God Gau and the plethora of weird bugs with the Sketch command) make it a lot of fun for people who enjoy strange exploits in games.  Final Fantasy VI is the definition of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but sometimes that really does work in a game's favor.

21. The Lost Vikings 1/2 (Silicon and Synapse, 1993/1997)

A well-received title from the company that would later be known as "Blizzard" and take the world by storm with Warcraft and Starcraft, Lost Vikings showed off their talents even at this early day with a creative action-puzzler.  You take command of three Vikings - Baelog the Fierce (who wields a sword and bow), Erik the Swift (who runs fast, can jump and smashes down walls by charging into them) and Olaf the Stout (who carries a large shield that can block projectiles, as well as be used as a makeshift hang-glider and a platform).  Using their unique abilities, plus a variety of items found in stages like bombs and healing food, your goal is to find a way past each stage's obstacles, escape from each level and eventually make your way back home.  Good graphics and genuinely funny dialog throughout keep it fresh as well.  It also had a solid sequel that added more to the formula, including two new playable characters and a handful of new abilities for all of them.

20. 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...

19. Breath of Fire (Capcom, 1994)

A game that was widely overlooked, though I think a lot of that came down to timing - after all, it came out the same year as mega-hit Final Fantasy III (VI in Japan) and was also released under Square's label, so not too many people paid attention to Capcom's addition to the RPG genre.  Which is a pity, because Breath of Fire is a journey definitely worth undertaking.  Featuring a solid soundtrack, some very clever game mechanics like being able to fuse multiple party members together into one uber-character, plenty of hidden treasures and items throughout. and a very welcome feature for the time - being able to skip random encounters via readily available items - Breath of Fire is a stellar experience.  Everyone swears by 2, but to me, the original Breath of Fire is the superior game.

18. Super Mario RPG (Squaresoft, 1996)

The kings of console RPGs crossed over with the kings of platforming to create a game, and as you'd probably expect, the result was an ingenious hybrid of both. 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.

17. 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 silverware 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"...

16. 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 (by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, natch), 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 the people 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.

15. 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 Smash Brothers series.

14. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (Chunsoft, 1992)

Dragon Quest was never exactly a huge name in the west, but it still had a substantial following; not enough to get Enix to localize its two entries on the Super Famicom, however, which is a shame as its fifth entry is considered one of the best in the series by many fans (and even the series' creator, Yuji Horii, has said it's his favorite).  It certainly upends quite a few popular tropes - you're not the chosen hero of the story, but rather spend a good chunk of it searching for them, and it incorporates passage of time and multiple generations into its narrative, which is something still relatively few games attempt.  It even incorporates a bit of Bard's Tale or Shin Megami Tensei into its design by letting you recruit monsters to your party, who can level up over time and become quite formidable allies themselves.  A surprisingly ambitious and unusually dark entry in a series that normally prides itself so heavily on adhering to tradition.

13. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (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 half as good as this...

12. Final Fantasy V (Squaresoft, 1992 in Japan)

There has been (and always will be) a lot of debate about which 16-bit Final Fantasy is the best, and to me, that answer will always be "Mystic Quest".  I kid, I kid; put down the torches and pitchforks.  The answer to me is V (keep them down), and that comes in large part due to the sheer genius of its gameplay.  Returning to the choice-based system of Final Fantasy III, letting you pick any of thirty or so classes and change them at almost any time, it also allowed you for the first time in the series to mix-and-match abilities from those classes, letting you customize your party to an insane degree.  Want a monk that can equip armor like a Knight?  You can do it.  A summoner that can use white magic?  You can do that too.  A thief who can wield axes?  Yep, it's possible.  It was even the debut of my favorite Final Fantasy class, the Blue Mage, who copies powerful monster spells for later use.  But most fun of all, your base Freelancer class keeps bonuses you've earned from classes you've mastered, becoming an uber-powerful juggernaut class at the end of the game.  Sure, it's a bit uneven difficulty-wise and certainly not the best SNES RPG in terms of storytelling, but I was having too much fun with it to care.  Final Fantasy V was great, is great and always will be great.

11. 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 famous 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...

10. 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.

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 top-tier 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, as well as one of the greatest games of all time, 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 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.

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. 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...

3. 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 one of the best games 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.

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 Dragon Quest styled 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 throughout.  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.