For as great as the Nintendo Entertainment System was for many of us 80's children, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) video game console is where things really took off. By today's standards, a 16-bit system is laughable, but it blew our minds when it came to America in 1991. 3D games, stunning (for the time) backgrounds, and six buttons to allow for countless combinations of new moves for us to try. Super Nintendo games led gamers to a whole new level and hours upon hours of gameplay. In no particular order, here are the games I remember playing the most during this exciting time in video game history.
Relive Your Childhood With the Best SNES Games
First on the list is one of the first games available for the SNES. Pilotwiing was our first glimpse into what was to become the world of 3D gaming. Nothing beats your first time, right? Overall it was a fun game with different objectives needing to be completed within a time frame. Nothing earth-shattering as far as gameplay goes, but seeing that it ushered in a new world of gaming to us, it deserves a spot on the list.
Breath of Fire I and II
For some reason, RPGs and the SNES just clicked. Maybe it was the graphics drawing you more into the game, perhaps it was the soundtracks, whatever it was, it was fun. Both of these games were your typical JRPG type turn-based game, but they were both a ton of fun.
Again, RPGs and SNES just clicked. Star Ocean had a different feel to it with graphics similar to a few other games later on this list. This RPG had a sci-fi storyline any kid would love, plus lots of fun characters, weapons, and other features of all the great SNES RPGs.
Street Fighter II Turbo
Another genre that really came into its own on the SNES was the fighting-style games. There are a few variations of Street Fighter II, but this one was the best for me. The game speed was amped up a bit, making the action a lot more fun. Fantastic characters with tons of different cool moves to try; it was fun to try and master each one. Plus, you got to see a different ending when defeating the ultimate bad guy in M. Bison, depending on your character. Oh yeah, and playing two-player mode to beat up your friends was pretty great too.
Top Gear and Top Gear 2
These games might as well have been called “Super Rad Racer” as they had the same fundamental way of playing. Top Gear one was the logical step up from NES racing games simply by using the same basic game with better graphics. Top Gear 2 kicked it into high gear, though, giving players the ability to upgrade their racers and other gameplay features.
When you think of racing games, unicycles don't usually come to mind, but this was an awesome game. Racing through just absolutely ridiculous levels, this game seemed to happen at Mach speed after a while. Making the game even better was using all the major air you were catching off huge ramps to do countless flips and spins, further boosting your speed. The game was challenging enough where you'd really have to land your tricks perfectly and have a stage memorized, but definitely beatable, and the gameplay is incredibly unique.
Final Fight was one of the first “brawling” type games on the SNES. Taking what made the Double Dragon games popular on the NES, Final Fight brought brawling to the SNES with just a good old fashion beat 'em up type style that was always fun.
Super Double Dragon
Speaking of Double Dragon, you can't leave the original brawling duo of the list here. As with most SNES additions to a series. This game basically took what worked on the NES and made it better with the graphics and a few minor tweaks with the additional buttons adding more to the gameplay. As with any other brawling type game, it was super fun to go around beating up bad guys with familiar characters with a couple of new moves.
Super Star Wars, the Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi
It's no coincidence that all three of the Star Wars games were totally awesome to play. Take an incredibly popular movie, add shiny new graphics, and you've got yourself a hit. Being able to relive the movies anytime via the SNES quickly made these great games. Add on doing crazy Jedi flips with a lightsaber, traveling to different planets, racing on vehicles, and taking down Darth Vader, and it's even more fun. Each of these games let you play as several other characters adding another dimension to them each time you played.
The Death and Return of Superman
It's always fun to pretend to be a superhero, and The Death and Return of Superman brought another superhero to the SNES. The gameplay was of the brawling type, but it's that much more fun when you are playing as Superman with his superpowers. On top of that, because the game follows the comic book storyline pretty closely, you eventually get to place as The Cyborg, The Eradicator, Superboy, and Steel.
One of the stronger genres' on SNES was the fighting style games. Killer instinct was another fighting game with an original cast of fighters, all with pretty awesome moves to unleash on your opponent. The graphics were great, and this game added to an already strong genre.
Continuing with the fighting-style games, Primal Rage was another classic. It didn't do anything groundbreaking in the gameplay style, but what set this game apart were the fighters. As the name might suggest, you were locked into combat as different prehistoric monsters, most of which consisted of dinosaurs or King Kong-like apes and other primates. The game itself didn't change much, but it fits with the time and is another great game to beat on your own or beat up on friends with.
Mega Man X1, Megaman X2 and Megaman X3
It would have been easy for Capcom to sit back and keep the same old formula for the Mega Man series on SNES, but man, did they deliver on these games. The games were the same at their roots, destroying robots by finding their weakness and picking the order of the stages. But these games added soooo much more. Mega Man, or “X” as he was now called, could jump and slide on walls, upgrade his suit, dash through the air and even charge up his blaster. We eventually got to play as the newly introduced character Zero. Being a Capcom game, there was even a super-secret way to allow Mega Man to perform the “Hadouken” move from street fighter, simply awesome.
Super Mario Rpg: Legend of the Seven Stars
I mean, talk about a layup. Combine the most beloved Nintendo characters and put them into RPG form, and what did you think would happen? All kidding aside, this game could easily have been done poorly; it was anything but. Fun storylines, the best playable characters (yes, even Bowser), tons of game time, and boatloads of secret and side quests to go on, this game was so much fun. Turned-based RPG with a few twists by being able to time button-pushing for certain moves, etc., and a different kind of 3D angle than your traditional side-scrolling RPGs; the Super Mario RPG was an instant classic that belongs on the top of the already robust SNES RPG lineup.
All the Donkey Kong Country Games
All the Donkey Kong Country games were visually stunning and incredibly fun to play. Each Kong, as in Donkey, Diddy, and Trixie, all bring different abilities to each game. All were super challenging to beat, and truly complete as 100% completion was kind of a lie. Finding all the secrets in each stage, special coins or other collectibles, and just a mountain of tricky levels, in general, made all these games must have for hours upon hours of gameplay. Add on fun buddies like web-shooting spiders, water chucking elephants, and others, and you've got yourself a classic series on the SNES.
Bust a Move
Puzzle games seemed to take a back seat for the SNES, but Bust-A-Move was one of the few that made its mark on the system. Featuring the dino's from Bubble Bobble, the game took you through increasingly challenging levels where you needed to shoot marbles up the screen to other like marbles. Get three together and the burst drops any other marbles hanging on them. Simple design but challenging game, this game was fun on your own or heads up against a friend.
Super Bomber Man
Building off the original Bomberman on NES, Super Bomber man had one thing most SNES games didn't. The ability to have a four-way battle royal, which was mind-blowing at the time. That, plus new power-ups and game mode, made Super Bomberman more fun to play than the original and definitely hours of fun at a time.
Kirby Super Star
If one Kirby game is fun, then 8 Kirby games must be eight times the fun, right? Exactly! Kirby Super Star brought eight different Kirby games in one package. Each game was fun in its own right, so no matter what kind of game you were in the mood for, you could pop this title in, and you'd be happy.
Super Mario All-stars
If you thought it was fun having 8 Kirby games in one, wait until you got a hold of this game. Basically just bringing all the NES Mario games into the 16-bit world, this title needs no help becoming one of the best games on the SNES. The graphics seemed to make the old games feel entirely new. There were a couple of new wrinkles with the Lost Levels, but mostly nothing was changed except now Mario and friends were 16-bit.
Talk about a game that's just different. There was no game like Earthworm Jim before it, and there won't be another one like it (except Earthworm Jim 2, of course). Everything about this game was fun. For starters, the main character is a worm in a suit that you could pull out and whip around if you wanted. The stages were all sorts of weird, but in a fun way, and the bad guys you faced were more of the same. Weird and fun, fun and weird, no matter which way you put it, Earthworm Jim was just an awesome game.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Not nearly as weird as the previous entry, but Zombie Ate My Neighbors was strange in its own right. Playing spoof to many of the regular zombie genre characters, you played as Zeke or Julie, saving your neighbors from the spoofy bad guys. Along the way are funny weapons and power-ups to help you in your quest. Maybe not the most popular game, but for anyone that came across this hidden gem, it was well worth the playing time.
Another classic NES game brought into the 16-bit world that didn't disappoint. Gradius III was much like its predecessor, which was fine with us. With super cool graphics, plenty of action, upgrades, and massive enemies to destroy, Gradius III was easily one of the best games to play for the SNES right out the gate.
Gradius wasn't the only futuristic shooting game on the block. With very similar gameplay and feel to Gradius III, Super-R Type, and the sequel titles all held their own. Flying around in a spaceship shooting aliens with crazy weapons and power up really never got old, and this is one of the other games to do it right each time.
Tmnt: Turtles in Time
It was the early 90's, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were still at the height of their popularity. Turtles in time continued with the gameplay of the second two titles on the NES, letting you play in a beat em' ninja style game. You had all the cool weapons, classic TMNT bad guys, and you were traveling through time to boot. There were also some cool moves where you could launch foot soldiers at the screen for extra points!
SimCity on the SNES finally brought the popular PC game to console gaming. Simulation games had really yet to make their mark, but this game certainly did. You were building a city with different building types earning cool landmarks along the way based on how crowded your city got. Boost commerce with the airport and seaport and watch your city thrive. When you got tired of building, it was time to unleash all the natural disasters (including Bowser) onto your simulated city and watch the carnage as it burned to the ground….or maybe that was just me.
Another popular simulation game to come from SNES was Populous. Similar in genre to SimCity but very different in gameplay. With Populous, you had even more control. You make huge mountains or deep valleys, make rivers flow or provide no water at all. The goal was to have the most people worship you as their god, and it stroked the ego of every adolescent that played.
Legend of the Mystical Ninja
Legend of the Mystical Ninja was just a different kind of game. It was kinda silly and cartoony, which just made it fun to play. You could explore towns and fight Japanese stereotypes learning different moves and skills along the way.
Contra III: Alien Wars
When making Contra III, Konami was likely thinking about Contra I and II, but on steroids, because that's what we got, and it was awesome. Contra II was loaded with everything that made the original games great times ten. Crazy aliens, weapons, power-ups, and gameplay. Contra III was everything you could have asked for the next installment of this series and then some.
Super Castlevania IV
Castlevania IV was essentially a remake of the original Castlevania with some upgrades. There were a few additional levels to beat, and the game was easier to control, plus a few other additions. Like other games simply being upgraded from the original NES, we already loved the game; having it on the SNES just made it that much better.
Another side-scrolling shooter game similar to Gradius III, UN Squadron, showed that you didn't need to be based in outer space to be awesome. You got to fly around with different pilots, jet fighters that could be powered up with ridiculous weapons and power-ups. The action in this game was just totally bonkers and absolutely non-stop. Facing enemies in the air, on the ground, and coming at you from all angles, there was never a dull moment. UN Squadron more than held its own against classics like Gradius with its own classic craziness.
F-Zero is a futuristic racing game. Racing at blistering speeds in some sort of weird space vehicle, the tracks were crazy fun, and if you took a wrong turn, not only could you lose the race, but you might explode as well. Challenging and fun, F-Zero set the tone for other racing games on the SNES for years to come.
Super Baseball Simulator 1000
Probably a lesser-known SNES title, Baseball Simulator 1000, makes my list of top games. Not only could you create your own teams, but you could give players special powers that would result in ridiculous pitches, home runs, and anything in between. It wasn't quite to the level of BaseWars on the NES, but this is the closest you got to it on SNES. Being a totally different kind of sports game, it was a lot of fun to play.
NHL 94 was the first hockey game that really started to resemble the real deal. The competition included all the real players and teams, plus you could have up to four players. Realistic passing, one-timers, penalties, and skating really started to put sports games on the map. We learned to appreciate it even more when fighting was taken out of later releases(but was then put back in).
Similar to NHL 94, this was the year the Madden Series really started to nail down realistic gameplay. On top of that, Madden was finally able to use real team and player names. For as much as NHL 94 set the bar for hockey games, Madden 94 did the same, including features that would become staples of any NFL-related game.
Illusion of Gaia
Illusion of Gaia was another classic RPG in the strong lineup on the SNES. Although you didn't form a full party in this one, the main character could change forms. You could switch from your original form to a knight and eventually an alien-like character as well. Each had their own abilities you would need to progress through the game.
Secret of Mana
The following two entries are very similar in gameplay and design, so it's no surprise that both are making my list. A different spin on the typical RPG, Secret of Mana didn't have random battles, but you fought enemies right in front of you. Leveling up meant gaining levels with your weapons and spells instead of your character. The more you used each, the better the ability became. Weapon levels meant you could charge up and unleash a new, more furious attack on your enemies. You would control one character at a time, with the AI controlling the other two, which could sometimes lead to one of them getting stuck. Even the menu system was fun—overall a classic RPG on the SNES.
Secrets of Evermore
Secrets of Evermore was basically the same game as Secret of Mana with real-time battles, weapons, and spell level-ups. Following a boy and his dog that would change forms throughout the story, this was easily another classic game.
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs
All the fun of the original games with the upgrade in graphics. Battmaniacs brought the Battletoads to the SNES with the same fun and energy the first games had. Another case of “if it ain't broke, don't fix it,” Battlemanaics gave us another great installment in the Battletoads series of games.
Krusty's Super Fun House
Similar to the NES title, you take control of the loveable Simpson's clown Krusty again needed to exterminate the mice that have taken over your funhouse. More levels, puzzles, and cameos by all your favorite Simpsons characters make this a great game to play through.
The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare
Keeping with the Simpson theme, this SNES game features the star (at the time) Bart Simpson. Playing through his dream world, you walk along an endless street in Springfield, avoiding all sorts of weird obstacles in order to “jump” into your homework. At which point you get to choose from two random side games to beat. You would play as Indiana Bart, Bartzilla, and others to collect another page from Bart's homework assignment. The more pages you collected, the better grade you got at the end. Easily a classic SNES title.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
This game belongs on the list if for nothing else but being able to play as Mario's sidekick Yoshi. Keeping with what made Mario games great, but playing as a floating, bad guy swallowing and spitting Yoshi just made this game lots of fun to play.
Aero the Acrobat
Maybe a lesser-known game, but I spent hours upon hours on this one. Playing as a human-like bat, you made your way through tons of challenging levels located at the circus. There was no shortage of circus-themed bad guys, obstacles, and objectives to achieve: overall a super fun and challenging game to play.
Act Raiser was a simulation, action, and RPG all rolled into one. It doesn't sound like a game that can't pick a genre should work, but this game was nothing short of masterful. Floating around in you would play God for a while, helping villagers grow their city. You would do this by first coming down to the world in a warrior form to defeat a boss in a classic side screen action level. Follow this by answering their prayers with rain, earthquakes, wind, farming, and other god-like action. As you progressed, you would find ancient artifacts making your warrior form stronger or giving you different special abilities to use. Although you could save your game, you could probably play from start to finish in just a few hours, but it was always fun to go back and start over.
Ogre Battle March of the Black Queen
Orge Battle is just a totally different kind of RPG altogether. The storyline was one more suited for adults, being about rising up against a political system. The gameplay was so in-depth as well. The game had a unique formation of several parties that could roam around a map, putting together parties and having different attacks based on the formation. It even tracked your morality throughout the game (which was a staple of the series), which could give you different endings. Playing this game over and over was a no-brainer.
On its surface, Harvest Moon doesn't sound like a fun game. Wake up early, grow some crops, take care of animals, basically doing the equivalent to video game work all day. Then it's wake up and do it all again tomorrow. For some reason, it just worked, and this became an incredibly addictive game that would go on to be the basis for plenty of spin-offs.
Super Metroid was precisely what it sounds like; the original Metroid only super-sized in every way. The map, bad guys, weapons, and everything else were all just better versions of the original NES versions that were already super awesome on their own. Super Metroid was fun all the way through and is easily one of the top 10 games on the SNES.
Super Mario Kart
Talk about a game-changer. Most racing games up to this point tried to realistically recreate racing. Not Mario, no no, he has his own style. The tracks themselves were wild and of course, adding in the classic weapons system that let you shoot out Koopa shells, banana peels and using star power to plow through your opponents made the game that much more special. Top it all off with the battle royal game mode, and you had yourself an instant classic.
Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Winning Run
Another sports game on the SNES that really started to bring the real feel of the sport to the video game world. Not to mention Ken Griffey Jr. was basically the most popular baseball player in the world at the time. Ken Griffey Jr had one of the sweetest swings you'll ever see, and the SNES game with his name on it was one of the sweetest sports games to date.
Tecmo Super Bowl III: Final Edition
Tecmo didn't change much for their final edition on the SNES, but they did add one key aspect. In this go-around, you could create players to put on your team. As they played, they would eventually do well enough to earn more points to add to their abilities. The improvement wasn't endless, though, so you had to decide how you wanted the player to end up. Making a QB that could launch the ball the entire was always fun, or having the speediest WR on the block wasn't too shabby either.
Earthbound on the SNES was the same and different. It was different from other RPGs by keeping the same psychedelic and out of this world aspects that made the original game great. There are plenty of strange characters and quests throughout the game, making it more than a good time for anyone that came across this great RPG.
Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III
I shouldn't be lumping these two games together, but I am. Easily some of the best RPGs for any system on their own; together, they just show the brilliance that Square had when making RPGs at the time. Incredible storylines, memorable characters, and so much more, both these games are still very playable today in their original form and have been remade over and over again.
Like Punch-Out on NES, super punch out has you play as an underdog character that uses strategy to win fights. As before, beginning fights were merely a warm-up to later fights that require you to memorize your opponent's moves and basically have perfect timing for the entire fight to take them down. If you were really good, you could figure out and exploit each fighter's exact weakness that could take them down in one punch.
Lufia and the Fortress of Doom and Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Two more RPGs that I shouldn't be lumping together, but this list is getting pretty long, and my fingers hurt from typing. Both are pretty much typical party forming, turn-based RPGs for the SNES, but again, that just seemed to work for over a decade. Similar to the Final Fantasy Series, the Lufia games had great storylines and characters you really cared about at the end. Both these games were classics.
Secret of the Stars
Typically not in the RPG realm, even Tecmo had to take a swing at it on SNES. Not one of the more popular SNES games, but I certainly loved it. Still a party, turned-based RPG, the game had a different feel and approach to it. Throughout the storyline, you would play as two different parties, the Aqutallion and the Kustera, each needed to help the other. At one point, you are helping recruit villagers to remake a city when the previous homes of the original inhabitants are destroyed. An overall and long and difficult game to eventually beat, it was always fun in my book.
For as under the radar as the previous entry was, Chrono Trigger was the radar. Simply a great game traveling through time to save the world. I believe you actually attempt to defeat the final boss relatively early in the game if you wanted, and depending on when you decide to; there were an insane amount of endings(forget the exact number). For that reason alone, you could play the game over and over again.
Ok, the list is in no particular order until now. I did save what I think are the top three defining games of the SNES. First up here is one anyone will know. NBA jam took basketball to a whole different level. Playing in two-on-two format, the game seems normal at first, but you quickly find out it's anything but. Playing as your favorite superstars that can launch three's from anywhere and had fantastical dunks was so much fun. I still get the sweats if I hear the phrase “He's heating up,” which led to the pressure of getting one more dunk so you could hear “He's one Fire!”. That one little phrase could totally turn the face of a game. Take on catchphrases like “Boom shaka-laka” and secret codes to play as the likes of Bill Clinton and Al Gore; this game was just insane from start to finish.
Star Fox was just a mind-blowing game. Flying around in what felt like a truly 3D world, Star Fox was ahead of its time. With more polygon-like graphics that would be more prominent in the N64, Star Fox took you on a journey through space with the memorable squad of Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, and Peppy Hare. You battled all sorts of futuristic bosses both on planets and in space which all, of course, culminated with defeating Andross. Really no game on SNES can compare to this one.
The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
The final of my top 3 games is another instant classic additional to what was already a great series on the NES. The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past was everything you could have wanted from the SNES version of the game. With all-new weapons, and some familiar ones (master sword, of course!), even more, challenging dungeons and mysteries to solve, there was no shortage of things to do in the game. Of course, you wanted to find every heart piece, bottle, and anything else that would help you power up enough to face the final boss in Ganondorf. A game so well done and replayable to this day, this might be the best game in the entire SNES collection.
Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he's not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, or just playing around with his kids.