While everyone is getting excited and intrigued by the Nintendo NX, or the Playstation 4.5, or Microsoft’s inevitable update to the Xbox, it also leaves gamers in an indecisive period. Until these new systems and updates actually come out, no one knows which one will actually be worth getting. Who wants to get stuck with what could be this generation’s 3DO?
Unfortunately, the best way to tell which system is the best is usually only revealed in retrospect. During the wars between Nintendo and Sega, no one could have known for sure that Nintendo would win out and basically absorb its competitor. But, obviously, no one wants to sit on the sidelines and wait it out to see which console prevails.
Luckily, there are plenty of game systems out there that don’t leave you to guess anymore. No matter which modern system winds up being the best, we know without a doubt right now that we can always go back to our faithful Super Nintendos for a fun time. In fact, with the Super Nintendo, the problem more becomes that it has so many great games to choose from.
While that’s a great problem to have, it still needs solving, so here are the 20 Best Super Nintendo Games.
20. MORTAL KOMBAT II
Something about the second iteration of a fighting game series just seems to get a lot of things right. Mortal Kombat II improved upon its predecessor, Soul Calibur II did the same, and we’ll be seeing another fighting game series on this list that really made it big in its second outing.
While the original Mortal Kombat shocked players with what was, at the time, unheard of levels of violence, the sequel backed up that gimmick with solid fighting mechanics and a larger roster. Some people still consider Mortal Kombat II the best of the franchise due to its simplicity, and the array of longtime fan-favorite characters being introduced, such as Baraka. Other series tried to mimic and cash in on the brutality of Mortal Kombat, such as Primal Rage or Killer Instinct, but if you’re looking for a fun and bloody time, Mortal Kombat II is the fighting game that has stood the test of time on the Super Nintendo.
19. THE MAGICAL QUEST STARRING MICKEY MOUSE
Long before Disney acquired the icons of Marvel or Star Wars, one suspender-wearing mouse was the biggest name the company had. While you might assume a game featuring Mickey Mouse would be more appealing to kids, it was actually a really well made platformer. The game was made by Capcom, and despite their current financial troubles, they really knew how to make solid adventure games in their earlier years (as we’ll see several more times on this list).
The story is as simple as Pete dog-napping Pluto and Mickey going to rescue his pet, but the game makes up for its light story with very fun levels. Mickey dons new costumes for each level that grant him new abilities, such as climbing gear when he goes scaling a mountain, or a fireman’s outfit when he enters an area filled with flame monsters. There were fun games from Disney before Kingdom Hearts came along, and this one will definitely prove that to you if you’re not already familiar with it.
18. EARTHWORM JIM
One of the great things about the early days of gaming was the creativity of the era, and the willingness to take risks and see what stuck when thrown against the wall. Earthworm Jim was a character who was clearly intended to be a gaming mascot, but never quite had the momentum to share the spotlight with names like Mega Man, Mario, or Sonic. Like those three, Jim had a whole campaign to try and raise his popularity. Actions figures, catch phrases, even a cartoon show where he was voice by Dan Castellaneta (best known for voicing Homer Simpson).
While Jim’s status as a mascot didn’t stick, we were left with two little gems on the 16-bit systems starring the earthworm. The first definitely brought the most originality, sending Jim on a plot to rescue Princess What’s-Her-Name (yes, that’s her real name), while dealing with a psychotic space crow, and a world where everyone is just a cow in disguise. Earthworm Jim is the kind of platformer that doesn’t get made too often nowadays, so it’s a great one to return to for a whacky, creative adventure.
17. OGRE BATTLE: MARCH OF THE BLACK QUEEN
It’s hard for some companies to get tactical strategy games done right even today, after years of practice, and all sorts of mods and downloadable content at their disposal to fix any problems. So it really is impressive that the Super Nintendo boasted a game like Ogre Battle, which was not only an early example of strategy games, but also a well-made game that people still talk about today.
The game blended genres by mixing in RPG elements with its style, allowing it to feature a dynamic story with multiple endings, and combat reminiscent of turn-based fighters. It was rare and ambitious to see a game that offered this kind of complexity at the time, expecting the player to deploy leaders across the map who each had their own armies that could level up and learn new skills. Adding to the often frantic pace was the push to claim enemy land on multiple fronts while simultaneously guarding your own bases, and scouting for hidden treasures. While you might think of the earlier days of gaming being mostly platformers or action games, strategic titles like Ogre Battle showed that consoles could provide great games that catered to all sorts of audiences.
16. DEMON’S CREST
A lot of people might know the demon Firebrand from various fighting games pitting Capcom characters against the big names of other companies, but he actually had his own game series years ago. Gargoyle’s Quest and its first sequel debuted the demon in games that played similarly to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link with a mixture of topdown game play, as well as classic side scrolling. But it was the third game in the series that really solidified Firebrand as someone to remember.
Demon’s Crest played like a darker version of Capcom’s Mega Man games, seeing the player traverse through a stage of their choosing, defeating a boss at the end, and gaining new abilities and transformations as a result. The gothic art style and music really showed what the Super Nintendo was capable of, and made for one of the most impressive usages of the system’s power. And for enthusiasts of challenging games, Demon’s Crest also offered a hidden final boss that many consider to be one of the hardest bosses of any Super Nintendo game.
15. DONKEY KONG COUNTRY
While not the first Donkey Kong game, Donkey Kong Country was the first to introduce us to the style of gameplay we all now associate with the primate. It marked his departure from the arcade style games of ascending scaffolds and other obstacles courses to rescue whoever was at the top, and put Donkey Kong in charge of his own adventure. It brought in a lot of new characters, and showcased the Super Nintendo’s graphical power. It was also an immediate hit.
Donkey Kong Country easily could have coasted off the success of the established Mario games and simply emulated that style of platformer. Instead, the game set itself apart with a heavy focus on more realistic looking jungle levels, and allowing Donkey Kong to ride various wild animals to utilize new abilities rather than acquiring power-ups like Mario. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie, and the rest of the Kong family won over gamers, and Donkey Kong Country’s style became synonymous with the big ape ever since.
14. SECRET OF MANA
This is the first of several RPGs on this list, and the thing almost all of them are going to have in common is their developer: Square. But as we’ll see more of later, Square might have found a niche in RPGs, but they still found a way to make each one unique and continually bring new ideas and new features to each title. Secret of Mana was no different in that regard, and was hailed for its innovation upon release.
Unlike most of Square’s RPGs, Secret of Mana featured real-time battles, adding a whole different feel to the combat. Another unique addition was the ability to play the game cooperatively with your friends by allowing three people to play simultaneously. But of course the game was also chock full of the usual quality we’ve come to know from Square’s games, including a great soundtrack, an epic story, and a sprawling adventure across a beautifully detailed world.
13. STAR FOX
Every genre Nintendo touched seemed to be another launching pad for a new mascot for them at one point. Even in the platformer era of 8 and 16-bit systems, Nintendo continued to innovate by dusting off the space ship shooter genre of games that were so popular in arcades thanks to titles like Space Invaders, Galaga, and Asteroids. Star Fox borrowed more from the likes of the popular Star Wars arcade game which was one of the earlier rail shooters. But now instead of wire frames, we had a fully-colored 3-D world to fly through.
While there are better shooters out there today (including several remakes of the original Star Fox), this game played a big role in blazing the trail for similar titles. People look back and laugh at Nintendo’s failed attempt at things like the Virtual Boy, but it showed the company had an eye for the future where many other companies would have fallen complacent with their immediate success. Star Fox was a shooter that pushed the limits of 3-D at the time, and had the added bonus of introducing players to a cast of anthropomorphic animals in space that we would want to see more of.
12. ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBORS
In an era where games where testing the waters for how dark they could go, Zombies Ate My Neighbors was a fun change of pace that deliberately packed in as many horror clichés as possible. While hurrying to rescue the victims strewn about each level could indeed be nerve-racking, the game was out more for laughs than scares.
Your teenage protagonist would use water pistols, popsicles, soda cans, and basically anything else not nailed down to vanquish knock offs of well-known monsters. It becomes a game of spot the parody as each stage starts with its own ridiculous movie title, followed by pitting you in a familiar spooky locale like a creepy lake side full of masked chainsaw killers, or a shopping mall overrun with zombies. It’s a great, zany time even today, and many cite this game as a probable inspiration for the Dead Rising series.
11. SUPER MARIO WORLD 2: YOSHI’S ISLAND
For all the complaints over how similar Mario games of recent years have become, the early days of the franchise most certainly didn’t have that problem. Each Mario game during its formative years branched out into entirely new styles and ideas when it easily could have basically released the same game with a new coat of paint to the same success. But Nintendo didn’t do that, and that’s just not something you see often nowadays. Even after the highly popular Super Mario World. Yes, there was a Mario World 2, but it was entirely its own thing and now made Yoshi the star.
Yoshi was admittedly the biggest addition Mario World brought to the franchise, so it made sense to explore his potential. Mario World 2 not only provided backstory for how Yoshi and his friends knew the Mario brothers, but also fleshed out Yoshi’s playing style. It introduced his ability to use eggs as makeshift grenades, and to adopt new forms like a helicopter when need be.
Nintendo took a risk with Mario World 2, but their innovation paid off as it so often has for the company. Yoshi’s adventure set an entirely different tone for the series, but ultimately broadened how many genres the Mario series was able to branch out into.
10. MEGA MAN X
It’s hard to believe there was ever a point that Capcom was churning out too many Mega Man games, but during the lifespan of the original Nintendo, people were definitely feeling a bit fatigued by the Blue Bomber. So when the Super Nintendo rolled around, Capcom knew they had to shake things up and bring something new to the series. That initiative wound up spawning what might actually be the most popular variation of Mega Man—Mega Man X.
Set years after the events of the original series, X was a remnant of Dr. Light’s work programmed to hunt down and neutralize robots who went maverick, AKA turned evil. The series was darker, more story heavy, and introduced a character whose popularity began to rival Mega Man’s in Zero. While later entries in the X series had varying results in quality, the original holds up even today and provides a challenging experience with a rocking soundtrack.
9. SUPER STREET FIGHTER II
You didn’t think we’d bring up Mortal Kombat without getting to Street Fighter did you? Proving you don’t need blood and fatalities to have a great fighting game, Street Fighter II redefined our expectations of fighting games. Partially from its solid mechanics and cast of memorable characters. And partially from being rereleased for the same system numerous times with added content. We didn’t have downloadable content back in the day, so every time Capcom decided to add new features, it meant buying a brand new cartridge.
The addition of Super Street Fighter II is when the series really began capitalizing on the competitive tournaments audience, and it was also just an all around improvement over the original Street Fighter II. While one more iteration of the game would be released for later systems with even more features (and then an HD version of that upgrade years later), this was the definitive version of the game on the Super Nintendo. Four new characters and a series of balance changes livened up the game for competitive players, and gave newcomers even more reason to check the series out.
There are a surprising number of great RPGs on the Super Nintendo, so it really speaks to the quality of a game like Earthbound that it still got as much recognition as it did, especially for being part of a series that spent so long with limited exposure outside of Japan. Part of what set the game apart was its self-awareness of RPG tropes, and utilizing so much that was ordinary to create weird, comical circumstances. Like how so many other RPGs are set in medieval worlds full of dragons and knights, while Earthbound was just an ordinary kid walking through town and whacking hippies with a baseball bat.
Quirky is a word that can be used across the board to describe Earthbound’s visuals, music, characters, and story. And it’s all still new today to many players due to how little exposure the series got in the West for so long. When Ness made his first appearance in Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64, many people didn’t know who he was. But Earthbound has seen recent rereleases, so for those who missed it years ago, now is a great time to try out the game that inspired Undertale.
7. SUPER CASTLEVANIA IV
While the Castlevania series has changed drastically over the years, it used to be another solid platformer for Nintendo systems. While the original trilogy of Castlevania games are known for being brutally hard, the fourth game in the series is the one people point to as the entrant that perfected the formula. It’s technically a remake of the original Castlevania, but with a more maneuverable Simon Belmont, and updated graphics and music.
It wasn’t long after this that Castlevania shifted to a more RPG-based approach to their games, but Simon is the character that people have come to identify with the series. The struggle of the Belmont family against the immortal Dracula has become as iconic to gamers as monster hunter Van Helsing’s encounters with the vampire are to film and literature lovers. While Castlevania continues to evolve into different game play styles and featuring new and bigger monsters, it’ll always come down to a man with a whip facing down the blood drinking nobleman.
6. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK TO THE PAST
A recurring theme in sequels released on the Super Nintendo from series that debuted on the original Nintendo was the company’s desire to outdo themselves. None of their new line of titles rested on the laurels of the previous game’s success, and instead brought in as many new ideas as possible. This was clearly evident in A Link to the Past, which doubled the map size from the original Legend of Zelda by surprising players with the game’s Dark World.
A lot of early games tried to extend game play time by being incredibly difficult for a player to beat, thus necessitating playing it over and over to get good enough to finish it. Nintendo’s Super Nintendo games went with a more gentle approach of encouraging the player to play again by packing in so much content. A Link to the Past followed suit by introducing many of the series’ long time items like the Hookshot and the Pegasus Boots, allowing players to traverse the world in new and innovative ways. It’s no coincidence so many later Zelda games borrow a lot from A Link to the Past. It was a spectacle when it was released, and endures even today due to how much creativity was put into the title.
5. SUPER MARIO RPG: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN STARS
Further exemplifying the creativity present during the era, Super Mario RPG is a game that sounded ridiculous at the time it was made. Mario being put in the hands of Square, a developer best known for the Final Fantasy titles, and being given the RPG treatment? How much story could you even get out of a Mario game? Today, we know the answer is a lot, and have numerous fun Mario games in the turn-based style. But at the time, it was pretty gutsy.
The game not only has Peach as a playable character, but actually sees Mario and Bowser team up to take down a common enemy. And Square showed no lack of originality either, introducing newcomers Mallow and Geno into the Mario universe, with the latter character in popular demand to return to this day. It’s not a difficult game, but for a long form exploration of Mario’s world and just getting to experience the fun of interacting with so many classic characters, this one is always fun to come back to.
4. CHRONO TRIGGER
We go from one Square RPG to another, and this won’t be the last one on the list. What the Final Fantasy games and Super Mario RPG did for more medieval environments, Chrono Trigger brought that same imaginative outlook to the sci-fi genre. Like many of Square’s games, it was visually great, and had an impressive and memorable soundtrack to accompany the journey of the characters.
What really makes Chrono Trigger stand out as a game people call one of the best of all time is how revolutionary it was for RPGs. Player choice is a big part of the genre, but was usually limited to how you chose to build your characters, or invest experience points. Chrono Trigger expanded on that idea by letting the player affect the story outcome as well through the game’s multiple endings. Combining its innovations with solid game play and memorable characters, this time travel story stands out as many people’s favorite game on the console.
3. SUPER MARIO ALL-STARS + SUPER MARIO WORLD
Put down your pitchforks everyone, Super Mario World is absolutely on this list. Though not in the way most people think of it. The Super Mario All-Stars + Super Mario World cartridge for the Super Nintendo not only gave you Mario World, but also improved versions of the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. Five classic Mario games on one cartridge. Where were you going to find a better deal than that back in the day?
But of course, Super Mario World is the big star of this cartridge, the one that many still call their favorite Mario game, or just one of their favorite games period. But with this iteration, you could also challenge yourself with the ridiculously hard Lost Levels for whenever you want to remind yourself how difficult the series can be without a cape to fly over every stage. No matter which game on the cartridge you’re looking to return to, this is the definitive way to do it.
2. FINAL FANTASY III (AKA VI)
Arguably the greatest Final Fantasy game ever made, and it came out on one of the earliest gaming consoles. Final Fantasy VI (which we’ll call it from now on, since that’s what it actually is) didn’t have voice acting, or 3-D cut scenes, or over a hundred hours of game play, but it worked under the limitations it had to become one of the most refined RPGs of its time.
This is the game that allowed royalty to fight alongside a ninja and a thief, provided the player an opportunity to suplex a train, and introduced gamers to one of the most iconic characters in the franchise in an evil clown who wanted to become a god. While Final Fantasy VII is the one being remade, there are just as many fans who would love to see this game brought to modern systems as well. Sorry Sephiroth, but Kefka did the whole god complex thing first, and maybe even did it better.
1. SUPER METROID
And last but not least, we come to a game that many people still call one of their favorites of all time. Super Metroid is a masterpiece of visual storytelling. Older systems didn’t have the luxury of being able to insert five minute fully-voiced cut scenes. Important elements had to be communicated to the player immediately and clearly. This game utilized clear visual cues to indicate such things as a boss’s weak spot, or how to make use of a new upgrade to traverse a previously inaccessible area.
This is also where the Metroid series came into its own with its atmosphere of loneliness and exploration that comprises so much of what an adventure with Samus is about. Even as a side scroller, the game didn’t hold your hand with where to go. You found your way through trying new methods, and when you finally discovered how to reach a boss like Kraid, it was rewarding. Even with a plot as simple as finding the baby Metroid that Ridley stole, the game was still compelling because it was constantly throwing new ideas at you.
Super Metroid became the bench mark for what a Metroid game should be, and was influential on so many other games as well that adopted the series’ exploratory style. This game showcased the kind of depth and ambience an action game could have, redefined female game characters, and is just a great time for anyone who decides to come back to it.
Of course we know there are plenty of other great games on the system, because the Super Nintendo has one of the best game libraries for any system. The console has great racing titles like Super Mario Kart and F-Zero, both of which kicked off long running franchises for Nintendo.
Then to this day gamers love great beat-em-ups that you can just wile away the hours knocking around thugs and all manner of creatures like in God of War or Devil May Cry. But before any of those modern 3-D beat-em-ups, we had classic side scrollers like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time which had the turtles transition wonderfully to cleaning up the streets and beating down their many enemies.
If you’re looking for more strategic games, there are some hidden gems on the system like the very creative Blackthorne, which is one of the few 2-D duck and cover shooter shooters you’ll find out there. The mechanics felt ahead of their time, and showed a lot of originality in its totally unique sci-fi world.
And then there always great party games on the system, like Super Bomberman, which was not only fast-paced fun, but encouraged more inventiveness on the console by making use of the Super Nintendo’s multitap, allowing four players to play at once instead of just two. The Super Nintendo has so many games that would go down as some of the greatest of all time, but even leaving aside those titles, you were more likely than not to find a fun time in many of the games you picked up.
There’re still so many more great games for the Super Nintendo that we didn’t mention, so feel free to share your favorites in the comments and tell us what makes the game special to you!