The 30 best SNES games

This is the sixth in my ’30 Best’ series of articles in which I discuss my favourite games ever on a system-by-system basis for the first time in my career. In case you missed them, I’ve already covered the 30 best Wii games30 best Amiga games30 best DS games30 best GameCube games and 30 best Dreamcast games.

’30 Best’ will now be a monthly series, thanks to my lovely Patreon followers helping me reach a stretch goal. If you want to contribute and help me reach my next goal (to start a Tired Old Hack podcast), please visit my Patreon page.

SNES
The European and Japanese SNES, with its lovely coloured buttons

It says a lot about the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that more than a quarter century after it first launched, there are still some who claim it’s the greatest games console that ever existed.

It’s easy to see their point. The SNES was host to a wide number of technically impressive games, many of which redefined existing genres or created entirely new ones altogether.

Much of this was made possible by the console’s special graphics capablities, both those provided with the system itself – the Mode 7 sprite scaling technique giving new life to the likes of racing games – and later those built into cartridges, like the groundbreaking Super FX chip.

There’s no point having tools if you don’t have the ability to use them, but Nintendo was at one of its most fruitful creative periods during the 16-bit era.

Established series like Mario, Zelda and Metroid saw their arguable high points reached on the SNES, while brand new franchises like F-Zero, Pilotwings and Star Fox made their debut on the console.

US SNES
The North American SNES with its Parma Violets tribute colours. I don’t like this design so much

Picking just 30 of the best SNES games is like a rabbit picking just 30 of its favourite children. But that’s what I’ve attempted to do here.

Because of this, it’s also probably the least surprising of my 30 Best features, with most of the established classics making an appearance.

The SNES recently turned 25 years old, meaning there’s a whole generation or two of gamers out there who were never around to experience its delights the first time.

Thankfully, because of Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, it’s still possible to buy a great deal of these games and see that all these years later they remain immensely playable and compelling.

So, if you’re a teenager or a gamer with a younger child, get your hands on some of the below games: they’re 30 perfect examples of how a classic game is a classic forever.

A UK magazine advert for the SNES, printed a couple of months before its release
A UK magazine advert for the SNES, printed a couple of months before its release

The annoying notes bit

This list is in alphabetical order. Much like it’s pretty pointless deciding whether a game’s getting a score of 72% or 73%, it doesn’t really matter if F-Zero is my 23rd or 24th favourite SNES game. Everything in this list was deemed good enough to make the cut, so I recommend them all with similar enthusiasm.

It’s also my own personal list and not a collaborative effort for a magazine or website, meaning there will be some ‘glaring’ omissions of games I simply didn’t play or didn’t like. So don’t lose your shit if Cool Spot isn’t on here or say I “forgot” Mario Paint – I didn’t forget it, it’s just not one of my 30 personal favourites.

Sorry mate, don't take it personally
Sorry mate, don’t take it personally

If one of your own recommendations isn’t on the list, feel free to give it a shoutout in the comments below (politely though, mind) and tell everyone what it meant to you.

The best way to play all these games is by tracking down the original cartridges and playing them on an original SNES console. This can be a time-consuming and often costly process so there are alternatives.

The most obvious is emulation, but for the sake of repetition this is the only time I’ll address it in this article. The legal implications of downloading ROMs of SNES games, many of which can still be purchased digitally, is something you should investigate and decide on yourself. That said, take it as a given that all of these games can be played via emulation, but won’t always offer a flawless experience.

As such, if you can’t get the original SNES cartridges, my best recommendation is to buy their Virtual Console versions where possible. At least this way you can be assured that they pass the Nintendo ‘seal of quality’ and should play as originally intended.

Also, since I’m from the UK, all games will be listed by their European titles. Everyone outside of America has to deal with Wikipedia and the like deciding US titles are the standard for some reason, so on my turf it’s my rules. Deal with it.

A final note: some of these games are available to play not only on Wii U’s Virtual Console service, but that of the New 3DS too. To be clear: this only means the New 3DS systems, as in the newer models with the extra thumbstick. The standard 3DS, 3DS XL and 2DS can’t play SNES Virtual Console games, because reasons.


The List

1) Alien 3

Alien 3What it is: Some people say Super Metroid is a video game version of Aliens. Well, Alien 3 is an Alien version of Super Metroid. If that makes sense.

Why it was chosen: The version of Alien 3 most people are familiar with – the one released on Sega systems, the NES and home computers like the Amiga – was average at best. But that wasn’t the one that ended up on the SNES.

The 16-bit Nintendo version of Alien 3 was a completely different game in which Ripley explored the large prison ship, taking on various tasks like sealing doors, fixing faulty computers and rescuing trapped prisoners.

Its free-roaming map gave it a real Super Metroid feel, making you completely forget the fact that the whole point of the film was that there were no weapons on the ship whereas here you’re armed like ISIS.

How to play it: Alien 3 has never been re-released due to a combination of the licence changing hands and publisher Acclaim / LJN dying on its arse. As such, you’ll need to track down the original.


2) Chrono Trigger

Chrono TriggerWhat it is: Squaresoft’s time-travelling RPG spanning over 65 million years.

Why it was chosen: It’s easy to take for granted now but us Brits didn’t have access to Chrono Trigger for the longest time. The SNES original was never released in Europe, meaning UK gamers had to wait for the DS port 14 years later to finally buy it.

That’s assuming they didn’t import games, mind, like I did (thank you, dodgy convertor cartridge). For those who did it was worth the extra expense, because Chrono Trigger offered one of the greatest stories in gaming history.

Even today it still stands up as one of the finest RPGs out there, so if you haven’t been lucky enough to play it yet I recommend you give it a bash.

How to play it: The best way to play Chrono Trigger is the 2009 DS re-release, because it includes all the bonus material from the PlayStation port (which also never made it to Europe) plus a new alternative ending, bringing the total number of possible conclusions to 14. If you’d rather play the SNES original, you can get it from the Wii (not Wii U) Virtual Console.


3) Desert Strike, Jungle Strike & Urban Strike

Jungle StrikeWhat they are: A trilogy of isometric helicopter games from EA, putting you in charge of a number of search and destroy missions in the Gulf, a nondescript jungle and the US respectively.

Why they were chosen: They’re better remembered as Mega Drive games for some reason but the original Strike trilogy offers some of the finest 16-bit gameplay regardless of what system you’re playing it on.

Controlling your chopper takes some getting used to – it’s a bit of a beast and momentum plays a part – but once you get the hang of it there’s nothing better than swinging it around and chucking a huge missile up a tank’s arse.

They’re difficult games, and your constantly depleting fuel means you’re always having to plan your next moves in advance, but if you don’t mind that sort of stress all three games are worth your while.

How to play them: Frustratingly, the Strike series has been all but forgotten in this day and age. Desert Strike was given a GBA port many moons ago, but the best place to start (short of getting hold of the original games, obviously) is EA Replay on PSP. It’s a retro compilation featuring 14 of EA’s 16-bit titles, including Desert Strike and Jungle Strike.


4) Donkey Kong Country trilogy

Donkey Kong Country 2What they are: Three platforming masterpieces by Rare in which Kong clan members Donkey, Diddy, Dixie and Kiddy indulge in some of the finest runny-jumpy goodness in gaming history.

Why they were chosen: It’s a testament to just how revolutionary Donkey Kong Country was at the time that even now, more than 20 years later, the first game still looks and sounds beautiful.

Mere beauty will only get you so far though (as my eventual autobiography will explain), so it’s a good job all three Donkey Kong Country games are great fun to play too.

A little warning, though: don’t expect them to be a walk in the park (well, the jungle). Some of the most knuckle-gnawingly frustrating platforming moments are to be found in this trilogy, but as with the best of difficult games it’s rare (ahem) that it’s ever anything but your own fault.

How to play them: On Wii U, all three SNES Donkey Kong Country games are currently available on Virtual Console along with modern sequels Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii) and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U). On New 3DS the SNES trilogy is also available on Virtual Console, along with Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D.


5) Earthbound

EarthboundWhat it is: An RPG co-produced and co-programmed by the late Satoru Iwata. Unlike other RPGs of its era, it’s set in the present day, telling the story of a young lad called Ness who has psychic powers.

Why it was chosen: Earthbound is another SNES RPG gem that never made it to Europe. It wasn’t until 2013 when it was released on Wii U Virtual Console that we were able to properly buy it on a non-import basis.

Because of this, there’s a large chunk of Nintendo fans out there whose only exposure to the game is the presence of Ness and his pal Lucas in the Smash Bros series. If you’re one of these people, remedy that pronto by giving Earthbound a go.

In many ways it was so ahead of its time it’s unreal, particularly with regards to the localisation: its dialogue was completely rewrittten for a western audience and as a result is pleasantly funny, charming and mad in equal measure.

How to play it: The best way to play Earthbound is easily the Wii U Virtual Console version, which even comes with access to a digital version of the hefty 128-page players guide included with the original SNES release.


6) Earthworm Jim & Earthworm Jim 2

Earthworm JimWhat they are: A pair of bizarre platformers from the team that worked on Disney’s Aladdin game on the Mega Drive. Help Jim (a worm in a spacesuit) rescue Princess What’s-Her-Name from the clutches of her evil sister, Queen Slug-For-A-Butt.

Why they were chosen: No games made me laugh more during the 16-bit era than the Earthworm Jim games, and their comedy still holds up after all this time.

From the most brilliantly terrible boss battle in history in which you defeat a goldfish with a single swallow, to the bungee jump battle with a giant glob of mutant snot, to the bizarre level where Jim is a blind salamander who has to take part in a gameshow, it’s ridiculous from start to finish.

Both games also have a brilliant soundtrack by Tommy Tallarico, who these days is responsible for the excellent Video Games Live concerts.

How to play them: While neither game is available on the Virtual Console services for Wii U or 3DS, both systems’ legacy support mean you can still get the Wii Virtual Console versions of both games or the DSiWare version of the first game respectively. Alternatively, an HD remake of the first game can be found on the Xbox 360 and PS3’s digital stores.


7) F-Zero

F-ZeroWhat it is: One of the SNES’s launch titles, this futuristic racing game was a showcase for the console’s unique Mode 7 sprite scaling and rotation technique.

Why it was chosen: Very few games have a ‘eureka’ moment like F-Zero does. For the longest time you’ll struggle with it, arsing your car off the electrified walls and wondering why so many people rate it as a classic.

And then you’ll suddenly realise the trick to turning, and you’ll practice the technique of tapping the accelerator as you swoop round bends, and you’ll fall in love with it.

When most people demand a new F-Zero game they’re usually thinking of the N64 or GameCube offerings when they do. I think of the SNES original.

How to play it: F-Zero is available on Virtual Console on both the Wii U and New 3DS.


8) Final Fantasy II & Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy VIWhat they are: Actually Final Fantasy IV and VI (yes, it’s confusing) renamed for American audiences. Final Fantasy II / IV sees a dark knight called Cecil trying to stop a sorcerer from destroying the world, while Final Fantasy III / VI has a team of fourteen teaming up to bring down a dictatorship.

Why they were chosen: Every single-digit Final Fantasy is a classic, and the fourth and sixth entries (rebranded as the second and third in the US) are no exceptions to this.

Both games were seminal titles in the RPG genre. FFII/IV introduced the Active Time Battle system which became a mainstay for the next five entries, while FFIII/VI has a powerful, epic story that some claim is the best of any Final Fantasy.

If you’re an RPG fan and you’ve never played either of these, that’s a gap in your knowledge that really has to be filled as soon as possible.

How to play them: The SNES versions of both games are available on the Wii (not Wii U) Virtual Console: this is also their only official European release (they never came to Europe in the SNES days).

If you fancy something a bit more graphically advanced, Final Fantasy IV has a DS remake which is also on iOS and Android, while Final Fantasy VI has a GBA port and visually ‘enhanced’ versions for iOS and Android (though personally I’m not a fan of how clean the latter look).

If you’re a PC gamer, both Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI are also available on Steam.


9) International Superstar Soccer / Deluxe

International Superstar SoccerWhat it is: The first game in Konami’s football series which eventually spawned its ultimately more successful spin-off, Pro Evolution Soccer.

Why it was chosen: When FIFA International Soccer and its sequel FIFA 95 were released on the Mega Drive and SNES, the belief was that the series was so far ahead of every other football game it could never be touched.

Then International Superstar Soccer came out and touched it. It touched it right on the knob. This was the beautiful game at its… um, beautifulest.

From its incredible graphics to its fantastic atmospheric sound (not to mention its hollering commentator) and a ‘chunky’ feel that made every slide tackle, header and overhead kick brilliantly satisfying, ISS was the undisputed champion of the football game league.

Well, until Konami made Goal Storm, that is. But that’s for another time.

How to play it: Neither ISS or its enhanced sequel ISS Deluxe are available on any Virtual Console service, so you’ll need to get hold of the original cartridges or the PlayStation port of ISS Deluxe.


10) Killer Instinct

Killer InstinctWhat it is: Rare’s answer to Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, a visually impressive fighting game created to generate interest for the upcoming ‘Ultra 64’.

Why it was chosen: When Killer Instinct was first released in the arcades, it was said to use the next-gen ‘Project Reality’ hardware that would eventually become the Nintendo 64 (albeit in a modified form).

Although the arcade version showed a screen saying the game would be “available for your home in 1995 only on Nintendo Ultra 64”, it soon became apparent that Nintendo’s 64-bit console would be delayed and so a SNES port was developed.

While it doesn’t look quite as spectacular as its coin-op counterpart did, then, it’s still a cracking looking SNES game and, more importantly, fun to play. Racking together ridiculous combos of 60+ hits and hearing the announcer yell “ULTRAAAA ULTRAAAAA ULTRAAAAA” will always be a highlight.

How to play it: The SNES version of Killer Instinct was never re-released, but the arcade version is available as a bonus extra in the ‘Season One Ultra Edition’ of the Killer Instinct reboot on Xbox One.


11) The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past

The Legend Of Zelda - A Link To The PastWhat it is: The third game in The Legend Of Zelda series has Link trying to defeat the evil Ganon and Agahnim by rescuing the seven maidens descended from the Seven Sages.

Why it was chosen: You can tell A Link To The Past is a quality game because it’s still captivating, immersive and compelling a full quarter of a century after its original release.

It’s also got one of the finest ‘oh shit’ moments in gaming history, when what you thought was an already large world is revealed to only be a small part of the game.

It’s no surprise there’s still a group of Zelda fans who insist it’s the best in the series despite everything that’s come since.

How to play it: A Link To The Past is available on Virtual Console on both the Wii U and New 3DS.


12) Mario’s Super Picross

Mario's Super PicrossWhat it is: The second game in Nintendo’s Picross series, following the original Mario’s Picross on Game Boy.

Why it was chosen: Of the numerous Picross games released on Nintendo systems over the years, for me Mario’s Super Picross is only bettered by the DS version.

The SNES offering has a grand total of 300 puzzles, split into Mario puzzles (in which errors are corrected) and harder Wario puzzles (in which they aren’t), meaning you’ll be playing it for ages.

If you’re new to Picross though, I’d recommend trying out one of the Picross e games on 3DS first. Since Mario’s Super Picross was only ever released in Japan, even the Virtual Console release – now available in Europe – has its tutorial in Japanese.

How to play it: You can get Mario’s Super Picross on the Wii U Virtual Console, but only in Europe and Australia. The game has never been released in any format (be that physical or digital) in North America.


13) Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3 & Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Mortal Kombat 3What they are: Street Fighter may have been the fighting game champion but the Mortal Kombat series held its own with more realistic digitised fighters and its notorious fatality moves. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is the best of the bunch, with 26 playable characters.

Why they were chosen: I’ve still got a soft spot for Mortal Kombat even though it hasn’t quite aged as well as the Street Fighter games.

There’s still nothing more satisfying than delivering a leg sweep followed by a massive uppercut, popping your opponent into the air in a fountain of blood.

Speaking of which, you’ll note I haven’t included the original Mortal Kombat here. That’s because the SNES version was heavily censored by Nintendo, with all the blood and gory fatalities removed, rendering it a bit pointless.

How to play them: The SNES Mortal Kombat games aren’t available on Virtual Console. Your best bet is something like Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, which contains the arcade versions of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and is available digitally on Xbox 360, PS3 and Steam.


14) NBA Jam Tournament Edition

NBA Jam Tournament EditionWhat it is: An enhanced version of Midway’s two-on-two arcade basketball game, with extra gameplay mechanics and a bunch of new hidden characters.

Why it was chosen: The original NBA Jam is one of the finest arcade sports games ever made but Tournament Edition built on it with a load of extra goodies.

The new Tournament mode adds random hot-spots to the court, letting you bag nine-point shots or dunks if you’re lucky and leading to some ridiculous scorelines.

There are also nearly 40 hidden characters to unlock, including the Beastie Boys, Will Smith, Bill Clinton and even Prince Charles. Pretty sure he didn’t give his blessing for that.

How to play it: Because of licensing issues NBA Jam isn’t available on any Virtual Console service or retro game compilation.

Short of finding the original cartridge, another possible alternative is EA’s recent NBA Jam on Wii or NBA Jam: On Fire Edition on the Xbox 360 and PS3’s digital stores. They’re modern remakes but are faithful recreations of the original’s gameplay.


15) Pilotwings

PilotwingsWhat it is: Nintendo’s first attempt at a flight simulator game, once again making copious use of the SNES’s Mode 7 trickery.

Why it was chosen: At the time of Pilotwings’ release flight sims were very much the domain of the microcomputer gamer, and considered too slow and complicated for console fans.

Nintendo’s offering completely changed this perception, delivering a game with a control system that was still hard to master but, crucially, approachable enough to appeal to flight sim newcomers.

The result is a beautifully relaxing game that may have been surpassed with its Nintendo 64 sequel but is still a joy to play nonetheless.

How to play it: Pilotwings is available on Virtual Console on both Wii U and New 3DS.


16) Starwing

StarwingWhat it is: The first game in the Star Fox series, in which Fox McCloud and the rest of his team take to the skies to fire lasers up the evil Andross’s rump. Known as Star Fox in the rest of the world but I’m British so Starwing it is.

Why it was chosen: Starwing has such a unique look that I’d imagine even younger gamers these days can still appreciate just how different it was when it was first released.

As the first game to use the Super FX chip, it was also one of the first console titles to use polygonal graphics instead of sprites, giving it a uniquely futuristic look.

This would be a bit pointless if the game itself was rubbish, but it wasn’t. This was Miyamoto and Eguchi’s Star Wars and every element – from picking off enemies as they tailed your teammates, to lobbing bombs at the huge boss enemies and triggering them at just the right moment – was a treat to play.

How to play it: Because of Super FX licensing issues, there’s no way to play Starwing on Virtual Console. You’ll need to get hold of the original game.


17) Sunset Riders

Sunset RidersWhat it is: A port of a Konami arcade game in which you guide a bounty hunter through the wild west in search of wanted criminals, then pump oodles of bullets into their mangy hides.

Why it was chosen: Despite being a genre ripe for exploration, there haven’t been a hell of a lot of brilliant wild west games over the years. Gunsmoke was one early contender, and these days you obviously have the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Gun, but these are big barflies in a small saloon.

Sunset Riders is part of this select group of outlaws, and I love it. It’s a side-scrolling run ’n’ gun game where you take out a load of nasty cowboy types on the way to each end-of-level boss.

A simple enough concept, then, but one that’s just a joy to play through because of the brilliant design (even though the SNES version is censored: no killing Native Americans here) and cracking music.

How to play it: Sunset Riders is one of those games that’s been lost to time and hasn’t seen a re-release at any point over the past 20+ years. You’ll need to get the original cartridge, in that case.


18) Super Castlevania IV

Super Castlevania IVWhat it is: The fourth Castlevania game, obviously. Well, technically the sixth if you count the two Game Boy games before it. Either way, this retelling of the first ‘vania sees you once again entering Dracula’s castle as Simon Belmont and whipping the piss out of him.

Why it was chosen: To understand just how well-received Super Castlevania IV was, you have to realise that the series was going through a bit of a personality crisis by this point.

After the first game was a success, the sequel Simon’s Quest tried to be too clever and turned into a weird RPG hybrid thing which was a poorly translated mess. The third game, Dracula’s Curse, returned to its action platformer roots but continued to complicate things with branching paths and assistant charaters.

Super Castlevania IV flicked a middle finger to all that nonsense and just gave us eleven levels of straight action, complete with brilliantly detailed levels and memorable set-pieces like the famous rotating room. Cracking stuff.

How to play it: Super Castlevania IV is available on the Wii U’s Virtual Console service.


19) Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium

Super Fire Pro Wrestling X PremiumWhat it is: The best Nintendo wrestling game that isn’t WWF No Mercy.

Why it was chosen: The Fire Pro Wrestling series started in Japan in 1989 and continued right through to 2005 (we don’t talk about the Xbox 360 monstrosity).

A total of eight Fire Pro games were released on SNES, of which Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium was the last and best.

The secret to Fire Pro’s success is its timing-based grappling system, in which strategy and skill are needed instead of mere button-bashing. The result is flowing, methodical bouts with a pace that feels similar to real wrestling.

With a roster of over 100 wrestlers from promotions all over the world including the WWF (though the names were changed, obviously) and a new Edit mode with 80 blank character slots, it was an absolute beast of a game.

How to play it: Like most of the Fire Pro series, SFPWXP was never released in the west and isn’t on Virtual Console. If you live in the US your best bet is 2005 PS2 title Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, which was the last to retain the classic Fire Pro gameplay.

If you’re European you may have to make do with the simply named Fire Pro Wrestling, a GBA offering which was the only Fire Pro ever released in Europe. Yes, the only one. The Xbox one doesn’t exist, remember.


20) Super Mario Kart

Super Mario KartWhat it is: The first Mario Kart, and the game that single-handedly spawned the karting subgenre of racers.

Why it was chosen: Try to imagine a time when there were no karting games. For the past two decades we’ve been practically swimming in the swines, but when Super Mario Kart was announced the idea of taking a bunch of well-known characters and sticking them on go-karts was actually a novel one.

It pretty much nailed the concept on its first try too (indeed, maybe it’s just as well, as the genre may never have caught on if it didn’t): the CC speed settings, the cup structure, the shells and bananas, all were there right from the beginning.

Of course, over the years the series has evolved drastically and everyone has their favourite Mario Kart, of which very few people say is the first. But its Battle Mode is still a thing of glory and its Mode 7 trickery still looks nifty.

How to play it: Super Mario Kart is available on Virtual Console on both the Wii U and New 3DS.


21) Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars

Super Mario RPGWhat it is: Developed by Square, this was the first Mario role-playing game. In it, Mario and chums (including Bowser, surprisingly) team up to defeat the evil robotic blacksmith Smithy.

Why it was chosen: Of all the big SNES RPGs that never made it to Europe, Super Mario RPG was the one that hurt me most.

As a massive Mario fan, it was heartbreaking that American and Japanese gamers got to enjoy this fantastic game and we didn’t. Eventually though I did get my hands on an import copy and it was incredible.

It’s still a fun game to this day, and is a great entry point for gamers who may not be too familiar with the RPG genre because it’s easy to get used to the mechanics.

Super Mario RPG’s success spawned Paper Mario (originally codenamed Super Mario RPG 2), which in turn led to the Mario & Luigi games. So if you’re a fan of either of those series, this is where it all began.

How to play it: Super Mario RPG was eventually released on Virtual Console, meaning Brits could finally officially buy it for the first time. It’s currently on Wii U Virtual Console but only on PAL (European & Australian) consoles, not in North America. Now they know how it feels.


22) Super Mario World

Super Mario WorldWhat it is: Come on, you really don’t need me to tell you what Super Mario World is. Fine, it’s the fourth Super Mario Bros game.

Why it was chosen: One of the greatest launch games on any system (rivalled only by Super Mario 64), Super Mario World took everything that made its predecessors great and dialled it up: not to 11, but 12.

A massive connected world map, a new cape power-up that let Mario fly for lengthy periods, the introduction of the Koopalings and – most importantly – the debut of Yoshi all contributed to what is still one of the greatest platformers ever made.

Even better was the wealth of hidden goodies that were made available to skillful players. Not only was there a hidden Star Road with five super-hard levels, but beating these granted access to the mythical Special World, complete with eight more stages and the ability to transform the entire game’s sprites and palettes.

Look, I could be here all day. You really should own some version of this by now. If you’re a younger gamer reading this and you’ve never played Super Mario World, do it now. And sorry about all the swearing so far: don’t be a grass.

How to play it: Super Mario World is available on Virtual Console on both Wii U and New 3DS, so you’ve no excuse.


23) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Yoshi's IslandWhat it is: A prequel to the Super Mario games in which Yoshi has to carry Baby Mario through numerous dangerous worlds to reunite him with Baby Luigi and deliver the pair to their parents.

Why it was chosen: These days it’s almost impossible to release a successful 2D platformer unless it’s got some sort of quirky art style. When Yoshi’s Island came out back in 1995, this was considered a novelty.

Its beautiful visual design, in which the entire game looks like it was hand-drawn with felt pens and watercolours, made it stand out from the sea of standard platform games hammering the 16-bit systems at the time.

It’s still one of the most charming games you’ll ever play and has more ideas in a single world (the infamous Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy level being a personal highlight) than many games have in their entirety.

How to play it: Because Yoshi’s Island was made with the Super FX 2 chip it suffers from the same licensing issues as Starwing and the like and isn’t available on Virtual Console as a result.

However, the GBA port Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 (which is a perfectly acceptable alternative) didn’t use the chip and as such is available on the Wii U Virtual Console.


24) Super Metroid

Super MetroidWhat it is: The third Metroid game and still considered by most to be the best side-scrolling entry in the series.

Why it was chosen: If Starwing was Miyamoto’s Star Wars, then Super Metroid is Sakamoto’s Aliens.

It’s a brilliantly claustrophobic experience and does a great job of building an atmosphere despite the limitations of the system.

The original Metroid was great too, but by adding new features like the ability to fire in all directions and a map that filled itself in as you played, Super Metroid let you concentrate less on not getting lost and more on enjoying the adventure.

It’s a fantastic title and while it wasn’t the one that invented the ‘Metroidvania’ genre it’s sure as hell one of the games (along with Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night) that made it popular.

How to play it: Super Metroid is available on Virtual Console on both Wii U and New 3DS.


25) Super Probotector

Super ProbotectorWhat it is: Also known as Contra III: The Alien Wars in America, this run ‘n’ gun game from Konami has you saving the Earth from an alien invasion. I know, I know, what else is new.

Why it was chosen: Super Probotector is one of the best run ‘n’ gun games ever made, it’s as simple as that.

It’s one of those games that at first seems ridiculously difficult. You’ll die countless times on the first level and bosses will seem unbeatable.

Then, slowly but surely, you’ll learn all the tricks – where to stand on this bit, the routine you need to beat that boss – and over time you’ll master it. Nothing is more satisfying.

Incidentally, the only main difference between the European version and the US one (other than the name and the usual speed difference you used to get between NTSC and PAL video modes) is that in Super Probotector you play as a robot whereas in Contra III you play as a human soldier.

How to play it: Available in its Contra III form only, you can get it on both the Wii U and New 3DS Virtual Console services.


26) Super Punch-Out!!

Super Punch-OutWhat it is: The fourth game in Nintendo’s boxing series, in which Little Mac (now a wee blondie) once again fights his way through a series of wild and wonderful opponents from around the world.

Why it was chosen: I’ve always loved the Punch-Out!! games and the SNES entry is very much part of the reason for this.

At its core it doesn’t really offer anything too different from the Punch-Out!! games before it. Once again each opponent is essentially a boss fight, whose patterns and telltale weaknesses you must learn in order to beat them.

But if it isn’t broken you shouldn’t try to fix it, and Punch-Out!! certainly wasn’t broken. As such, more of the same – complete with enormous screen-filling boxer sprites – was perfectly fine by me.

How to play it: Super Punch-Out!! is on Virtual Console for both Wii U and New 3DS. Also, at the time of writing, you can get the Wii U version for 70 gold points on the My Nintendo rewards service. 70 coins can be earned by spending up to £40 on eShop and Virtual Console games.


27) Super Star Wars trilogy

Super Star Wars - The Empire Strikes BackWhat they are: A trio of side-scrolling action games based on the original Star Wars movies.

Why they were chosen: It’s all well and good with your Lego Star Wars and Rogue Squadron and the like these days, but there was a time when there were barely any decent Star Wars games.

The Super Star Wars titles were one of the few exceptions to this rule, letting you play as loads of characters from the trilogy – Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia and Wicket – as you run and blast your way through the scum of the universe.

As was the order of the day back then, all three games are punishingly difficult. But, as ever, mastering them was half the fun.

How to play them: The Super Star Wars games are not available on the Wii U or New 3DS Virtual Console services, but they can still be found on the old Wii service.

Alternatively (and rather oddly) the first Super Star Wars is available for download on PS4 and Vita. Yes, a SNES game on a PlayStation console, Mode 7 sections and all.


28) Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers

Super Street Fighter IIWhat it is: The best version of the classic Street Fighter II, adding four new characters – Cammy, T Hawk, Dee Jay and Fei Long – to the existing bosses and standard fighters, bringing the total roster to 16.

Why it was chosen: The 16-bit Street Fighter II will always remain a brilliantly playable game, no matter how many fancy polygonal sequels follow in the years to come.

Of the numerous versions released on home consoles during the ‘90s, Super is the best of the bunch because of the addition of four new characters.

It may not have some of the extra features the subsequent Super Street Fighter II Turbo arcade game added (like Super Combos and air juggles), but it’s still the best version of Street Fighter you can get on SNES.

How to play it: You can get Super Street Fighter II on the Wii U Virtual Console service.


29) Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles IV: Turtles In Time

TMNT Turtles In TimeWhat it is: An arcade beat ‘em up in which the Turtles travel through time to defeat Shredder. Still the best TMHT/TMNT game ever made.

Why it was chosen: I’m a big Turtles fan. I’m a big beat ‘em up fan. I’m a big fan of good games. So combining the three was the stuff of gold.

Granted, Turtles In Time wasn’t the first time Konami dropped the teenage testudines (yup, I looked it up) into a fighting game, but the time travel aspect made it the best entry in the series.

On top of that, it had music that was so fantastic a mariachi band ended up covering it.

How to play it: Because Konami no longer holds the TMNT licence you won’t find Turtles In Time on Virtual Console. In fact, the SNES version has never been re-released since its initial 1992 launch. Your best alternative is to track down TMNT 3: Mutant Nightmare on GameCube, PS2 or Xbox, because it has the arcade version as a hidden unlockable.


30) Zombies

Zombies Ate My NeighborsWhat it is: A top-down action game in which you have to rescue your fellow townspeople from an invasion of B-movie monsters. Better known as Zombies Ate My Neighbours (pesky European censors).

Why it was chosen: When you think of LucasArts, depending on your gaming pedigree you probably either think of Star Wars games or point-and-click gems like The Secret Of Monkey Island.

The studio also developed this wee gem, a funny love letter to B-movies where you have to explore shopping malls, pyramids and neighbourhood streets trying to find and rescue cheerleaders and babies.

There’s a wide variety of movie monster to defeat with your special water gun including the titular zombies, werewolves, aliens and Chucky-inspired killer dolls.

It’s got a great sense of humour and is well worth a look, especially considering it didn’t sell so well back in ‘93 when it first came out.

How to play it: Zombies isn’t on any of the current-gen Virtual Console services, so you’ll need to head into the old Wii Virtual Console, where you’ll find it there.


Honourable mentions

The SNES had such an immense library of quality titles that picking just 30 was tricky.

Here, then, are 15 more deserving candidates that just missed out on the list. All are worth a look if you fancy checking out even more of what this great system had to offer.

*available for download on Wii U Virtual Console

Axelay*
A brilliant Konami shoot ’em up, featuring both horizontally and vertically scrolling stages and some enormous bosses.

Disney’s Aladdin
Capcom’s take on the Disney classic was completely different from Virgin Interactive’s Mega Drive version. The genie level in particular is fantastic stuff.

Doom
A surprisingly impressive port of the PC favourite, thanks partly to the Super FX 2 chip. Seriously, have a look and see for yourself.

The Firemen
A sadly overlooked top-down firefighting game where you have to brave a blazing chemical factory and rescue its workers.

Jikkyō Oshaberi Parodius
The fourth of Konami’s Parodius series of comedy shoot ’em ups. It’s funny stuff but also visually striking, with even some polygonal stuff in one stage.

Kirby’s Fun Pak*
Known as Kirby Super Star in the US, this is actually eight ‘games’ in one. In fairness, some of these are mini-games, but most are full platform adventures involving some of the best Kirby gameplay you’ll find.

Mega Man X Mega Man X2 & Mega Man X3*
Capcom’s 16-bit reboot of the Mega Man franchise added a bunch of new tricks like dashing and wall-climbing to make for more exciting side-scrolling gameplay.

NHL ’94
Even if you aren’t much of an ice hockey fan, turn all the rules off in this EA Sports classic and enjoy some ridiculous, fast-paced violent sporty goodness.

Rock n Roll Racing
A nifty isometric racer with a cracking soundtrack. It was developed by a little studio called Silicon & Synapse, which was later renamed Blizzard Entertainment. That’s right, you’re looking at a SNES racer developed by the Warcraft and Overwatch folk.

Secret Of Mana
One of the first RPGs to ditch turn-based combat in favour of real-time battles, this Squaresoft adventure also has some of the best music of the 16-bit era.

Stunt Race FX
After blowing gamers away with Starwing, Nintendo and Argonaut Software dipped into the Super FX chip for the second time and came up with this funky wee racing game. It was nowhere near as popular but is still a fun and visually unique racer.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts*
The third game in the brutally unforgiving Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series will frustrate you at first but once you get the hang of it you’ll fall in love with its unrelenting abuse and twisted sense of humour, such as its magician who can turn you into a baby, seal or little girl.

Super Mario All-Stars
Visually enhanced remakes of Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The originals are still better but this is a hell of a compilation regardless.

Terranigma
An epic Enix RPG about a young lad called Ark and his quest to resurrect the entire world. Bit of a task, that.

Unirally
Created by DMA Design (before it became Grand Theft Auto studio Rockstar North), Unirally is a fun game that’s part racer, part 2D platformer. Unique and quirky. Known as Uniracers in North America.


7000 words not enough? Looking for more 30 Best features? Fair enough. Here’s my other articles covering the 30 best Nintendo WiiAmiga, Nintendo DSGameCube and Dreamcast games.

If you enjoyed this, please consider contributing to my Patreon account. ’30 Best’ is now a monthly series because of my lovely Patreon friends helping me hit a stretch goal, and hitting the next will mean a regular Tired Old Hack podcast.

19 thoughts on “The 30 best SNES games

  1. Awesome stuff Chris as usual. Took me way back to my high school days rushing home to play SSFII with my brother ( me Ryu, him Ken ). It always used to be close until I got a Super Advantage stick and would then regularly pound him into the dirt. Great memories.

    Like

  2. Chris I wonder if you can help me find out what this football game I used to have on SNES is called. Me and my brother played it all the time, but neither can remember it’s name. One of the levels was indoors, like a school sports hall, and you could bounce the ball off the walls, without the need for throw-ins, a bit like Master Football. Any ideas? I once lent it to this kid and he never gave it me back.

    There was also a tennis game, and you could practice against one of those machines that fires balls at you. Can’t remember that title either, but it also had a brilliant two player mode.

    Like

      1. Could be mate yeah, or the original striker, not exactly sure. How many SNES games had indoor football anyway? Can’t be many. Nice memories of that game anyway, whatever it was.

        Like

    1. The football game sounds like it could be either World Cup Striker or the SNES version of FIFA 97.

      As for the tennis game, there were a load on the SNES but I can’t remember exactly which ones had a ball machine. I want to say either Smash Tennis or David Crane’s Amazing Tennis but I might have to get back to you.

      Like

      1. Hmm, I think that tennis game had the lower down camera behind the player, like in David Crane’s. Long time ago though, I can’t really confirm it without seeing that practice machine thing. Good game.

        Like

  3. Excellent list! I love all of the hidden gems in here, many of which I have to check out. The top 3 choices are particularly surprising and not at all what I’m used to when I see these lists. Well done. And of course, good inclusion of the more popular games as well!

    Like

  4. Good list. I’m glad that Rock N Roll racing got a mention ( though the soundtrack was always the best bit).
    I would only add R-Type. It’s the reason I bought the Snes. Until then I was a Sega fan boy ( an affliction which I still suffer from), but R-Type added the Snes to my life. As hard as a weegie steel worker ( if any steel workers still exist, hard or not) it was a perfect conversion. And boy, was it tough!
    Happy days!

    Like

  5. For Street Fighter II, I actually prefer Turbo to Super. Sure it doesn’t have the extra characters of Super, but its faster gameplay really makes a difference, plus I prefer in the music and sound renditions in Turbo.

    Of course, when it comes to Street Fighter II as a whole, it’s no question – Super Turbo is the best version. But for the SNES games, I would honestly pick Turbo over Super.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s