U.N. Squadron (SNES)
The SNES might not be famous for its prowess when it comes to shmups, but this early example from Capcom nonetheless hits the target. Sure, there's some slowdown here and there – an unfortunate consequence of the SNES' slow CPU – but the ability to upgrade your plane and select different missions gives the game a more open and interesting feel than your typical linear shooters. While the western version is called U.N. Squadron, the Japanese original is named after the anime and manga series which inspired it, Area 88.
Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
You could argue that Rare's update of the famous Donkey Kong series is better remembered for the impact of its CGI visuals than its Mario-style gameplay, but that cruelly overlooks the fact that this is a painfully polished platformer that stands head and shoulders above the vast majority of its 16-bit rivals. The graphics might not be quite as impactful today as they were at the time of release, but Donkey Kong Country (and its sequels) are still fantastically playable and well worth a look.
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (SNES)
While the Mega Drive / Genesis got an excellent port of the arcade original, SNES owners were blessed with an entirely new adventure in the form of Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts. Everything is improved here; the visuals and sound are arguably better than those seen in the coin-op predecessor, while the level designs are more inventive and interesting. The only downside is that, like many early SNES games, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts suffers from some pretty dramatic slowdown when there's a lot going on, but this is easy to overlook. A port was later released for the GBA.
Alongside F-Zero, this is the game that really sold the world on the SNES' Mode 7 trickery and convinced everyone that it wasn't just a party trick and could actually deliver more immersive games. In Pilotwings, you're basically joining a flight school and must pass a series of tests to earn progressively tougher licences. Everything from biplanes to jetpacks is featured, and at one point you even get to fly an attack helicopter. Pilotwings was like nothing else when it was first released and has therefore remained at the forefront of people's memories, even after all these years.
Very close in style and tone to Sega's Mega Drive / Genesis RPG Shining in the Darkness, HAL's Arcana (known as The Card Master in Japan) is a first-person dungeon-crawler with random, turn-based visuals. It might not leap out as a particularly exciting setup, but the visuals and audio are many, many steps ahead of Sega's aforementioned effort and the challenge is pitched perfectly; while the random battles do occasionally get annoying, there's enough depth to the battle system to keep you invested and interested. Arcana is something of a hidden gem in the SNES' RPG arsenal and well worth your time.
Demon's Crest (SNES)
Part of the same Ghosts 'n Goblins spin-off franchise that includes Gargoyle's Quest 1 & 2, Demon's Crest fuses the platforming action Capcom is famous for with some light RPG elements to create a title that rewards repeat play; as Firebrand, the main character, progresses through the game he acquires additional skills which allow him to access portions of stages which were previously inaccessible. Demon's Crest was a commercial bomb in North America, and as a result, it has become very expensive on the secondary market. We'd argue that it's worth seeking out, however; it's one of the most unique platformers of the 16-bit era. If you own a Switch, it's available as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service, which will save you a fair few pennies.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES)
Published by Konami but developed in the west by LucasArts, this humorous top-down run-and-gun title gained plenty of attention back in the day for its horror theme – something which caused the title to be censored in Europe, as well as renamed to simply "Zombies". Inventive weapons, great enemy design and a wonderful two-player mode make this a stand-out entry in the SNES' action library; the sequel, Ghoul Patrol, isn't quite as good but is worth a look regardless.
Considered by many to be the final entry in a trilogy that includes Illusion of Gaia and Soul Blazer, Terranigma is one of the most accomplished action RPGs on the SNES, but it's one that didn't reach as wide an audience as it should have done because it came so late in the console's lifespan that it never got a North American release, and was only made available in English in European territories. Despite this setback – and the game's high cost on the collector's market – Terranigma is absolutely worth seeking out today.
Tetris Attack (SNES)
Despite having the Tetris name attached to it, this is actually a localisation of the Japanese puzzler Panel de Pon, and involves matching coloured blocks into horizontal or vertical rows; match three of them and they will vanish from the playfield, causing the blocks above to shift and potentially trigger a chain-reaction of matches. There are plenty of single-player modes to keep you busy, but Tetris Attack is at its best when played with a friend. Later entries in the series were released in the west under the "Puzzle League" branding, and all of them are worth your time.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES)
Part of the Ganbare Goemon series, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (known as Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyūshutsu Emaki in Japan) was the first entry in the franchise to get a release in the west. This is an utterly charming mish-mash of genres and styles, mixed top-down fighting action with more traditional 2D platform elements, RPG mechanics and even mini-games, some of which are based on other Konami titles. Three direct sequels would be released for the SNES, but none of them made it out of Japan, with western fans having to wait until 1998's N64 release Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon.
Illusion of Gaia (SNES)
Another Quintet classic, Illusion of Gaia – or Illusion of Time, if you're in Europe – is an action-adventure that, rather uniquely, takes place on a planet which has many features that are instantly recognisable as real-world landmarks, such as the Great Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. Many of the themes touched upon in other Quintet titles are found here, and the visuals and audio are up to the high standard one expects from the studio's work. There are some clever puzzles and the challenge is pitched perfectly for genre newcomers, but ultimately, it's the engrossing story which makes this one stick in the memory.
Mega Man X (SNES)
After what felt like an endless production line of sequels on the NES and Game Boy, the Mega Man blueprint was feeling a little bit tired by the time the character made his 16-bit debut, but Mega Man X was the shot in the arm the franchise so badly needed. While the core appeal of the series remains intact, everything from the visuals to the gameplay is upgraded and improved – although some purists still insist it's not difficult enough. Mega Man X would kickstart a new sub-series of games that would later arrive on consoles such as the PlayStation and Saturn.
Super Smash TV (SNES)
Based on the 1990 arcade machine (which, in turn, owes something of a debt to the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man), Smash TV takes place in a futuristic TV show where contestants have to fight for their lives to win cash and prizes, much to the amusement of the live global audience. The coin-op version used a twin-stick control system where the left stick was in charge of movement while the right could influence where your character shot their weapon – a setup that allowed you to move in one direction and shoot in the other. The SNES pad's four-button 'diamond' cluster was able to replicate this configuration quite convincingly, making this the definitive home port for a long time. As a two-player title, Smash TV is one of the console's most appealing releases.
Final Fantasy III (SNES)
Considered by many to not only be one of the best Final Fantasy entries, but one of the greatest video games of all time, Final Fantasy VI (initially released in North America as Final Fantasy III, due to the fact that only two other mainline series titles had been localised at that point) boasts a dazzling cast of characters and some surprisingly mature and dark themes. All of the SNES-based entries are worth a look, but this is perhaps the one you should start with first; it's an emotionally-driven JRPG masterpiece that only seems to get better with age.
Super Bomberman 3 (SNES)
To be fair, all of the Super Bomberman titles on the SNES are worthy of your attention, but this third entry is the one that sticks out the most, thanks to its excellent additions, fantastic visuals and amazing techno-inspired soundtrack. A single-player mode will keep you busy when you can't find friends to play with, but it's as a party game that Super Bomberman 3 truly excels; up to five players can participate when using a multitap accessory. No North American release was forthcoming for this one; it only saw release in Japan and Europe.
Breath of Fire (SNES)
In the early '90s, Capcom was famous for its platformers, shooters and fighting games, but had less experience in the realm of RPGs. Breath of Fire was the Japanese veteran's first real attempt to capitalise on the incredible popularity of Japanese adventure titles like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and the game places you in the role of Ryu (no, not that one), a young boy who can shapeshift into a dragon. Ryu begins the story aiming to locate his sister but quickly becomes embroiled in a conflict with the sinister Dark Dragon Clan. Breath of Fire got a direct sequel on the SNES and subsequent entries on PlayStation consoles, and was ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2001.
Kirby Super Star (SNES)
Also known as Kirby's Fun Pak in some parts of the world, Kirby Super Star takes the core platforming gameplay seen in previous entries and places it within smaller games, each with different storylines and goals. Spring Breeze, for example, plays like a shortened version of Kirby's original Game Boy outing, while The Great Cave Offensive is a Metroidvania-style adventure. Meanwhile, Gourmet Race is, as the title suggests, a racing title. This variety makes Kirby Super Star a real joy to play; it's available on the SNES Classic Edition and as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
Harvest Moon (SNES)
Today, Harvest Moon is a franchise which spans multiple formats and has inspired countless imitators, but this is where it all began. You assume the role of a young man who has inherited a farm from his grandfather; the objective is to turn it into a successful business by growing crops and raising livestock. However, there are many RPG-like elements involved, too, such as interacting with other villagers and running errands. While the Harvest Moon series evolved over the next few years, its debut is still surprisingly solid and well worth a look today.
Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)
Punch-Out!! made waves in the arcades and on the NES, but this SNES sequel improves on its predecessors in every way imaginable. Boasting big, bold sprites and a surprising degree of depth to its pugilistic gameplay, it's easy to see why this game has remained such a firm favourite with Nintendo fans over the years. You can play Super Punch-Out!! on the SNES Classic Edition micro-console, as well as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
R-Type III: The Third Lightning (SNES)
This console-exclusive sequel is considered by many R-Type fans to be one of the best entries in the series, and with good reason; it's relentlessly polished and uses the SNES' Mode 7 effects brilliantly. Add in some gorgeous visuals and fantastic music and you've got one of the best 16-bit shmups money can buy – sadly, it will take a lot of money these days as R-Type III is very desirable on the secondary market and often fetches insane amounts. The GBA port is a pale imitation and should be avoided at all costs.
Wonderful article, Damien! The new site's a banger; I'm enjoying it very much! The color scheme goes great with my hat.
Minor typo in the title: it says "best" instead of "legendary." A common error, I know. Just helping.
Oh man... This system still astounds me to this day. The SNES truly had something for every type of player. Truly a one of a kind.
I agree with @BloodNinja . This site is wonderful!!
My only issue with this article is that it's only two pages long! 😂
@mandlecreed @Guitar_bard @BloodNinja Thanks for the kind words, everyone!
Even though I was a SEGA guy in the 16 bit era, I find it hard to argue with anything on this list. All good games! Fun times
Firstly i love this site already, even more now thanks to this amazing piece on my favourite console ever!! God was this an exciting time, the 16bit era was/is magical. No generation will ever come close again regardless of how good tech gets. If you experienced it first hand you'll get what I'm on about:)
@Damo that picture of Super Famicom games is a sight to behold
@Axelay71 It certainly was an amazing time to be a gamer! Both Sega and Nintendo offered unique experiences which made both machines essential; we'll never see a period in gaming like it again.
@Axelay71 You're absolutely right. The NES era was incredible for starting so much, but the 16-bit made everything even better, and created so much more. It was a great time to be alive.
Truly one of the greatest systems ever made. The golden era. Great article!
@Guitar_bard yes your right mate shouldn't forget the 8bit era either the Nes is another iconic system that paved the way for the Snes.
@Axelay71 I assume an NES list in on the way.
Although the Atari was the original trailblazer, and as good as the SNES was, it is hard to express just how much the NES truly captured my imagination of what was possible.
It really was the perfect device at the perfect time. It is hard to qualify the significance and impact the NES had on the lives of kids growing up in the mid 80's. At least for me, nothing else even came close.
@Hikingguy hey I totally agree with you, but for me the Snes took everything that was great about the Nes and dialled it up to 11. Stuff like Pilot wings, Star Fox, Axelay, Contra was such a game changer for me personally. To this day I still love this stuff. 8/16 bit will always be the best generations in my eyes.
My all-time favourite system, and having previously only having owned an Atari 2600 and an Amstrad CPC 464, the jump to 16-bit was mind-blowing for me. I couldn't believe how close SF2 was to the arcade game!
The jump from those two, to the SNES would seem like a quantum leap
@Hikingguy It really was, I’d seen a NES a few times but never really played one for longer than a few minutes. My CPC was a monochrome one too, so just having colour was amazing!
The SNES had lots of great games and I at least play SMW in its original version, as its the only nintendo console I never owned and played it on a trip to my cousin's house. If i could pick a No. 1 game, it would be between super metroid and a link to the past
@Axelay71 I totally agree.
I guess the difference between the NES and SNES is by the time the SNES hit the market, I had learned to expect and anticipate these generational upgrades. In contrast to the early 80's after the Atari flamed out, the general public did not yet understand these consoles would be updated every 5-7 years with such leaps in tech. But the NES just exploded onto the market with very little understanding as to what we were in store for. By the time the SNES arrived, I had owned the Atari 7800, the Genesis had succeeded the Master System, and I had seen a few updates to computers, so I totally understood that the SNES was going to update the NES in a very big way. Not that it wasn't highly anticipated, but just expected.
Pretty solid list, and nothing omitted to which I would strenuously object, though I'm intrigued by your inclusion of ISS, Super Tennis, and Arcana. I at least have access to Super Tennis, so I'll have to give it a try on the Nintendo Switch.
@Hikingguy it's still a shame Atari lost there way. I still have a 7800 underrated console unfortunately. The funny thing is Nintendo approached Atari to market the Nes, they refused bet they regret that now. I could talk about this stuff all day. I don't think a lot of gamers realise tech wouldn't be where it is now without these amazing generations before. But to be honest a lot of today's stuff bores me.
If there's one game I would absolutely add to that list, it's Mario's Picross: great tactile feedback when drilling out holes, an amazing soundtrack and some surprisingly clever puzzles for a SNES game. I've put over 25 hours into it and it's something I can always come back to and have a great time.
Also, Super Punch Out being there is incredibly based, well done
@Axelay71 Yep, a golden period of gaming for sure. The best.
@SpecialT yes still the best mate 👍
I was scared it would be another list missing Kirby Super Star but there it is. SOLID. THANK YOU.
The greatest console of all time for me personally. So good in fact that my [hacked] SNES Classic Mini is currently my favourite system in modern times too.
Edit: But, I feel I must correct a specific error under U.N. Squadron that states "Sure, there's some slowdown here and there – an unfortunate consequence of the SNES' slow CPU"
The slowdown in U.N. Squadron was not caused by the SNES' CPU but the fact the developer/publisher used the cheaper SlowROM cartridges to save a few bucks, which actually limited/throttled the SNES' CPU to 2.68 MHz, around 75% of its full 3.58 MHz speed. If Capcom had simply spent the extra pennies per FastROM cartridge for this game, there would be no talk of slowdown.
There's already patches out there of U.N. Squadron running in FastROM that remove basically all the slowdown. And some additional better-optimized code could have it running at a solid 60fps throughout if any minor slowdown remains, I have no doubt, especially after seeing what's been achieved with the once slowdown-plagued Gradius III on SNES via nothing more than making it run in FastROM and better optimizing the code.
Seriously, you should go look up some videos of Gradius III with the FastROM patch done by Aaendi and see how it compares to not only the original arcade version but even the SA1-patched version on SNES that runs with a whopping 10.74 MHz chip. I'd be shocked if it didn't immediately alter any reasonable person's perception of the SNES' CPU being "slow" to rather "Man, I'm actually annoyed that certain developer/publishers cheaped-out back in the day and that, we, the paying customers and gamers suffered a bunch of below-par performing games as a result of that".
It has been demonstrated time and time again at this point that most of the slowdown seen in SNES games, usually in early titles released in the first year or two, is almost always attributed in large part to those games running on SlowROM cartridges and/or often with quite a bit of badly optimized code too. And many of them have already been patched to FastROM to remove the slowdown now, often by the brilliant Vitor Vilela, which is a great demonstration of this in action.
We really need to start correcting what is basically a false narrative around SNES at this point, where everyone including professional gaming journalists is regularly stating that slowdown is [pretty much] inevitable on SNES due to its "slow" CPU, especially with any of the more intense and action-heavy titles like shumps for example, as if it's almost an inherent limitation/issue with the system, which simply is not true.
Because, not only can SNES run most games perfectly fine when using FastROM to run properly at its full 3.58 MHz CPU speed, it can actually run most games with little to no slowdown even in the SlowROM 2.68 MHZ mode too, IF the games are simply programmed properly and optimized with this basically budget-related constraint in mind, as genuinely stunning examples like Super Aleste [especially in Wild mode, which has the most stuff on-screen] and Rendering Ranger R2 demonstrate beyond any serious doubt, with both of them running in SlowROM 2.68 MHz mode and still at a smooth 60fps throughout, even with loads of bullets and enemy ships and explosions and multiple layers of parallax and whatever other stuff going on and lots of intense action all the time.
The SNES really is a lot more capable than I think many people have come to believe in modern times.
PS. Never really seen Arcana mentioned much before in lists detailing the best SNES games. I'll need to check that out. . . .
Selecting so many (40) games and not adding numbers to them is definitely a safer approach to avoid controversy than the top 10 in order methods of other lists. Though perhaps 40 is TOO safe to avoid having to make tough decisions; I think my personal preference would be a 25 game limit.
Roughly a year ago, I revisited Yoshi's Island as I could not get into it previously. The time I had played it before, I was dealing with some chronic insomnia which does color some impressions. So I gave it another go, and had a good time with it. It's also visually stunning. I do prefer the more direct and exciting platforming of Super Mario World, but Yoshi's Island is a good one. I would like to revisit Axelay too, as I didn't like that one in the past. That's my story with the SNES. Many of the highly-regarded games for the system did not land for me. Contra 3 doesn't work for me because of the Mode 7 parts. I don't like Castlevania 4(I love Rondo and Bloodlines on PCE and Genesis respectively).
Referring back to FastROM that was mentioned earlier, I hated Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts when I first played it due to how terrible the slowdown was. It interfered with gameplay. SGnG was the first game I tried with a FastROM hack and it made such an amazing difference, as in it made the game enjoyable. It's a pretty game too, though it was bested by Demon's Crest which is good all around. I cannot beat that secret final boss though.
So I've focused a lot on what I don't like. There are still a bunch of SNES games I want to really sit down and try, but from what I have played, I've enjoyed some unusual stuff that doesn't get mentioned as much, like the two Bonk games, and the Japanese Mazinger game. But some standouts I wanted to mention are the two Pocky & Rocky games, Macross: Scrambled Valkyrie, and Ninja Warriors. Those are some of my favorite games on the system.
Glad to see some praise given to International Superstar Soccer Deluxe - I personally loved the SNES and N64 ISS games.
@sdelfin I really like the first Pocky & Rocky game (it could also go on this list). That's another title where simply converting it to run in FastROM would remove any slowdown, which isn't that terrible as is but does exist, and just make it pretty much perfect for what it is. Not sure if someone's patched it already to run in FastROM, but if not, I'd love to see that happen.
@RetroGames Spot on buddy.
I mean, what do we have to do to get the Soul Blazer/Illusion of Gaia/Terranigma trilogy on Switch??
Tap here to load 32 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...