When you say the word video games, one of the brands that most people first think of is Nintendo. From starting as a playing card game company, Nintendo evolved into the video game corporate giant we all know. It is no hyperbole to connect Nintendo’s success to the multi-billion dollar video game industry. On that note, many gamers, experts, and historians consider the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES aka the Super Famicom in Japan) as the greatest console the company has ever produced. It is even arguable that the SNES is the greatest video game console PERIOD.
But this honor and recognition is not based on just the console itself. The SNES is no doubt an impressive piece of hardware for its time. Some would say it was revolutionary, cementing the 16-bit technology, effectively using the innovative parallax animation and high resolution sprites, and leading to innovations such as the Super FX chip. The SNES console remains one of the most influential gaming products ever created. However, other consoles such as the Atari Jaguar and the TurboGrafx-16 were also noteworthy pieces of hardware, but are now mere footnotes in gaming history.
When it comes down to it, what elevates the SNES above the rest of its ilk (including other Nintendo consoles that came after it) are the games created during its reign. As most members of the geek fandom will contend, the Super Nintendo has one of the best, even the absolute best, game libraries. While there are mediocre to stinker games in the library, the ratio of good to great games is more extensive. That is no small feat, considering the SNES had 700+ official games in the North American release (and even more when you include the Japanese and European exclusives).
That level of success can be a problem, however. Retro game enthusiasts are constantly on the lookout for grabbing authentic SNES games. New fans of the gaming hobby also look to start getting their SNES libraries built up. But even with the digital availability of many SNES games, it can be daunting to wade through them. Which is why it is ideal to get the best of the best first. But which ones are the truly outstanding games in the SNES pantheon? That’s where we come in.
This is the Xfire list of the 30 greatest of Super Nintendo Entertainment System games of all time!
What Do We Base the SNES Game Rankings On?
In determining the entries on this list, we followed similar parameters as we did for the list of greatest Sega Genesis or Megadrive games, as follows:
- Only Super Nintendo Entertainment System games. No Super Famicom games or European exclusive games. This is to ensure that the games included are the most widely distributed and accessible for the global audience. However, keep your eye out as we will also tackle the best Super Famicom games never released in North America and the best European exclusive SNES games in the future.
- We don’t look at sales records. Historically, sales records for SNES games are not clear indicators of how good a game actually is. Earthbound and Final Fantasy III (actually Final Fantasy VI) are key examples, as while considered as masterpieces, these games did not make as much sales as John Madden Football ‘93. Yes, that’s a fact.
- Only one entry per series. The SNES was such a successful console that there are games and sequels to games released during its height (sometimes within the span of a single year). Thus, only one entry from particular game series are included, which our reviewers have concluded, are the best. Note that while there are multiple franchise titles in the list, these are different games and not sequels. For instance, Super Mario World is a platformer while Super Mario RPG is, well, an RPG, and Mario Kart is a combat racing game. The Mario brand has been on literally every type of genre and subgenre of gaming at this point!
- We limited the list to 30 games. 10 more than the Sega Genesis greatest list, but we feel it is justified, given the wider scope and versatility of the games available on the SNES platform. That is still a small number, but it encompasses a vast array of genres from action, to puzzle, to roleplaying, and strategy games.
- WE PLAYED THE GAMES. Oh, yes. No half-baked, rose colored nostalgia lenses here. We played and compared these with the current roster of similar games available. Rating on different areas such as fun factor, replayability, design, graphics, sound, and control, we took a long dive on how well these hold up.
So after hundreds and hundreds of hours of playing, arguing, and kicking each other’s butts, Xfire presents the no-nonsense 30 Greatest SNES games of all time! (And the answers might shock you!)
Greatest SNES Games from 30 to 1
Super Bomberman (Hudson Soft, 1993)
Rock n’ Roll Racing (Blizzard, 1993)
Kirby Super Star (HAL Laboratory, 1996)
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (LucasArts, 1993)
Harvest Moon (Natsume, 1997)
Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (Quest/Enix America, 1995)
Tetris Attack (Intelligent Systems, 1995)
NBA Jam (Midway, 1993)
Batman Returns (Konami, 1992)
Super Punch Out!! (Nintendo, 1994)
Super Mario Kart (Nintendo, 1992)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (Konami, 1992)
Super Castlevania IV (Konami, 1991)
Mortal Kombat II (Midway/Scluptured Software, 1994)
Shadowrun (FASA/Beam Software, 1993)
F-Zero (Nintendo, 1991)
Actraiser (Quintet/Enix, 1991)
Sim City (Maxis/Nintendo 1991)
Star Fox (Nintendo/Argonaut Software, 1993)
Donkey Kong Country (Nintendo/Rare, 1994)
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Nintendo/Square, 1996)
Mega Man X (Capcom, 1993)
Secret of Mana (Square, 1993)
Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994)
Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers (Capcom, 1994)
Earthbound (Ape/HAL Laboratory, 1995)
Final Fantasy VI (Square, 1994)
Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1991)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo, 1992)
Chrono Trigger (Square, 1995)
The Bomberman franchise has been a staple of Nintendo platforms ever since the first Bomberman was released in 1985 on the NES after being a huge success on other platforms. The basic gameplay has changed little even after all these years. You play a Bomberman, a sentient robot finding its way through a series of mazes, using bombs to clear out the destructible areas. Along the way, you find power-ups that give additional abilities such as bigger explosions or the ability to plant multiple bombs. But be careful! Your own bombs can harm you and there are enemies to avoid or destroy.
While Super Bomberman is a massive improvement in terms of visuals and gameplay, what makes it one of the greatest SNES games can be boiled down to this: Four Player Compatible. The 1993 game was released packed with the Super Nintendo’s Multitap. This allowed 4 controllers to be used with the SNES and party games have never been the same since. The Battle Mode in Super Bomberman has been emulated time and time again, but few have been as done as well and as much fun!
Before Blizzard became most known for the Warcraft franchise, it made its mark for developing eclectic and innovative games for a wide range of genres. Blackthorne, The Lost Vikings, and the Death and Return of Superman were key examples of Blizzard’s contributions to the SNES library. But perhaps the most entertaining and memorable of them is Rock n’ Roll Racing.
Combat racing was not unheard of. Mario Kart had debuted the prior year to great critical and commercial success. What set Rock n’ Roll Racing apart was twofold. It was conducted on a three quarter isometric view (whereas most racing games were either first person or third person front view). And it was a more brutal, near-future setting. The imagery is like a cross between Mad Max and Star Wars with Marvel Superheroes-style artwork.
Weapons like missiles, blasters, and land mines could be bought and additional customization options could be done using your winnings, including unlocking newer vehicles. Add in genuine rock and roll music soundtracks such as Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Deep Purple’s Highway Star, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, and Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild. Rock n’ Roll Racing inspired later games such as Road Rash, Twisted Metal, and Carmageddon.
Kirby has become one of the most memorable mascots of the Nintendo brand. And yet, it is kind of surprising how late to the game both the character and his franchise made its mark. What is more interesting is how late to the life span of the SNES the best Kirby game arrived. But HAL Laboratory delivered in spades. How? By packing in 9 games in the whole thing.
Granted, Kirby Super Star’s main game is actually a 16-bit remake of Kirby’s Dream Land. However, it further splits into various minigames. Gourmet Race is a racing game while The Great Cave Offensive is a Metroidvania style treasure hunt and Milky Way wishes which is an expansive adventure/shooter hybrid. Other minigames include The Arena (which is a survival boss mode), Dynablade (a platformer), Revenge of MetaKnight (a storyline adventure), Samurai Kirby (a timed duel-draw challenge), and Megaton Punch (a twitch-timing minigame).
What makes Kirby Super Star shine is how fun and replayable all the games are. That is an outstanding achievement, given how numerous mediocre games are produced today that follow similar formulas.
While the zombie genre has become a huge sub-genre of pop culture in itself, that was not the case back in the 1990s. Zombies were considered B-movie and exploitation material before it started getting its stride through survival horror games such as Resident Evil. But leave it to LucasArts to successfully mine a trope ahead of its peak. And it did so by embracing that B-movie vibe through the quirky charm of games like Day of the Tentacle and Maniac Mansion.
In Zombies Ate My Neighbors, you play as either Zeke or Julie in a humorous shooter-adventure-horror game. Your goal is to rescue as many innocent bystanders such as helpless babies, cheerleaders, that annoying math teacher, clueless tourists, and such before enemies find them. And these enemies range from the titular zombies to slasher flick chainsaw-wielding villains, to UFOs and aliens. To deal with them, you collect weapons such as water pistols, fire extinguishers, experimental formulas that turn you into a Hulk-like creature, and even clown punching bags!
The game has 48 levels plus bonus levels of hijinks and hilarity. It does not take itself too seriously, but the challenge is not to be underestimated. Many modern run and gun adventure games such as Cuphead are heavily influenced by the success of Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
You inherit a farm. You raise crops and take care of animals. In between daily chores, you go fishing, mine for minerals, and maybe fall in love and start a family. Who would have thought a game that revolves around these would be successful as a franchise with thousands of ripoffs decades later? Add to this fact that the game was released in the last days of the SNES lifespan. Harvest Moon defied expectations and did so marvelously.
There are no monsters to slay in this game. There is only hard work ahead. What you can look forward to is seeing your farm grow and watch as the fruits of your labor get rewarded. Harvest Moon pretty much defined what would be the farming and life simulation genre.
And it did so while making it every bit as fun as it does not sound in real life. Not even real farmers look forward to waking up at the wee hours in the morning to make sure the crops are watered and the cows are brushed, but Harvest Moon made you want to do it every day! Games like Farmville, Stardew Valley, and even Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing owe their success to the existence of Harvest Moon on the SNES.
Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen is a tactical real-time strategy game on the SNES. Let that sink in for a minute. Although multiple strategy games exist on the SNES, these generally fall into the turn-based design such as Fire Emblem and the Romance of the 3 Kingdoms series. Ogre Battle, on the other hand, plays out on maps where the player has to think on the fly.
Set in a fantasy setting where you play as the Lord/Lady of a faction of rebels fighting to end the tyranny of an evil empire. Recruit units such as knights, wizards, clerics, dragons, griffons, and other legendary and mythical creatures and characters to your army. Ogre Battle features gacha mechanics with secret characters, resource management, role-playing elements, and customization/evolution mechanics into the mix.
And did we mention there are THIRTEEN DIFFERENT ENDINGS, depending on factors such as your units, your alignment, and your choices in the course of the campaign? Ogre Battle deserves a spot on this list for the replayability alone. Everything else it brought to the table is just gravy. Fans of Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Valkyria Chronicles should check out this gem if they haven’t already.
Tetris was the game that made the Nintendo Game Boy go from a novelty to a sales juggernaut. The basics of the game is simplicity itself. Arrange blocks that accumulate on the screen to form horizontal lines, which then get removed. Keep doing it until the screen fills up, made harder by the increasing speed. Tetris Attack builds on this simple premise with some fresh ideas.
Known as Panel de Pon in Japan, Nintendo added characters from its Yoshi’s Island franchise to add color and build on with modes. Instead of simple blocks, each block has a unique color and design. Match 3 or more blocks into horizontal or vertical rows and the rows are removed. The player has a cursor to switch the places of 1-2 blocks. You get bonus points for simultaneously clearing or quick combinations of clearing rows one after another.
Tetris Attack is at its best when played against another player. Clearing blocks send bad blocks to your opponent, making it increasingly difficult to keep pace while trying to outmaneuver your rival. There are many puzzle games on the SNES, but Tetris Attack is the best at honoring the original Tetris with simple but no less addicting mechanics.
Only one team sports game made it to this list of greatest SNES games of all time. And no one should be surprised it is the one that made "he’s on fire" a 90s catchphrase. Developed by Midway, it is the spiritual successor to the irreverent 1989 game Arch Rivals. Originally released for arcades for up to 4 players, the SNES version only features a 2-player option. However, despite its limitation, the game successfully translates the cartoon-like mechanics added to 2 vs. 2 basketball in a fun and addicting way.
A big difference from the original Arch Rivals is the NBA license. Players get to choose 2-man teams from the top basketball stars of the 1993-1994 season. The 1990s was the peak era for the National Basketball Association, with big name athletes like Isaiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley (although Barkley would not appear in later versions), to name a few. One notable absence is, of course, Michael Jordan, but Midway was unable to secure rights to the G.O.A.T. for the game. Still, it is a thrill to play as these basketball greats in an over-the-top and ignore the laws of physics game of basketball.
NBA Jam has spawned numerous sequels and imitators, but it remains the best in its class. Bonus points that you can unlock secret characters which includes President Bill Clinton. Boom-shakalaka, indeed!
Contrary to popular misconception, the Batman Arkham series of games from Rocksteady is NOT the first great Batman game. That title would belong to NES Batman (in all his pink-hued glory). And the SNES did it one better by having a movie tie-in Batman game that was truly great. That game was Konami’s Batman Returns.
At its core, Batman Returns is a side-scrolling beat 'em-up not unlike Final Fight and the Streets of Rage series of games. Where it shines is capturing the source material, which in this case is the Tim Burton version of The Dark Knight. The game emulates the neo-gothic aesthetic and atmosphere from the film. It even manages to present 16-bit renditions of key scenes, such as Batman, Catwoman, and Penguin’s first confrontation, with likenesses of Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeifer, and Danny De Vito, respectively.
The gameplay itself is great. Batman’s movement, attacks, and special moves are all accurate and smooth. You can swap out the Batarang or Grapple Gun for stunning enemies or swinging. A jump attack will make Batman perform a flying kick, but if you jump then press down and attack, Batman deploys his glider wings!
This is easy to pick up and play and the challenge is high without being unfair. For variety, the game shifts to a left to right shooting platformer (with Batman using Batarangs instead of his martial arts) and later on, you get to a combat-driving stage with the classic ’89 Batmobile. Perhaps its only flaw is focusing only on the action and none of the trademark detective skills of the Caped Crusader. But take nothing away from it. Konami did an excellent job translating Batman Returns for the SNES and making it fun!
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! Was an instant classic on the NES. Boxing games had come before, but Punch Out!! would set the standard for super-massive and comical boxers in video games, while retaining a challenging and fun gameplay. It is surprising, though, that it took 7 years for the 1987 title to get a proper sequel. But Super Punch Out!! was worth the wait.
Although Super Punch Out!! does not have the famous real-life sports figure as with the previous entry in the series, it retains the charm and expanded on the entertaining gameplay. Little Mac returns as the protagonist, but he’s bigger now and more realistically proportioned with his opponents. An interesting enhancement is how Mac is semi-transparent to help the player see more of how the rival boxer moves and attacks.
The cartoony, stylistic approach helps to make the game entertaining. The motion is very fluid, and the SNES controls are accurate and smooth, which makes dodging and blocking feel natural. There is also more variety in the punch combos and the patterns of the rival boxers. The gameplay is fast-paced and winning against a difficult boxer is extremely satisfying, as you rise in each championship circuit.
Nintendo’s flagship Mario franchise has had many iterations, but Super Mario Kart is noteworthy for taking a familiar genre into new territory without making it seem out of place. Prior to Super Mario Kart, combat racing games were limited to desktop computers or arcades. Moreover, these games had a more serious tone. Super Mario Kart made it possible for whimsical combat racing that children can play.
In Super Mario Kart, you get to choose characters from the gamut of the Mario franchise mainstays. You can even choose Bowser and Donkey Kong, Mario’s traditional enemies. And they are not just cosmetic choices. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, from their acceleration, to their handling, and top speeds. During the course of a race, players can pick up power ups that either boost their own abilities to weapons like the Red Turtle shell to throw at rivals and disrupt their positioning. The tracks themselves will have Mario universe obstacles such as Pipe Barriers, Thwomps, and many others.
The Super Mario Kart series of games has continued to be a major part of Nintendo’s brand mascot, with the most recent entry Mario Kart 8. Other similar games such as Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing have followed suit. And it all started with this SNES classic!
Konami was firing all cylinders back in the 1990s in the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre. Out of all the SNES games of this genre the company released, the absolute best is also the one with the most radical team of teenage mutant terrapins ever! Although not an exact port of the arcade version, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time for the SNES is no less than a top-tier game.
Due to the limitations of the hardware, Konami had to forego making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time a 4-player co-op. Some of the animation had to also be edited to reduce the number of sprites used. However, it made up for it with innovations such as using the Mode 7 feature of the SNES to interact with. For instance, you can throw Foot Clan soldiers into the direction of the screen, akin to breaking the Fourth Wall. And this becomes an important move in order to defeat one of the bosses in the game.
What really makes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time great is how it perfectly captures the popular animated versions of the titular heroes in a half shell. Konami even went the extra mile and added bosses based on the TV show villains that weren’t in the arcade, such as The Rat King and Bebop and Rocksteady. The controls are excellent and the hit detection is perfect, giving the action the proper frenetic pace. Many fans consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time as the best beat ‘em up on the SNES. We can only say Cowabunga, to that, dudes!
One of the titles that falls under the launch window of the SNES in 1991, Super Castlevania IV is arguably the greatest pure Castlevania ever produced. Whereas later entries to the franchise like Symphony of the Night became a hybrid Metroid-style action RPG platformer, Super Castlevania IV distills it to its core gameplay. Which is no surprise since it is essentially a remake of the original NES Castlevania.
Reimagined for the SNES more powerful 16-bit hardware, Super Castlevania IV casts you again as Simon Belmont on his one-man quest to destroy Dracula once and for all. But while it follows the same plot and has similar stages to the NES game, this newer version brings enhanced gameplay features. Simon’s signature whip, the Vampire Killer, can now attack in all 8 directions, including diagonal attacks while jumping. Holding the attack button even allows you to fling the whip around while staying stationary. New interaction such as using the whip to latch and swing in certain areas add diversity to the experience.
The controls are tighter and faster as well, making Simon feel less like a tank with two legs. The graphics and sound have been greatly enhanced, with some areas using outstanding use of the Mode 7 feature of the SNES, giving a sense of scale and dimension. Super Castlevania IV is a testament to how something that isn’t broke doesn’t need fixing, but you can indeed make it better.
The SNES had a bad rap in the 1990s for being a kid’s toy. Sega even made sure to leverage this reputation in their "Sega does, what Nintendon’t" marketing. This was very evident with the version of Mortal Kombat released on the SNES, with the less gory fatalities and blood being replaced by pixelated sweat. But with the SNES version of Mortal Kombat II, that quickly changed.
Mortal Kombat II for the SNES retained the franchise’s familiar tropes, with red blood splatters from getting hit to the brutal fatalities of its arcade counterpart. All of the characters from the arcade are ported over near-perfectly, including new Kombatants such as Baraka, Kung Lao, Kitana and Mileena, and Jax, as well as bosses Kintaro and Shao Khan.
What Mortal Kombat II for the SNES does so well is being a pitch-perfect adaptation of the arcade version. There are negligible differences (such as some clipping with the animation). All the movements are slick and executing fatalities are not as clunky as before. With the addition of unlockable features such as hidden characters to fight and single button fatalities, Mortal Kombat II should be in every SNES fan’s library of games.
Take Tolkien-esque fantasy races such as orks, trolls, dwarves, and elves. Add a bit of hermetic and shamanic magic. And then mix all of that in a cyberpunk corporate dystopian setting in the year 2050. That is Shadowrun in a nutshell. Inspired by the tabletop roleplaying game of the same name, Shadowrun is the most unique RPG on the SNES in more ways than one.
For one thing, Shadowrun explores very mature themes. To illustrate, the game opens with the main character, Jake Armitage, being gunned down and left for dead. Although he survives, he later revives by waking up in the morgue! This may seem tame now, but back in 1993 this was unheard of, especially for the kid-friendly Super Nintendo platform. The entire game has a Blade Runner, techno noir vibe that no other SNES game before it can match, save perhaps for the port of Syndicate (another cyberpunk style game).
The game itself is a mixture of point-and-click adventure with RPG elements, such as gaining Karma (the equivalent of experience points) to improve stats and skills, buying equipment, and gathering a party while using a cursor to check and interact with clues and pickup items on the map. Another interesting aspect of Shadowrun is that all the recruitable NPCs are not automatically gained. As they are all Shadowrunners, you have to hire them for the right price! Suffice it to say, you have to have deep pockets in order to get the best 'Runners in the game.
Its only glaring flaw is the rather bland presentation of The Matrix when entering cyberspace. By comparison, the Sega Genesis version had a much better presentation of this aspect of the game world. Still, Shadowrun does an amazing job with the SNES limitations which games like System Shock, Deus Ex, and Cyberpunk 2077 are able to do with more modern technology. And that is truly remarkable, chummer.
If there is one game on this list that best represents how well the SNES used the Mode 7 scrolling feature, it would be F-Zero. This futuristic high speed racing game takes advantage of the SNES’s Mode 7 extensively, creating truly immersive illusions of depth and distance.
Unlike the previous entries Rock n’ Roll Racing and Super Mario Kart, F-Zero is a straight up racing game, with no weapons involved. However, you can also bump opposing vehicles by ramming or sideswiping them to send them off their course. You can choose between four different hovercrafts, each with different pilots, with each choice having varying performance statistics. The HUD displays the relevant information such as your current standing, speed, and power. The power bar is particularly important, as it represents the fuel as well as the durability of the vehicle. This can be greatly depleted when the craft hits obstacles or other vehicles, though you can recharge it through a "pit stop" accessible at the beginning of every lap.
Before games like Need for Speed and Gran Turismo, F-Zero set the standard for high velocity, twitch control racing. With fifteen tracks, 3 leagues and multiple difficulty options, F-Zero offers high replayable challenges that would put many modern contemporaries eating dust in its wake.
Take one part Sim City, one part Wizards and Warriors, and one part Populous. What do you get by adding them all up? Actraiser. One of the most innovative and unique games on the SNES platform, Actraiser defies expectations by making all of it work seamlessly.
In Actraiser, you are a god-like being aloft his sky palace, as you quest to eliminate evil in different kingdoms on the world. Along the way, you raise towns and help the people achieve their goals, such as building population, sending them miracles like rain and lightning when needed. During the action platforming, you take control of a warrior statue to directly engage enemies and defeat the boss. On the other hand, in the simulation stages, you take control of your helper cherub, which uses arrows against demons and dragons that plague the populace.
To be fair, the simulation part of the game is rather simplified, and the action platformer is fun but not revolutionary. However, Actraiser is a very ambitious game, but it did so well it was never repeated on the SNES again. Even the sequel, Actraiser 2, only focuses on the action platforming and completely eliminating the town simulation part. Actraiser was just that much of a tough act to follow.
Speaking of city building games, Sim City for the SNES is an interesting example. The original Sim City had been a worldwide phenomenon in 1989, long before the SNES port. Will Wright’s signature city builder would set the template that others would later follow. Why the SNES version is interesting is because it was developed by Nintendo in-house, licensing only the mechanics and elements. And Nintendo was very confident with the product that Sim City was one of the launch titles for the SNES back in 1991.
Well, they were right. The SNES Sim City is the best simulation game on that platform. It retains the addictive gameplay of building a city and managing its financial, industrial, and social development. But where it differs is how it incorporates staple Nintendo elements into the mix. The gift statue you receive? It’s Mario. The giant monster rampaging and destroying buildings? It’s not a Godzilla analogue, it’s Bowser! The SNES Sim City also introduced the idea of receiving rewards for hitting certain population milestones, such as being able to place casinos, amusement parks, and expos. Maxis would later incorporate this feature to every Sim City starting with Sim City 2000.
Even the in-game advisor Mr. Wright (based on Will Wright himself) adds a touch of quirky flair that one comes to expect from Nintendo games. There are a plethora of mobile and browser games that copy the Sim City formula. The SNES Sim City did that and added new things, while also sprinkling the familiar Nintendo charm.
If F-Zero is the best representative of the SNES’s Mode 7, Star Fox does that for the Super FX graphics. Developed by Argonaut Software, Star Fox did something no one thought was possible. Bring a 3D polygonal video game to the 16-bit SNES and make it work.
This flight simulation rail shooter is the first of its kind on the SNES, combining polygons with sprite based animation to create a unique experience. You play Fox McCloud, leading the rest of the Star Fox team of freedom fighters defending Corneria against the invaders from Andross. To do this, you pilot the Arwing spacecraft, armed with lasers and shields, and using your skills to destroy enemies and barrel roll to dodge attacks. Playing the game puts the player in either a first or third person view behind the Arwing. Damage from enemy attacks and environmental collisions causes the shields of the Arwing to decrease, finally exploding if the shield drops to zero.
Aside from the innovation of the Super FX chip graphics, Star Fox is notable for having an unusual difficulty setting. Different difficulties alter the flight path you have to take. This adds to the replay value of the game, as each flight path offers variances in the environment and enemies encountered. The personalities of your wingmates Falco, Peppy, and Slippy add to the entertainment factor, giving Star Fox a longevity that other similar games do not have.
Platform games on the SNES are a dime a dozen, but few can hold a candle to the influence and success of Donkey Kong Country. Developed by Rare, it is another SNES game that pushed the limits of both the hardware and the gameplay possible. 3D and CGI graphics were practically unheard of for any 16-bit console. As far as anyone knew, a 16-bit console would not be able to produce such graphical effects.
But where Star Fox used the Super FX chip to create polygonal graphics, Donkey Kong Country uses pre-rendered 3D graphics translated into sprites, made possible by Silicon Graphics computers that Rare invested in. This would be the same process the company would use to create Killer Instinct later on. The results were very impressive, giving a new surge of interest to the SNES at the time the Sony Playstation was already gaining ground.
Even today, Donkey Kong Country’s smooth controls and graphics would put many games to shame. As Donkey Kong and his partner Diddy Kong play differently, there are variations on how levels can be completed. With 40 levels to complete plus hidden areas to discover, Donkey Kong Country offers a ton of replay value. The character sprite design and expressions add a lot to the charm factor, making Donkey Kong Country one of the best platformers on the system.
The last Mario title for the SNES produced is also one of the greatest of the system. And it would also be the last time Nintendo would work with Square, the makers of Final Fantasy, for a long while. That game is Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
Before this time, the Mario franchise had never explored the roleplaying genre. The game uses the Mario characters and setting in the Mushroom Kingdom in a 3D isometric platformer. However, it transitions into the familiar JRPG turn-based battle when in combat. Interestingly, there are no random battles as enemies are generally visible on the map and, with luck and skill, can be avoided. Other familiar RPG elements like special abilities and equipping stronger gear as you progress were featured, but are designed for Mario tropes. For instance, instead of a sword, Mario equips a hammer.
Super Mario RPG’s unique timing based system was unique for its time. It gave an incentive for players to actively be aware of their attacks. This feature would later be added to such games like Final Fantasy’s Limit Breaks, particularly Final Fantasy VIII’s Trigger for Squall’s Gunblade.
Capcom’s Mega Man franchise is one of the most successful on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the Blue Bomber would be featured in his own series of games on the SNES. And it finally came in the form of Mega Man X. The story itself expands from the original, occurring in the far future with a new Mega Man named X and his battle to defeat Mavericks, corrupted robot androids under the command of a new villain, Sigma.
Aside from the trademark gameplay of the previous Mega Man games in explosing stages and defeating bosses to gain new abilities, Mega Man X added new innovations. Taking a page from other platform games such as Batman and Super Mario 3, Mega Man X added wall jumps and dashing by collecting parts of Mega Man’s armor upgrades. Another new feature is the ability to charge up the Mega Buster for a more powerful attack.
The fun and challenging Mega Man gameplay from previous games are intact in Mega Man X. But the new ways of interacting with the environment and multiple ways of finding solutions presents a fresh challenge with every playthrough. And finding the hidden Haduken? Pure gold.
Originally released in Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2, Secret of Mana brought the action RPG genre to the SNES. While not having the same success as the Final Fantasy franchise, the Mana series brought a different feel to the Japanese RPG (JRPG) genre.
Secret of Mana follows the adventures of three heroes in their quest to prevent the destruction of the Mana Tree and the rise of the Mana Fortress. The SNES has no shortage of JRPGs, but Secret of Mana is the true birth of the action JRPG that would inspire games like Kingdom Hearts.
Unlike the more famous Final Fantasy franchise, the Mana series foregoes random encounters and turn-based battles to a real time active system. Another unique feature of Secret of Mana is the Ring Menu. This allows players to quickly cycle through options in the middle of combat.
Another notable feature is the ability of all characters to wield any of the weapons found. You can mix and match to your heart’s content. If you want all three to use ranged attacks, have them equip the whip, the bow, and the boomerang. If you prefer it to be up close and personal, choose the axe, the knuckles, and the spear. And all the characters can improve their skills with the weapon the more they use it in battle. The only caveat is the Mana Sword has to be wielded by the main character for quest fulfillment, including the final battle.
And, incredibly, Secret of Mana is 3-player compatible (through a multitap). This is nothing less than impressive, considering such a thing is only being explored today by games like Genshin Impact.
Metroid is one of the most Influential games on the NES. But the scifi action platformer and exploration game had its problems. Notably, the short range of the basic attack was one. The lack of a map was another. Neither are issues with the SNES sequel, Super Metroid. Aside from addressing the limits from the NES version, Super Metroid enhanced the gameplay with new weapons and powers to be collected.
From the opening cinematic of Super Metroid, to the haunting music and sound effects, the game grabs hold and never lets go. Zebes, the planet where the game takes place, evokes an atmosphere similar to that of the Alien films. The flora and fauna designs are also evocative of the extraterrestrial nature of the game’s environment. Running around and exploring it is never a dull moment. And the boss battles can be a nail-biting experience, as you discover the right patterns and weapon combinations to use.
Super Metroid has become the archetype of similar action exploration games. It has become such a massive influence that games that follow the formula are often referred to as Metroid-like or Metroidvania (in tandem with the Castlevania franchise staples).
Street Fighter II was the most dominant fighting game of the 1990s. Everything from Mortal Kombat to King of Fighters to Samurai Showdown, every fighting game since and after built on and followed the established style and gameplay of Capcom’s knuckledusting game. Arcades would not be complete without multiple cabinets featuring this and its many versions. The SNES itself featured ports of all its versions. But for our money, the best of them is Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers.
Arcade ports to the SNES are usually rife with compromises in order to fit the hardware and cartridge limits. But with Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, the compromises are extremely minimal. Aside from a few animations (particularly with the portraits) and blood being censored due to Nintendo’s strict policies, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers plays nearly as well as the arcade version.
The art and colors are vibrant. The animations are nearly perfect translations and the sound and music are much better than ports made on other consoles such as the Sega Genesis. Modes like Versus, Time Challenge, and Tournament add options to continuously challenge players. Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers is, bar none, the best fighting game on the SNES.
From here on, the top 5 of this list can be pretty much interchangeable. Nearly all of the titles from here on are considered to be the greatest in their respective franchises. Each one can arguably be the top of the SNES echelon and the tiebreakers were very, very close. Case in point: Earhbound. Known as Mother 2 in Japan, Earthbound is one of the quirkiest and uniquely designed RPGs on any game system.
The tone of Earthbound is, to put it mildly, goofy. The artwork, the music, and the story itself is like a fever dream. The setting is based on a version of the real world with its bicycles, phones, and ATMs, but with elements that would not be out of place among cartoons from Nickelodeon. An extraterrestrial fly recruiting you to save the world? A race of beings too shy to talk to you? A mindscape where all your memories exist and your courage is represented by an eagle headed being? Time Travel that requires you to inhabit robotic bodies to survive the experience? It’s all there in Earthbound.
Even the enemies are weirdly entertaining such as angry stop signs and monstrous tents, for instance. And if you are more than high enough level to easily defeat your enemies, they avoid you. Chasing them means you instantly defeat them! How cool is that? Character traits are also very important. For example, what other game requires you to call your mom from time to time or else the hero slowly loses morale due to being homesick? Or how about your omnipresent dad that calls you on your cellphone from time to time to remind you that you might be playing the game too much? Earthbound is so self-aware and you love it.
But don’t let the simple graphics and whimsical story fool you. Under the hood, Earthbound is one of the most satisfying RPGs ever created. Without revealing too much, how each plot element links together including betrayals, alien psychic powers, and time travel in Earthbound is so daunting, it is a wonder how they pulled it off so effectively.
Released in North America as Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy VI pushed SNES RPGs from an uncommon niche to one of the key genres that characterize the gaming system’s lasting appeal. Although Final Fantasy II (actually Final Fantasy IV) is no slouch, Final Fantasy VI is just a class on its own.
For one thing, Final Fantasy VI has no main protagonist. Altough Terra is the initial linchpin that brings the group together, her story is essentially resolved three-quarters into the game. It is a truly ensemble cast of characters, and players will truly care for each of them. Not easy when you consider they are all still in 16-bit pixelated glory.
But beyond the story, Final Fantasy VI truly shines with how much stuff you can do. Every character has unique abilities of their own, like Sabin’s martial arts Blitz that require fighting game-style input to Setzer’s devil-may-care Slot machine, to Mog’s Dance routines. But you can also build them up thanks to Magicite that teaches magic and boosts stats as you gain levels. Then there are the cornucopia of collectible items, weapons, armor, and relics. And there are optional areas that you don’t need to explore to finish the main story such as finding and defeating all the legendary dragons or resolving Cyan’s sorrow by traveling to the Dreamscape. There is a wealth of content to discover here if you do not use a guide or walkthrough. And even then, you will probably miss something on your first pass.
And we would be remiss if we did not mention the excellent musical score composed by Nobuo Uematsu or the character concept designs by Yoshitaka Amano. Many fans of the Final Fantasy franchise consider Final Fantasy VI as the best of the entire series overall. Undoubtably, it is the best on the SNES and a certified JRPG gem.
The legendary Shigeru Miyamoto headed the development of Super Mario 3, creating a work of art. But they were only starting. With the development of the Super Famicom and Super Nintendo Entertainment System, expectations were high on how to match or even surpass their previous work. They toiled day and night, finally producing their next classic. That would be Super Mario World.
On the surface, you can see the elements from Super Mario 3 that Super Mario World was built on. An overworld map that you unlock by finishing each stage which you can playthrough again if you wish. Mario’s ability to fly. Special environmental hazards unique to each map. Fans would have been happy to just have the same features and just a 16-bit version or remake of Super Mario 3 as the SNES’s pack-in title. But Miyamoto and his crew wouldn’t rest with just that.
The graphics were more vibrant, truly creating a colorful world unlike anything seen before on the NES. They created new areas of the world to explore like the giant sized map where everything was titanic. And they finally added something Miyamoto wanted for Mario but just was not possible on the NES: the loyal Yoshi, who would add even more gameplay options providing a mount for Mario (and powered a million memes of Mario using Yoshi as a springboard, as the hapless creature plunges into oblivion).
One could say that Super Mario World started the trend of high expectations for every mainline Mario game that follows. While it is arguable that the company has kept up with this trend, there is no denying that Super Mario World set the standard for gaming perfection that fans come to expect.
An open-world action adventure roleplaying game on a 16-bit console. That seems like an impossible task. But Shigeru Miyamoto would not be denied. The original Legend of Zelda on the NES was nothing short of a masterpiece. But The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is, appropriately, legendary.
As with any Zelda game, you are thrust in the role of Link, the silent protagonist, tasked to protect Hyrule and save the Princess Zelda from the evil forces of an unseen enemy. Link to the Past quickly sets up your motivation and dives quickly into the action. But unlike the NES where you stumble around and hope for the best, Link to the Past is purposeful in its pacing. Thanks to having a true map of the world this time around, you know exactly where your goals are. How you get to those goals is another matter entirely.
You are not limited to how you want to progress your quest. Or you can choose not to go to these quests immediately and just explore and take in the sights. Bash jars and cut grass to check if something is in there. Find hidden areas that have Rupees for you to collect. And when you do get back to the main quest to finally unlock the Dark World, explore again to your heart’s content. This sense of freedom was new for its time and still holds up well today.
But it isn’t a Legend of Zelda game if there are no puzzles and interesting bosses to fight. Link to the Past delivers on these, with puzzles that can be solved in more than one way. Bosses are larger and more menacing, providing multiple methods of defeating them should you so choose. On that note, new items and weapons provide Link with the right tools for the right job. Everything feels right and there is no wasted content that feels like it was just added to fill the time. And all this is topped by the beautiful score by Koji Kondo, in all its 16-bit glory.
Sure, modern Zelda games can offer updated graphics and bigger worlds thanks to the development of newer technology, as in the case of the Nintendo Switch's Breath of the Wild. And yet, many fans turn to Link to the Past as the absolute perfection of the series. That it feels like a game created today instead of decades ago is a testament to the timeless quality of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Here are three names: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama, and Yuji Horii. Three names that when put together on one project produces the absolute finest game on the SNES. The Dream Team of Final Fantasy’s Sakaguchi, Toriyama of Dragon Ball fame, and Horii the creator of Dragon Quest created what is arguably the zenith of video game perfection: Chrono Trigger.
You start out with the main protagonist, Crono, on his way to celebrate the Millenial fair. There, you meet (or rather bump into) a cute girl who just wants to have some fun missing from her life. As it happens, your best friend is presenting an invention during the fair that, supposedly, allows for teleportation. Amused, the cute girl tries it out, but a mishap opens up a temporal portal and now you must rescue the girl who is lost in the Middle Ages. And that is only the beginning of your journey through time and space, as you meet robots from the future, go to ancient civilizations where dinosaurs roam, battle a menacing sorcerer on a floating island, discover immortal beings that protect time, and face off against the ultimate evil that will destroy the world.
To say that Chrono Trigger was ambitious is putting it mildly. Time travel is a difficult plot point to build on, as there are questions about paradoxes and how the timelines get affected by your actions. Yet, Chrono Trigger manages to address these problems and it does it spectacularly. Every action you take in the past has repercussions in the future. What you change in the past gets reflected in the present. And it all feels natural and the progression organic.
At the heart of the story, though, is really the power of friendship. It seems cliché at this point, but Chrono Trigger truly embodies the idea of how people build relationships that can shake the foundations of reality. And every major character has their moment throughout. Unlike Final Fantasy VI, there is no major character that is just "there". Each one has their own character arc that contributes to the weight of the story. And we won’t spoil it here, but Chrono Trigger took a ballsy turn with one of the main cast that resonates long after you witness it.
Sure, there are the usual expected tropes from any JRPG worth its salts. Tons of items, equipment, and weapons to collect. Unique abilities for each character. Interesting monster designs and puzzles to solve. Side quests that add flavor but are unnecessary to the main plot. Chrono Trigger also adds Tech abilities that are learned and unlocked depending on which members of the party are working together. There is a real sense of teamwork and gratification when you discover these abilities for the first time.
And just like Ogre Battle, Chrono Trigger offers THIRTEEN different endings, influenced by your actions through the course of gameplay. So much thought and love was obviously brought to the table to create this one-of-a-kind video game experience. That Chrono Trigger stands tall even today and that its spiritual successor Chrono Cross failed to capture the magic of this jewel is indicative of its unmatched quality. Epic seems like an understatement to describe it. That is why Chrono Trigger is, without exaggeration, the best game on the SNES ever created.
The Rest of the Best
These are the games that made the Super Nintendo Entertainment System the greatest console ever created. Most of which are readily available either through the SNES Classic Mini or the Nintendo online store. But a good number of other great SNES games nearly made the cut. However, when weighted against the above, they just fell short of the mark.
The runner-ups include such stalwarts as Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts, Final Fantasy IV, Super Return of the Jedi, Yoshi's Island, Killer Instinct, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Demon’s Crest, Breath of Fire II, Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals, Street Fighter II Turbo, U.N. Squadron, Mario Paint, Earthworm Jim, and a dozen or so other classics.
Do you agree or disagree with Xfire’s list of the greatest Super Nintendo Entertainment System games of all time? Which games did you disagree with on its standing or even presence on the list? What does your own greatest list of SNES games look like? Let us know! And keep your eye out as we rank the truly greatest games on other consoles in the future!