The Super Nintendo is one of the most iconic gaming systems of all time. It’s a cute little gray-and-purple brick (at least, it is if you’re based in North America, which got the definitive best-looking Super Nintendo). The system revolutionized home consoles by introducing a controller layout that would become the industry standard and allowed fully 3D games to become a reality in home living rooms.
The console ushered in a golden era of platforming, JRPGs, and story-based games that stunned gamers and created a legion of fans. Some of Nintendo’s most iconic franchises got their start on the SNES, and others found their voice after their initial outings on the original NES.
Today, we’re looking at some of the best games ever to hit the system. Whether you’re a diehard fan of the early 90s era of gaming or you’re just interested in the history of the medium, these are all wonderful games you should take some time to get familiar with. They’re all easy to find these days, especially with Nintendo’s classic catalog on the Nintendo Switch!
Racing games hadn’t quite found their way yet when F-Zero rushed onto the scene. Using the SNES’s Mode 7 chip, F-Zero created a compelling facsimile of 3D graphics and presented the illusion of depth during fast-paced races. The futuristic tracks and pulse-pounding soundtrack only added to the renowned game’s allure.
F-Zero started a trend of sci-fi racing titles, which culminated in the late 90s with games like Star Wars Pod Racing and the F-Zero clone Wipeout. However, the SNES original maintains a special place in the hearts of fans because of its genuinely impressive technical achievements despite the low power of the system it was created for.
Seeing the game handle lightning-fast races and deliver such high-octane thrills is a surreal experience because the whole thing could fit on a 4 MB thumb drive and leave enough room to download several albums. You can check this title out on Nintendo Switch Online’s SNES program if you’re interested in seeing the early days of the racing genre.
Donkey Kong Country
While Mario might be synonymous with platforming, his nemesis, Donkey Kong, has always given the plumber a run for his money. The Donkey Kong Country series is packed with some of the most creative and engrossing platforming levels in the genre and features music that will stick with you long after you put the controller down.
The game allows players to control both Donkey Kong and his pal Diddy Kong and helped popularize the modern Kong design. Before Country, DK still looked like the arcade cabinet antagonist from the 80s. Just compare his Country design to the way he looks in Super Mario Kart, and you’ll see what we mean.
Donkey Kong Country is among the toughest platformers out there, too. If you’re a fan of precise jumps and timing-based boss fights, you’ll love this jungle-themed title. These days, playing it on a system like the SNES classic is ideal, as it gives you the power to rewind the gameplay to help get through some of the trickiest sections.
Star Fox was the first 3D game many Nintendo fans ever played. Like F-Zero, Star Fox leverages the Mode 7 chip to create a 3D environment populated with simple geometry and plenty of projectiles. Players control the titular squad, choosing their pilot from Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, and Peppy Hare.
The game is a dogfight simulator and on-rails shooter in equal measure. It tasks players with defending the fictional Lylat system from the villainous mad scientist Andross. Armed only with their wits and their powerful Arwing ships, the Star Fox team sets out into space to shoot down Andross’s minions and take the fight to the monster himself.
The game is renowned for its groundbreaking graphics and truly unique game design. It helped popularize the flight-based on-rails shooter and has received countless sequels and remakes. It’s one of Nintendo’s most iconic franchises, but it’s been dormant lately, receiving no mainline entries on the Switch.
If you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs, odds are good that you’ve heard of Earthbound. This clever role-playing game is known for its hilarious script and absurd gameplay mechanics. It’s had a huge impact on the world of indie RPGs, too, with everything from Undertale to Lisa owing serious debts to Earthbound’s genius and often laugh-out-loud gameplay mechanics.
Players control a young boy named Ness, who encounters a strange alien asteroid and develops psychic powers. The premise sounds like something from an 80s Spielberg movie, but the direction would be more aptly described as Paul Thomas Anderson meets David Lynch. The absurd game world is enthralling and terrifying, all while holding its tongue firmly in its cheek.
The game has developed a massive cult following. Fans were delighted when the game was added to the Nintendo Switch Online lineup, so players who want to take this unhinged classic for a spin can finally try it on their modern hardware.
Super Mario World
What can you say about Super Mario World? It’s one of the best games ever made, hands-down. It helped redefine what a 2D platformer could be. It’s kind of absurd to look at Nintendo’s Mario output from the late 80s through the early 90s, as the company continued to absolutely dominate the genre it helped make mainstream.
Super Mario World is an unmitigated work of art in every sense of the word. It’s the kind of game you can pick up easily but that offers so many alternate paths and playstyles that you can keep going back again and again. It’s packed with secrets and fun side areas to explore. It’s the kind of game that says “yes” to the player.
If you’re a fan of games made from pure joy and sunshine, check out Super Mario World. It’s a one-of-a-kind game that has the final word in the 2D platforming genre.
Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV, which came out in the US as Final Fantasy II, is one of the most influential RPGs ever made. It helped popularize the now-standard RPG trope of using gameplay mechanics to underscore storyline elements. The most obvious example of this comes when the protagonist, Cecil, forsakes his dark powers and embraces the light, changing his character class from Dark Knight to Paladin.
This blew people’s minds in the early 90s. FFIV is loaded with these little details, like an older character who actually becomes weaker as he levels up because he’s nearing the end of his life, or a powerful ally with compromised moral ties who often leaves the party for long periods of time, leaving you shorthanded at critical moments.
FFIV was revolutionary because it didn’t treat its characters as blank slates onto whom the player can project their own personality. Instead, they’re treated as real people with their own goals, morals, and codes of honor that make them highly memorable.
Has any video game ever been as much of a Video Game as Super Metroid? It’s got everything from varied power-ups to a sprawling world map full of secret areas and hidden paths. The world is well-realized and moody, and it perfectly captures the feeling of being alone against overwhelming odds.
The power fantasy presented in Super Metroid is something that many games have tried to emulate in the last 30 years. It’s so popular, in fact, that it helped spawn its own genre–the Metroidvania. Reviewers coined the term when discussing the also-excellent Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which took liberal inspiration from Super Metroid to spice up the then-staid Castlevania formula.
Super Metroid is a masterclass in minimalist, environmental storytelling. The protagonist, Samus Aran, has barely any dialogue. Still, if you’ve played the game, you probably have a good idea of what kind of person she is. Super Metroid is one of the best games ever made, and were it not for the next game on this list, would be the best SNES game of all time.
A Link to the Past
There’s just no way to get past how monumentally important The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is. It’s Nintendo’s crowning achievement, a game so faultless and fun that it created its own genre. It has few peers: perhaps the original Legend of Zelda on the NES for its sheer originality or the recent Breath of the Wild for its wild ambition. These are the kinds of games that historians of the medium speak about in hushed tones. They’re just that good.
A Link to the Past is a perfect microcosm of the Nintendo ethos. It’s a whimsical, lighthearted game that contains a surprisingly deep story that brushes up against some really dark themes. Ganon is an effective villain because he represents something primordial, and A Link to the Past understands how narratively satisfying it is to see your dauntless hero face off against the forces of darkness with nothing but a sword and all the courage he can muster.
If you haven’t played it, you need to give this game a spin. It might be a bit old; it did first hit the scene over 30 years ago. But bear with it. It’s not just the best SNES game ever made, it might be the very finest game ever to grace any system. A Link to the Past is something truly special.