If you’re looking to play the best SNES games, the SNES Classic Edition is the best place to start. Not only will you find the best games from the ’90s on there, but you’ll find they’re exactly as you remember them – they’re perfect emulations of the original games. (We’re looking in your direction, PlayStation Classic…)
But with so many iconic games on Nintendo’s classic console it can be hard knowing where to start first. If you’ve gone ahead and added the entire library of classics by modding the console – not something we advocate for but something that does happen – the choice becomes even harder.
Practically each and every title included on the system can rightly be regarded as a solid-gold classic, and ranking them has involved some serious hair splitting.
But, in the end, we think we’ve been able to decide on the best SNES games – or at least, the best SNES games available on the SNES Classic – and have ranked them here from worst to best.
Kirby’s games struggled to find a truly receptive audience outside of Japan until very recently, and the odd combination of cute platforming and golf that’s on display here makes Kirby’s Dream Course a bizarre inclusion on the SNES Classic; the gameplay is fun but there are plenty of better games that could have be featured instead of this – Super Tennis is the one we’re most aggrieved about not seeing.
Not a terrible game by any means, but Nintendo could have done better.
The comical sequel to the original Punch-Out!! might lack Mike Tyson’s beaming mug – he was included in the initial NES version before being replaced by “Mr. Dream” – but it’s a better game overall thanks to deeper gameplay and large, appealing pugilists.
The big issue is that it’s too easy to memorise the tactics required to defeat each opponent, and this severely curtails the game’s long-term appeal.
Capcom’s side-scrolling action platformer is still as tough as old boots, with pixel-perfect precision required to overcome its grim fantasy levels. As an early release on the system it dazzled players with colourful and detailed graphics, but the crippling slowdown which occurs at busy moments is hard to stomach, especially in 2017. Still a classic, but one which has perhaps aged less gracefully than others.
Street Fighter II owes much of its enduring success to the million-selling ports which graced the SNES, with Turbo being the second to hit store shelves.
With 12 playable characters (including the four bosses this time around) and a mirror-mode which lets both players select the same fighter and a much-needed speed boost, it remains irresistibly playable, especially if you can convince a fellow carbon-based lifeform to play.
That said, we’ve put the game slightly lower down our list simply because superior versions of the game exist.
Something of a superstar on the 8-bit NES, Mega Man – or Rockman as he’s known in Japan – appeared in several eye-catching 16-bit adventures. Mega Man X was the first and, some would argue, the best. It arguably struck the perfect balance between technical wizardry and compelling platforming action.
Nintendo’s first Mode 7 racer may lack the embellishments of its more technically advanced sequels F-Zero X and F-Zero GX, but it’s arguably the most accessible and instantly enjoyable entry in the series. The colourful presentation, tight controls and challenging courses make for a purebred speedfest which hasn’t aged one bit; only the lack of a two-player mode holds it back.
Released for the first time ever on the SNES Classic, Star Fox 2 is perhaps the game many owners of the new system will boot up first. It’s a fascinating illustration of how to evolve a gameplay concept, and jettisons the linear structure of the first game in favour of a more open, randomised set-up, with each gameplay session differing greatly from the last. The only negative is that things can sometimes feel a little loose and lacking in coherence.
Rare’s pioneering use of pre-rendered characters caused jaws to drop all over the world when Donkey Kong Country made its debut in 1994, and while the game owes a massive debt to Super Mario, it’s polished and entertaining enough to stand on its own as one of the best 16-bit platformers ever made.
David Wise’s groundbreaking soundtrack is the cherry on the top; how he made a non-CD system produce tunes of this quality is beyond human comprehension.
Known as Kirby’s Fun Pak in Europe, this is a surprisingly robust collection of seven games, some of which have more depth than you might imagine. There are plenty of homages to other classic Nintendo games to be found, and because this was released quite late in the life of the SNES, it boasts some truly impressive, cartoon-like visuals.
It’s hard to believe that this was one of Konami’s earliest SNES outings; with its incredible visuals, stirring soundtrack and impressive Mode 7 bonus levels, Contra III is rightly regarded as one of the finest run-and-gun blasters available. The two-player mode means you can bring a friend along for the ride, too.
Back in 1993, this was utterly groundbreaking stuff. The first SNES game to feature the assistance of the Super FX chip, Star Fox delivered cutting-edge 3D visuals in your living room. Ironically, the simplistic, unshaded polygon graphics lend the game a timeless quality, while the thrilling gameplay and superb music keep you glued to your controller.
Never released in the UK, this Squaresoft-developed RPG epic came late in the lifespan of the SNES and adopted the then-commonplace “CGI” look for its visuals – a fact which has perhaps caused it to age faster than other 16-bit examples of the genre. However, the game combines the best elements of Final Fantasy’s turn-based combat system with action-based commands that make battles feel more exciting and skill-focused.
The gothic platformer starts off slow but soon develops into one of the best entries in Konami’s long-running vampire-hunting series. Notable for its excellent use of Mode 7 sprite scaling and rotation, it’s also famous for its beautiful soundtrack – another demonstration of just how adept the Sony-made sound chip inside the SNES really is.
Known as Final Fantasy III in the US only – it’s actually Final Fantasy VI in the true chronology of the series – this is regarded by many as one of the finest JRPGs ever made, and with good reason. As well as possessing the usual gripping and addictive gameplay the franchise is famous for, this stellar outing also includes some of the most memorable characters to ever feature in a role-playing adventure, and packs a dramatic storyline to boot.
The second title in the Mother series of RPGs, EarthBound isn’t like any other role-playing adventure you’ve seen. Set in modern times, it replaces dragons and orcs with bizarre aliens and its heroes are ordinary school kids who find themselves wrapped up in a fierce conflict which puts the fate of the world in the balance. Boasting an iconic soundtrack, humorous script and moving storyline, EarthBound is a true classic – despite not having seen release in the UK during the SNES’ lifespan.
While it lacks the massive, non-linear structure of Super Mario World, this sequel harnesses the power of the Super FX chip to create some of the most eye-catching visual trickery ever achieved on the SNES. Instead of controlling Mario you’re in charge of Yoshi, who can float in mid-air and hurl eggs at enemies. With a fresh gameplay idea on almost every each level, this is Shigeru Miyamoto at his most inventive and playful.
Arguably one of the most influential video games of all time, Super Metroid is the title responsible for laying down the “Metroidvania” blueprint so skillfully adopted by modern titles, such as the superb Axiom Verge. Konami’s 1997 adventure Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is also credited with popularising this style of game, but it’s Nintendo’s SNES epic which should get the lion’s share of the credit. Exploring a massive alien world packed with hidden passageways, new weapons and bloodthirsty enemies has rarely been this entertaining; this year’s Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS continues this fine tradition.
The game that started it all. Now a quarter of a century old, Super Mario Kart has to rank as one of the most influential titles in gaming; it created a whole new racing sub-genre and established a series which – at the time of writing – has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. And you know what? The 1992 original is still playable as its sequels, especially when there are two people involved. Don’t forget that battle mode, too.
Recently confirmed for the reboot treatment by Square Enix, Secret of Mana – or Seiken Densetsu 2, as it’s known in Japan – is comfortably one of the most iconic JRPGs in existence. It got pretty much everything right back in 1993; engaging real-time combat, sumptuous visuals, gorgeous music and – perhaps most important of all – a gripping storyline populated with memorable characters.
The best platformer ever made? We personally don’t feel there’s any room for debate here; Super Mario World is nothing short of a masterpiece; a finely-tuned 2D epic spanning a massive, non-linear game world which is literally bursting with new ideas. Finishing every single stage takes days if not weeks of effort, and the controls are tight and joyfully precise. And to think this was one of the first games released on the SNES – remarkable.
Here it is – the big one. While subsequent Zelda adventures have expanded the scope of the series, A Link to the Past remains the best instalment for many fans. It’s the benchmark many RPGs attempted to emulate in the decades that have passed since its launch; Nintendo’s game managed to combine real-time combat, challenging boss battles, head-scratching puzzles and a seemingly never-ending overworld – all done on a humble 16-bit console. A true classic.