Games That Defined The Super Nintendo (SNES)

The Best SNES Games for the Super Nintendo's History

The 16-bit era might just have been the most exciting time in the video game industry. Rivalries were never quite as intense as those between Nintendo and Sega, not to mention underdogs like NEC/Hudson (with the TurboGrafx-16) and SNK’s Neo-Geo. Nintendo knew that in order to take back market share from Sega, their Super Nintendo Entertainment System would have to provide gamers with some show-stopping titles.

Nintendo delivered in essentially every genre, but especially excelled in RPGs (with its temporary relationship with Squaresoft), platformers, and racing. The SNES still lives on as one of the most popular and collectible consoles of all time.

In this installment of the Games That Defined Series, I actually had a tough time narrowing down the list of titles to feature. There are a number of otherwise worthy titles, that I had to stick in the honorable mentions list in order to keep this article from going on forever. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this piece and I look forward to hearing your memories of the Super Nintendo in the comments section below.

See Also: The Cheapest SNES Games Worth Your Time & The Best Undiscovered SNES Games

Super Mario World

Super Mario World ScreenshotAs amazing as the original Super Mario Bros. series was on the NES, Mario fans needed something a little extra to show up Sonic the Hedgehog and give them a reason to upgrade from the popular NES. This breakthrough platforming title gave the Super Nintendo its initial boost in the war against the Sega Genesis.

Nintendo took some of the innovative elements hinted at in Super Mario Bros. 3 and pushed them to what was then the limit of what a platformer was capable of.

Super Mario World kept the same basic formula as its predecessors, but added enough new and improved features to outperform previous installments. The addition of Yoshi is also to be commended as it added to the depth to the gameplay.

What really set Super Mario World apart from its 8-bit siblings is the length of this masterpiece. While most platform games were often categorized as “Adventure”, or “Action Adventure” games, Super Mario World is one of the few games that actually felt like an adventure. The game’s 72 enjoyable levels are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Many of the levels feature multiple exits (there are 96 exits in all), which lead to different levels on the world map. Devoted fans will spend many hours uncovering all of the secrets.
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Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past

Link to the Past Screenshot“We’re sorry, but the princess is in another castle.” For once, this is not to be the case in this Nintendo classic. After a few short hours of game play I fondly remember having Princess Zelda in my possession, albeit for a few short moments.

The third game in Nintendo’s acclaimed Zelda series, A Link to the Past ranks near Ocarina of Time as one of the greatest titles for a Nintendo platform. After The Adventure of Link’s experimentation with sidescrolling, A Link to the Past returns to the top-down roots of the original, but spruces up the experience with updated visuals.

Even though, Link to the Past was an early SNES release, the developers were still able to make the most of the new technology in order to create one of the most detailed, gorgeous, and expansive games of the 16-bit era and beyond. Link to the Past was one of the first 8 megabit cartridges, and that extra memory was home to not one, but two huge overworlds, and more than a dozen labyrinthine dungeons to explore.

In addition to the fitting graphics and engaging environments, Link to the Past also benefited from remarkable audio. Longtime composer Koji Kondo wrote several tracks for this unforgettable Zelda soundtrack.

The game’s wonderfully conceived exploration elements, environmental puzzles, colorful graphics and inspired soundtrack help it to stand out above the cream of the Zelda crop.
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Donkey Kong Country Series

Donkey Kong Country ScreenshotEven with graphics and sound capabilities above Sega’s 16-bit machine and a solid library of games, the Super Nintendo still had a lot of catch-up to do with Sega in order to achieve world domination. The Genesis achieved solid footing in the market and Sega was prepping their 32-bit successors (yes, both the 32X and the Saturn), so Nintendo had to pull out all the stops to capture the attention of cutting-edge gamers.

In order to give the illusion that the SNES could pump out some cartoon-like 3D graphics, Rare’s development teams pieced together a way to convert 24-bit animation sequences into a format that a 16-bit console could handle by creating on a high-end SGI workstation and then porting them to the SNES.

The technique was quite successful as Nintendo fanboys everywhere were pointing to the game and mocking their Sega Genesis-owning friends (who would later answer back with Vectorman). The Donkey Kong Country series eventually became the cash cow for Nintendo as it spawned another two installments without much further innovation.

Overall, each game in the series was a solid platformer with smooth animation and a playful soundtrack. While the games aren’t quite as timeless as the Mario or Zelda series, they are a nostalgic trip full of old-school run-and-jump goodness.
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Star Fox

Star Fox SNES ScreenshotThe first (and one of the few) games to bear the Super FX Chip technology, Star Fox was a technical marvel as far as Super Nintendo games were concerned. The enclosed chip was powerful enough to push out flat-shaded polygons and render them reasonably quickly. The result was on-rails shooter that featured enough of a 3D environment to make gamers feel like they were actually flying through space.

At the heart of Star Fox was a gameplay style borrowed from games like Space Harrier and Afterburner. However, in classic Nintendo style, Star Fox put a new spin on a tired genre with interesting but simple gameplay innovations.

As opposed to most on-rails shooters, Star Fox allowed the player to temporarily speed up and slow down their aircraft instead of continuing at a constant speed. This came in handy when maneuvering around enemy attacks as well as other obstacles.

Star Fox’s difficulty levels also strayed away from the norm. Instead of typical difficulty levels (ones that simply decide the number of lives a player has, the speed of enemies, etc), Star Fox gives players a choice of one of three routes to take. Each of these routes correspond with a certain level of difficulty, but they also have their own series of unique levels. This gives Star Fox somewhat more replay value and depth when compared to earlier shooters.

Nintendo’s strength in developing charming characters also shone through in Star Fox in order to add personality to an otherwise faceless game. Our hero, Fox McCloud is joined by three computer-controlled wingmen: Peppy, Slippy, and Falco. Keeping your buddies alive (they often need to be bailed out), will help you keep your game score up and will keep you entertained with their presence.
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Super Metroid

Super Metroid ScreenshotThe NES was one of the first systems powerful enough to create somewhat free-form levels for platforming action games. The original Metroid was one of the first and best in this regard. You had a world to explore, and what limitations there were, could be overcome by finding power-ups that enhanced your abilities. There were many opportunities to go places you probably weren’t ready for, and many people died a number of times before learning the optimal path.

Like the original, Super Metroid is a relatively free-form, open-ended platformer where you have a lot of latitude about where to go and what to do. Unlike the two Game Boy Advance sequels/prequels it doesn’t tell you where to go next. It’s up to you to explore the environment, explore your abilities and limitations, and figure out both where you can go and where you should go.

All the basic weapons and abilities from the original Metroid are back, as well as a few others like power bombs, dashing, and a grapple. Unlike the original Metroid, the environments are much more detailed and a bit more dynamic in addition to an improved (but simplistic) storyline. As opposed to the simplistic and surreal sensation in the original Metroid, Super Metroid’s environment is much earthier and solid. You know exactly what you are doing because there is story at the beginning and the end. The environments are also much more concrete and organic, meaning the world doesn’t mess with at your mind quite as much.

To put everything in perspective, the original Metroid can be likened to an art film by an early director. This director wants to try new things and push boundaries, but his equipment and resources are limited. Because of these limitations, he has to adopt strange and stark techniques to represent his ideas, making them even more abstract and artsy than perhaps originally imagined.

Super Metroid can be viewed as a later film by the same director, once he’s finally made it to Hollywood and can win bigger budgets and better equipment. He takes his older ideas and recreates them, only more realistically and with more precision. No longer are the ideas abstract. They are still artful and carefully crafted, but the director can now flesh out his world and his ideas without having to obscure them behind constraints. Later Metroid games resemble more the expensive blockbusters, but Super Metroid straddles that line between art and polish and does it quite well, and over time still holds up as a remarkable title in a treasured franchise.
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Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart ScreenshotBefore the 16-bit era, most racing games were pretty generic fare (some exceptions like RC Pro AM surfaced) with simple tracks where you just held down the acceleration button and dodged your opponents. Released in late 1992 for the SNES, Super Mario Kart set a precedent for all future games in the genre, but also single-handedly created (and perhaps perfected) the entire sub-genre of kart racing. It has spawned many imitators and clones, and has many sequels. Still, many people have found that nothing beats the original.

The player can choose from eight well-known Nintendo characters that race frantically around 20 tracks in their cute little go-karts. Along the way, they can pick up items, like banana peels and Koopa shells, which they then use to knock your opponents silly. Forget Mortal Kombat, as this game should have been the reason the ESRB was created. After all, I can’t tell if I prefer winning the race, or hitting the same person with a red shell over and over until they feel like choking me.

Indeed, this is a great game to play with friends. It’s fun to play against the computers, but the AI will seem a little dated since they all drive on the same path every race, but it was still better than most racers of the era. There is also a battle mode that has you freely roaming around a square map with one other person. Hit them three times before they do the same to you, and you win. No, nothing compares to inviting a bud to some “friendly” violence with Super Mario Kart.

There have been few games that provide as many hours of fun as Super Mario Kart. It offered fast and challenging single-player gaming in addition to furious competitive play thanks to the tight skill-based system of driving that let the real masters show their stuff. While the other games in the series have their own appeal, they simply don’t have courses as tight, fast, and perfect as the original Kart masterpiece.
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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Yoshis Island ScreenshotAfter the megaton that was Donkey Kong Country hit the SNES Nintendo fans (and employees) where crazy to see Mario in the same form of 3D sprite base goodness. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t really like DKC and instead decided to take the next Mario game into a very different direction. The result was a rough crayon drawing style that resembles pictures out of children’s books. The game also took advantage of many of the SNES’ graphical niceties such as the Super-FX chip and parallax scrolling. This art direction combined with the graphical prowess of the SNES gave this game a magical feel which is still awe-inspiring to this day.

Yoshi’s Island was different to the NES Mario trilogy as it took the exploration factors from Super Mario World and enhanced them greatly. Each level now had a list of items that could be collected to get a high score.

The other big difference in Yoshi’s Island is that you don’t actually play as Mario, but instead you play as Yoshi. Yoshi plays somewhat like a cross between Kirby and Mario, as he can lick up objects, spit them out or digest them to create an egg. Yoshi can also fire these eggs, ground pound and flutter in the air for a limited amount of time.

Yoshi’s Island was not as commercially important as Donkey Kong Country, but very significant in terms of design. This game is full of creative energy and character that has shown the way for similar stylistic games. Yoshi’s Island’s step outside of the normally-expected realistic graphic design opened doors for games like Paper Mario, Jet Set Radio and Okami. It brought new elements to the Mario series and properly birthed Yoshi as his own stand alone character.
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Super Mario All-Stars

Super Mario All-Stars ScreenshotNintendo really knew how to please fans with the pack-in games back in the day. Not only was Super Mario All-Stars one of the most fun-filled pack-ins of all time, but it is one of the most treasured game compilations and remakes ever.

For those unfamiliar with this treasure-trove of Mario goodness, Super Mario All-Stars included all the original Super Mario Bros games remixed with a colorful style that accentuated the games’ colorful world with graphics that take advantage of the Super Nintendo’s 16-but power (a similar style to Super Mario World).

In addition to Super Mario Bros 1, 2, & 3, those outside of Japan were also treated to a game label The Lost Levels. This curious Mario installment was actually the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros 2.

The design of the game is very similar to the original Super Mario Bros., but the difficulty level was increased significantly (see my review of The Lost Levels to see how), and because of this, was not released outside of Japan. (See Wikipedia for more details on this topic)
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F-Zero SNES ScreenshotThe Japanese have a habit of using the number zero to either indicate a prequel or a far future sequel. In this case, Nintendo’s F-Zero is the futuristic progeny of what we know as F1 racing filled with more speed than we could otherwise fathom. F-Zero was a groundbreaking racing game that showed off the SNES’s Mode 7 capabilities (using 2D graphics power to create 3D effects) while providing a blistering-fast futuristic racing experience.

F-Zero featured a selection of four cars with drastically different top speeds, acceleration, durability, and handling. The four cars are distinct and drive very differently. Unlike modern racing games where you continually upgrade one of 15 billion different cars, F-Zero is all about picking the one car out of the four that suits you best and mastering it. You don’t improve the car to tackle the harder tracks. You improve yourself.

Gamers had the opportunity to race on 15 different tracks, divided up across 3 leagues: Knight, Queen, and King. Many of the tracks are alternate paths of the same locale but all end up having a significantly different feel. The tracks are littered with hazards like jumps over pits, mines, and magnets. These obstacles add to the strategy and challenge as you can only take so much damage before your vehicle explodes. In fact, the barrier on most tracks that keeps you from falling off (yes, on some tracks you can fall off) slows you down quite a bit and damages you.

If you are an aggressive player, F-Zero can almost feel like a destruction derby since you can knock your CPU opponents into hazards and even off the track. Who needs weapons when you can drive like a maniac? Still, aggressively hounding your opponents is often not as effective as simply mastering the cars and the tracks. And as soon as you’ve got everything figured out, up the difficulty level a notch and watch as the improved opponent AI crushes you at the track.
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Final Fantasy II & III (IV & VI in Japan)

Final Fantasy III ScreenshotSquare’s original Final Fantasy game on the NES may have been a last-ditch effort to keep the company alive, but it consequently introduced a great number of young, American gamers to the RPG genre. After the moderate success on the NES, Square reaped the benefits of bringing the series to the SNES, and in turn, ramped up one of the most successful game franchises of all time.

Final Fantasy II (known as Final Fantasy IV in Japan) was one of the first 16-bit RPGs, displaying state-of-the-art music and cutting-edge Mode 7 graphics. The story took gamers across three separate worlds with a slew of characters. FFII was also the first Final Fantasy to set love as a plot focus, popularized by later titles such as Final Fantasy VIII.

FFII’s battle system is is a bit different as it is the first to use Square’s infamous ATB (Active Time Battle) system. With this system, there are no turns to take, but you can attack while your foes are still deciding on what to do, and vice versa. This system was a bit innovative, but was not very intuitive, resulting in a mixed reception. Final Fantasy II’s battles did occasionally feature “Battlescripting” which were bits of dialogue or scripted events that were used as plot devices. This did help round out the dramatic elements in the game and brought the series closer to the cinematic experience that Final Fantasy fans have come to expect.

By the time Final Fantasy III (known as part VI in Japan) showed up the scene, the series had literally picked up steam. In this installment, the Final Fantasy world has decided to do away with magic and is now based on steam power and other technologies from the Second Industrial Revolution. The structure of society takes a cue from the latter half of the 19th century, with opera and the fine arts serving as recurring motifs throughout the game. This setting served as an interesting contrast to the fantasy medieval themes of most RPGs.

At the time of its release, Final Fantasy III boasted unprecedented graphics and sound helping it become one of the first truly epic stories in the history of video games. All these technical capabilities required a then-impressive 24-meg cartridge, making it one of the biggest RPGs up to that point in time.

Final Fantasy III is largely considered the best game of the series, as well as the one of the best console role playing games ever made.
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Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger ScreenshotWhile it might not bear the names of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger did have the a number of the people behind these popular franchises working on its development. Nearly every aspect of the game — character design, music, and overall direction — was put together by the greatest minds of Square and Enix’s powerhouses.

The resulting masterpiece is now regarded as possibly the greatest console RPG of all time. It has all the requirements of a great Japanese RPG — time travel, an innovative battle system, a brilliant soundtrack, and a surprisingly high amount of replay value. Add that to the amazing color and detail that is rarely achieved on the Super Nintendo, and you have a title that will be treasured for many more years to come.

The game was released in August of 1995, very late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and showed many signs of the genre’s evolution, such as multi-character combo attacks and multiple endings. The game starts out in 1000 AD, but due to a teleportation mishap you travel to multiple eras and pick up most of your playable characters along the way. This lends itself to many varied locales and characters and the game does not fail in this regard.

The graphics are among the best on the system with character designs by Akira Toriyama, character designer for Dragonball and the Dragon Quest games. Music is by Yasunori Mitsuda (Xenogears/Shadow Hearts) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and much of it is very memorable and takes full advantage of the SNES synthesizer.

The game is relatively short and a bit easy but the fun factor more than makes up for these shortcomings. The battle system is familiar enough to let you jump right in but different enough to keep you interested. The plot is neither as simple and hackneyed as many early RPGs nor as convoluted and melodramatic as many recent RPGs.
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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Super Mario RPG ScreenshotIt isn’t too often that software powerhouses like Nintendo and Square team up, but when they do, magical things can happen. Super Mario RPG is one such gem that was primarily developed by Squaresoft, but had direct guidance from Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto. Super Mario RPG served as the final Mario game for the SNES, as well as being one of the last games Square produced before they took a 6 year break from Nintendo hardware.

Because of it’s role playing nature Super Mario RPG has a unique storyline that stays true to the Mario series’ roots while having that touch of Square that has you on the edge of your seat. The characters you interact with are quite comical, all of them have their own unique personalities whether it be cowardly or logical. The playful atmosphere really gave Mario fanboys and in-depth look at what goes on in the Mushroom Kingdom.

The battles throughout Super Mario RPG are a blend of platforming elements and traditional RPG battles. As well as selecting attacks, the player is usually required to perform action commands to increase the damage done. These consist of timed button presses and other movements to determine the power of the character’s attack, a concept that was carried over to some later RPGs including the Paper Mario series.

Graphically speaking, Super Mario RPG is very advanced for the system it is on, using Mode 7 SMRPG is able to express a true 3D like nature. You are able to move freely around in circles, jump in different directions, etc. Even the backgrounds are rendered with 3D polygons as opposed to sprites. The 3D nature of the game is what really makes it different from the other 2D RPGs that were released around this time on the SNES.
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Earthbound ScreenshotThere is no doubt that the SNES has one of the best RPG libraries and surprisingly, its isn’t completely dependent on Squaresoft for its role-playing selection. In fact, one of the most treasured RPGs of all time is actually developed by HAL Laboratories, who up to that point was only known for the Kirby series.

Earthbound is an odd little enigma. It’s probably one of the simplest RPGs you’ll ever play, both in terms of graphics and in gameplay, yet somehow it demands the utmost respect. Earthbound is clearly the product of some kind of natural or drug-induced chemical imbalance in someone’s brain. Luckily, this particular trip is the kind that you can share with others and put down any time you want.

In Earthbound, you play a young boy by the name of Ness and his friends as they challenge Giygas, an evil alien force destined to become too powerful to be contained. Earthbound pays careful attention to the modern setting (which attracts gamers like me that shy away from typical fantasy settings) and the fact that the main character, Ness, is still a child.

Enemies range from New-Age Retro Hippies and Trick-or-Treat Kids to Abstract Art and Bionic Kraken. Against these fiends you will wield deadly weapons such as baseball bats and frying pans. When you return to Ness’s home, your mother feeds you and your friends and allows you to sleep the night. The money you collect from enemies is deposited in your bank account by your father and can be withdrawn at ATMs in most towns.

The graphics are plain. The music is plain. The sound effects are relatively plain. But gosh darnit, if everything in this game isn’t so weird and trippy. The story and atmosphere are what really make the experience. A rudimentary RPG mechanic like the one found here will only get you so far unless you have that little extra something. Earthbound has that little extra something in rather large quantities.
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Super Punch Out

Super Punch-Out ScreenshotMike Tyson’s Punch-Out was one of my favorite reasons to boot up an NES when I was a kid. It had a straightforward gameplay mechanic but its uniquely stereotypical characters and increasing difficulty made for a strangely compelling formula.

Nintendo hoped to translate this success to their 16-bit powerhouse and bring a style that was similar to their Punch-Out and Super Punch-Out arcade games. In addition to the bigger, more cartoon-like character sprites, the game brought in a number of fresh characters to add to a select few from previous console and arcade installments.

Like the previous titles in the Punch-Out!! series, Super Punch-Out!! requires good timing and pattern recognition skills to react to the attacks of each opponent. As the player proceeds through the game’s circuits, the opponents become more difficult to react to and defeat.

Even though Super Punch-Out is a lot of fun, it didn’t quite hit the same nerve as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the NES. The new characters didn’t seem to be quite as interesting, the game gave you more obvious hints as to when special attacks were coming, and Mac’s trainer, Doc, is gone all together. All this explains why Super Punch-Out wasn’t quite as a cultural phenomenon in the gaming world as its NES sibling, but it was still a treasured piece of the SNES library.
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Mega Man X

Megaman X ScreenshotDeveloped by Capcom as a slightly more complex companion to its hit NES franchise, the Megaman X brand added a more modern and mature spin on what was an already familiar franchise. The storyline takes place a bit in the future and also includes a more involving and edgy storyline in comparison to its predecessors.

In addition to the more mature setting of Mega Man X, the franchise has also prided itself on its upgradeable characters and multiple hero selections. Whereas the traditional Mega Man line has always been about a little robot and his ability to assimilate the powers of his fallen adversaries, Mega Man X raised the stakes by including things like additional suits of armor, health extensions, time-based gameplay, and randomized maps. These changes not only gave established Blue Bomber fans a change of pace, but it also helped bring in new enthusiasts into the fold.

Even thought the basic gameplay mechanics are very similar to the original series, there are a few mechanical changes such as Mega Man’s ability to cling to walls and can pull off a nifty air-dash maneuver. However in Megaman X, you still travel through a number of selectable stages, fighting crazy evil robots, eventually battling the boss robot in an attempt to steal the boss’s unique weapon for your own personal use after you defeat them.

With the overwhelming success of Megaman X, the sub-series enjoyed two more iterations on the SNES before having many more installments and spin-offs on the PS1, Saturn, and PS2.
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Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct ScreenshotStreet Fighter II set the gaming industry on fire and consequently filled both the arcades and consoles with a flood of other me-too fighters, each with their own little gimmick. Nintendo also wanted to get in on the action, so it teamed up with Rareware to make a fighter that stood out from the crowd. Of course, to give Killer Instinct a cutting-edge look, it used the same pre-rendered 3D graphics technique that it used for Donkey Kong Country.

The game’s campy gore and finishing moves are reminiscent of the Mortal Kombat games, while mechanics of the game feel more like Street Fighter II. The imaginative character designs, however, are very unique to KI.

The game also featured a few novelties for the time, such as the double health bar, automatic combos, and combo breakers. Some of these concepts have gone on to become quite common in fighting games.

A decade later, Killer Instinct doesn’t quite hold up as well as some other classics from Capcom or SNK, but Killer Instinct still has a soft spot in hearts of many nostalgic Nintendo fans.
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Pilotwings ScreenshotPilotwings is essentially a tech demo of the scaling and rotation features of the Super Nintendo, yet it somehow rises above this fact and is truly more than the sum of its parts.

In Pilotwings you are a student, training to earn various licenses in order to fly. You earn points by completing various tests, and if you’ve earned enough points you advance to the next lesson and chance at the next license. You start Pilotwings with a light plane, but as you progress through each lesson, you gain more responsibility and earn the ability to fly more complicated and exciting aircrafts such as a helicopter.

Overall, Pilotwings handles very well, and though initial adjustment may be difficult, the game constantly spurs you on. Every failure has you thinking “next time I’ll do better!” Every run-through adds to your experience so that your next attempt will be improved over the last.

While Pilotwings isn’t necessarily the most visually stunning game on the SNES, this classic did show off some technical prowess in order to give a more realistic experience. Pilotwings uses an additional DSP chip in the cartridge, similar to the ones in games like Super Mario Kart. So not only was Pilotwings an early showpiece of the SNES’s capabilities but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, too, and it will keep you coming back for just one more try.
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Uniracers ScreenshotAlthough Mario and pals had changed the way we expected to play racing games two years prior, this did not stop DMA Designs, (later renaming to RockStar North) from introducing this unique and clever 2D racer. The concept of Uniracers (or Unirally for those in PAL territories) is simple: race your unicycle along a candy cane bar track to get to the finish line before a rival cycle.

The track designs in Uniracers are made somewhat like a roller-coaster. That is you have large accents and rapid descents which lead off to huge ramps. The large ramps throw your unicycle into the air which gives you a limited time to pull off as many tricks as you can for a speed boost. Despite only being able to rotate, flip and twist your unicycle, the skill came from getting the most out of every jump. There is also a risk involved in performing tricks as if you crash and wipe out you lose all of your speed. So mastering the tricks is essential for beating the computer players later on in the game. (Keep in mind this game was years ahead of titles such as Tony Hawk and SSX).

The track designs also borrow a few ideas from other games, such as loops (from Sonic the Hedgehog) and boost pads (from F-zero). It would always be a wise idea to understand a track’s layout before you race for competition as the tracks are never predictable and could throw you in any direction at any time.

As if the single-player mode wasn’t engaging enough, the two-player mode allowed horizontal split screen action between friends. There was even a tournament mode which allowed eight players to join and battle it out with 1-on-1 races. Players had all of the options that the single player GP had, but let you share the unique fun with others.
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Honorable Mentions:

  • Secret of Mana
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Contra III
  • Act Raiser
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Street Fighter II: Turbo
  • Earthworm Jim
  • Flashback/Out of This World
  • Rock ‘n Roll Racing
  • Shadowrun
  • Super Smash TV
  • SuperPuyoPuyo / Kirby’s Avalanche
  • Terranigma
  • Tetris Attack
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
  • Gradius III
  • Megaman 7
  • Super Star Wars Series
  • Terranigma
  • Dragon Warrior Series

Related Links

Hidden SNES GemsCheapest SNES Games

A Special Thanks

I would like to give a special thanks to Daniel Primed, marurun, and a handful of other contributers for helping me put this feature together. They helped my write a number of the game entries in order to provide various perspectives and an adequate picture of what the Super Nintendo meant to all of us.


Adam says:

Other than putting Secret of Mana in honorable mentions (over Uniracers?), I’ve never been in more agreement with a post. Ever. This was the defining moment in video game history…I was 10 when Chrono Trigger came out, and video games pretty much run your life at that age. At 21 I’ve somewhat grown out of them, and it’s partially because today’s games just can’t compare to games like Chrono Trigger, Earthbound and Super Mario World. They are TIMELESS…I mean we’re still talking about these SNES releases over a decade later…I doubt we could say the same for the highly-acclaimed BioShock.

Kory says:

A truly fantastic article with excellent taste in 16-bit gaming, and well-written descriptions to match. However, I’ve got a couple nitpicks that should be corrected…

• Enix never had any hand in developing Chrono Trigger. Aside from Square and Enix sharing in the artistic talents of Akira Toriyama, Square and Enix were still arch-rivals at the time.

• Mario RPG’s overworld-map is the ONLY part operated in Mode 7 – The 3D environments & battles are accomplished in Mode 1/5/6, not in Mode 7.

• However, Pilotwings’ “scaling and rotation features” that you mentioned are accomplished via Mode 7.

Other than that, this is a well-polished “best of” review that recounts on nostalgic SNES classics and inspires a younger generation of gamers to venture back in time – Nicely done, racketyboy!

Jay says:

We had a bunch of stuff in an older storage facility that were donating to Goodwill. In that pile of stuff, I found my “missing” 32MBit Super Nintendo console copier. I saved it, and I bought a SNES from a local hobby shop. Now, having the S-Video cables, this list has made me bump up installation of the SNES to a top priority for this week!

The article was another spot-on piece of work. Yeah, I could debate things here and there. I see two camps of debate going on. I am on the side of being indifferent to whether or not a title appeared on another system. If the SNES title really set off the SNES, then I remember it in the context of this article.

And to the “OMFG” poster back up the list, at least sign your name. Take off the troll ears.

Liz says:

MEGAprops for including Earthbound, my all-time favorite RPG. It’s so hard to explain to other people who haven’t played why this game is so good; maybe there are magical THC vibes in the music…

Gary says:

FF 3 was such a great game. I can just see myself sitting for days in my darkened, black-outed window bedroom playing obsessively. I feel like all those years of RPG’s and strategies honed and perfected my problem solving and planning abilities… although it may have made me kind of different compared to other people. nice article. another thing i often think of is my dark room brightened by the blue intro screen of FF 1 w/ that soft music playing. here is the music… and hit open. ahh…

Chad says:

I agree that Street Fighter II should have made the list. Yes, it eventually went multi platform but the SNES has a lengthy head start and it was the reason I why spent every day at my SNES-owning friend’s house for a year and completely ignored my Genesis.

NapaLM says:

SF2 was one of the best games on the SNES, a lot of people i know bought the SNES to play that game, myself included. Due to the popularity of SF2 it came later to the amiga and megadrive


Marurun says:

I suppose the real question is, can a game that was released on other systems have exclusively defined the SNES experience. That’s a detail worthy of debate.

Matt says:

Me too me too me too.

Excellent list, well written, and very informative on the games that you reviewed. However I do think its a pretty egregious omission leaving Street Fighter II original off. That game wore out my SNES more then any other, and I played them all. While it wasn’t written for the SNES, it’s success and the success of its sequels set the bar for what the system was capable of.

Joe says:

STREET FIGHTER 2 TURBO was a cultural milestone. To put that in honorable mention and put Super Punch Out on the main list is a travesty and kills the credibility of the entire thing.

Willie says:

Temco SuperBowl for SNES should have made at least the Honorable Mention list. It took the great gameplay from the NES version, added better graphics, and updated the plays AND THE ROSTERS. Indeed, there are many out there that consider this the last REAL version of Tecmo SuperBowl to be released as the subsequent versions for Sega and Playstation SUCKED OUT LOUD.

TG says:

There is absolutely no valid argument for why the original SFII is not on that list. The list is for games that defined SNES- and having the game be on other systems doesn’t affect that at all. As people have already mentioned, this game had a huge impact on the SNES and SNES gamers; everyone and their mom was waiting for this game to come out, and wondering how well it would be done. It’s release was a huge day for the SNES, and I’d say that makes it a defining point for the life of the SNES, regardless of what it did for other systems, and whether or not they had it. Especially when you compare the effect it had to some of the other games on that list, like… I don’t know- Uniracers or Yoshi’s Island. Some of them might be unique in themselves, but didn’t really define the SNES itself. SFII shoudl be on that list- flat out. Also, I personally think Secret of Mana shoudl be on the list, but I know not everyone was into those kinds of games.

will says:

Tecmo Superbowl was awesome that was the only sports game I played as a kid. The Madden games sucked until the got in 3d, but I wouldn’t but them now because I hate exclusivity rights in sports.

Daily Pimp says:

Thats a pretty solid list, especially with the honorable mentions.

John says:

Secret of Mana++

Otherwise, well said, man.

gnome says:

Excellent post, excellent!

Why the hell are you all whining that Street Fighter 2: Turbo is not on the list? It was a mediocre arcade port. That’s all. Worship the arcade perfect 3DO version if anything. Stop hassling the guy.

elph says:

Okay, I admit it– after finishing the article I balked at the lack of Streetfighter II. But then I thought about it. Yes, I saved every dime I had to buy it for the SNES, but one of my best friends saved all his money up to buy the Genesis version. Streetfighter II didn’t just define the SNES, though. It is one of the games that defined that era of gaming. Well written, racketboy. This article is a perfect example of why I love your site.

steveanator says:

Gotta jump on the SF2 bandwagon. It wasn’t until that release that I threw down and bought a snes. I KNOW I’m not the only one who did that. Talk about defining,that was a game changer and the Genesis iterations sucked gigantor PP.

RadarScope1 says:

Great list overall, Racketboy! I would have to agree with some others about swapping Secret of Mana with Uniracers (Uniracers?) and with maybe the inclusion of ActRaiser as a defining game from early in the hardware lifecycle.

As for SF2, I can see it both ways. I would agree that in a way it helped “define” the SNES as a powerhouse piece of hardware but … overall I think we’re talking about a game that helped define the SNES commercially rather than culturally or as a platform for games. Sure, it sold a lot of systems, but ultimately it’s not like SF2 didn’t show up elsewhere for years afterward.

This stuff is fun to read, keep it up ….

fastbilly1 says:

The lack of Wrecking Crew 98 ruins the list for me. Way to go Racket…Actually these are almost exactly the games I would have picked that defined the system. Anyway you look at it the SNES is one of the best systems out there, heck I just spent the past two hours playing Wario Woods and Battle Tetris Gaiden (expect more from me on this one soon).

racketboy says:

Thanks guys.

And fastbilly1, Wrecking Crew ’98 was on the Hidden Gems of the SNES feature 🙂

Gamerforlife says:

I think we’re looking at Street Fighter II in a historical kind of way. Yes, it was a defining game for the S-NES at the time of its release, and it surely had a huge impact on the system’s success and future.

Though as Racketboy has pointed out, it has been on so many systems since that the average joe doesn’t think Street Fighter II and immediately think S-NES

One thing bugs me though, by Racketboy’s logic I don’t know if Soul Calibur belongs on the Games that Defined the Dreamcast list. It has been on the PS2,Gamecube,Xbox and has another installment that will hit the 360, plus something called Soul Calibur Legends on the Wii. Eventually, people will not associate Soul Calibur games with the Dreamcast. In fact, that is probably already true

I mentioned in a forum topic once that Soul Calibur has outlived the Dreamcast. It seems to be one of, if not THE only popular game from the Dreamcast that is still popular and succesful today on other systems, and most people don’t know or remember that it debuted on the Dreamcast

It’s the same thing with Street Fighter II and its follow ups. It’s been on every system since, but the first Street Fighter II game to hit consoles and grab the gaming industry’s attention was the S-NES one.

I suppose if we look at this from the perspective of a buyer’s guide than it doesn’t need SF II on it since the game is on every system, but then my comments regarding Soul Calibur on the other list should apply as well

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