Probably one of the more difficult top 10 lists to assemble, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System not only offered an amazing library of top notch games but also did so at a consistent rate, producing classic after classic through each successive season. Not only is narrowing this down to only 10 titles extremely difficult, it cannot help but be informed somewhat by someone’s own biases and preferences.
If you were an action adventure and platforming game fanatic, this system had you covered. Similarly, if you loved JRPGs, the SNES sported some of the best JRPGs ever brought to market, including both the legendary Final Fantasy VI and the fever dream time traveling sensation that is Chrono Trigger.
This list a representative sample of some the best and most innovative games the system had to offer. There’s a little something here for everyone and none of these games is likely to disappoint a true video gamer.
Here are the top 10 SNES games of all time:
10. Star Fox
Star Fox is the game that probably shouldn’t have happened on the SNES but it did and in the process not only proved the system capable of much more than gamers knew. The game used a special piece of kit, the FX Chip, to power early polygonal shapes roaming in 3D environments. As Fox McCloud, the player battles through stages to drive back the forces of the evil Andross. The music is epic, the graphics are spectacular, and the concept and gameplay are perfect. No one thought the Super Famicom needed a spaceship-based epic, but Star Fox makes us imagine how different and less interesting the system would be without it.
9. Donkey Kong Country
Another graphically impressive game on the SNES lists of the best, Donkey Kong Country came out at the height of the Pixar/Toy Story-era 3D inspired models. Taking high resolution 3D models and shrinking them down into bright and detailed sprites, Donkey Kong Country is not only visually arresting but easily the most vibrant game on the system outside of Super Mario Bros. World. A change in the traditional Donkey Kong formula, Donkey Kong Country also places the titular ape in a series of situations similar to what you would expect from a Mario game but adds enough differentiation to keep it fresh and new. Everyone remembers the first time they played this game and, again, nearly everything is flawless. Of particular note outside of the graphics and the gameplay is the game’s soundtrack which is considered by many aficionados of SNES OSTs to be among the best if not the number 1 soundtrack of the 16-bit era.
Known as Mother in Japan, Earthbound is the sequel to a game that was never released here but that didn’t stop it from becoming a sleeper hit then cult classic juggernaut later in life. Unlike most RPGs which put you in novel, otherworldly situations, Earthbound relies upon everyday life for the inspiration behind its gameplay. Known for its story and quirky gameplay, Earthbound also offers a unique RPG battle system that adds a new level of strategy. In normal RPGs, especailly JRPGs, the player’s health is decreased through success attacks that immediately take off a set number of points from the total points the player has. In Earthbound the counter is rolling, so if a massive blow is delivered the damage isn’t accrued all at once but rather begins to decrement at a set pace. This lag gives the player a chance to heal, use an item, or even keep attacking the enemy. For example, if the player takes a gamble and decides to continue attacking the creature that dealt the massive blow and it is then defeated, the player will win the fight and not perish. Give Earthbound a shot if you like classic RPGs that offers twists in both gameplay and narrative presentation.
7. Super Castlevania IV
Super Castlevania IV was an upgrade to the Famicom-based Castlevania’s in every way. Sound, graphics, gameplay, and polish – everything came together in this game from Konami. Eerie atmosphere combined with an epic soundtrack kept players pushing forward through hordes of demons and enemies inspired by classic horror. As the whip wielding Simon Belmont, the game was, in many respects, a reimagining of the original Castlevania on the Famicom. Another game that has aged well, Super Castlevania IV is a masterpiece of form and makes one long for the days of classic 2D adventure games.
6. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI is a smorgasbord of everything that makes a JRPG great and is perhaps only matched in its influence by the next installment in the long-running Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy VII. This game is epic and provides players with one of the most memorable experiences that can be had on the system. The story is deep and involved and the characters, of which there are many, is so varied and intriguing that one can’t help but milk the game for all its worth just to get to spend more time with its awesome cast. Perhaps most notable for Final Fantasy VI is its thoroughly cinematic approach to JRPG narrative, a road that many publishers would later take when bringing their epics to market. Being on the Super Famicom, the game was limited but in its limitations it finds endless expression of its masterpiece.
5. Super Metroid
As Samus Aran, Super Metroid puts you in the shoes of an alien bounty hunter that keeps peace throughout the Galactic Federation by defending it from the space pirates that would see it in ruins. Metroid on the NES was an amazing game but was also extremely difficult if you didn’t know what you were doing (hint: no one knew what they were doing back then). Super Metroid, on the other hand, had the advantage of not one but two games preceding it, building up a sufficient fanbase to carry it over the finish line to become one of the biggest titles ever on the Super Famicom. Another re-imagination of a classic title, Super Metroid, in many ways, surpasses its source material and exists today as archetype for a game of its genre.
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
What is there to say about The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past that we can’t say about the other games on this list? Well, it’s Zelda, and that’s perhaps worth a bucket of points by itself, but aside from that it is probably one of the best versions of Zelda on any system ever. The game’s story is simple and straightforward but no less epic than the aforementioned Final Fantasy VI. You need to rescue the kingdom of Hyrule from the evil demon Ganon but you do so in a world that is directly inspired by the NES classic but without copying its flaws (such as being vague and obscure in areas). These tweaks come together to create one of the most epic story and adventure experiences for any system.
3. Super Mario Kart
It’s the beginning of Mario Kart, what more can you say? Actually, a lot more really because this game was also the start of the trend of Nintendo bringing back its iconic characters from the past and throwing them into novel situations. It’s hard to imagine where we might be as gamers if Super Mario Kart had not come out for the SNES. The various Mario games – Mario Party, Mario Tennis, etc. – may have eventually come out but how different would they be without the original Super Mario Kart as a guide for how to do it right. The most important tradition established by the first installment is, however, the series’ unshakeable reputation for perpetual quality and fun.
2. Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is a game that brought together some of the brightest luminaries in video gaming and manga to produce what many critics and fans consider the best JRPG of all time. Not only does it feature a complex, branching time travel-based narrative but also one of the better JRPG combat systems around. While it did spawn a sequel, the original game was such a unique moment in gaming history (that is unlikely to ever be repeated) that Chrono Trigger can’t help but stand alone. The game absolutely overflows with the talent that went into producing it. Graphics, sound, soundtrack, gameplay – everything is top notch.
1. Super Mario World
In a sea of remakes the “super” installment of Mario can’t help but reign supreme. Taking everything established in Super Mario Bros. and a little bit of the secret sauce from Super Mario Bros. III, Super Mario World is the pinnacle of classic Mario. No game in this series has ever disappointed, and Super Mario World carries this tradition. Of all the games on this list it is perhaps both one of the more challenging and immediately accessible games. It is also timeless and ageless, occupying that hallowed area where only pure classics exist. It is rare that a sequel tops the original game, but Super Mario World is perhaps the toughest competition the original will ever face in the 2D realm.