Hello and welcome to another installment of the top ten games for each Nintendo system, as voted by the Nintendo Enthusiast staff and readers. In this article, we’ll be tackling what many consider to be the greatest system ever, Nintendo or otherwise: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. With a combination of Nintendo at their best and exceptional third-party support, no system after the SNES has had as much going for it. Picking the ten best games for the system is overwhelming, but the votes have been tallied and Nintendo Enthusiast is ready to show them to you. Let’s get right to the games!
Number 10: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Nintendo knew they had made something special when they introduced Yoshi in Super Mario World and they followed through when he starred in his own platformer. The only Super FX 2 game to actually be released, Yoshi’s Island has an art style unlike anything else on the Super Nintendo with some amazing visual effects. What really makes the game stand out, though, is the gameplay. Yoshi is armed with several new abilities — throwing eggs, ground pounding, his now signature flutter jump — and every level is filled with secrets. Exploration is as big a part of the game as platforming and the game is excellent in both areas. A true classic that every Yoshi platformer lives in the shadow of to this day.
Number 9: Donkey Kong Country
Despite the reverence it is treated with today, there was a time when the Super Nintendo was not winning its console war. The turning point that led to the SNES’ victory happened in 1994 and the one game it can be most attributed to is Donkey Kong Country. The pre-rendered graphics were leaps and bounds over anything a 16-bit system had done and the soundtrack is one of the most iconic on the system. The gameplay was heavily inspired by Mario, but it is still a solid and challenging platformer that added some ideas that would become series staples, such as the animal buddies and mine carts. Still one of the most atmospheric platformers ever made, the game is impressive today even after the technical aspects have stopped standing out.
Number 8: Final Fantasy III/VI
The last Final Fantasy to be given a different number outside of Japan and the last mainline one to be on a Nintendo system, Final Fantasy VI is still one of the most beloved games in the series. The story was very unique compared to other JRPGs at the time, with a steampunk setting, a large amount of permanently playable characters, and a villain who did not start out as powerful or terrifying. The graphics were also a notable leap forward for RPGs, with lush detailed areas that made full use of the SNES’ color palette. The music doesn’t need any introduction; it is just as popular today as it was twenty years ago. Despite how many playable characters there were, each one had their own unique skills that changed how battles were fought, in addition to the large amount of customization possible. Final Fantasy VI will likely always be one of the most revered JRPGs for any system.
Number 7: Street Fighter II (Turbo Hyper Fighting)
Street Fighter II is one of the most influential games of all time, both popularizing a genre and keeping arcades alive throughout the 90s. In a time when home ports of arcade games often had to make huge sacrifices, Super Nintendo’s version of Street Fighter II was amazingly close to the arcade original. Being able to play the most popular arcade game of the decade at home was one of the biggest boosts the SNES had in the early 16-bit console wars and its port of Turbo Hyper Fighting — an enhanced version of SFII, which is why they’re lumped together — was just as impressive. The balance and personality of the world warriors outshines many fighters to this day. All of the special moves and techniques from the arcade game are intact in the SNES version and the graphics look almost as good. It is quite possibly the most faithful arcade port on the SNES and of one of the best arcade games of its generation.
Number 6: Super Castlevania IV
One of the first third-party series to get the Super treatment, Super Castelvania IV is a masterpiece that still has the best mechanics of any Castlevania to this day. I don’t know why it’s so hard to put in eight directional whipping again. Regardless, Castlevania IV takes everything good about Castlevania I and III and fixes all their problems. The gothic settings, abundance of monsters, and wonderful soundtrack are all made even better by the power of the Super Nintendo. The control is perfect, ensuring that, as challenging as the game gets, it is never cheap. The game is stuffed with levels and bosses and makes use of every trick the SNES was capable of at launch. The difficulty curve is as smooth as butter. This game is traditional Castlevania at its pinnacle and one of the best action platformers of all time. There has never been a better night to have a curse.
Number 5: Chrono Trigger
RPGs were finally starting to take off in North America during the mid-90s and Chrono Trigger was the 16-bit centerpiece. A time-traveling epic supported by some of the best graphics and music on the Super Nintendo, Chrono Trigger is the epitome of 2D RPGs. With a fast-paced, random battle-free combat system, personality-filled heroes and villains, and a double-digit amount of endings to unlock, Chrono Trigger had everything going for it. To this day, few games have used time travel so well in both story and gameplay. The story manages to remain focused and never become confusing, even with five eras that you will eventually be able to switch between whenever you want. Fast-paced and accessible while still being one of the most epic quests in gaming, Chrono Trigger remains one of the best RPGs of all time.
Number 4: Mega Man X
The highest-ranking third-party game on this list and one of my personal favorite games of all time, Mega Man X is everything a next generation sequel should be. The basic Mega Man formula is intact but improved in every way. The setting is more detailed and imposing while still having plenty of variety and color. The characters have a much more active role in the story. The levels have secrets that let you upgrade X, giving you a real sense of growing in power throughout the game. The interface is greatly improved. The dashing and wall climbing mechanics open new gameplay possibilities while removing frustrating limitations in the classic Mega Man games. The levels are action platforming at its pinnacle. The game is enjoyable whether it’s your first, tenth, or hundredth time. An eternal classic, there isn’t anything else to say.
Number 3: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The original Legend of Zelda had a lot of great ideas and was mind-blowing when it was first released, but there were some very rough edges and unrealized potential. The seeds sown by the original Zelda sprouted in A Link to the Past. The game still had a huge world you could explore with few limits, but you weren’t forced to wander around blindly until you found a dungeon entrance or bombed the right random wall. You had an even bigger arsenal of items, but they were used in much better puzzles. There was loads of combat, but diagonal movement and swinging your sword instead of stabbing it made it fun instead of frustrating. The game was so beloved that, over twenty years later, it received a direct sequel, arguably the first in Zelda history. A Link to the Past will likely always be the biggest leap forward for the Zelda franchise.
Number 2: Super Metroid
Like Zelda, Metroid had an innovative and iconic first game that didn’t reach its true potential, had an 8-bit sequel that was in many ways a lateral move, and grew into something truly spectacular when it came to the Super Nintendo. Super Metroid offers everything the original did, improves it in every way, and adds new ideas. The control is perfect, the world is masterfully designed and huge, there are secrets absolutely everywhere, you have a map, and you’re getting new abilities throughout the game that are great for both combat and exploration. The graphics and music build the atmosphere perfectly and there’s even an emotional plot point near the end. The Metroid series might have gone into hibernation after Super Metroid, but it couldn’t have left on a higher note.
Number 1: Super Mario World
Super Mario World is a Super-charged version of an NES classic like several other games on this list; the Mario series is a little different, however. Mario had already made a massive leap forward on the NES; Super Mario Bros. 3 was such a huge step forward for the series that it felt like it was next-generation. So what happened when Mario actually did arrive on the Super Nintendo? He got even better. Super Mario World took the superb level design from Super Mario Bros. 3, polished the controls to the point where it’s arguably still the best controlling 2D platformer, added bigger levels and secret path, and of course, introduced the world to Yoshi. It may be the first SNES game, but Super Mario World epitomizes everything the system stands for. The game has aged in a way that would put wine to shame and whether you want to discover the magic of the 16-bit era for the first time or experience it again, Super Mario World should be your first stop.