It’s been almost three decades since Nintendo debuted its beloved 16-bit console, but we still haven’t forgotten its contributions to the golden age of gaming. It was the home of not only the best platformers of the day but also a console that brought the best RPGs Japan had to offer. The SNES was the birthplace of the Metroidvania as well as the first console to let us kart race with Mario and friends.
There are so many classic titles on the SNES that a few have fallen by the wayside over the years. The console boasts one of the greatest catalogs of games ever released on a platform and it’s time to celebrate that. Here are the 25 best SNES games of all time:
25. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
1992 | Konami
We all remember the classics of the 16-bit era, but it was also a time when every single cartoon, movie, and toy line had a questionable video game attached to it. The exception to this rule was the TMNT games, which stand as some of the finest beat ‘em ups ever created. A sequel to the beloved and better known Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, Turtles in Time‘s levels take place throughout all of history, resulting in plenty variety, even if the gameplay hasn’t changed much.
The SNES version also added a bunch of new enemies, bosses, and levels over the arcade version, making it the preferred way to play Turtles in Time. It even plays better than the 3D remake released on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
24. Harvest Moon
1997 | Amccus
It’s really amazing that the Harvest Moon series has thrived in North America. Yes, the game is great, but an RPG about farming isn’t exactly an easy sell. In the mid-‘90s, the video game market was still dominated by platformers and action games. Plus, it came out well after the release of the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and the Sega Saturn — a console generation that introduced 3D graphics to gaming.
Those who stuck with the SNES to check out Harvest Moon found a charming life simulator about managing crops and livestock while making friends in a new town. It may not be the most exciting game, but anyone who has put some time into it can vouch that it’s one of the most addictive.
23. Super Mario All-Stars
1993 | Nintendo
Long before remasters were a regular occurrence, Nintendo took its already classic Super Mario Bros. NES titles, re-did the graphics and sound, and released them all in one package on the SNES. To top things off, the package included a then-rare save feature and the super difficult Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, which hadn’t been released in North America up to that point.
The first three Super Mario Bros. games are absolute classics that every gamer should experience, and while the original versions hold up very well, Super Mario All-Stars is arguably the best way to experience these titles.
1991 | Nintendo
The Big N doesn’t get nearly enough credit for basically inventing modern racing games. F-Zero pioneered pseudo-3D racing using the SNES’s Mode 7 graphics, which is still the basis for most racing games. F-Zero’s graphics may not be as impressive now, but it’s still not too hard on the eyes, and the racing still feels fast-paced and challenging, even in the age of Forza.
It’s too bad that Nintendo doesn’t seem interested in making an HD sequel of the futuristic racer. We haven’t seen a new game in the series since 2004.
21. Contra III: The Alien Wars
1992 | Konami
Contra and its sequel Super C were among the best games released on the NES, so expectations were high for the SNES follow up. Thankfully, Konami delivered a game that upped the ante with even more ridiculous setpieces (like riding a motorcycle and a missile), better graphics than ever, and the series’ trademark tough-but-fair difficulty. There’s a reason why The Alien Wars is often called the best game in the long-running series.
20. Secret of Mana
1993 | Square
Square’s take on the action RPG genre is remembered fondly for its lush graphics, memorable soundtrack, and three-player co-op gameplay. While some say it surpasses The Legend of Zelda series, the sometimes finicky combat doesn’t quite hold up as well as older games in the Nintendo series.
If you do want to experience Secret of Mana again, or for the first time, just remember to stick with the SNES version. The title has been remade twice now, but neither of those versions has the same charm as the original.
19. Super Mario Kart
1992 | Nintendo
Fun fact: Super Mario Kart started off as just a vague idea to create a two-player racing game to complement F-Zero, which was single-player only. It was only well into development that Nintendo decided Mario and the gang would fit the game, and thus Nintendo stumbled onto one of its biggest franchises.
While the racing and battle modes are still pretty fun, Super Mario Kart is best experienced as a piece of nostalgia as opposed to your go-to racer. But the original’s legacy is undeniable, as it paved the way for all of its even better successors.
1991 | Quintet
At its core, ActRaiser is a fairly standard platformer, and its city-building gameplay is downright simplistic. Yet by combining those things with a unique take on Judeo-Christian mythology, the result is one of the best and most underrated games of the 16-bit era.
While ActRaiser is often cited as one of the best games of its time by hardcore gamers and developers, there’s been little interest in revisiting its ideas. Games like Dark Cloud and Dragon Quest Builders have offered similar experiences, but even those lack the spark that made ActRaiser so beloved. ActRaiser itself has been dormant since an also-excellent SNES sequel.
17. Street Fighter II Turbo
1993 | Capcom
The ‘90s were the heyday of fighting games, but with a few exceptions, most of those titles have been long forgotten. Then there’s the classic Street Fighter II. Capcom stumbled onto something big with this sequel’s combo system, allowing players to strategize like never before and eke out victories when defeat seemed all but certain. Add in a cast of instantly iconic characters from around the globe and a pumped-up soundtrack, and you have the recipe for one of the best fighters ever made.
16. Super Castlevania IV
1991 | Konami
Castlevania had already made a name for itself as one of gaming’s premier franchises on the NES. When the series made the jump to 16-bit, the Metroidvania genre that we all know and love today hadn’t yet been established, so Konami opted for a bigger, better version of the NES games. This was a Castlevania that was super in every conceivable way, with detailed graphics, a haunting soundtrack, and much smoother controls than the slightly clunky NES entries.
While Castlevania IV has been surpassed by many of its sequels that have opted for more exploration and RPG mechanics, there’s still an argument to be made that it’s the very best of the original sidescrolling titles.
15. Donkey Kong Country
1994 | Rare
Donkey Kong was the original face of Nintendo during the early arcade days, but by the time the SNES had rolled around, the big ape had been overshadowed by a certain Italian plumber. Meanwhile, the big ape hadn’t starred in a game in years, and Donkey Kong Jr., the original baddie’s son, only had a supporting role in Super Mario Kart.
Fortunately, Donkey Kong Country used then-revolutionary 3D sprites to bring new life to the character. At the time, no other game had the same level of detail. In fact, there still aren’t many games that look like it. Admittedly, the gameplay isn’t quite as smooth as many of the other contemporary Nintendo titles. At times, the game can be downright frustrating, but DKC is still worth the occasional playthrough, as are its many sequels.
14. NBA Jam
1994 | Midway
There was a time when sports games didn’t try so hard to simulate the real thing while squeezing every last penny out of players through microtransactions. You used to just pick an NBA star (or maybe a Mortal Kombat character or a U.S. president), head to the court, and proceed to repeatedly jump 50 feet in the air to dunk on your opponents while setting the ball on fire. It was a simpler time.
NBA Jam is basketball in only the loosest sense of the word, but by throwing out most of the rulebook and focusing on action and pure fun, it morphed into a classic game that even players who care little for sports can enjoy.
13. Tetris Attack
1995 | Nintendo
Don’t be fooled by the Tetris name, that was just for branding. This is a brand new puzzle game where you must match colored blocks in groups of three or more as they slowly rise from the bottom of the screen. While the single player mode is pretty great and includes a bunch of characters from Yoshi’s Island, the real highlight is the two-player mode. Tetris Attack is one of the best competitive puzzlers around.
Nintendo hasn’t tried to co-opt the Tetris name again for the series, but has released a couple of follow-ups: Planet Puzzle League for the DS and the equally beloved Pokemon Puzzle League for the Nintendo 64.
12. Super Punch-Out!!
1994 | Nintendo
The original Punch-Out!! is still considered one of the greatest games of all time, and Nintendo didn’t change much for the sequel. This is still boxing mixed with professional wrestling featuring big, ridiculous characters, except they look better than ever, thanks to the power of the SNES.
Maybe it’s the complete lack of Mike Tyson or the slightly inferior music, but Super Punch-Out!! isn’t remembered quite as fondly as the NES original. The pattern-based matches have held up well though, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better arcade boxing game.
11. Kirby Super Star
1996 | Nintendo
While the Kirby franchise is still very popular, the most consistent criticism of these games is usually that they’re too short and light on content. Kirby Super Star is the rare exception to that rule, boasting seven unique gameplay segments, plus two shorter minigames that feature multiplayer. The result is one of the most diverse and deep games in the Kirby series, if not the SNES’s entire library.
Oddly enough, despite being so fondly remembered and often lauded as the best in the series, none of the sequels have attempted to duplicate the same gameplay style as Super Star.
10. Final Fantasy II
1991 | Square
We now call it Final Fantasy IV, but originally it went by a different name because the second and third games weren’t released in the U.S. until years later. Without experiencing those games, Final Fantasy II was light years ahead of the original, featuring the debut of the Active Time Battle system that defined the series for more than a decade, as well as the first real cinematic storytelling in the series.
While Final Fantasy II on the SNES has aged just fine, later ports that improved the sound and graphics, and most importantly, cleaned up the translation, are really the best way to experience this gem.
9. Super Mario RPG
1996 | Square
Square was pumping out classic RPGs at such a ridiculous rate in the ‘90s that even Nintendo jumped at the chance to work with the company. The two companies expedited the process, with development only lasting a little over a year, but somehow in that time, Square came up with one of the funniest and best-looking games on the SNES. Super Mario RPG stands out as one of the finest RPGs and Mario games of all time.
Despite its pedigree and strong reception, Square and Nintendo have never worked together on another Mario RPG. The Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series games that eventually sprung out of the collaboration have all been developed by Nintendo and its close affiliates without any involvement from Square.
8. Mega Man X
1993 | Capcom
With a whopping six games released on the NES, the original Mega Man series was getting a bit stale by the early ‘90s. Mega Man X injected new life into the series with a more mature protagonist and faster gameplay that allowed him to dash and climb. Still, the basic combat and ability to choose which robot master to face next ensured that Mega Man X didn’t stray too far from its roots.
A ridiculous number of sequels have followed in the X series (and multiple other Mega Man subseries), and while X2 and X3 on the SNES are also fine games, there’s a very good argument to be made that Capcom still hasn’t surpassed the original Mega Man X as the best game in the entire franchise.
1995 | Nintendo
Released at a time when console RPGs meant questing through a medieval fantasy world, most gamers just weren’t ready for EarthBound in the ‘90s. Unusually funny, clever, surreal, and self-referential, Ness’ sci-fi-tinged story is both about saving the world and exploring western culture from an outsider’s perspective — something that’s still rarely seen in video games.
While the game sold abysmally in the States upon release, then became a sought-after collector’s item, it’s now finally easy to experience this classic, thanks to the Wii U, New 3DS, and SNES Classic. Maybe one day Nintendo will finally cave and give us some version of the still Japan-only sequel, Mother 3.
6. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
1995 | Nintendo
Yoshi’s Island is an excellent example of how Nintendo prefers to only make sequels when it has fresh ideas to justify them. A sequel to Super Mario World that just featured the same gameplay in new worlds would have sold millions, but Nintendo decided to put in the extra work to craft a game centered on Mario’s dinosaur pal, Yoshi, with more puzzles and a focus on Yoshi’s ability to swallow items and spit them out. The new hand-drawn graphics also separated it from Super Mario World (and the rest of the SNES catalog). In fact, Yoshi’s Island may very well be the best looking game on the SNES.
While developed and marketed as a sequel to Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island went on to spawn its own series of platformers featuring the beloved dinosaurs, although none are as well regarded as the original.
5. Final Fantasy III
1994 | Square
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Final Fantasy III (or VI as it’s called now) forever changed RPGs. The setting, a steampunk world inspired by the late 19th century, showed gamers that great RPGs didn’t have to be set in the usual high fantasy worlds. The story, which sees the bad guy achieve his goal, played with fan expectations of the genre and changed Final Fantasy games going forward. What’s really amazing about the story is how its tale is told, though. Even with 16-bit sprites, the game feels more cinematic than a lot of modern releases full of lengthy videos.
4. Super Mario World
1991 | Nintendo
Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the debut of each new Mario game was meant to completely change our perceptions of video games. We had all played the NES Super Mario Bros. games at this point, and as beloved as they were, nothing could prepare us for World’s massive interconnected map and its numerous secrets. While the cape power-up wasn’t as revolutionary as Mario’s raccoon costume, the addition of Yoshi created tons of new strategies for playing a Mario game. And it can’t be overstated how mind-blowing the graphics and sound were compared to anything on the NES.
There’s a very good argument to be made that Nintendo still hasn’t made a better Mario game since Super Mario World. Even the better graphics and four-player co-op of the New Super Mario Bros. games haven’t topped this legendary platformer.
3. Chrono Trigger
1995 | Square
Square had no trouble pumping out the hits in the ‘90s, but all those games were just appetizers for what stands up as the greatest RPG of the 16-bit generation. Chrono Trigger features seven different time periods to explore, more than a dozen endings, and a deep combat system focused on combining the attacks of your characters.
All of these features have shown up in games since, but none have managed to execute them quite as well, and none look as good as Chrono Trigger‘s Akira Toriyama-designed world. Square went on to make many beloved RPGs on the PlayStation, but looking back, its swansong on the SNES may very well be where the developer peaked.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The first Legend of Zelda game on the NES was heralded as an instant classic, so of course, Nintendo followed it up with a bizarre 2D platformer that confuses fans to this day. Thankfully, the third game in the series, which arrived on the SNES, went back to the top-down view and dungeon crawling that we all know and love.
A Link to the Past’s overworld is engrossing enough on its own, but what has really made the game so beloved is its second Dark World map, which you use to solve many of the game’s puzzles. Even though Zelda games have grown much larger in scope since A Link to the Past, it’s still easy to get lost in its world for dozens of hours.
1. Super Metroid
1994 | Nintendo
Super Metroid is nearly perfect. The atmosphere, influenced by sci-fi movies like Aliens and expertly enhanced by its foreboding soundtrack, was unmatched for its time. The graphics and character designs are still among the best in gaming, and Samus’s journey through the planet Zebes to find ever more power-ups is expertly paced — an example that would influence many Metroidvania games that came after.
Though the series has seen its ups and downs, Super Metroid remains a game that can be unequivocally recommended to all types of gamers, and such an incredible achievement in the medium that playing through it should be a requirement for every aspiring developer.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.