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The best SNES games of all-time

SNES
(Image credit: Future)

There's a reasonable argument to be made that the SNES is the best video game console of all-time. That makes selecting a list of the 25 best SNES games particularly challenging, as the system is home to some of the most iconic and successful interactive entertainment experiences ever made. Propelled by the success of the NES, Nintendo launched the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 and, while it faced intense competition from the Sega Genesis in North America, it was the best SNES games that helped the system ensure its place in the history books.

One of the great things about Nintendo's 16-bit console is the diversity of the library. If you look at this list of the 25 best SNES games, there really is something for everybody. It's home to some of best RPG games, truly unbeatable platformers, and influential action-adventure games that helped shape the genre as we know it today.  So let's get into it: Here's our ranking of the best SNES games of all-time. 

For more definitive rankings of Nintendo games throughout the years: 

| Best NES games | Best N64 games | Best GameCube games | Best Wii games | Best Wii U games | Best GBA games | Best DS games | Best 3DS games | Best Switch games |

Best SNES games

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25. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Developer: Capcom
Released: 1991

Are you one of those people who think video games today are too difficult? Lets talk difficult for a second: Imagine you've slaved away at a side-scroller for hours, dying over and over again but still pressing on against insane amounts of ghosts, zombies, demons, and bugs, only to finish the game and be told nope, not done, do it all over! That is difficulty, but its also why Super Ghouls n Ghosts is such a fantastic game. Perhaps we were secret masochists back in those days, but we couldn't get enough of Sir Arthur's adventure no matter how many times we died. 

Powering him up, collecting different weapons, and fighting the ghastly hordes was addicting, and we all got a good laugh when poor Arthur was reduced to his boxers, even if we knew the next hit would kill us. If a game can remain fun while having an insane difficulty, we don't mind enduring the craziness... and that's exactly why Super Ghouls n Ghosts is so dear to our hearts.

24. TMNT: Turtles in Time

Developer: Konami
Released: 1992

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game set a high standard for arcade brawlers, but after Capcom released Final Fight, Konami knew it had to step its game up. What better way to do that than to send the turtles through time? Turtles in Time improves on everything the original Turtles game did and makes it even better, making it one of the best action games on the SNES. From Big Apple, 3 AM to Bury My Shell At Wounded Knee, each stage tested our mettle with all kinds of enemies, from the Foot Clan to charging dinosaurs in Prehistoric Turtlesaurus and ending with some insane boss fights. Also, mention Turtles in Time to a gaming music buff and prepare for some really awesome SNES-era music, especially the final boss battle. Our heads are still banging all these years later.

23. ActRaiser

Developer: Quintet
Released: 1990

Yet another launch-window game that blew us away, ActRaiser was a truly perfect mix of 2D action and city-building simulation. It kicks off with your godlike energy possessing a statue built in your honor, which you then use to hack away approaching monsters. Then, with the area clear, you take control of a worker angel and slowly rebuild civilization... but before long more monsters arrive and its back to ass-kicking you go. There is no modern equivalent to ActRaiser, and its this uniqueness that earns the game such a high spot. Its a rare case of a game splitting ideas 50/50, with two absolutely different styles of play, yet getting both totally right. Hard to come by today, almost unheard of in 1990.

22. Pilotwings

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1990

Released on launch day, Pilotwings was a shameless tech demo for the Super NES' Mode 7 scaling and rotation tricks. But in a rare turn of events, this graphical showcase was also a fully enjoyable flight sim that spawned a new Nintendo franchise, most recently seen on the 3DS. However, neither the N64 or 3DS sequels truly replace the original, as each have their own feel, plus wed argue this is the most replayable of them all. Its initial appeal may have been the graphics and sense of flight (such imagery just wasn't possible on NES or Genesis), but its flight-school presentation and variety of events (biplanes, parachuting, rocket belt, hang glider, and even a military chopper) made it last well past that easily impressed launch window.

21. Star Fox

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1993

Do you enjoy turning on your fancy new game console and seeing all of the crazy 3D graphics splash across your screen? Well, you can thank Star Fox for pioneering the use of full 3D graphics in a game. The Super FX chip powering this puppy was the first 3D graphics accelerator ever placed in a consumer product, and Nintendo had it made just for its new team of galactic animal pilots. Its a damn good thing the game was so much fun. The on-rails aerial combat of Star Fox brings back a lot of fond memories of blasting through Andross armies with lasers and bombs. We loved flying around the screen, dodging obstacles and doing barrel rolls even before we had to press Z or R twice. The only thing we would change about this gem is Slippy Toad; hindsight is always 20/20, and that damn toad is so annoying we don't want anything to do with him.

20. NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

Developer: Midway
Released:
1995

NBA Jam tore up the arcades from the day Midway released it, so it makes perfect sense that it would also tear up home consoles as soon as it was released. Gravity-defying dunks and hes on fire! (after three straight successful shots) rang out through all hours of the night in many a household, even those with families who didn't really like basketball. Half the fun is the insanity that happens on the court, but the other half is unlocking some pretty outrageous people to jam with. 

Team mascot like Benny the Bull and the Phoenix Gorilla make sense, but when The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the actual Prince of England, and the then-First Family of the USA are slamming the rock from 25 feet in the air, we've entered some awesome bizarre world that Space Jam couldn't touch. Oh, and NBA Jam didn't even need Michael Jordan to be great.

19. Kirby Super Star

Developer: HAL Laboratory
Released: 1996 

What a way to send off the Super NES. Even as the N64 was dominating sales charts in 1996, Kirby snuck in a remarkably generous, multi-game marathon of squeaky-clean greatness. On one cart came four Dream Land-sized adventures, plus a meaty item hunt called The Great Cave Offensive. Toss in a boss arena and a helping of not-crap minigames and you've got one of the best Kirby packages of all time--much more memorable than Dream Land 3 or the oddball Dream Course, which both fizzled on SNES, even if they were perfectly fine games. Super Star was rereleased on DS a couple of years ago with even more content, but wed still recommend the SNES original any day of the week. Plus its one of the defining moments of Kirby's ever-changing history, perhaps marking the first time Nintendo experimented with the formula.

18. Contra 3: The Alien Wars

Developer: Konami
Released: 1992

At its core, Contra 3 is an all-out action assault on the senses. Waves of enemies, titanic bosses, amazing power-ups, and all that insane crap that makes 2D shooters so endlessly rewarding are all over the place here. But more importantly, this was the first time a shooter felt like a real action movie, sucking us into each tension-filled moment with musical cues, intense sound effects, and genius pacing. Its the pinnacle of the Contra series and easily the best all-action game on the Super NES. 

Like we mentioned with Secret of Mana and other games in this list, the SNES marked the first time several types of games became genuinely cinematic. As an action game you wouldn't think Contra 3 would pull that off, but it does so in just about every level. The third level alone has enough intensity to rival Vanquish, which may be the only appropriate comparison.

17. Donkey Kong Country

Developer: Rare
Released: 1994

Not only did Donkey Kong Country's practically photo-realistic graphics blow our minds at the time, but DKC's gameplay still holds up beautifully too. Although Donkey and Diddy each handle differently, both exemplify what a great platformer is all about--running, jumping, jumping on things (or cartwheeling over things), jumping over things, and precision timing. To sweeten the deal, DKC also features the best in swinging on things, riding in things, riding on things, and collecting things (sometimes secret things!). Plus, DKC's relaxing water levels are easily the best of the genre.

16. F-Zero

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1990

As with Pilotwings, F-Zero was a day-one visual kick in the pants, offering neck-snapping speed that just wasn't possible on the NES. The visually arresting idea of courses floating a mile above a bustling cityscape cemented the idea you're screaming through impossibly constructed tracks far in the future, simultaneously creating a visually distinct game and subtly telling a story about the fictional future of racing in general. And as with all Nintendo games, the handling was dead-on, making every race a true test of speed-based skill. The N64 and GC versions of F-Zero are both amazing, but neither interferes with each other or the SNES original. All three are worth playing today for their own reasons, especially if you're still interested in hearing more classic SNES music.

15. Mega Man X

Developer: Capcom
Released: 1993

Contra 3 may be the SNES best pure action game, but Mega Man X wins when it comes to depth and inventiveness. It took a popular (but aging) character, updated him with fancy new abilities, and told a vaguely serious story to make a brand-new game that was both familiar yet delightfully fresh. So, while the action itself is less mind blowing than Contra III, there's more to see and do (namely discovering hidden power-ups and using boss weapons against their pals) in MMX, making it the all-around superior game. There was also a stronger allure around Mega Man X, as it was a stupidly popular series in the NES days, while Contra was great and known, but didn't command the fervor of Mega Man 2.0. That means millions more have deservedly strong attachments to MMX, which also counts for something.

14. Super Punch-Out!!

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1994

We've mentioned in the past how every Nintendo franchise experienced perfection on the Super NES. That couldn't be more true of Super Punch-Out!!, which took the accessible, addictive gameplay of the NES original and added more strategic options for those willing to dive a little deeper. Each of the games eccentric (racist?) boxers had a pattern that could be learned and exploited to such a degree that 100% perfect playthroughs were possible; however, you had to learn how to read the enemy and react accordingly. The fighters were huge, the animations were silly and, most importantly, the controls were absolutely perfect, making this one of the best-playing games on the system. The 2009 Wii sequel was quite good, and a worthy successor, but if we had to pick one boxing game to play forever, it'd be this one.

13. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Developer: Square
Released: 1996

In 1996, many a Nintendo fans mind was focused on the upcoming release of the Nintendo 64, bringing revolutionary graphics and untold gaming potential. However, one of the premier Mario games to ever release launched only a few months before, a collaboration between Nintendo and RPG juggernaut Squaresoft. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars changed how we looked at the plucky plumber, and were all better for it. 

Square brought its turn-based RPG expertise to the Mushroom Kingdom, and the result is one of the best RPGs on any Nintendo system. Its just easy enough to be approachable but also challenging for the hardcore crowd, and the story takes us on a journey worthy of Final Fantasy let alone Mario. Plus, the names Mallow and Geno will set any longtime Nintendo fans heart a-flutter, but you'll have to play the game to find out why.

12. Tetris Attack

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Released: 1995

Anyone who says Tetris is the best puzzle game ever obviously hasn't played Tetris Attack. Known by other names (Panel de Pon, Puzzle League), this incredibly addictive puzzler has eaten up countless hours of our lives, and wed happily give up more. Created by Nintendo's R&D2 team, the gameplay mechanic of swapping colored tiles quickly got complicated as the rising board ratcheted up the tension. Though there have been many remakes, there's something about the SNES original that kept us coming back. Was it the colorful, Yoshi's Island-inspired art? The catchy soundtrack? Or was it playing a versus match on the living-room TV and seeing the look on our friends face as we crushed their dreams of winning with a screen-filling garbage block?

11. Super Castlevania 4

Developer: Konami
Released:
1991

Before Symphony of the Night ushered in the free-roaming Metroidvania era of Castlevania, Super Castlevania IV delivered its best linear entry to date, which also doubled as a whirlwind tour of the Super NES abilities. From its stunning soundtrack to its frequent use of Mode 7, parallax scrolling, and spooky transparency effects, Super IV made its 16-bit advantages plainly clear. Comparing this to its NES cousins was like night and day. Super Castlevania IV also had its fair share of spectacle, with towering bosses, perfectly matched music, and set pieces that were not possible on earlier consoles. At the time it was a technical darling, easily convincing us all the SNES was a powerful machine worth owning--today, it remains a rock-solid action game that's infinitely replayable.

10. Secret of Mana

Developer: Square
Released:
1993

Today the SNES is known for its immortal selection of RPGs. The first two years had more than a few standout titles, but for our money the real rush of AAA games began with 1993's Secret of Mana, an action-RPG that could today be likened to a 2D Kingdom Hearts. Instead of turn-based slowness, you directly control one of three characters, while still able to dictate moves to the other two. The core idea worked great, but it was the atmosphere, story, and music that made it such a memorable adventure. Secret of Mana marked another milestone for cinematic SNES gameplay, pushing ever closer to the eventual perfection that would manifest in future games. Just watch the title screen and try to not feel inspired.

9. Final Fantasy 3

Developer: Square
Released: 1994

All the aforementioned notions of cinematic storytelling come to a head in Final Fantasy 3 (which, due to some confusing naming conventions across territories is actually Final Fantasy 6). Its ensemble cast suffers defeat after defeat, eventually losing their battle to save the world only to pick themselves up and try all over again. Each step in this arduous, emotional journey is expertly told with a bulky cartridge, a plastic controller, and technology that would today fit inside your back pocket; for it to remain so effective and so moving for so long after its 1994 release means it is a true work of art, and demands to sit high atop any list, regardless of platform. Final Fantasy 7 gets a lot of praise for popularizing the JRPG, but let's be real – Final Fantasy 6 is the better game, with better characters, music, villains, and events, and it sold fantastically. Do yourself a favor and give this RPG classic a try.

8. Super Mario Kart

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1992

Its hard to remember, but there was a time when the character-based, cute kart racer wasn't an incredibly tired and worn-out idea. Instead, at a time when racing was pretty much grounded in reality, and hardly cute, Mario and his friends had the novel idea of having adorable characters attack one another from small cars. And racing would never be the same again. Though Mario Kart as a concept has been iterated on many times, and as a concept has been pretty much perfected, we still love the original in its own way. It wasn't bogged down by at times clunky new abilities or crummy online support. The 2D visuals, the collection of racers and tracks, driving over coins; the original still has so much charm that we cant let it go.

7. Earthbound

Developer: Ape Inc. / HAL Laboratory
Released:
1994

The SNES was undoubtedly home to some of the best JRPGs ever made, but even among such esteemed company Earthbound (Mother 2) stands out. Released in a huge box that contained a strategy guide with puke-scented scratch-and-sniff stickers, Earthbound was clearly proud to be different. Its characters and bizarro world were rich with humor and spirituality, and the psychedelic color palette and contemporary setting contrasted sharply with the medieval fantasy RPGs on the market. 

While Earthbound's game mechanics stuck pretty closely to the traditional JRPG template, its surreal world, excellent localization, and brilliant experimental soundtrack created an experience unlike anything else. It also contains one of video gaming's very best endings, a scary, touching climax to a game that, despite its jokes and wackiness, proudly professed the power of friendship and love. If you have a taste for the odd or weird, Earthbound cannot be recommended enough, there's really nothing else like it.

6. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1995

By the mid-90s the Mario developers had little to prove, as they'd consistently created timeless platformers that were the biggest games in the world. But before they left behind two dimensions to then define what a 3D platformer was in Mario 64, they decided to make one last 2D adventure for the SNES. Using their considerable expertise and knowledge of platformer design they created a spin-off to Super Mario World starring Yoshi that's still seen by many as the pinnacle of design for the genre. 

Just as platformers were becoming edgier and focused on slick visuals, Miyamoto's team doubled down on cuteness, but Yoshis Islands crayon-colored visuals masked a game full of incredibly sophisticated 2D game design. With levels custom-made for Yoshi's floating, butt-stomping, and egg-throwing attributes, each new area was cleverer than the last. The boss fights were some of the best in franchise history and even a screaming Baby Mario couldn't ruin the fun. Yoshi's Island proved that classic gameplay could still matter in the mid-90s, and still does today.

5. Street Fighter 2 Turbo

Developer: Capcom
Released: 1992

Many fighting game fans cite Street Fighter 2 on the SNES as the first fighting game they ever played. While we agree that the original SF2 was the trailblazer for the 2D fighting genre, Street Fighter 2 Turbo perfected the 2D brawling even more, adding the four bosses as playable characters and introducing the world to a hyper fighting speed that some still use today. This is the quintessential Super Nintendo fighting game. The game was everything we loved about Street Fighter, only made better. We could finally play as Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison; the new fighting speeds created fresh fighting strategies; and the precise timing on special moves now required because of that fighting speed made pulling off some moves more difficult than ever. But what fighting-game aficionado is going to pass up a challenge?

4. Super Mario World

Developer: Nintendo
Released:
1994

After seemingly perfecting the Mario formula with Super Mario Bros. 3, you'd think the devs would rest on their laurels. Instead, the team almost immediately got to work on trying to top their genre-defining, multimillion seller and get that successor ready for the launch of Nintendo's second home console. And, as hard as it is to believe, they created a game that topped its predecessor in almost every way. Building on the rock-solid foundation of Mario 3, Super Mario Worlds energetic graphics immediately grabbed your attention with colors far more vibrant than anything seen on the Genesis, let alone the NES. 

The classic Mario gameplay was there, but augmented by new tricks and abilities, not the least of which included your new dinosaur pal Yoshi. Hard to imagine now that one of the systems all-time classics wouldn't just be a launch game, but was also packed in with the system, but that's just how unbelievable that era was.

3. Super Metroid

Developer: Nintendo
Released:
1994

We're not shy in saying that the SNES is where Nintendo perfected its craft. Nowhere is that more true than Super Metroid, which drastically improved on both its predecessors by adding a map, new powers, new monsters and insane amounts of detail crammed into every claustrophobic room. And that detail is the real genius of Super Metroid--how its story is told and how planet Zebes and its denizens are conveyed; the game tells so much with so little, using subtle moments and music cues to accentuate events that other games would shout from the heavens. In this regard, its only real modern equivalent is Portal. Even BioShock, which literally states its purpose, is blunt by comparison.

Its explorative, backtracking nature was copied by Symphony of the Night, and more recently, Shadow Complex, proving its endlessly repeatable nature. It was aped five years later, now 18 years later, and will continue to inspire new titles into the future. Outland, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Cave Story, and others take their cues from this towering achievement in 2D gaming. 

2. Chrono Trigger

Developer: Square
Released: 1995

What is there left to say about Chrono Trigger? Its arguably the Last Great JRPG before cutscenes and absurd, zipper-laden outfits hijacked the genre. As with FF6, the characters are at the heart of the games greatness, but in Triggers case theres a pervasive sense of real friendship, that these people, pulled from across time and space, genuinely care for each other. They save not just the world, but reality itself, and it all starts with a silent everyman hero defiantly sleeping the day away; there is no comparison for the journey taken and the places seen in Chrono Trigger, and we doubt any RPG will ever come close. 

There's just so much variety in design, thought, and execution that only a dream team of Japanese developers could pull it off without making it a confusing mess. The buildup to the games final battle is suitably engrossing, but its the ending that really seals the deal for Triggers undying adoration. A teary-eyed goodbye from friends and allies, all wrapped up with a whimsical, Miyazaki-esque adventure through the skies with nothing but a handful of balloons. Movie magic on your SNES, at the same time everyone is flipping out over the Saturn and PlayStation. Oh, if only we knew what we were leaving behind.

A Link to the Past

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Developer: Nintendo
Released: 1991

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past isn't just the best 2D Zelda game or the best SNES game, it's arguably one of the best video games of all-time. The way A Link to the Past shifted between the Dark World and Light World was a transformative mechanic at the time, massively expanding the scope of Link's adventure. With its rich complexity and elegant simplicity, A Link to the Past is considered to be a seminal action-RPG from Nintendo – a game that continues to influence and inspire new generations of game makers decades later. 

The combat is diverse and challenging, the puzzles are carefully crafted, and the dungeons are masterfully designed. You're encouraged to explore the open world and experiment with Link's expanding equipment set, with the game constantly and organically opening itself up as you do. There's no such thing as a perfect video game... but The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comes damn close. 


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Josh West is Features Editor of GamesRadar+. With over 10 years experience in both online and print journalism, Josh has written for a number of gaming, entertainment, music, and tech publications, including 3D Artist, Edge, gamesTM, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. He holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing, has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh plays bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.