Skip to main content

The best SNES games of all time

16. F-Zero

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

Contra III 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!!

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

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

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 IV

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

Today the Super NES 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 III

All the aforementioned notions of cinematic storytelling come to a head in Final Fantasy III (actually FF6). 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 (we did already name it the 14th best game of all time). Final Fantasy VII gets a lot of praise for popularizing the JRPG, but lets be real--FF6 is the better game, with better characters, music, villains, and events, and it sold fantastically. If it had a cool (and misleading) CG commercial like FF7, odds are it would be the game most often trumpeted around as the Best Thing Ever.

8. Super Mario Kart

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

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.