The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) might just be the greatest video game console ever made. It dominated the market, made the adjective “super” a staple of every millennial’s vocabulary, and was home to some of the best games ever made. The original NES had a legendary lineup of games, but its successor took things to a new level. The best SNES games played and looked better than anything else in existence. All these years later, they still look great.
Some of the biggest video game franchises — Zelda, Final Fantasy, Street Fighter, etc. — achieved levels of quality that have yet to be surpassed nearly 25 years down the line. Entries in these series are all available on the SNES Classic — a console Nintendo has continued. Of the 25 games we included on our list of the best SNES games, 18 of them are included on the plug-and-play system, so there has never been a better time to educate yourself on gaming history and have some retro fun. Others are also available to play as part of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Games are added to this service on a continuous basis, so your favorites just might be included at a later date.
25. Mortal Kombat II
U.S. Release Date: September 9, 1994
Developer: Midway Games, Sculptured Software
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
The original Mortal Kombat made waves because of its gruesome and theretofore unseen levels of violence, but the second installment made waves because it was a damn good fighting game. Admittedly, the early Mortal Kombat games have been long-since surpassed in terms of gameplay, but at the time they were something special. The hyper-violent gore was novel, but it also was one of the first game to feel like an “adult” experience. In hindsight, they were certainly more juvenile than “mature,” but along with games like Doom, the Mortal Kombat series pushed the appropriate-content envelope and made video games appealing to older audiences. In the context of the series, Mortal Kombat II was an important game because it brought quicker gameplay and new combos that would go on to define the way subsequent games series played. Of course, Mortal Kombat III introduced new characters and expanded the series’ fiction, but from a gameplay standpoint, Mortal Kombat II was the progenitor for what the series has become today: a pillar of the fighting game genre.
24. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
U.S. Release Date: August 1992
For a genre as emblematic of the late ’80s and early ’90s, it may come as a surprise that this list features just a single beat ‘em up. The sad truth is, of the classic gaming genres, beat ‘em ups simply haven’t aged well as others. A product of a time when arcade games were difficult and sought to continuously milk gamers of their pocket change, beat ‘em ups often feel repetitive and flat by today’s standards. Even by the late ’90s, video games had, for the most part, evolved past the “beat everyone up and move right,” design philosophy. That said, there are some games that overcame the trappings of their genre to live on as something worthwhile. Turtles in Time is, bar none, the best beat ‘em up on the SNES, and potentially the best game the genre has ever produced.
Taking up the bandanna of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, or Raphael along with a friend and testing your mettle against Shredder and a host of enemies plucked from different eras of history was every ’90s kid’s dream. The SNES version was a minor step down graphically from the arcade version, but otherwise, it was a near-perfect port. The controls felt smooth and responsive and maintained the speed and fluidity of the arcade version. This is an integral part of what made Turtles in Time so great and why it remains a joy to play. Unless you want to get the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade1Up system, it’s the best way to play it at home.
23. Kirby’s Dream Course
U.S. Release Date: September 21, 1994
Developer: HAL Laboratory, Nintendo EAD
While Kirby is better known for his classic side-scrolling adventures, his best game on the SNES was, surprisingly, a golf title of all things. What makes Kirby’s Dream Course such a dream to play is that the game behaves consistently, something we can’t say about other golf games on the system. The physics were by no means realistic, but they did behave logically, which made getting better at the game’s six, complex courses an enjoyable exercise. The classic Kirby enemies and power-ups sprinkling each stage pushed the game beyond being a simple golf game, and the masterfully crafted stages make Kirby’s Dream Course both the best golf game on the SNES and the best Kirby game.
22. Star Fox
U.S. Release Date: March 26, 1993
The SNES is most often remembered for pushing 2D graphics, especially given some of the most beautiful sprite work ever done appeared on Nintendo’s 16-bit hardware. But many often overlook the inclusion of the Mode 7 Chip — a small addition that allowed for 3D rendering.
Generally, the effects the Mode 7 chip churned out were minimal, likely just flashy 3D animations over 2D sprites. Star Fox flipped that, focusing on 3D polygonal graphics and using sprites for additional flair. Star Fox’s graphics may have been impressive at the time — they haven’t aged well, as is the case with most games with early 3D graphics — but the reason it makes our list is because it was a rush to play. The action unfolds across numerous stages, each taking place on different planet or sector of the Lylat solar system. Each stage also varies in difficulty, with branching paths, making for high replayability. The gameplay highlighting each stage as you piloted the iconic ArWing was reminiscent of 2D shoot-’em-up side-scrollers, but from a perspective that gave the feeling of actually flying the starfighter, which was something console gamers had never experienced before. Thanks to critical and commercial success, Star Fox went on to become a long-running Nintendo franchise, but the original game still stands as one of the best — and that includes the un-canceled Star Fox 2.
U.S. Release Date: August 23, 1991
Developer: Nintendo EAD
F-Zero was an impressive feat back when it launched alongside the SNES in 1991. The fast-paced racer looked and played like no other racing game that came before it. What made F-Zero such a great showcase of the SNES’ horsepower was the sense of speed the game conveyed. Tracks and vehicles zipped across the screen, and the futuristic sci-fi aesthetic of the ships and environments popped thanks to the system’s powerful, newly minted hardware. F-Zero’s cast of racers and their iconic sci-fi vehicles further set the game apart from other racing games on the system and endeared themselves in the hearts of fans. That said, it’s no surprise fans are eager for a new F-Zero given how few games Nintendo has released in the series.
20. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
U.S. Release Date: May 31, 1996
Super Mario RPG is something of a pariah in the pantheon of great SNES RPGs. It’s more of an RPG-lite, in that the story and character building aspects the genre is known for are truncated. Super Mario RPG instead plays more like a traditional Super Mario game at times, resulting in a more light-hearted, action-oriented take on the role-playing genre. However, the game also laid the groundwork for Nintendo’s more recent RPGs, like Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario. Both borrow heavily from Super Mario RPG’s gameplay, taking into account facets such as timed attacks and integral plot twists, the latter of which sees you teaming up with Mario’s arch nemesis, Bowser. While not a particularly difficult game, Super Mario RPG is fun and charming and is an important title in the Super Mario franchise.
U.S. Release Date: May, 1993
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: Data East
The SNES is fondly remembered as one of the bastions of the Japanese role-playing game, but one of the system’s best RPGs had nothing to do with crystals, medieval castles, or ancient magic. It was also developed in the U.S.
Shadowrun, based on a tabletop roleplaying game of the same name, stood out from its contemporaries thanks to its unique setting and real-time action gameplay. The game was set in a cyberpunk metropolis during the year 2050 and followed a crime-noir plot loosely based on the novel Never Deal with a Dragon, written by game creator Robert N. Charrette.
While players encountered elves, orcs, samurai, wizards, etc., these fantasy tropes were presented with a unique futuristic flair. Shadowrun also played differently than most other console RPGs at the time, closer resembling PC RPGs from the era. The action unfolded in real time, providing players direct control over protagonist Jake Armitage.
The title’s unique setting and gameplay earned it critical success, but sadly, it still failed to sell many copies. The series wallowed in obscurity for years and was made worse due to a failed Xbox 360 and PC FPS set in the same universe. Thankfully, after years of calls for remakes and sequels, a successful Kickstarter campaign resurrected the franchise with Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun Dragonfall.
U.S. Release Date: November 1991
ActRaiser was a unique game for its time and remains so to this day. The game gets resounding props for successfully being two games at once, both an action-platformer and a city builder. Players embodied “The Master” — aka the God of ActRaiser’s world — who manipulates a warrior statue, who’s also the playable character during the platforming levels, and issues commands to a cherubic angel who serves as the playable character during the city-sim sequences.
The melding of the two styles was not what we would call smooth, though. The city building and platforming looked and played remarkably different, even if both contributed equally to the overall meta-goals of the game. In a strange way, the jarring differences between the two styles added to the charm of the game. Moreover, both modes were well done and the overall package was extremely fun to play.
Sadly, the city sim elements were abandoned in ActRaiser’s sequel and the series faltered somewhat. That’s not to say ActRaiser 2 is a bad game, per se, it’s just missing much of what made the original stand out. Still, while the sequel may not be as well-regarded, ActRaiser remains one of the most unique games ever made. A spiritual successor called SolSeraph tried to capture the same magic in 2019, but fell flat on its face.
17. Contra III: The Alien Wars
U.S. Release Date: April 6, 1992
Contra III is probably the most exciting game to play on this list. From the first frame of the first level, the action is unrelenting. After the opening cinematic, where a massive laser pierces the black clouds above a city reducing the metropolis to ruins, Contra III is a non-stop barrage of bullets and enemies, all rendered beautifully on the SNES’ robust 16-bit hardware.
The third entry in Konami’s action franchise introduced big changes to the classic Contra gameplay, too, such as more weapon choices and new dual-wielding combinations. The well-received additions brought new depth and strategy to the series, but they only played second fiddle to the real reason Contra III made our list: The co-op.
Up until the current generation of consoles, couch co-op was one of the most enjoyable aspects of gaming. The Contra series, and Contra III, in particular, is one of the best examples. Heading over to your friend’s house, or teaming up with your siblings to take down some alien scum is, for many, a cherished childhood memory. Contra III would be on this list no matter what considering it’s the best entry in the Contra series, but it’s the memories of late-night, two-player marathons that make the game something special.
16. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
U.S. Release Date: November 28, 1991
On the surface, Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts looks like any other side-scrolling platformer, but tackling the game’s gauntlet of challenging and unrelenting levels like it was any other Super Mario-like platformer is a one-way ticket to broken controllers.
Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a hard game. The player-controlled character moves slowly and is easily killed, enemies come at you from every angle, and deadly obstacles pop out of nowhere to inflict pain and frustration. However, Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is — for the most part — a fair game. Everything from enemy patterns to jump timing can be memorized and perfected. Mastering Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts gave an unparalleled sense of accomplishment. Something as simple as timing a perfect jump could bring out joyous sighs of relief in players. It was those moments that made enduring the punishment worth it.
Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts‘ difficulty kept the game from reaching the sales and audience that other games of the era may have had, but its challenging design philosophy paved the way for contemporary classics such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
15. Mega Man X2
U.S. Release Date: December 17, 1993
When the Mega Man series made the jump from the 8-bit era to the 16-bit, the notoriously challenging side-scrolling series took on a new form. Embracing a darker story and expanding gameplay thanks to the capabilities of Nintendo’s new hardware, Capcom’s beloved blue robot took on a new identity with Mega Man X.
Previously, Mega Man titles focused on straightforward levels that could be accessed in any order. The Mega Man X games retained that free-form level selection, but Capcom fleshed out the level design to include alternate paths and hidden areas, thus encouraging exploration and multiple playthroughs. Mega Man X continued on as its own separate series alongside the core Mega Man franchise, and its sequel, Mega Man X 2, took all the changes Mega Man X made and polished them with better weapons, bosses, and levels. While there are still debates happening in pockets of the internet over which of the Mega Man series is the better of the two, we can all agree that Mega Man X 2 is one of the SNES’ best games.
14. Super Mario All-Stars
U.S. Release Date: July 14, 1993
Developer: Nintendo, Nintendo EAD
Before the age of backward compatibility, or the more recent trend of re-releasing old games, the only real way to replay old games was by hooking up your outdated console to your TV and digging up your old stack of games. In a rather brilliant move for the time, Nintendo bundled up the most popular NES games — Super Mario Bros 1-3 and the Japan-only The Lost Levels — into a single SNES cartridge titled Super Mario All-Stars.
These versions were upgraded with 16-bit graphical makeover and allowed for multiple save files, which was something the originals lacked entirely. The collection also marked the first time the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as The Lost Levels in the United States) made it stateside. Unlike the U.S. version of Super Mario Bros 2, which was in actuality a non-Mario games Doki Doki Panic reskinned, The Lost Levels was an incredibly challenging collection of levels in the same style as the original Super Mario Bros. The inclusion made Super Mario All-Stars a must-have title, but the other three titles made the cartridge into a collector’s item that still sells for a pretty penny today.
13. Donkey Kong Country
U.S. Release Date: November 20, 1994
The Donkey Kong Country games were graphical marvels for the SNES. Instead of relying on tiled sprites, Donkey Kong Country used 3D models that were digitized into 2D assets. This unprecedented technique resulted in one of the most unique and visually striking styles of any game on the SNES. In addition to the unique visual style, the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country remains iconic of the generation, with a main theme that is easily recognizable and rivals that of Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. However, not only did the Donkey Kong Country games look and sound great, but they played great, too.
Donkey Kong Country, despite its ties to the Super Mario Bros. series, played very differently with more complex timing and an entirely different control scheme that gave Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong a weightiness that other platformer characters lacked at the time. In terms of level design, Donkey Kong Country is somewhat notorious for its difficulty. In fact, during the development, Nintendo asked Rare to rearrange the level placement and tone down certain parts they felt were too difficult. Many of these suggestions came from Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and The Legend of Zelda series. Rumors abound with regards to internal friction over the direction of the game, though many have been disregarded or denied. Whether the development was as contentious as some would have us believe or not, it led to one of the finest 2D platforming adventures on the SNES.
12. Super Castlevania IV
U.S. Release Date: October 31, 1991
Before Castlevania was known for the sprawling level design and deep RPG elements of Symphony of the Night and its sequels, Castlevania was one of the premier action-orientated scrolling series. The fourth installment, Super Castlevania IV, also ranks among the best of any genre.
The Castlevania series has always leaned heavily on its classic horror setting, and Super Castlevania IV is no different. The game opens with an appropriately creepy intro cinematic, which focuses on a shot of a single headstone in an austere field, as the orange sky darkens to purple and lightning flashes in the distance. Suddenly, a rogue bolt strikes the headstone, destroying it, and releasing a glowing bat from within — Dracula has risen! Super Castlevania IV’s intro is just one example of the game’s brilliant attention to detail. Few other games, whether of the SNES era or today, capture the same ominous sense that Super Castlevania IV did.
Super Castlevania IV also set itself apart from other games in that it requires a degree of patience and precision that many of its peers did not. The action and level design still play out as one would expect from an action game, but there are moments that require the player to consider their surroundings in order to progress. These moments helped Super Castlevania IV’s iconic atmosphere seep in, making it one of the most memorable games for the SNES.
11. Secret of Mana
U.S. Release Date: October 3, 1993
Secret of Mana is a bit of an anomaly for Square. Unlike the other Squaresoft titles on this list, Secret of Mana isn’t a traditional JRPG, but instead an exploration-heavy adventure title in the vein of The Legend of Zelda series. The story is admittedly thin and characters less-than interesting — something uncommon for Squaresoft games — but what Secret of Mana lacked in narrative depth it more than made up for with gameplay and a gorgeous pixel art style. A remake for PlayStation systems released during the PS4 generation failed to deliver in the same way.
Secret of Mana tells the story of a trio of young adventurers who slowly but surely find themselves to be the last hope of an ill-fated world. One of the coolest features of Secret of Mana was the ability to play with three players simultaneously through the Multitap peripheral, which enabled four controllers to be connected to an SNES through a single controller port. The ability to play with friends was exciting, but even as a single-player experience, Secret of Mana was a great game. The vast world led to hours of exploration, and while the open-ended nature of the playable areas in the game forced the storyline into being heavily truncated until the final hours of the game, getting there was still a memorable adventure.
10. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
U.S. Release Date: October 1995
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Nintendo faced a challenge in following up the immensely successful Super Mario World, the best selling SNES game of all time and a critically beloved title. Instead of simply churning out another version of Super Mario World, the company turned the series on its ear and released a thematically and aesthetically different game that surprised everyone: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Instead of the titular plumber, players control a cast of different colored Yoshis — Mario’s trusty dinosaur transport — as they carry the diaper-bound Baby Mario across their wild and hazard-filled island. Graphically, Yoshi’s Island took on a pastel story-book aesthetic that was a departure from the Super Mario series’ bright, primary-color-dominated look. Yoshi’s Island also differed from previous Mario games in terms of gameplay, which made the protection of Baby Mario the primary goal and gave Yoshi his own unique abilities, such as gobbling up enemies to turn them into eggs that could be fired off as projectiles. The abilities also opened up a slew of new avenues for level design, thus resulting in a game that has its own identity while retaining the Super Mario polish gamers had come to expect from the series.
9. Super Mario Kart
U.S. Release Date: September 1, 1992
Developer: Nintendo EAD
There is a theory in certain circles of the internet that states the first Mario Kart you play is always your favorite. Of course, that isn’t always the case — Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch is a damn good game — but Super Mario Kart was the first for many gamers who can remember the early ‘90s. Nintendo’s trademark polish remains, but we’d be lying if we said this wasn’t one of the few games on this list whose graphics haven’t stood the test of time. Despite that fact, though, Super Mario Kart shines as a multiplayer title and paved the way for what’s now the series’ biggest selling point. I mean, who hasn’t spent hours in a dorm room playing Mario Kart for the sake of bragging rights? Mario Kart has become Nintendo’s best-selling video game series to date, and Super Mario Kart is the game that started the phenomenon.
8. Street Fighter 2: Turbo
U.S. Release Date: February 23, 1994
Street Fighter II was an arcade sensation. It was the game that made fighting games an institution and created the entire community surrounding the genre. In the early ’90s, Street Fighter II was everything, including a go-to method by which feuds were formed and bets settled. Friendships were tested and champions were crowned in the cathode-ray glow of arcades across the world.
When the game finally came to home consoles, many rejoiced as the head-to-head competitions and tournaments could continue in the comfort of our homes. However, measured against the arcade version, the console version of Street Fighter II left something to be desired. Capcom aimed to rectify this disparity and released new versions of the game, the apex of which is Street Fighter 2: Turbo.
This version of the game brought about numerous changes to characters’ movesets and combos, while adding a number of new fighters to the fray. Most importantly, Street Fighter II: Turbo was faster than the original console port, hence the “Turbo” in the title, which was a major sticking point for fans. Now, there is some disagreement on whether the best SNES street fighter is Street Fighter II: Turbo, or its predecessor, Super Street Fighter II. However, for us, the speed of Street Fighter II Turbo makes it the best SNES fighting game released in the United States — especially since Super Street Fighter II: Turbo never made its way outside of Japan
7. Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II)
U.S. Release Date: November 23, 1991
Final Fantasy IV represents a major turning point for the long-running JRPG series. It was only the second game in the series to come stateside, released at the time as Final Fantasy II, and it introduced major changes to the gameplay that would persist for decades. Everything from the Active Time Battle System and the game’s focus on a large cast of playable characters to the deep and complex narrative would go on to become hallmarks of the Final Fantasy series.
Final Fantasy IV centers on the Dark Knight, Cecil, and his friend, Kain the Dragoon (or Dragon Knight). Events occur that separate the two, ending up pitting the friends against one another. Players followed Cecil and his fellow adventurers — such as Rosa, Rydia, and the mage twins Palom and Porom — as they endeavored to save the world from impending catastrophe at the hands of mysterious antagonist Golbez. While Final Fantasy IV’s plot conforms to now-common RPG tropes, at the time it was a massive step forward for video games storytelling. That said, the characters have stood the test of time and remain some of the most memorable and well-written of the entire series, more than 24 years later.
U.S. Release Date: June 5, 1995
Developer: Ape, Hal Laboratory
Earthbound is one of the strangest, most charming games ever made. This role-playing classic was equal parts satirical send-up and an impassioned love letter to American culture, presented through a decidedly Japanese filter. Earthbound is beloved for its unique setting, standing in stark contrast to the usual fantasy settings of role-playing games at the time. The bright and quirky take on modern-day life and the creepy sci-fi elements that are slowly introduced into the game were novel at the time, and remain one of gaming’s most unique settings.
Earthbound was also notable for its themes and story. On the surface, the colorful and whimsical world seems to present a lighthearted tale of four children on an adventure to save the world; but dig a little deeper, and one would find a complex and, at times, dark tale about abandonment, loss of innocence, and the struggles of growing up. While these themes are subtle and are mostly delivered in a palatably light-hearted way, their inclusion into the story and dialogue are noticeable. This made Earthbound a truly unique RPG that pushed into territory few games have covered since. Its uniqueness may have also contributed to its relative rarity, as it was being sold for exorbitant prices before its inclusion on the SNES Classic.
5. Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III)
U.S. Release Date: October 11, 1994
Final Fantasy VI — originally released in the United States as Final Fantasy III — was and remains the venerable JRPG series’ most mature and thoughtful tale. It’s also one of the most memorable stories told on the SNES.
There are 14 playable characters, which is the most of any Final Fantasy game to date, each with his or her own backstory and motivations that intertwine with one another. There are also numerous side characters who play important roles in the story that are pivotal in many series-defining scenes, such as the famous Opera scene. Then there’s Kefka, a villain who displays a sadistic joy for unrelenting cruelty, like some kind of steampunk-fantasy version of The Joker … only worse. Kefka’s actions in the story bring about ruinous consequences, forcing the heroes to face truly insurmountable odds.
Final Fantasy VI also began the series’ push out of pure fantasy and into the realm of science-fiction. The world of Final Fantasy VI often mixes common fantasy trope, such as feudal villages swordplay, with a steampunk setting that verges on sci-fi. This paved the way for the sci-fi setting of Final Fantasy VII, an immensely successful game that was instrumental in bringing role-playing games mainstream in the U.S. However, while Final Fantasy VII may have a larger following, it pales in comparison to Final Fantasy VI in terms of scope and storytelling. Final Fantasy VI is arguably the best Final Fantasy on the SNES, and any other system, for that matter.
4. Super Mario World
U.S. Release Date: August 23, 1991
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Super Mario World was the first game to be released on the SNES and one of the best. It is without question the best platformer on the system. Super Mario World featured 96 unique levels, the most of any platformer on the system by a wide margin. Mario’s leap from 8-bit to 16-bit meant prettier, more colorful graphics, better controls, and more experimental level design. Past Mario games were fairly linear games, but Super Mario World changed that. Stages housed secrets and shortcuts, some of which would not only allow you to circumvent large sections of the level but entire chunks of the game. On the flip side, collecting the numerous items populating each level of the game required a keen eye and finesse with a controller. This made the game a favorite among speedrunners and completionists alike and helped Nintendo solidify the quality the company has put into its first-party games since it entered the video game business in ’83. Moreover, Super Mario World is one of the high points of the near-flawless Super Mario series.
3. Chrono Trigger
U.S. Release Date: August 22, 1995
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but Squaresoft has dominated this list. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, the studio was producing some of the best games the studio has ever made. It was the era of the JRPG and Squaresoft was the undisputed king of the genre. That said, Chrono Trigger was the crown jewel.
Chrono Trigger is the pinnacle of the JRPG genre, with impeccable music, a brilliantly paced story, and well-balanced gameplay that never overwhelmed players yet still provided an engaging and adequate challenge. When it was first released on the SNES, the game was praised by critics and fans alike, but it’s not simply nostalgia that drives the hype behind the classic game. The reason Chrono Trigger remains so well-regarded is that it has stood the test of time. Despite all the modern advances in graphics and gameplay, Chrono Trigger maintains its quality and is just as fun to play today as it was when it was originally released 20 years ago.
It’s an RPG masterpiece of sorts, and though there are many out there who wonder if Square will ever reach the heights they found with Final Fantasy VII, there’s just as many of us who began wondering far earlier if Square would ever reach the same heights they did with Chrono Trigger.
2. Super Metroid
U.S. Release Date: April 18, 1994
Developer: Nintendo R&D1, Intelligent Systems
Super Metroid is one of the best games ever made, period. What makes the heralded title so special isn’t its seamless world, precise controls, or confounding puzzles, but the way the game so effortlessly and masterfully melded story with gameplay.
Whereas most games of the era relied heavily on written dialogue and exposition to tell their stories, Super Metroid used the player’s actions and environmental design to tell its story. In most other video games, combat and puzzle-solving — the “game” parts of most video games — often feels like the sinew tying together the story beats. In Super Metroid, however, every aspect of the game felt deliberate. Discovering a hidden path or item happened naturally as a part of the experimentation Super Metroid’s level design encouraged, and enemies seemed more like living, alien creatures than generic cannon fodder. Few games have ever been so meticulously crafted and polished. From the opening moments aboard a derelict research station, Super Metroid created an impressive atmosphere. From the eerie soundtrack and the subtle thunderstorms on the planet’s surface to the sense of isolation areas such as the Wrecked Ship could evoke, Zebes had a far more palpable sense of place than the settings of most games do today, despite the gap in hardware power.
While the game’s atmosphere and subtle storytelling are impressive, the gameplay is equally enduring. No other game remains so fun to play nearly two decades after its release. Hell, few games these days even hold up on a second playthrough. Yet, Super Metroid — by virtue of its design and the limitations of its hardware — is near infinitely replayable, as clearly evidenced by the game’s healthy and ongoing speedrunning community. Whether you’re chasing a record completion time or taking in every corner of the world, Super Metroid is a joy to experience. Gaming simply doesn’t get much better than this.
1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
U.S. Release Date: April 13, 1992
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Few video game series carry the reverence the video game industry holds for The Legend of Zelda. With the sole exception of the Super Mario games, no other series produces such consistently great games, and does so over the course of nearly three decades no less. There are points to be made for which Zelda game is the best today — many people would argue for a more recent entry, Breath of the Wild — but for a long time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was the pinnacle of the series and the best game in the SNES’s stellar library.
A Link to the Past was, and is, such a beloved game because of the attention the game gave to gameplay. Sure, it was the genesis for the entire Zelda mythos, introducing concepts like the Sages, the Dark World, and numerous other narrative devices — all of which has been further explored and expanded in later games — but A Link to the Past was first and foremost about the adventure at hand. Exploring the expansive lands of Hyrule and the Dark World felt exciting, as they were packed to the brim with secrets waiting to be uncovered. Moments like stumbling across a mysterious cave entrance brought a rush of excitement as you pondered what sort of secrets could be hidden inside.
The Legend of Zelda games are known for their dungeons and those of A Link to the Past remain some of the best in the series. The dungeons were challenging but fair, and collecting the special items and weapons hidden within each transformed Link from a green-horned (and green-garbed) adventurer into an unstoppable warrior. However, unlike other games that tend to focus on the sense of power and act of destruction, A Link to the Past never felt gratuitous or aggressive in its violence. In fact, despite facing off against an army of the evil beasts under the command of the evil Ganon, combat was always secondary to exploration and puzzle-solving. These days, video games rely on the power fantasy to make players feel important, but A Link to the Past made you feel important in the way it gave you free rein to explore all of Hyrule. It’s a testament to A Link to the Past — and really all games in the Legend of Zelda series — that the game could create a sense of power and progression, yet remain so childlike in the sense of curiosity and wonder it instilled in players.
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