While many would argue that the NES was the console which truly cemented Nintendo's standing in the games industry, it was the SNES which took the company to the next level. While its 8-bit machine was home to some amazing titles, it was technically humble when compared to its rivals, yet the 16-bit SNES outclassed its rival the Mega Drive in almost every department.
Yeah, we said it. Bolder visuals, better sound and fancy Mode 7 scaling and rotation effects ensured that by and large, SNES software had more of a punch – and as a result, the system's output is fondly remembered even today. If you're a newcomer to the platform and are wondering where is the best place to start when it comes to picking apart its legendary library, then allow us to lend a helping hand with the following list of essential SNES games. And Nintendo, if you’re reading this, please ensure these are all preloaded on the inevitable SNES Mini.
Tennis may not have the broad global appeal of football, but we've seen some amazing video game representations of the sport over the years, the most famous of which is perhaps Sega's Virtua Tennis series. While Virtua Tennis is without a doubt a superb franchise, it's remarkable that in pure gameplay terms, Super Tennis on the SNES arguably has it beat despite being an older title. Forgetting the visuals for a moment, the depth of this game is stunning; four different shot types, diving shots, curving serves and much more besides all combine to create one of the most responsive and downright playable sports games of all time.
Super Mario Kart
Mario Kart surely needs no introduction, and in recent years we've seen entries in the popular series become million-sellers. Despite the improvement in visuals and introduction of anti-gravity in the last outing – Mario Kart 8 – it's surprising how much of the core gameplay was laid down in the 16-bit original. We've got weapons, power-slides, green shells, red shells, even the ever-popular Battle Mode – a feature which was left out of Mario Kart 8 but is being reinstated in the Nintendo Switch update Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Super Mario Kart is proof that visuals are only one part of the story; gameplay is timeless and Nintendo has been successfully iterating on this classic for decades.
When you first pick up and play this superb mech-based action platformer, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were wasting your time. It's slow and sluggish, and lacks the frantic pace of, say, Gunstar Heroes or Contra. However, that's part of the charm; you're not controlling an athletic superhero, but a three-storey high war machine clad in steel armour and bristling with weapons. Movement is deliberately ponderous to reinforce this sense of weight and heft, but you're not totally at the mercy of incoming fire – booster rockers allow for high jumps and horizontal dashes. Cybernator uses this premise to excellent effect, and the slow speed of your robot contributes to the challenge. It's also got some amazing level design and excellent music, making it one of the true epics of the SNES catalogue.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Regularly hailed as one of the greatest video games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the crowning glory of what remains a beloved series for Nintendo fans. After the relatively simplistic NES original and its slightly less appealing sequel, this third Zelda outing really went the extra mile. It presented a massive, largely non-linear game world to explore, packed with secrets, characters and dungeons. The mid-game twist – which we won't spoil for those who have yet to play it – remains one of gaming's most effective shocks, while the visuals and music haven't aged all that much in the past 25 years. If you're one of the few people who hasn't played this game – either on the SNES or one of the other systems it has been ported to, such as the Game Boy Advance, Wii, Wii U or 3DS – then you owe it to yourself to remedy that oversight immediately.
Super Castlevania IV
Konami's vampire-slaying series may have gone on to bigger and better things with the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997, but its SNES debut remains one of the most popular instalments. In stark contrast to the bright colours of Super Mario World, Super Castlevania IV uses realistic visuals to create a brooding atmosphere – something which is accentuated dramatically by the incredible soundtrack, which you'd swear was being produced by a CD-based console. While it gets off to a slow start, the game really picks up on later levels when Mode 7 effects are introduced to amazing effect.
Super Mario World
It might sound like an obvious choice, but Super Mario World should be high up your list if you're looking to rediscover (or, indeed, discover) the SNES. It's amazing to think that this masterpiece of 2D platforming was a launch title; some would argue that it was never bettered during the lifespan of the console, and hasn't been bettered in the years since, either. Loads of levels, tons of secrets and bucketloads of character, it's little wonder that Super Mario World regularly crops up in "best games ever" lists. It's perhaps the pinnacle of Mario's 2D adventures.
The SNES wasn't a console famed for its fast-paced shoot-em-ups – that honour fell to the Mega Drive, which was blessed with a faster CPU – but that's not to say it didn't get some solid additions to the genre. Konami's Axelay is perhaps the most spectacular; it looks and sounds utterly amazing, and uses the console's Mode 7 power to create some striking visual tricks. The action alternates between vertically and horizontally scrolling sections (just like Life Force / Salamander, also by Konami) and getting through the entire game is no mean feat. Axelay is a real classic, and it's a crying shame we never got a sequel – something that was promised when the end credits rolled.
Secret of Mana
When you're talking about role-playing adventures on the SNES two names tend to crop up: Zelda and Secret of Mana. The latter is the work of Final Fantasy studio Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix) and while it's perhaps not quite as awe-inspiring as A Link to the Past, it's still comfortably one of the best RPGs ever created. A cunning mixture of real-time action and party-based adventuring, Secret of Mana boasts some of the best music on the console, and was followed by a Japan-only sequel which sadly never got localised for the west. At least we got this gem, which is a must-have for any budding SNES fan.
Metroid is one of those Nintendo franchises which is treated with the kind of veneration that is normally reserved for saints, and the reason for this holy treatment can be traced back to this sprawling action adventure. Super Metroid arrived fairly late in the life of the console but caught everyone's attention by tearing up the rulebook. On the surface it appeared to be a typical action platformer, but instead of adopting the traditional level-by-level approach, Super Metroid introduced a massive map which could be explored at will. The limitation was that certain areas could only be accessed once a particular item had been obtained. The game went on to inspire Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, giving rise to the term "Metroidvania" – a catch-all phrase for any title which uses the same non-linear approach.
Usually when a game mixes two totally unrelated genres together it's a recipe for disaster, but ActRaiser is one of those times where it worked wonderfully. Half fantasy platformer, half Populous-style God-sim, ActRaiser placed you in the sandals of a Greek-style deity whose task is to rid various parts of the world of enemies so that people can settle and thrive. After finishing each action section you get a little downtime to watch your population prosper, performing duties such as killing airborne monsters, guiding the direction of each town's expansion and even bringing rain to put out fires. ActRaiser was followed by a sequel which sadly ditched the God-sim segments, making the original the one to go for.
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