Videogames were for everyone; they just didn’t realize it yet.
-Blake J. Harris, Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation
It’s Day X of our daily Console Challenge and I don’t know about you but I have been loving reading everyone’s content so far. If you have too, sorry to throw a wrench in that because today it’s my turn. 🙂
As I predicted, the results of this jocular poll demonstrate that the SNES remains an intensely meaningful console to many people. It’s not so easy to gauge which retro console truly remains the most popular and most talked about, but certainly the SNES is up there, plus it’s my favorite console of all time, too. It is in fact so favorited by me that when we initially came up with this crazy console project, I immediately grabbed the SNES and claimed it for myself because I’m a self-serving and greedy individual just like everyone else. It was cheating since I snapped it up before even announcing the project to our team here but c’mon… I’m not going to miss an opportunity like this.
Then it dawned on me… I was self-afflicted with having to name only 7 of the best games for the Super Nintendo, a system with an incredible assortment of both exclusives and ports. I was told my position I coveted was not particularly enviable. So cut the crap, how are you supposed to name just the top 7 games for what’s often referred to as the greatest console ever?!
Easy: don’t panic, Red.
The Super Nintendo wasn’t the first to arrive at the 16-bit scene but it was the one that brought the gun to the knife fight. Sega fought dirty, Nintendo fought back with quality. Even with their headstart against the aging NES, the SNES helped ensure that the Big N remained on top against the competition for its generation with powerful hardware, vibrant colors, a diverse library, and unforgettable experiences.
The Genesis vs SNES console war is probably the most famous in gaming history and I do recall that it was intense here in the States, but there was a clear winner. The consumer. Really! Competition in the free market creates great products, even with the market share occasionally lopsided. Without competition, would we have had any of the incredible home console exclusives from Sega and Nintendo? Sega opted to tear down the giant and Nintendo responded in kind. Their battle was legendary so of course their creations were, too.
In the end, it was the SNES that out-paced, out-performed, out-numbered, and (dare I say it) out-classed the competition, no matter how edgy the smear campaigns got. It secured Nintendo at the top before their step(s) down.
That doesn’t prove that either console was fun or not. People love both. It’s just sales figures. It’s also just vindication for the boyhood arguments I endured!
We might have had Sega Day here just a few solar cycles ago but this is the Super Nintendo now. The king has returned.
Let me shut up and get on with it!
Ah, the seventh spot. The sweet spot. It’s the spot that juuust barely made it on the list. Considering the sheer wealth of the Super Nintendo’s library of classics, this spot was incredibly difficult to decide. Dozens of games could have fit in here. I wavered between representation for the system’s strengths with a platformer or an RPG, then I thought about giving a little more diversity to the list. Earthbound was probably the closest contender for this spot; its wit and humor are nearly unparalleled. Ultimately, though, it came down to the nitty-gritty details of what game was superb enough in enough categories and contexts to make the cut.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is that game. The sequel to the first Donkey Kong Country has visually retained better luster than its predecessor, it is musically sublime, it took level design to tremendous heights, had extremely tight and responsive gameplay, and created a more engaging two-player experience than even the Super Mario games had up to this point.
This is only the seventh spot and we’re already talking about a game which some call “perfect”. Rare’s masterpiece was just enough to out-monkey the competition to land on my list. Seriously you need a lot more than 7 games to talk about all the perfect and near-perfect games on this system!!!
This spot was honestly the hardest to decide for me on this list. It nearly went to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, though I ultimately gave it up to Super Mario World for a few reasons I couldn’t escape: World is a launch title and therefore representative of many of the system’s base capabilities; World is much more accessible to the average player compared to Island; World emphasizes exploration over linearity compared to Island; World has more content than Island; World has a wider range of challenge compared to Island’s more consistent overall difficulty over the course of the game; World has bigger, taller, multi-layered level design stuffed full of secret areas and exits, generally speaking.
To be fair, Island has many things going for it, too, better and more interesting graphics, a more complete and developed story, and more unique gameplay for a platformer among them. So while Yoshi’s Island is one of my favorite games, even more so than this one, I have to give credit to Super Mario World here and name it the 6th best on the system!
For many, it is the ultimate 2D Super Mario game and it’s easy to see why. Super Mario World was the first SNES game I ever saw, walking through a Sears as a wee lad and getting so engrossed in it that I got separated from my friend’s mom and had to get an employee to help me find her. And that was with a timed demo that didn’t let me get past the first level, too! It was a colorful, mindblowing introduction to the next generation of gaming and a moment which ensured I would forever be enraptured by this magical realm of entertainment we call gaming.
What is Super Mario about? The character, I mean. While we may be tempted to think he’s so “ordinarily” heroic that he’s bland, recognize that heroism is not common and neither is self-lessness, indomitable cheer, relentlessness, determination, and contagious, infectious joy. I mean, how many people do you know with Mario’s personality? There’s a reason why he’s one of gaming’s most enduring characters.
#5. Mega Man X
This may be a controversial choice ahead of the giant that is Super Mario World but hear me out: Capcom’s Mega Man X is the Ferrari of the SNES. It handles like a dream while wielding an intensely fast pace and demanding gameplay, almost like an invitation for tournament fighting button input speed into platforming turned dynamic. Sleek, streamlined, trimmed of virtually any fat, this is a lean, dense, and razor-edged game.
Mega Man X is also the standard for rebooting a franchise. Comparing the classic Mega Man series with the X series, it’s like night and day in terms of focus, yet the fundamentals of the character and his world aren’t so different so as to alienate the fans. X inhabits a bleakly dystopian world as opposed to the colorful robot-candyland of the classic series, and this first game in the new timeline introduced upgrades to Mega Man’s weapons, armor, abilities, wall-climbing, rechargeable energy tanks, and an entirely new and finally threatening villain, plus let us not forget that Rock Man has always been about the music and Mega Man X has an insane soundtrack, one of the best on the entire system.
And now the top 4 should be pretty predictable…
#4. Super Metroid
Few games can even come close to achieving what Super Metroid did in 1994 in terms of atmosphere. Instead of being outright scary, this game wove an impenetrable fog of isolation, loneliness, solitude, and foreboding that lasted from the title screen to the end credits. It seems as if every game in the Metroidvania sub-genre and every game in the Metroid series has been judged against the gold standard of Super Metroid itself, and with good reason.
Super Metroid took the blueprints of the original Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus and blows those blueprints up to a macrocosmic scale, rendering the labyrinths of an entire planet into a hollowed oubliette for our space-faring heroine to scour. And scour players have. Super Metroid is about inspecting every nook and cranny, yet it propels the player onward with the inexhaustible energy of the joy of discovery, merged as it is with the addicting power of dread.
It is the definition of a masterpiece, if ever I saw one. When I think of the Metroid series, I inevitably think of this game first and foremost. It understood pacing and knew how to use silence through an experience that plays out without too many cutscenes, constructing instead the narrative and its tension as the player explores. The silence is golden but so is the soundtrack…
Speaking of masterpieces, do you really have any idea what kind of power a game has to possess in order to remain the perennial, popular favorite 27 years and 15 games later? Have you ever stopped to wonder that, even after Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, and Breath of the Wild, why people are still talking about A Link to the Past? That kind of scope and scale in time and peer-context is almost entirely unprecedented. It seems nothing can quench the passion for this title.
And it’s not as if we’re talking about any old game franchise. This is The Legend of Zelda, people! This isn’t even my favorite Zelda game… as much as I love the others, many of which have been giants in their time, if I had to recommend a single Zelda game as the most defining, most representative of the spirit, the nucleus, and the heart of what the series is about, I would cite A Link to the Past every time, without fail. Its size, grandeur, puzzles, secrets, exploration, and ability to challenge the player to think outside of the box are quintessentially Zeldean concepts. This is a game you can sink your teeth into and all these years later, its flavors are still profound.
It frequently tops lists of best SNES games all across existence.
#2. Final Fantasy VI
If we’re talking Super Nintendo, we’re talking bomb RPGs and many name Final Fantasy VI (III) as their favorite FF ever. The question which arises in my mind is “Why?”
Oh I dunno, maybe it’s the ensemble cast, the story, the music, the villain, the fact that the world ends and the game keeps going, the touches of comedy, drama, and tragedy, the balance between linear and open progression which the most recent entries have botched! This one pulls no punches and it’s tough to find a better 16-bit role-playing experience. Literal tears have been shed over this game. Zillions of hours have been spent exploring its realm. Hours of jaw have been devoted to figuring out who is the main character. Seek traditional JRPG perfection no further. You’ve arrived.
Is it the best Final Fantasy? That’s up to you to prove or disprove (I’ve done my time) but I am comfortable saying it’s easily one of the best titles on the SNES and in its series.
#1. Chrono Trigger
What a surprise. If there’s a ranked list, the top answer is always Chrono Trigger and I wrote a 17,000-word slog to attempt to prove it. Hyperbole, nostalgia, and the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity taken into consideration, I still consider Chrono Trigger to be one of the greatest games on the system, if not absolutely of all time. It is the number one game to play on the Super Nintendo. I mean the premise alone is utterly unique: some kids get lost in time trying to fix their own paradoxes and end up discovering a planetary parasite that causes doomsday.
Chrono Trigger’s sense of scale, its secrets, its multiple endings and plot threads to explore, its charming characters, its emotional reach, its timeless music, its iconic graphics, its gameplay minimizing turn-based battles with the ATB and non-random encounters, its original experience which has only been degraded and not improved in recent times by ports like the Steam mobile fiasco… there’s so much to enjoy in Chrono Trigger. It’s undoubtedly the kind of project that could only be born out of dreams… the brainchild of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, and Akira Toriyama. Never before and never again.
I’ve said enough about this game to satisfy an encyclopedia so I’ll leave you with this. Now go play it. Lavos beckons.
That’s my list! Is it similar to yours? Is your roster of top 7 best SNES games completely different than mine? DO YOU SNES?
Some honorable mentions… geez this is going to be a long list. This is the Super Nintendo, after all! These are some games I wanted to include but couldn’t. This library is just too great.
Mario Kart, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, F-Zero, Star Fox, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Super Mario All-Stars, Mega Man X2 and X3, Sunset Riders, Earthworm Jim, Super Double Dragon, Out of This World, Mega Man 7, Harvest Moon…
*gasps for air*
…Gradius III, Donkey Kong Country, The Lost Vikings, Mario Paint, ActRaiser, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!, Fatal Fury, Top Gear 3000, Sparkster, Maximum Carnage, Illusion of Gaia, Kirby Super Star, Chessmaster, Chuck Rock, EarthBound, E.V.O.: Search for Eden, Magic Sword…
…Aladdin, Captain Commando, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!, Earthworm Jim 2, Tetris & Dr. Mario, Street Fighter II Turbo, Super Street Fighter II, The King of Dragons, Mystic Quest, The Lion King, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (of course), Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Final Fantasy IV…
*HP begins depleting*
…Secret of Evermore, Aero the Acro-Bat, Soul Blazer, SimAnt, R-Type III, Wordtris, Demon’s Crest, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Bart’s Nightmare, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, Super Adventure Island, and Secret of Mana and Breath of Fire II (both of which I excluded for major localization issues).
I’m certain you could add even more! But if I didn’t include the games that I ultimately did in my top 7, then I couldn’t live with myself, and I’m the one who has to do that, at the end of the day, not you.
-The Well-Red Mage
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