SNES game lists. It’s been done before and it’ll done again many times over. My take, however, is going to be structured differently from similar lists. Most of these games are, yes, personal favorites, but there’s more to them than that. These ten SNES games are what broke new grounds for their respective genres, paving the way for future video games. Whether it be music, gameplay mechanics, or even art style, these games are crucial to play before you die in order to better understand the history of video games (in no particular order).
Super Mario World
Let’s get the easiest game out of the way first. Super Mario World is the pinnacle of its genre. It’s the best Mario game and the best platformer. Mario 3 introduced the world, level design, and secret passageways Super Mario World was to follow, but it became much more than that. For one, the scale of the world is bigger. Two, you can replay the levels repeatedly, a first for the series.
Not only that, but it introduced Yoshi, a dinosaur, which in itself introduced new mechanics to Mario such as eating enemies, and being able to ride something, which other games had introduced before. The overall controls were excellent; the music catchy, and the art style is beyond words. It’s one of those experiences any level of player, be it causal or hardcore, young or old, can get into. Many games like it have been made, but there is nothing like the original.
Super Mario Kart
In an attempt to put Mario and his costars in something other than a platformer, Nintendo made Mario Kart. It was a weird game to follow up Super Mario World with, but it proved successful. The kart aesthetic made everything simple and fun. The courses were unique and the power-ups offered enough of the Mario style to justify the spin-off. It made the racing genre a bit more exciting and cute thanks to the colorful cast of characters. It was not only a fun experience alone, but adding another player to compete against made it more engaging.
You could not only race against each other, but also duke it out in a virtual arena, launching turtle shells at other until the cows came home. And because of its success, each Nintendo platform has seen a sequel, not to mention the countless Mario Kart Kopy Kats out there (ha, get it). It was the birth of a genre along with the foreshadowing of weirder Mario spin-offs to come.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Speaking of Mario spin-offs, what about this underrated gem? All right, perhaps it’s not completely overrated, but I didn’t think it got the love it so rightfully deserved. There were other side games that took the red plumber on other adventures, but this spin-off was on a much larger scale. Not only that, but the development was from Square, now Square Enix. It was not only a good RPG, but also an awesome Mario game with a plethora of Easter eggs and nods to the series.
Perhaps it was overlooked because it wasn’t what people were looking for in a Mario game. But trust me, the story, quirky dialogue, music, and mechanics are excellent and still hold up today. The action battle system has been integrated in more JRPGs than I can count. Unfortunately, there is one downside. The graphics, while astounding for the SNES, pushed the system a little too far, causing it to have a lot of glitches. Glitches aside, it’s still an amazing game.
This game has more influences on gaming than perhaps any other on the SNES. Super Metroid created the “Metroid” style game design where overlaying dungeons, backtracking, and cool upgrades became a thing. Castlevania latched onto this style for the excellent Symphony of the Night game on the PS1 along with its many GBA sequels. A lot of indie games are trying to ape the Metroid style as well. It could even be argued that some recent games like Tomb Raider could have been inspired by Super Metroid’s overlaying dungeon design.
It’s perhaps the most integrated video game design in the industry, which has now been dubbed Metroidvania. And to think, it all started with a plucky little bounty hunter named Samus Aran, which in itself, was also a big step for video games. Thank Super Metroid for its influential design and paving the way for future badass female heroines. History and trivia aside, it’s an awesome experience for all of the above reasons.
Yet another JRPG that changed the genre for the better. Random battles were an annoyance, but Chrono Trigger changed that by having monsters wander around in dungeons, allowing you to avoid them if you were crafty enough. Chrono Trigger’s Active Time Battle was also influential in many JRPGs, along with future Square Enix titles as well. You could choose to take your time and think, or make the battles go faster if you had the skill.
The small, yet lovable cast of characters could be argued as some of the best in the genre. And who knew time travel could not only be a cool story element, but a neat mechanic as well, influencing decisions that would affect the past, present and future. Between the amazing music, graphics, story, battles, and overall presentation, Chrono Trigger has influenced everything for the better. It’s been on many gamers most wanted sequels for a long time and that alone should say something about this game’s quality.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best Zelda game. For the series itself, it ushered it in to the next level from the NES. It was a bigger, longer, and a more grandeur experience. It also introduced the idea of including an alternate version of the main world, or dark version to not only Zelda, but also future games down the line like Metroid Prime. At the time, being transported to an alternate, screwed up version of Hyrule blew my mind as a kid. It’s a smart way to lengthen your game while saving memory space.
Some may call it lazy, but I think it’s an innovative, smart idea. The art is still gorgeous along with the catchy, memorable music. Its one of the few games I can still play today and have a blast every time. I would have loved to see this game remade in HD, but the recently announced 3DS sequel could be good too. If I were to recommend any Zelda to a newcomer, it’d be this one.
Mega Man X
Speaking of games that took their series to the next level: Mega Man X. Past Mega Man 3, the NES games were getting stale. They were fun, but not inspiring. Mega Man X was a clever way to reboot the series by zooming ahead to a future, where a new Mega Man was built. The futuristic setting and back-story of the Maverick Hunter agency was a bit cheesy, but also pretty cool. It gave the series a fresh new look along with some tweaks to the combat. It still followed the normal 8 bosses, followed by a final dungeon routine.
However, the mechanics were improved thanks to the health upgrades, health tanks, and the introduction of armor for Mega Man. This allowed for exploration in the stages even after you already defeated the bosses. Some may argue that the difficulty was downgraded form the ridiculous skill of the NES games, but hey, I say it gave the series a wider appeal because of this.
Street Fighter 2
There is no greater game that took fighting games to the next level than Street Fighter 2. It was an amazing single player experience, testing your skills through a series of battles against a unique character roster. Better yet, each character had his or her weaknesses and strengths in battle. The mechanics are great for any type of player whether you be an excellent combo artist, or hyperactive button masher; it’s anyone’s game.
Aside from the single player mode, Street Fighter 2 was the multiplayer game of my youth. It wasn’t the first fighting game mind you, but it was the one that pushed the genre to new levels. Recently Street Fighter 4 revived the current fighting game genre as well, so it goes to show that Street Fighter has a built in technique for revivals. Many fighting games came after it, but there is nothing like the original Street Fighter 2 for some simple, brawling action.
This is perhaps the most controversial and most fan craved series on the planet. It, like Chrono Trigger, has amassed a large fan community. EarthBound is part of the Mother series. Mother was on the NES and the Mother 3 was on the GBA, both of which America did not get. Thankfully, there are English translations for the ROMs thanks to said fan community. And Nintendo finally decided to re-release it over here, being the one game on the Wii U I’m looking forward to. No joke.
EarthBound made the quirky JRPG genre in my opinion. Some of the other elements are so-so like the battle system, but what shines about Earthbound is it’s story, charcters, oddity, and heart warming appeal. And it’s gorgeous still today. If you find a hard copy of the copy, treasure it for eternity. For those who haven’t played it, be patient, as Nintendo will release it eventually, though there is emulation…
Donkey Kong Country
Was this the best looking game on the SNES? Perhaps. It, along with Super Mario RPG, pushed the capability of the SNES. With fully rendered 3D graphics, Donkey Kong and his gang came alive. It was a great platformer that sprung Donkey Kong into the limelight again after being the bad guy for so long. Plus it even made nods to past games and introduced players to a whole new style of lore. It was a huge leap forward for Nintendo in trying something new.
Did it go on to become something bigger than Mario that others learned from? In some ways yes. Mario, and other platformer, was kind of simple. Donkey Kong Country was, at times, a brutally hard platformer. It was like Mega Man had been reborn inside a hairy ape’s body. With challenging, rewarding gameplay, and tons of secrets to unlock, Donkey Kong Country remains a staple in my SNES library.