Following the incredible success of the NES, Nintendo upped their game with the Super Nintendo, or SNES. The new 16-bit console allowed for bigger, more complex adventures with improved graphics and sound. It was an important step forward for Nintendo and the industry as a whole, and it led to some of the greatest games of all time. As a staff, we voted on our all-time favorites from the console and compiled a top 10 list, complete with mini-reviews. Here’s Nintendo Enthusiast’s Top 10 Best SNES Games!
Top 10 Best SNES Games
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (#10)
Super Mario RPG is so wonderful that it’s hard to believe it even really exists. The hottest RPG developer on Earth, Square, partnered with Nintendo to create Mario’s first role-playing game, and they did it without sacrificing anything that makes Mario what he is. It’s still a sprawling platformer adventure where Mario stomps on enemies, but everything has been twisted in exciting new ways.
Instantly, Super Mario RPG establishes its own visual identity within the SNES library with its (for the SNES’s capabilities) cutting-edge pseudo-3D graphics and isometric perspective. Square uses the new perspective to hide things just out of sight or add a brand new dimensionality to the platforming in a pre-Super Mario 64 world. It’s all a perfect fit that fans never saw coming.
The same can be said of the turn-based combat. It introduced a timing-based element to all attacks and defense, where pressing a button at the right moment could enhance or reduce damage dealt. It both gave players more to do during battle and also made them feel more in control of their fate. This celebrated feature has since seen use in several other RPGs. The simplified battle interface also increases accessibility for newcomers, and make no mistake — Super Mario RPG was a gateway to the genre for many players.
Lastly, the actual story of Super Mario RPG is just excellent. The plot beats are simple and the game length is somewhat short, but the idea of an enemy strong enough to kick Bowser out of his castle is thrilling — and when Bowser actually joins Mario later on is a mindblowing level of fan service. Additionally, all the new characters (but especially Mallow and Geno) are well-designed, charming, and written with delightful wit, making Mario’s world come to life in a way it never had before. Sprinkle Yoko Shimomura’s heartfelt and energetic soundtrack on top of it all, and Super Mario RPG is basically an oddball masterpiece of the SNES.
Review by John Friscia
Final Fantasy II (#9)
I wrote a 3,500-word feature about how this game came into being, so I’ll be brief about Final Fantasy II (which is actually Final Fantasy IV). But in a nutshell, Final Fantasy II was the first truly “modern” JRPG. It had the distinct characters, myriad special abilities, and expansive worlds one would expect of the first major RPG for the Super Nintendo. However, massive innovations in the execution of the story and the combat system respectively took Final Fantasy II to another level.
On the story front, the game employed a new style of cinematic storytelling where specific music would start and stop at precise moments to punctuate the mood of the scene. Every emotion, dread, sadness, triumph, was heightened by this new element of dramatic timing, and it certainly helped that Nobuo Uematsu’s score for the game ranked among the finest on the console. And on top of that, characters generally had more personality — more actual fears and ambitions — than characters in most previous RPGs. It was still far from Shakespeare, but it was a profound step forward all the same.
On the combat front, Final Fantasy II introduced the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, which would be recycled and reworked countless times in Final Fantasy and other major JRPG classics. Suddenly, turn-based combat now had a time-bound urgency to it because any character could act the instant their turn came up. The famous EvilWall boss fight was predicated on slowing down the boss and speeding up party members before it could literally just crush everyone to death (because… it was an evil wall).
When all these factors are combined, Final Fantasy II just makes every RPG before it feel antiquated in one way or another, and I argue that it is the quintessential JRPG. Every JRPG that has released since Final Fantasy II owes something to this game. That earns it a spot on our Top 10 Best SNES Games list.
Review by John Friscia
Final Fantasy III (#8)
To this day, I consider Final Fantasy III (which is actually Final Fantasy VI) one of the greatest games of all time, a true masterpiece of the highest order in the JRPG genre whose peers can be counted on one hand (maybe even just one finger). Its combat may not break the mold, but Final Fantasy III accomplishes things with its narrative that almost shouldn’t even be possible, and the fact that it did it in 1994 boggles the mind.
For starters, Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack is a masterclass in how to compose for games. Almost every track perfectly defines the required mood or encapsulates the personality of a character or location. One might literally be able to guess a character’s general personality sight unseen just from hearing their associated theme song. The quality is just that stellar.
Final Fantasy III makes the daring decision to forego classic fantasy in favor of a new steampunk aesthetic, though there are still swords and magic too. This marked a new path forward for the series, where magic and technology would almost always intersect to create worlds with a more unique flavor, and the pixel art in Final Fantasy III particularly brought everything to life in a striking way.
But above all else, the crowning achievement of Final Fantasy III is that it tells a story with 14 party members — and by design, none of them is the “main character.” On paper, this should be a recipe for narrative disaster, where the storytelling is unfocused, it’s hard to care about any one character, and everyone winds up underdeveloped (a problem for many JRPGs in the first place). But in Final Fantasy III, it just works. Every party member aside from optional ones receives ample development in the main story and in optional sidequests, such that it’s easy to love all of them. And the villain, though one-dimensional, ranks among the most memorable in the series for how he chews up the scenery constantly.
Final Fantasy III is a 25-year-old game with 14 heroes and a ridiculous villain, and it yields one of the best stories ever told in a video game to this day. Other RPGs should be embarrassed for being unable to surpass it. It’s one of the best SNES games around and a must-play RPG.
Review by John Friscia
Yoshi’ s Island (#7)
Yoshi’s Island is just so darn nice to look at. That’s always the first thing that pops into my head when thinking about this platformer, but everything that comes afterwards involves similar gushing–the expansive level design, the simple, engrossing gameplay, and whimsical sound direction (minus some rather grating baby screeching) all combine to grant Yoshi’s Island its rightful spot in the discussion for some of the all-time best in its genre.
The hand-drawn aesthetic ties the entire experience together. Dazzling enemies, vibrant backgrounds, and loads of secrets all make Yoshi’s Island an iconic visual experience where the love, care, and heart that the developers stuffed into the game is evident at every turn. The soundtrack never fails to put a smile on my face with its music box of positively magical tunes and melodies. The levels are a ton of fun to run through, and the game is loaded to the brim with collectibles and secrets that encourage replays. Combined with the relaxing sights and sounds, revisiting courses in search of flowers and red coins is just plain pleasant.
While time and less-than-stellar follow-ups have slightly dulled the universal acclaim Yoshi’s Island met on release, the game is still an absolute treat to play today and a textbook example of how to do platforming right. With its endearing world, a treasure trove of secrets, and loads and loads of fun to be had, Yoshi’s Island is a joy through and through. That simple fun is what makes it one of the Top 10 Best SNES Games.
Review by Andrew Rockett
Countless JRPGs were released in the ’90s, but none of them were quite like EarthBound. Unappreciated in its time, EarthBound developed a tenaciously dedicated cult fanbase over the years, and if you’ve played the game, it’s not hard to see why. It features a massive world with interesting, diverse areas to explore, a grand and emotional story, and an unbeatable soundtrack. Oh, and did I mention it’s got top-notch RPG gameplay that manages to feel totally fresh?
EarthBound subverts the typical RPG tropes of wizards and knights, choosing 1990s America (sorry, I mean “Eagleland”) as its setting. Instead of paying gold to sleep at the inn, you use your dad’s debit card to withdraw money at the ATM so you can rent a room at the local hotel. Instead of a sword or a bow, you’ll be equipping yourself with baseball bats, frying pans, yo-yos, and slingshots. What else would a group of kids use to fight off an alien invasion? Oh, but it’s not just the aliens you’re fighting. It seems they’ve influenced the locals, so you’ll have to battle stray animals, corrupt police officers and politicians, hippies, mad taxis, and street signs.
EarthBound‘s strange setting and characters quickly set it apart from others in the genre, but it’s so much more than just a weird game. It’s an unforgettable journey that absorbs you into its world, disarms you with its quirky humor, then surprises you with its emotional depth. It’s not afraid to explore darker themes, despite its lighthearted appearance. This game is a complete package. If you haven’t experienced it for yourself, you’re missing out. It’s easily one of the Top 10 SNES Games worth your time.
Review by Ben Lamoreux
Super Mario World (#5)
It’s the game that came with your SNES. The one that features the first appearance of Yoshi. A title that contains feathers that grant you a cape with the power of flight. And, all these years later, still the very best 2D Mario adventure: Super Mario World.
Super Mario World is the definition of an upgrade. Going from Super Mario Bros. 3 to this was mind-blowing to me as a kid. The music, the graphics, the scope, the tight controls…everything is bigger, brighter, and better. Also, Mario’s new abilities are amazing: learning how to control your ascent and descent with the cape makes you feel like Superman, and figuring out when to jump off Yoshi’s back for an extra boost while casting him into the endless pits below is a fascinating study into the concept of morality.
Mario’s first 16-bit outing is a beast, too: 72 levels with 24 of them containing secret exits, meaning a grand total of 96 goals to make your way through. I played this before the internet, which meant learning about the alternate stages through my cousin. There are so many keys, switch towers that make colored blocks appear, and fortresses to destroy. In addition, there’s Star Road and the Special Zone, which contains areas that will put your abilities to the test.
Above all, Super Mario World is an experience that sticks with you. I can boot it up today and remember where all the hidden paths are without consulting a guide. Every video game that has launched since Super Mario World owes a debt to this classic. It’s a masterpiece, one of the greatest platformers of our time, and a must-play for gamers of all ages.
Review by Arthur Damian
Mega Man X (#4)
By the time Super Nintendo rolled around, Mega Man was a well-established brand. The Blue Bomber was the face of the action-platformer genre, but it was time for the next step. With Mega Man X, Capcom took everything that worked about the series and made it better. Beautiful visuals, tight and responsive controls, well-designed levels, and a catchy soundtrack all helped this new iteration stand out.
Mega Man X follows the tried and true formula of taking on eight stages, each with their own Robot Master to defeat. Beat a boss and you’ll be rewarded with their weapon, giving you tons of options and a fulfilling sense of progression. Along the way, you can also collect health upgrades, additional health tanks, and other armor upgrades. The most important of these is a dash ability that really lets the game’s level design shine. Couple that with X’s ability to climb walls (which his predecessor lacked), and you’ve got a recipe for bigger, more action-packed stages.
Improvements in AI tech also helped Mega Man X stand out from its predecessors. Sure, you can still finish a boss of quickly with its weakness, but your opponents are smarter and have more movements and attacks at their disposal. All of these little improvements combine for an experience that’s based more on strategy and skill than memorization and persistence. I struggled to fall in love with classic Mega Man, but the X series will always have a special place in my heart. It’s definitely one of the best SNES games around, and well worth your time.
Review by Ben Lamoreux
Super Metroid (#3)
Every now and then a game comes along and defines a genre. That’s never been truer than with Super Metroid. The NES original may have established the ‘Metroidvania’ genre, but its SNES successor perfected the formula. 25 years later, developers are still closely emulating it in hopes of capturing some of that magic.
Super Metroid is a masterclass in world design. Zebes is a massive open world with tunnels spider-webbing out in all directions, but it’s not a hopeless maze. The game never holds your hand, but it gives you just enough clues to find your way. Clever level design guides you in understanding new weapons and items as you acquire them without lengthy tutorials. There’s no sidekick, no monologuing, and no backup. It’s just you against the world. And it’s so rewarding. You’ll want to explore every inch.
If you can master some of the more complex tricks, like the Machball, the world of Zebes really opens up in a whole new way. Power-ups can be found early and bosses can be tackled completely out of order. With so many branching paths to exploit, Super Metroid quickly became one of the most popular games in the speedrunning community, and it remains as such today. Decades later, dedicated fans with incredible talent and focus are still finding new ways to play the game. And thanks to speedrunning events like GDQ, it’s even generating money to help people around the world.
Super Metroid is truly an excellent game. Its beautiful sci-fi visuals, atmospheric soundtrack, memorable boss fights, and outstanding world design are undeniable. But to many, Super Metroid is so much more than just a game. It inspired numerous careers, cultivated a charitable community, and defined a genre for decades to come. It truly stands the test of time as one of the Top 10 Best SNES Games and as one of the most important games in history.
Review by Ben Lamoreux
Chrono Trigger (#2)
Chrono Trigger is as good as it gets. A timeless time-traveling RPG, Chrono Trigger is often appropriately heralded as the king of what is arguably the genre’s best era. A lovable cast, a vast adventure, and a heart-pounding active battle system convinced millions of players to see through as many of the story’s multiple endings as possible. Chrono Trigger transcends any SNES-specific list. Its legacy persists through multiple ports and decades of love from the RPG community that cement it as an all-time great.
It is impossible to trace Chrono Trigger’s brilliance to any single source. The setting, which, among other areas, trots through medieval castles, the untamed prehistoric wild, and an apocalyptic wasteland, completely immerses players as they navigate puzzles and battles with solutions and participants strewn throughout time. The motley crew of a party you assemble exudes endless charm as they grow into an unlikely team representing nearly every corner of the world and of history. The active time battle system maintains strategic turn-based conventions at a breakneck, adrenaline-pumping pace. The soundtrack is incredible. There is just so much to love.
In the almost twenty-five years since its release, dozens of RPGs have tried and failed to live up to Chrono Trigger and all of its amazing conventions. Beyond being one of the best SNES games, Chrono Trigger is the quintessential top-down JRPG, one of the faces of the genre at large, and looking even deeper than its genre, Chrono Trigger is quite easily one of the best games of all time.
Review by Andrew Rockett
A Link to the Past (#1)
The original Legend of Zelda laid the groundwork for something great. Its sequel, The Adventure of Link, experimented and introduced some exciting new ideas. But it would be the third game, A Link to the Past, that truly defined the franchised. This SNES adventure was the first to introduce the Sacred Realm, and its corrupted form, the Dark World. It gave Ganon his backstory as the King of Thieves, Ganondorf, and introduced the Seven Sages who stand against him. These concepts would shape the popular franchise for decades to come, but its contributions to the lore are only the tip of the iceberg.
A Link to the Past also gave us iconic weapons and items, like the Hookshot and Pegasus boots. It was also the first to feature the Master Sword, the legendary blade of evil’s bane. Link’s biggest arsenal yet allowed for much more satisfying and diverse combat than ever before, and improvements in AI meant enemies could be difficult without relying solely on brute force. The combat will keep you hooked throughout, and boss fights like Trinexx and Ganon will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
The third entry in the Zelda franchise was also the first with an emphasis on puzzles. Dungeons break up the action with brain-teasers, but in a way, the entire game world is a puzzle in itself. A Link to the Past features not one, but two, outstanding overworlds. Hyrule is great to begin with, but things really start to heat up when the Dark World is introduced. This twisted mirror of Hyrule doubles the content, and cleverly navigating between the two realms to reach new objectives feels so rewarding
There are many elements that go into making a great Zelda game and a great adventure game in general. Things like storytelling, puzzles, exploration, and combat are all crucial ingredients, and A Link to the Past struck a perfect balance between all of them. Its expertly-crafted world, intriguing plot, and engaging combat all constantly compel you to press on and discover more. Add in beautiful, ageless 16-bit graphics and engrossing soundtrack, and you’ve got a winning formula. When I think of great video game adventures, I think of Zelda. And when I think of Zelda, there’s no purer experience than A Link to the Past. It’s undoubtedly deserving of its number one spot on the Top 10 Best SNES Games.
Review by Ben Lamoreux
Donkey Kong Country
The Donkey Kong Country series tragically missed out on this Top 10 Best SNES Games list, partially thanks to the first two entries splitting up support among our ranks. That is a serious shame, as I have held for a very long time that Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest is Nintendo’s best 2D platformer by a country mile. While it may not have made our top ten, it still deserves some recognition for its rewarding platforming and masterful design.
As with nearly any revered platformer, Donkey Kong Country 2 achieves greatness behind its fantastic gameplay, which treats players to tight jumps with little room for error, an inventive spread of gameplay making great use of animals, underwater adventures, blistering minecart levels. Beyond pure platforming, a plethora of collectibles, side challenges, hidden rooms, and minigames make exploration as fun and rewarding as just charging through levels. Furthermore, Donkey Kong Country 2’s tough stages also add a wonderful edge to the game. Often, players have to clear nearly half of a world before reaching a save point, creating a stressful metagame where you have to be confident in the number of lives you’ve farmed up before venturing into a new set of levels
Outside of well-designed, hair-pulling levels, Donkey Kong Country 2 is brimming with heart in every corner. Ridiculous kong family antics, hidden secrets, a beautiful soundtrack, and popping, colorful environments give this game a delightfully genuine and silly personality that, in my view, propels this lovable experience into the upper echelons of Nintendo’s all-time catalog.
Review by Andrew Rockett