The Super Nintendo was the best-selling console of its era and a hallmark of the early-to-mid 90’s. With 783 different games released, it can be difficult weeding through them all to find the good stuff.
We all know about Mario, Link, and Samus, but what about the rest?
If you’re a retro gaming fan or even if you’re just curious, here’s 30 SNES hidden gems, in no particular order, you should be checking out.
Actraiser is an interesting beast in that it attempts to combine a side-scrolling action game with a god simulation.
The player is cast in the role of a god who would assume control of a knight statue, bringing it to life to fight in action-platforming sequences.
Between action sequences, the player looks after his people and encourages the population to grow in an overhead strategy game, building roads, performing various miracles, and taking out monsters with arrows from the sky.
2. X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse
Capcom had a special knack for taking any licensed character (Ducktails, anyone?) and turning them into an outstanding platformer or fighting game, and the X-Men were no exception.
Featuring their typically excellent play control, beautiful pixel art, catchy music, and powerful sound effects, Mutant Apocalypse feels a bit like a cross between Mega Man and Final Fight.
It's a 2D platformer with punches, jump-kicks, and super powers for ammunition. With five X-Men to choose from (Beast, Gambit, Cyclops, Psylocke, and, of course, Wolverine), each character is assigned specific levels to play through.
It's up to the player to decide which level to complete first. Lots of villain cameos are a treat for the fans.
It's ranked among one of the best comic book games ever, but it's not one of the first games we think of looking back on the SNES.
Originally designed by Peter Molyneux (of Fable and Dungeon Keeper fame) for the Amiga, Populous was ported to the SNES in 1990.
Unlike SimCity, in which the player creates the buildings and roads, Populous was the first “god game” in which the player uses various godlike powers to simply compel the population to complete certain tasks with the end goal of wiping out a neighboring civilization.
It sounds strange and possibly frustrating, but the fun factor for strategy fans can't be overstated here. It's one of those addictive games that will keep you inexplicably glued for hours on end.
4. Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen
Ogre Battle is a sorely underrated strategy and RPG hybrid series from Quest / Square Enix. It combines the overworld movement of real-time strategy games with the turn-based, tactical combat of the best JRPGs.
Manage your armies, unit mixtures, and creatures, level up your characters, strategize your troop deployments, and fall back to heal your soldiers.
The only thing I've seen like it is the N64 sequel, also an underappreciated treasure.
5. Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball
This is an odd one.
Rather than do a straight-forward basketball game with their athlete's license, Hudson Soft opted for a sci-fi bend, turning the game into a futuristic blood sport.
The graphics aren't amazing and the sound is nothing to write home about, but there's strange, addictive, dumb fun to be found here. There's something extremely cathartic about pummeling some guy to get the ball back.
6. Super Game Boy
Technically not a game, Super Game Boy achieved something much bigger than that – it lets the user play their Game Boy games on the big screen, giving a huge break to strained eyes and necks everywhere.
No more tiny speakers for you, Metroid II.
What's more, it adds color to the previously monochrome green of the original cartridges (with certain limitations, of course).
I can't tell you how much time I spent just playing around with the different color presets on Link's Awakening.
7. Jurassic Park
A flawed game for certain, Jurassic Park nonetheless achieved a landmark for the 2D era – it was one of the first games of the 16-bit generation to feature a smooth first-person view with 3D graphics.
We're not talking about Halo 4 here. The FPS perspective looks very close to something like the original Wolfenstein 3D (which coincidentally was ported to the SNES that same year).
Despite the low-res look, the game still manages to be a tense, anxiety-inducing experience, with night vision goggles, leaping velociraptors, and jump-out scares.
Jurassic Park is almost like two games in one, with the overworld offering an overhead, action-adventure experience akin to something more like Zelda. The outdoor graphics are beautiful and the music has a cool, jungle vibe to it. Watch out for the T-Rex!
8. Super Mario All-Stars / The Lost Levels
Everyone knows Mario, but not everyone knows about the Super Mario Bros. sequel that never made its way to North America – at least, not until All-Stars was released.
Nintendo produced a Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan using most of the graphics from the first game, but with new levels.
After realizing the game was much too difficult (and too similar to the first game), they decided not to release it in the U.S. and instead quickly took another platformer called Doki Doki Panic and re-skinned it with the Mario characters.
That game is what we in North America player as Super Mario Brothers 2. The bob-omb and Birdo wouldn't be part of the Mario mythos if not for that hasty decision.
Then came Super Mario All-Stars. Aside from high-resolution (well, for that time) ports of the first three Mario games from the NES, this multigame cartridge featured The Lost Levels for the first time outside Japan.
9. Super Scope 6
The Super Scope is the SNES's answer to the NES's cool, red (or sometimes grey) Light Zapper. Unlike its easy-to-handle pistol-like predecessor, though, the Super Scope is an enormous, cumbersome, shoulder-mounted bazooka with a targeting scope.
Any extended use past 45 minutes typically results in shoulder, neck, and eye pain (at least for me). It's a shame they bungled the hardware, because the included game was hard to stop playing.
Super Scope 6 is a collection of six mini games to show off the super scope's abilities, including both reflex and puzzle games.
They’re simple games about rotating colored cubes and exploding missiles in mid-flight, but they were extremely well done (it is still a Nintendo-made game, after all) and frankly, downright addictive.
10. Batman Returns
If Capcom was the platformer king, then Konami was master of the street fighting game.
After the success of the Ninja Turtles, Simpsons, and X-Men arcade machines, they turned their attention to the hit movie of 1992. While it does feel essentially like a re-skinning of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV, it does so with style.
The play control is tight, the moves are fun to pull off, and the sound effects are super satisfying. Nothing feels better after a lousy day than pulling some clown off his motorcycle and cracking his skull on the concrete.
Multiple cool moments from the film are turned into gameplay features, including the acid grenade and the double-head cracker move.
Whereas most movie tie-ins fell into the pit of trying too hard to unsuccessfully recreate the scenes from the film and having that ruin the game design, Batman Returns simply put ol’ Bats back in those environments and just threw massive waves of bad guys at him, even including a few new ideas like a battle on top of a train.
Did I mention you get to drive the Batmobile?
Based off the PC game of the same name, Syndicate takes place in a dystopian, cyberpunk future where corporations run the world and use cybernetic “agents” with submachine guns and trench coats try to take each other out.
The game is played from an overhead, isometric perspective and has the player separately controlling four agents on the map at once, using a combination of real-time strategy controls and violent actions.
Syndicate features numerous groundbreaking features for Super Nintendo games, including upgrade-able characters, drive-able vehicles, and squad-based missions.
12. Illusion of Gaia
Easily one of the best RPGs on the Super Nintendo, Illusion of Gaia never quite got the fanfare or exposure that A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy, or Chrono Trigger had.
The game has an interesting blend of JRPG-like traits, combined with real-time action-adventure characteristics. The main character, Will, exists in a partially fictionalized time in Earth’s history that includes ancient ruins, magical powers, and the ability the change into other forms.
With outstanding artwork and musical score, and a fascinating story, it’s most definitely one worth checking out.
13. The Adventures of Batman & Robin
Based directly off the popular and groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series, this game faithfully recreates the visual style of that cartoon, while creating a platform environment for Batman to punch, jump-kick, and Batarang his way through.
Specific set-pieces and familiar traps are recreated with a lot of love here. While reviews on the game remain mixed, it was praised for its graphics, sound, music, and thoughtful puzzles.
14. Demon's Crest
Another action platformer, Demon’s Crest is a sequel to the Gargoyle’s Quest series starring the same demon name Firebrand.
With gorgeous graphics and a surprising complexity of gameplay, Demon’s Crest follows Firebrand as he attempts to collect all six magical crest stones.
As the player acquires new crests, Firebrand gains the ability to transform into various forms to access new areas in a vaguely Metroid-like gameplay.
While the game received mostly favorable reviews, it never achieved the notoriety of its gothic platforming cousin, Castlevania.
15. E.V.O. – The Search for Eden
E.V.O. is a side-scrolling game that puts the player in the role of representing an entire species of creature across time and radical evolutionary changes.
Beginning their journey as a simple fish, the player is tasked with defeating various other creatures to obtain “evolution points”, which can then be used to upgrade their creature’s body with new abilities and features.
Progressing through time, the player is taken on a journey from oceans to land, to the time of the dinosaurs, to the ice age, and finally to the rise of humans.
16. Secret of Evermore
Despite the title, Secret of Evermore actually has nothing to do with Secret of Mana, another of Squaresoft’s popular RPGs of the time.
Evermore follows a boy and his shape-shifting dog as they’re transported to another world by a strange laboratory machine.
Featuring an overhead view and charming graphics that would be familiar to fans of other Square Enix RPGs, Evermore features action-based combat sequences more like Illusion of Gaia or the Zelda series.
17. Wild Guns
Wild Guns is an interesting animal in that it attempts to recreate the experience of a light gun game without using the Super Scope or any other actual gun.
Instead, the player is presented with a targeting crosshair which they can move with the directional pad. The player must alternate between shooting enemies and moving their on-screen character around to avoid being hit.
Even more interesting is the setting, which at first appears to be a wild-west theme, but quickly adds steampunk robots and sci-fi elements to the mix.
The game was praised for its originality, fun multiplayer, eye-popping graphics, and small touches (like the ability to shoot almost any object on the screen).
18. The Firemen
Why not? While criticized for its somewhat short length, The Fireman provides an interesting gameplay scenario with only one bad guy – fire.
Each level features various fires and extreme heat scenarios from an overhead perspective in which the player must extinguish flames to rescue workers and remove dangerous chemicals.
Each level features a boss battle against – you guessed it – a big fire with special “boss fire” behavior. It sounds hokey, but the game is surprisingly addictive and features bright, colorful graphics and an interesting twist on what we expect games to be about.
Cybernator (Assault Suits Valken in Japan) takes place in a dystopian future when the Earth’s governments are fighting over resources with mech suits and other advanced weaponry.
The player takes control of a marine named Jake who’s given a mech assault suit and sent to take out Bildvorg, the Axis government’s most fearsome mech.
Gameplay-wise, it’s similar to other platforming shooters like Contra III. With impressive graphics, ambitious set pieces, good graphics and sound, and multiple endings, Cybernator is worth adding to your collection.
A tournament fighter in the vein of Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, Weaponlord attempted to create a more dynamic and balanced combat system by adding moves like parrying (“thrust-blocking”), deflecting, and take-downs.
Rather than fighting with bare hands, each character is outfitted with a melee weapon, such as a sword or battle axe, with which to perform this ballet of blows.
Reviews on the game were mixed, the general consensus being that while the concept was ambitious and the combat was deep, the animations were choppy-looking, the fighter roster was too short, and the learning curve was steep.
It’s likely that Weaponlord paved the way for later fighters like Soul Calibre, and that this was just another big idea ahead of its time.
Loosely based on the Shadowrun RPG board game, Shadowrun for SNES was set in a dystopian future and star Jake Armitage, an amnesiac and apparent assassin target.
Shadowrun is presented in an overhead, isometric perspective and features both direct control of Jake as well as a cursor system which allows the user to interact with the environment.
Jake can speak with NPCs, hack computer systems, evade assassins, and trade with merchants. Although the graphics are bit flat and drab compared with other games of its time, the gameplay solidified its standing as a groundbreaking action RPG.
22. Tetris Attack
In an ironic twist, Tetris Attack actually has nothing to do with the original Tetris aside from colorful blocks.
Most likely, the name was added on during localization for the American audience as a marketing tactic. Instead of falling from the top, blocks are added at the bottom in a grid, pushing the stack higher.
It’s the player’s job to swap blocks left and right, trying to match up colors to remove blocks before the stack hits the top of the screen.
While the single player game is good, the split-screen competetive multiplayer modes are where Tetris Attack really shines.
Impressive moves will send junk blocks to your rival’s screen, screwing up your friends in classic Nintendo versus fashion.
23. Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing
Developed by Blizzard before they were called Blizzard, Rock ‘n’ Roll Racing is a 2D racing game from a top-down point of view.
Like R.C. Pro-Am from the NES days, the controls follow the direction the car is facing and not the camera, which can take some getting used to. RNR is considered to be one of the best car battle / racing games of that time, even above Super Mario Kart by some people.
While it does fall into the “extreme baditude” aesthetic of the 90’s, there’s always been something charmingly amusing about embracing the absurdity of that era and just going with it.
One of the main highlights of the game is the hard rock soundtrack, featuring hits by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and George Thorogood. While it might sound like a terrible idea to write a 16-bit synth pad version of Paranoid or Bad to the Bone, somehow it just works.
Hey, if Doom can pull off midi metal, why not?
24. Knights of the Round
A side-scrolling fighter loosely (and I mean really loosely) based on the King Arthur legends, Knights of the Round basically plays like a medieval Final Fight or Streets of Rage.
Trade that broken bottle for a broadsword, sir. Unlike those modern-day brawlers, though, Knights of the Round features blocking, horseback riding, and upgrade-able body armor.
Like any classic 2D game from Capcom, expect great play control, catchy music, sharp sound effects, and crisp, colorful sprites.
From the makers of Clay Fighter comes another crazy clay game that… has nothing to do with Clay Fighter.
Instead, you play Clayton (get it? Clayton?), a boy who’s been unjustly transformed into a ball of clay and is now on a quest to rescue his father.
Claymates is a platformer in the style of Donkey Kong Country with a little Kid Chameleon thrown in. The main feature is that as a ball of clay, Clayton can assume different forms (mostly animals) to help him perform different tasks. Examples: a high-jumping cat, a speedy mouse, a nut-throwing squirrel (I kid you not), a bird, and a fish.
26. Magic Sword
Another medieval hack ‘n’ slash from Capcom, Magic Sword featured the unique addition of an ally which would follow the player throughout the platform-based environment.
Player and ally will combine forces at appropriate times, unleashing powerful magical attacks on the enemy. A magic meter that slowly recharges keeps the player updated on how much magical power they have, and attacking at different meter strengths produces different results.
There are a total of eight different companion characters the player can recruit throughout the game, each with their own unique class and abilities.
While the backgrounds get a bit repetitive in places and the framerate can drop when there’s a lot going on, the graphics are great overall and the game features some novel ideas for its time.
Interestingly, the player gets to choose between two endings on game completion – save the world or become the villain.
27. Goof Troop
Based on the Disney cartoon series, this bouncy, colorful game was developed by (who else?) Capcom.
Unlike their other Disney games, though, Goof Troop isn’t a platformer, but actually a puzzle-solving game played from an overhead perspective.
While Goofy and Max (Goofy’s teenage son. Hold on, when did that happen?) can’t directly attack the enemies in each level, they can use environmental traps and various objects scattered throughout the area to take them out.
Interestingly enough, the game was designed by Shinji Mikami, who would go on to horror game fame with series like Resident Evil and The Evil Within.
28. The King of Dragons
Capcom was on a roll with the sword fighting games.
Very similar to Knights of the Round, King of Dragons also features side-scrolling fighting action, a simple two-button control scheme, a special move to wipe out all enemies on the screen at the expense of the player’s health, and an arcade feel.
Also like Knights and Capcom’s other street fighting games like Final Fight, the game features multiple playable characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Unlike those games, however, this one also features magic and sorcery.
29. King Arthur's World
While a surprising number games were made (now that I’m actually checking) that supported the Super NES Mouse, few games advertised it as one of the primary features like King Arthur did.
Since not many people outside Mario Paint owners had the mouse, it’s a good thing King Arthur’s World lets the player use the controller as well.
A Lemmings-style game set during the Middle Ages, the game doesn’t allow the player to move the King directly, but instead has them issue commands to both him and his troops to move in a particular direction of complete a specific task.
Actions include fighting with enemies, firing arrows, healing other units, magical attacks, blowing up barrels, breaking down doors, and limited building. The end goal is to take down the enemy troop leader, which only Arthur can do.
Careful you don’t lose too many good men on the road, though.
30. The Lost Vikings
Another game from when Blizzard was still known as Silicon & Synapse, The Lost Vikings has the player alternate control of three Viking warriors to solve puzzles in a side-scrolling environment.
Each Nord has different sets of abilities, which the player will need to use at the appropriate time – running, jumping, wall-bashing, archery, swordsmanship, and various creative uses for a large, wooden shield.
Critics praised the game, specifically noting that the sense of humor and cartoony graphics grant it a unique and charming personality.
The puzzles are thoughtful and challenging, and the game consistently finds the right balance between methodical brainteasers and hand-eye coordination, with just the right difficulty level.
That’s a hard balance beam to walk in any console generation.