A lot can happen in thirty years. To be fair, a lot can happen in one year (2020’s been a stark reminder of that), but thirty?!? We’ve seen five-ish console generations in that time, and some incredible advances in the tech and design ideas behind video games, but there was something special about the 16-bit generation.
Maybe it’s just rose-tinted specs for our long lost childhood. Maybe the console wars and the playground debates gave every game release an extra little frisson. Or perhaps developers and hungry platform holders really were at the very top of their game—the peak of their powers—before polygons arrived and sent teams back to the drawing board to re-examine and experiment with the expanded possibilities of household gaming.
Whatever the reason, the 16-bit Super Nintendo and SEGA’s Genesis / Mega Drive represent a pinnacle of gaming for many of us. On the 30th anniversary of the Super Nintendo’s launch in Japan (known there as the Super Famicom, of course), we present to you the top 50 Super NES games ever, as rated by Nintendo Life readers.
Much like our previous Top 50 lists covering other Nintendo consoles, the ranked list below is dictated by User Ratings for each game in the Nintendo Life game database. As such, the order below is fluid and can fluctuate even after publication. Haven’t rated your favourite SNES games? Simply click on the User Rating star next to each title below and give it a score out of 10. The score will immediately be counted towards the total and be reflected in the ordering.
Already rated your SNES collection? Thank you! In that case, simply sit back and prepare to scroll through the 50 best SNES games ever…
Gradius III has great level design and plenty of variety on offer, with each level having its own theme. The end of level boss battles are excellent, albeit quite punishing — you will have to keep your wits about you until you figure out the best tactics to repeat in order to ensure success. Fans of the series are unlikely to be too disappointed with this, even if it is a little rough around the edges.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Star Fox is obviously a classic, and its use of the Super FX chip resulted in an experience that felt awe-inspiring to anybody who witnessed it on their SNES back in 1993. It’s a little more jarring for players these days, especially ones who got into the Star Fox series later. Players who vomit at anything less than 60fps will want to sit this one out, but the underlying design still shines and those pining for a return for Fox, Peppy, Falco, and maybe even the ever-rubbish Slippy will enjoy jumping back in the cockpit of an Arwing and saving Corneria once more. The fact that it’s now available on Switch is very nice.
Street Fighter II’ Turbo: Hyper Fighting is arguably the best entry in Capcom’s premier fighting franchise on the SNES, but there are more than enough flavours of Street Fighter II floating around to satisfy all tastes. While not the best Street Fighter on the system, squeezing Street Fighter Alpha 2 onto the Super Nintendo was a hugely impressive feat that deserves your admiration. You can play the arcade port of the game already on Switch as part of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, but the SNES version is still a sparkling example of what could be accomplished on the console.
Final Fantasy V expanded the series’ job system and came to the West in TOSE’s 2006 GBA port Final Fantasy V Advance. The port touched up the game’s visuals and added a sprinkling of new content and features to make it arguably the best version to play – it remains the only way to play the game in the West on Nintendo systems, although it’s on Japanese Virtual Consoles and is widely available on other platforms (PC, PlayStation, mobile).
Finishing Axelay on hard mode reveals the tantalising sign-off, “See you again in Axelay 2”. By the time many of us had become skilled enough to reach this screen, some of Konami’s most talented programmers and designers had departed to form Treasure, a company which you could argue continued the Konami tradition of 2D excellence in the years since. The sequel never materialised, but Axelay reminds us just how rich the 16-bit era was. Many shooters from this same period have aged badly, the years having exposed the fragility of their mechanics and the crudeness of their presentation, yet Axelay gleams like a piece of software which rolled off the production line only yesterday. The SNES catalogue is packed with games that are often described as timeless classics, but few are as worthy of that accolade as this.
The first in a lineage of games that would arguably reach their peak on Nintendo’s next console, in the mid-1990s Konami laid the groundwork for the series subsequent highs with ISS on Super NES. Obviously, future instalments would refine the experience, but as 16-bit footy games go, this one’s beautiful indeed.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
An incredibly charming port of a huge experience, SimCity is one of the best value-for-money propositions in the 16-bit console’s library, potentially offering months and months of gameplay. If you’re looking for something that offers long-term challenge and will tax your brain, then you really should track this down. Action fans are obviously going to be disappointed by the lack of instant gratification, but if you’re after a title that will challenge your grey matter then this is it.
Publisher: Interplay / Developer: Silicon & Synapse
This puzzle-platformer has you taking control of three Vikings (Baleog, Erik and Olaf) was they try to change their status from lost to found. The Lost Vikings subsequently appeared on various systems, but it started out on SNES and it’s a top quality production with great animation, tight controls and a good dose of humour.
There’s certainly no denying the quirky charm Soul Blazer emanates as you take part in the quest, but what makes this game such a joy to play is the incredible play control system and unique gameplay elements inherent throughout. Who would have ever thought that some of the better ideas from Actraiser could ever make for such an engrossing RPG experience when placed in the right developer’s hands? If you want to see what the action-RPG genre is really all about, look no further than this 16-bit classic.
Publisher: Data East / Developer: Beam Software
There are some things about the controls that irritate and visually Shadowrun lacks polish but for the most part the game is challenging fun, with atmospheric music, interesting characters and a gripping narrative that makes each play through an absolute joy. Perhaps the only disappointing thing is that the ending mentions ‘Shadowrun II’ and whilst games based on the license appeared on the Mega Drive, Mega CD and Xbox 360, sadly none were the much-deserved sequel to this.