It’s been nearly thirty years since the debut of Nintendo’s 16-bit SNES console, and boy, was it a game changer! Considered one of the ‘golden eras’ of gaming, the SNES is responsible for the launch of several franchises, including Super Mario, F-Zero, and Sin City, to name a few, and remains arguably the most popular console in Nintendo history. We have put together a list of the 30 best SNES games of all-time based on cultural impact, longevity, and originality. Any ranking can be subjective, but we truly believe these games are worthy of being on this list. That said, let’s get to it!
Release Date: March 1991
One of the biggest cartoons of the 1990s, Turtles in Time was probably the best SNES game to come from an animated series, as the others were known for lackluster gameplay and low ratings. With the option to play as one of the show’s four main characters: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, or Raphael, players battle enemies from different eras, making it one of the best “beat em up” games to hit the platform. With its solid controls and visuals, Turtles in Time lived up to its enormous hype.
Release Date: March 19th, 1994
The 80s and 90s thrived off action-adventure games, and Super Metroid was another action game that kept gamers on their toes. Playing as protagonist Samus Aran, players explored open-ended worlds, in the attempt to search the planet for a Metroid stolen by Ridley, the leader of the Space Pirates. Complete with running, jumping, and plenty of adventure, players were given a great experience with Super Metroid, making a strong case for Samus Aran as one of the most underrated Nintendo characters.
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Harvest Moon deviated from the standard action and puzzle games we saw dominating SNES during that time. A farming-simulation game with 3D graphics, the game was an unexpected success, with players following a young man who inherits his grandfather’s farm with the task of cleaning up and maintaining the property while also building relationships with the locals. Harvest Moon set a precedent for future farming-simulation games, with 2016’s Stardew Valley having a nearly identical storyline. Obviously, Harvest Moon wasn’t the most action-filled game, but it still put your skills to the test.
Release Date: September 21st, 1994
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Kirby just might be one of the most beloved Nintendo characters ever, and Kirby’s Dream Course was a near-perfect game. A miniature golf escapade, players had to use their golfing abilities to clash with enemies, with Kirby being loaded with battle options such as; the ability to transform into a tornado, a sparkly ball capable of destroying obstacles, and a UFO (which gave Kirby flying capabilities). As you can see, Dream Course wasn’t your standard golfing game, which made it all the better.
Release Date: July 14th, 1993
Developer: Nintendo EAD
A compilation of SNES games, Super Mario All-Stars consisted of remakes of four different Mario games released on NES: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Bros 2., and Super Mario Bros 3. This compilation was a match made in heaven for any Super Mario fan and gave the younger generation a new-and-improved way to experience those earlier games. All-Stars was a rarity at that time (especially since it included the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2), as remasters and compilations weren’t really a ‘standard’ thing in the gaming industry.
Release Date: November 20th, 1990
Racing games will be popular until the end of time, and F-Zero can be credited with upping the ante on modern racing games with its graphics, fast-paced gameplay, and overall intensity, providing adrenaline bursting “Fast and Furious” matches. F-Zero was the NES game to feature Mode 7 graphics and was considered to be a driving force in the eventual development of 3D graphics. The F-Zero series spawned many sequels, including the ever-popular F-Zero X.
Release Date: March 26th, 1993
Star Fox was another game that featured Mode 7 graphics, and while one could say the game is visually and technologically unappealing now, in 1993, these graphics were considered amazing. Whether you agree or not, the game itself was a blast to play with players taking control of the infamous Arwing aircraft through various adventures in the Lylat Planetary System. Though later titles enhanced some of the mechanics and features in this game, many still consider this one to be the franchise’s best game.
Release Date: May 31st, 1996
An RPG game that focused on Mario and his friends as they attempted to defeat Smithy, Legend of the Stars was a fun, lighthearted game that wasn’t too challenging but still slightly difficult. Like many older games, Legend of the Stars set the foundation for future installments, and you can see how many future Mario RPG games drew inspiration from this one. This game didn’t stray too far away from many of the recognizable Mario elements but still offered a different take than usual.
Release Date: August 6th, 1993
A fantasy RPG game released to SNES in 1993, Secret of Mana had an intriguing storyline with stunning graphics and a great soundtrack to back it up. The battles were pretty interesting as players followed three characters on a conquest to use the power of an ancient flying fortress in an attempt to conquer the world. While Secret of Mana was later released to other consoles, the SNES version is still widely considered the best.
Release Date: May 1993
Developer: Beam Software
In a world full of RPG’s, Shadowrun not only stood out amongst other RPG’s, but the game has also withstood the test of time. Officially categorized as a cyberpunk fantasy-action game, Shadowrun was a futuristic combat game set in the year 2050 and had a crime storyline based on a novel written by creator Robert N. Charrette entitled Never Deal With a Dragon. The game was described as being ahead of its time (and rightfully so a game based on the future), marking it as a pioneer for RPG consoles.
Release Date: August 27th, 1992
Developer: Nintendo EAD
The ‘Don Dada’ of the Mario Kart series, no all-time list is complete without this game. Super Mario Kart featured all of Mario’s characters as they made their way through loads of races and challenges. One of the most innovative Mario games ever, Mario Kart allowed players to ride solo or call shotgun with both single and multiplayer modes and had three different battle modes to choose from. Its success makes it one of the most successful Nintendo games of all time.
Release Date: March 4th, 1994
There is a strong possibility that there would have been no NBA Live and 2K if it weren’t for NBA Jam. Released during the Jordan era, the game was full of 2-on-2 matchups and pretty advanced for 1993. NBA Jam had already achieved record-breaking numbers through the arcade version, and that success transferred over to the SNES edition, making it a pivotal moment for basketball video games. NBA Jam was also known for developing the popular phrase ‘Boomshakalaka,’ and featured many hip-hop classics.
Release Date: February 28th, 1992
A run and gun game released in 1992, Alien Wars has a solid case for being the most recognizable title in the Contra franchise. Surrounded by alien enemies, players had to be prepared to shoot at any given moment as things could get ugly quite fast. A co-op 2D that you could play with your friends, players had to fight alien invasions on Earth through six different stages and was a pretty wicked game that could be beaten in a relatively short amount of time. Alien Wars is now available on the Wii U Virtual Console.
Release Date: December 16th, 1990
Released in 1990, Act Raiser combined traditional side-scrolling platformer with urban planning god game sections. Controlling ‘The Master,’ a godlike persona who was defeated by a dark force known as Tanzra aka ‘The Evil One’ and his six lieutenants in battle, ‘The Master’ suddenly awakens from a deep sleep after several hundred years to find himself on a new conquest to save his land and former worshippers. The more battles you win, the more followers you get. If done correctly, you can help ‘The Master’ take over the reins of his land again.
Release Date: April 1993
You have to make a follow-up game just as good if not better than the original, and there is no better example of that than Mortal Kombat II. Numero Dos saw a huge improvement in the game’s mechanics, combat, and graphics, while not straying too far from the features that fans loved the most (i.e., the blood and gore). II experienced unprecedented commercial success, locking it as one the most impactful Nintendo games ever.
Release Date: November 18th, 1994
One of the best Nintendo video games to ever hit the SNES console, Donkey Kong Country was a highly anticipated game that soared to unimaginable heights. Controlling Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong, Country featured 40 different side-scrolling levels where players could collect items, defeat enemies, and uncover secrets on their journey to defeat K. Rool. This game was highly anticipated and lived up to its expectations spawning two equally successful sequels: Diddy Kong’s Quest and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble!
Release Date: April 2nd, 1994
An absolute monster, Final Fantasy VI was an RPG set in a fantasy world similar to the Second Industrial Revolution. With fourteen playable characters, plenty of drama, and apocalyptic square-offs, the gameplay and replayability were highly praised by both fans and critics. Many have Final Fantasy VI ranked as being one of the best RPGs in gaming history, and while that can be debatable to some, this game most certainly has the numbers to back it up.
Release Date: 1993
Coinciding with the 1992 film of the same title, Batman Returns was one of the defining ‘beat’ em-up’ SNES games of the 1990s. The game took players through the six scenes featured in the film and captured the essence of Tim Burton quite nicely. A fun action game that accurately represents 1990s movie and gaming culture, Batman Returns deserves a spot on this list.
Release Date: October 1988
Going back to the late 1980s, Ninja Gaiden quickly became known for its complex challenges, music, and gameplay. Battling as Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja on a journey to America after receiving a letter from his missing father, the game was a masterpiece from beginning to end. Many consider Ninja Gaiden to be the game that heavily introduced cut scenes, and players were equipped with a wide range of ninja moves and weapons setting the tone for future ninja games.
Release Date: August 5th, 1995
Developer: Nintendo EAD
A 1995 platform game, Yoshi’s Island remains one of the most unique and creative SNES games to date. With the objective of protecting baby Mario and rescuing a kidnapped baby Luigi, Yoshi’s Island was a beautiful, heartwarming game that is sometimes forgotten in the Mario catalog.
Release Date: March 11th, 1995
Focusing on a group of adventurers engaged in time traveling to avoid a global disaster, Chrono Trigger is now recognized as one of the best SNES games of all-time. A complete heavy hitter, each character brought their own charm, and the multiple endings were an added bonus feature, meaning that you could play the game a variety of times with different outcomes. Often compared to Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger sometimes gets lost in the mix, but it has experienced success in its own right.
Release Date: December 17th, 1993
Another action-packed futuristic journey, Mega Man X brought wit, charm, and entertainment. With hidden objects and tons of weapons, players had loads of ammunition to get through the game’s eight levels. The mechanics were off the wall, and X made drastic updates to the game giving players more flexibility with their controls.
Release Date: August 27th, 1994
Developer: Ape and HAL Laboratory
A unique goofy game with no real limits or boundaries, Earthbound was a heartwarming RPG that offered a fun storyline, exploration, and a nostalgic flashback to your childhood. The game was simple, but sometimes simplicity is needed in video games the same way it’s needed in tv/movies. The visuals were decent, the soundtrack was relaxing, and still holds up nearly thirty years after its release.
Release Date: September 26th, 1986
Selecting the best game in the Castlevania series is always a tough call. While some may say that honor goes to Dracula’s Curse, that game wouldn’t have been possible without the original. The game follows the main character, Simon, as he runs, jumps, and magic whips his way through 18 different stages, with the ultimate goal being to defeat Dracula. The reception to Castlevania was positive, with many agreeing that Castlevania deserves a spot on any all-time list.
Release Date: August 6th, 1986
Developer: Nintendo Research and Development
Blending together Super Smash Bros and Zelda, Metroid was another exploration game that featured different endings depending on which path you took. These types of games are always popular because you can get multiple runs out of them, and that was especially important in the 80s and 90s when there weren’t nearly as many video games available compared to our current gaming landscape. Metroid is one record as being the first major franchise to feature a female protagonist, and the game itself is considered a top-five NES title.
Release Date: September 18th, 1987
Developer: Nintendo R& D3
Also known as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, this game is considered one of the best games to ever release in the boxing genre. Controlling the character ‘Little Mac,’ players had to box their way through multiple rounds and levels in the hopes of reaching the final level known as the ‘Dream Fight.’ Many of the boxing moves and combos were similar to Mike Tyson (who the game was inspired by), with Nintendo taking a chance by hiring a relatively young and unproven Tyson as their ambassador. That decision wound up being lucrative for both Nintendo and Tyson paving the way for future cover athletes (à la 2K).
Release Date: October 27th, 1995
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Also known as Panel de Pon, Tetris is the mother of all puzzle games, and Attack was simply an enhanced version of previous releases. Like any other Tetris game, Tetris Attack required players to use their critical thinking skills to keep puzzle blocks from overflowing by moving and rotating the tetrads as they fell. For some reason, this version was super popular, and the game can now be found on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007.
Release Date: October 31st, 1991
In the fourth installment of the Castlevania series, IV took all of the concepts from previous games and expanded on them. Players received expanded play control, as well as improved 16-bit graphics. As a result, the gameplay was stellar with smoother controls, making it a more enjoyable experience. There are some people that consider IV to be one of the greatest video games of all-time, and it continues to remain a fan-favorite in the NES catalog.
Release Date: November 21, 1990
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Super Mario World was a critical turning point in gaming history. A SNES launcher, Super Mario World saw Mario on a mission to save Princess Peach and Dinosaur Land from Bowser and his minion Koopalings. The game was silly, fun, and laid the groundwork for future Mario releases. Super Mario World was commended for its precise details and enhanced mechanics, making it one of the most heavily talked about SNES games in history.
Release Date: November 21st, 1991
Developer: November 21st, 1991
Released in 1991, A Link to the Past saw players taking on the role of Link, a young man given the challenge of wrestling Princess Zelda from the hands of Agahnim, a wizard seeking to release his dark master. A captivating open-world game, players were given a chance to explore the world using maps while fighting their way through playful combat missions and demanding puzzles. The graphics on this game were beautiful, and the elite storytelling made it an instant classic.
That’s going to wrap up our list of the best SNES games of all-time. While we understand that some may disagree with our selections, we can all agree that the SNES era was a special one. We hope you enjoyed this article and look forward to sharing our next set of rankings.