Few gaming platforms have the legacy of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nintendo’s second home console helped usher in the 16-bit era with medium-defining games such as Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid, many of which still hold up great today. Here's some of my opinions on what I believe to be the genre-defining moments that one of Nintendo's best-loved consoles has given us.
Before Super Mario Maker 2 let us create the devious Mario levels of our dreams, Mario Paint was one of the first Nintendo games to let players run wild with their creativity. On top of letting you create custom drawings and color in preset images of Mario and friends, Mario paint allowed you to compose custom songs using a cute, intuitive and surprisingly robust interface. But Mario Paint is perhaps best known for heralding the Super NES Mouse accessory, which was one of the first in a long line of signature wacky Nintendo peripherals.
Super Star Wars
Super Star Wars loosely adapted the iconic 1977 sci-fi film into a solid, challenging 2D platformer that was an excellent technical showpiece of what the SNES was capable of. It certainly took some liberties with the plot -- we don’t remember Luke Skywalker running and gunning his way through a Jawa Sandcrawler -- but it did allow us to relive iconic moments such as the fateful Death Star battle. Super Star Wars’ vehicular sections were particularly impressive for the time, delivering crisp, quasi-3D graphics that brought F-Zero and Star Fox to mind.
Contra III: The Alien Wars
If you like side-scrolling shoot-em-ups, Contra III is about as good as they get. This high-octane action game throws bullet-hell barrages of projectiles and enemies at you at every turn, as well as gigantic bosses that will text your reflexes. It also stands out from the rest of the series with its neat top-down levels that break up the 2D action. If you’re looking for something to play with a friend on your SNES Classic, Contra III is one of the finest co-op games on the system
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Incredibly challenging, but immensely satisfying, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts stole hours of my life as a kid. The third game in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, this side-scrolling action title lets you play as Arthur, a knight on a mission to rescue his princess from demonic forces led by Emperor Sadius. Armed with a simple suit of armor and a lance, your job is to kill baddies and survive, preferably without taking a hit. If you do get hit, Arthur’s armor shatters leaving him in his skivvies while the next one turns him into a pile of bones. But never fear, there are plenty of powerups along the way to help keep Arthur alive. But in order to make it to the end, you’ll need an equal mix of skills, memory, powerups and good luck.
Super Mario Kart
Let's be honest, Super Mario Kart's successors best the original in every conceivable way. The Nintendo 64's polygonal capabilities would later allow for unprecedented track designs and immersive gameplay free of the SNES' 16-bit shackles. That said, there wouldn't be any kart racers if not for Super Mario Kart, which demonstrated to the world that recognizable characters whipping around zany amusement park locales flinging all manner of hazards at each other were a recipe for multiplayer gold. Other kart racers — some even touting Mario's fiercest rivals — have improved on the formula, but they'd never have the chance if not for Nintendo's landmark, genre-creating achievement.
Street Fighter II Turbo
Street Fighter II is the most iconic and influential fighting game ever made, and Street Fighter II Turbo was the definitive way to play it for SNES owners. This port of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting delivered faster, more fluid combat, fresh colors for the whole cast and, for the first time on console, the ability to play as boss characters like M. Bison and Sagat. There’s a reason Street Fighter II Turbo is the version you get on the SNES Classic -- this is one of the best fighting game console ports of all time, and one that’s still a blast to play today.
Super Mario All-Stars
Super Mario All-Stars is one of the finest collections of games ever made, and arguably one of gaming’s first true remakes/remasters. This package contains spruced-up versions of NES hits Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3, as well as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels -- the “real” sequel to Super Mario Bros. that was previously unavailable in the states. If you got the 1994 reissue that tossed in Super Mario World, you had possibly the single best lineup of games ever pressed to a single cartridge. From the sheer enduring quality of the older Mario games to the love that went into bringing them to the 16-bit era, All-Stars is a must-have for any SNES fan.
Final Fantasy III/VI
Don't let the name fool you: Final Fantasy III on the SNES was known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan. (Only two other Final Fantasy games had come out in the U.S. at the time, hence the unusual localization.) But whatever you call the game, Final Fantasy VI is one of the very best RPGs on the SNES — or any other platform, for that matter. You take control of a young mage named Terra, as she recruits a motley crew of freedom fighters in an engrossing steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy world. The story goes to some very dark places, courtesy of its villain, the delightfully evil Kefka Palazzo. (Even all these years later, his laugh still haunts us.) Where the game really shines, though, is its open-ended gameplay. By allying with summonable spirits called Espers, each character can learn whatever skills or magic the player chooses, leading to some fascinating party combinations.