Nintendo’s Super Nintendo has remained relevant thirty years after its original release for plenty of reasons but the biggest may be the variety and quality of the 16-bit console’s game library.
720 games were released for the Super Nintendo in America and it is filled with cult classics, iconic masterpieces, and must-play experiences that haven’t aged at all.
These are the thirty most essential Super Nintendo games, listed in no particular order. Most of these games are just as fun today as they were nearly thirty years ago. You should consider playing some of these the next time you’re looking for a tasty, retro treat.
30 Essential Super Nintendo Games
A run and gun action game based on the film that was released on several different systems, including Commodore 64, Game Boy, Game Gear, NES, and the SNES. The Super Nintendo version is the best way to experience this classic title.
Players are put in control of Ellen Ripley as she makes her way through the Fiorina 161 prison colony. Ripley can run, jump, shoot, climb, crawl, and use a wide variety of weapons, including pulse rifles, flamethrowers, and more.
Alien 3 is a bit difficult but it’s a really good time, especially considering the limited technology of the era. Don’t be afraid to skip levels with passwords, especially if you just want to battle the Alien Queen at the end.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Zombies Ate My Neighbors is another run and gun game but it’s much different from Alien 3. In the game, players take control of Zeke and Julie (optional co-op!) as they battle zombies across several different levels.
The game is filled with humor, horror, and hijinks but it’s mostly lighthearted and silly. Cities and suburbs are overrun by zombies created by the Dr. Tongue, who created the evil hordes in his castle, and it’s up to Zeke and Julie to save the day.
Battle the undead in tons of locations, including shopping malls, pyramids, and haunted castles. Zeke and Julie can use water guns, bazookas, explosive pop cans, tomatoes, flamethrowers, and anything else you happen to find while trying to stay alive.
Don’t forget about the three extra bonus levels, which are accessible with a password!
Zombies Ate My Neighbors and its sequel, Ghoul Patrol, were both re-released as part of Lucasfilm Classic Games: Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol. The re-release is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Shin Megami Tensei
Shin Megami Tensei is a post-apocalyptic RPG that was originally only released in Japan. It was officially brought to other countries later but not until much later. The name is recognizable decades later due to the series’ continued popularity and from later releases, including the Persona series.
Shin Megami Tensei is the first game in the series and the story takes off pretty quick. It’s set in a world where a portal to the realm of demons is unintentionally opened by a scientist. The United States attacks Tokyo with nuclear weapons.
Earth is devastated by the violence and demonic invasion while two cults try to bring about the final versions of their kingdoms and deities.
It’s unlike anything else before it and absolutely worth experiencing. The mobile port is no longer playable on modern devices so a translated version of the Japanese SNES game would be the easiest way to play it.
Actraiser is super unique. It combines god-game segments with sidescroller platforming gameplay. The player teams up with The Master (God in the Japanese version of the game) to purge the lands of evil and help rebuild civilization.
Tanzra (Satan in the Japanese version) has taken over the world and split it into six different lands, with an evil lieutenant put in charge of each area.
Players take control control of an angel and statue during gameplay to purge the world of evil and to help rebuild civilization.
Actraider is an incredible unique title that blends two genres that could stand to be combined more often.
Primal Rage is an intense fighting game set at the end of the world with giant beasts that battle it out to decide Earth’s fate. Humans are gone and the seven biggest remaining monsters will decide between peace or pushing reality further into darkness.
Shadowrun is a tabletop game but a Super Nintendo version was released in 1993. It’s an action RPG that blends point-and-click elements with direct control. The game opens with Jake Armitage dying in the street before he wakes up in a morgue, revived with magic thanks to a mysterious stranger.
Shadowrun is a must-play action-RPG for any fans of retro role-playing titles or cyberpunk titles with a certain level of polish.
Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (Street Fighter II Turbo in Japan)
Hyper Fighting is the third game released for Street Fighter II and features several changes and refinements in the updated release. Hyper Fighting introduced new powered-up moves called Super Combos, as well as a new hidden character. It’s hard to go wrong with any version of Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo but this version is great.
Super Mario All-Stars
Remakes and releases may be common now but there was a time where they were new and revolutionary. Super Mario All-Stars provided gamers with the opportunity to keep playing the NES Mario titles, but with new graphics and in one, nice cartridge.
The collection also included Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels, which is what Japan received instead of the vegetable-tossing version the rest of the world received. It’s a great way to experience classic Mario titles in a different way.
Kirby Super Star
Kirby Super Star was the best deal in games until The Orange Box. This cartridge contains eight different games, including Spring Breeze, which is a remake of Kirby’s very first game.
The Great Cave Offensive is one of my personal favorites. It’s a Metroidvania adventure where players explore caves and look for treasure.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
Remember Konami? Yeah, the pachinko machine company that makes Silent Hill themed gambling machines and shuts down YouTube creators that fight to keep the company’s art alive. Yeah. Konami used to make games and they were incredible.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is one of the best games in the arcade beat ‘em up genre, regardless of how you feel about the Ninja Turtles. You should like them though. They’re cool dudes that love the party scene and beating up evil.
Turtles in Time lets up to four players run left to right and in between while fighting enemies from both the 1987 animated series and the live action film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Turtles in Time has sharp, colorful visuals and super fun gameplay. It’s kind of hard but whatever, use cheat codes. All that matters is that you have a good time.
Loose copies of the game are relatively cheap if you’re uncomfortable with emulation, but there’s no way to purchase the iconic turtle title. Probably for super dumb licensing reasons that a bunch of adults should figure out.
There was a 2009 remake released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 but it was delisted two years later. Don’t let capitalism prevent you from experiencing an absolutely stellar SNES title. (Don’t miss the soundtrack either!)
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Yoshi’s Island is one of my favorite platformers. It’s also one of the Super Nintendo titles I find myself revisiting the most (along with the next entry on the list). It’s just a fun, colorful, and happy game.
It’s hard sometimes and I’d pay real, actual money (at least $20) for a version where Baby Mario doesn’t cry ever. But it’s fun. And Yoshi’s Island has held up really well, so don’t miss it! Watch a playthrough, play the game, and get the first level’s music stuck in your head for all eternity.
Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country is a lot harder than Yoshi’s Island but they’re equally good games for different reasons. Shigeru Miyamoto was right to worry about the effects technology and graphics could have on game design, but he was wrong to accuse Rare of making anything but magic.
The technology aspect of the game is impossible to ignore but it only gave Rare more resources to create this interesting and undeniably good 2D platformer. It’s a hard game so make sure to stock up on lives in the first level throughout the game.
There’s a lot of cheap deaths and difficulty so it’s best experienced on Nintendo Switch Online. The service’s rewind feature will make the experience much, much better. You could always just vibe with the soundtrack too. David Wise <3
Super Castlevania IV
There have been several must-play Castlevania titles and Super Castlevania IV is absolutely one of them. It’s also a remake of the first game so it’s the perfect place to start. It’s been re-released several times too so it’s pretty easy to play.
It was most recently made available on the Super NES Classic Edition but it was also included in Castlevania Anniversary Collection, a compilation of classic Castlevania titles released for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Super Mario RPG
Super Mario RPG is one of the weirdest collaborations between two companies that often work independently. Developed by Square (now Square Enix after merging with Enix), Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a turn-based JRPG set in the Super Mario Bros. universe.
And it isn’t just a Mario RPG, it’s an incredible RPG with a Mario aesthetic and flavor. Square developed this shortly after making games such like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. It’s a super weird game and so much fun. Nintendo has re-released it on the Virtual Console services for the Wii and Wii U but it hasn’t come to the Nintendo Switch in any capacity yet.
Chrono Trigger is a role-playing game set against a story of time travel, survival, and well, it’s got multiple endings so how things go is kind of up to you. The soundtrack is my favorite part about the game but the rest of the experience is great too.
Chrono Trigger was brought to life by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series; Yuji Horii, game designer and creator of the Dragon Quest series; and Akira Toriyama, character designer of Dragon Quest and creator of the Dragon Ball manga series.
The three decided to develop something special and it still stands the test of time decades later. The Nintendo DS version is probably the definitive version of the game but any version is good. Some versions are better but either way, it’s still a good time.
I wish another company made Earthbound because it’d probably be available on Nintendo Switch right now. I also don’t know if it would be the same game without Nintendo. I don’t want to tell you anything about Earthbound.
I want you to go play it. Your options are pretty much emulation, Wii U, or SNES Classic Edition. It’s not on Nintendo Switch and SNES cartridges are very expensive. Earthbound is a good game but don’t pay a hundred bucks to play it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
A Link to the Past is still one of the best games in the Legend of Zelda series. The action-adventure game thrusts Link and Zelda into a battle to save Hyrule. The demon King Ganon has brought darkness to Hyrule and it’s up to you to save the day.
If you take one thing from this article, please let it be the Japanese commercial for A Link to the Past. It’s the coolest thing ever and I love it so much. It’s better than (almost) every single American video game commercial.
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI (also called Final Fantasy III when it was first released in North America) is a masterpiece. It’s quite honestly at least one of the greatest video games ever made.
Classic turn-based Final Fantasy combat fills a story featuring chemical warfare, hope, rebellion, military dictatorships, and even the end of the world. See the world of Final Fantasy VI through its fourteen playable characters on Super Nintendo, mobile platforms, or PC.
Look, this list isn’t ranked but Cool Spot does belong toward the top. It sounds like a joke but the only joke is ignoring this game after you’re told about it. It’s a side-scrolling platformer where you control 7-Up’s mascot, Cool Spot.
It might be obvious product placement but the jokes actually on 7-Up. I only drink it when I’m sick and they paid for the development of one of the best platformers. I have no idea why those bozos haven’t re-released this game.
It’s been almost thirty years so it’s probably safe to drink Pepsi and emulate.
We love Tetris at Prima Games because we love great games. Tetris Attack is a great game. It also has Yoshi in it. That’s all you need to know. Go play it. Okay, and it’s also especially worth playing if you have good memories with Pokemon Puzzle League.
The N64 puzzle game didn’t just have Professor Oak interrupting Ash’s vacation. Pokemon Puzzle League also continued ideas and mechanics from Tetris Attack. Play both games because they’re both good.
Super Mario World
Super Mario World is the next console pack-in title next to Wii Sports. Nintendo reinvented Mario for a new generation of consoles and let everyone ride Yoshi. It’s available on Nintendo Switch Online at no additional cost and is a must-play platformer.
Stardew Valley will probably always be the greatest game in the farm simulation genre but there was a time when Harvest Moon games were at the top of their game. The SNES Harvest Moon is more limited than later titles but it’s still an essential (and relaxing) experience.
EVO: Search for Eden
Kill things, level up with experience points, and turn into different kinds of animals. Yes, EVO: Search for Eden has one of the coolest concepts in games. I first played EVO: Search for Eden years after its original release and it still felt like I stumbled onto something magical.
I wish it would get a re-release or remake. I also wish more games like this would be made. Transforming from a fish into a dinosaur is still one of the coolest things I’ve done in a video game — and I’ve played Gex: Enter the Gecko.
Prices are all over the place at time of writing but emulate it if you have to. Maybe Square Enix will make it available again if they see us playing it.
Tetris & Dr. Mario
Two perfect games in one package, and with different kinds of puzzle flavors. Both games remain must-plays for anyone that loves the Super Nintendo.
Mario Paint is such a weird and fun title. I had no idea it existed until the mid 2000s. I found out about it through YouTube back when the video platform was mostly video games and Smosh.
Now it’s mostly destroying the world’s politics for ad revenue which is was less cooler than Mario Paint. You could draw stuff in Mario Paint. It came with a mouse that connected to the Super Nintendo.
I don’t know why anyone would draw with it though. The best part of Mario Paint is making music with cute icons and weird video game noises. Sigh... Mario Paint was super fun and I miss it all the time, and old YouTube.
SimCity may not have as many features as later titles in the series but it’s still a capable and impressive city management title. Playing it also shows an early glance into the beginnings of the series.
Few things are more relaxing than flying Pilot Wings and one of them is Microsoft Flight Simulator. Pilot Wings is so relaxing and warm.
Mortal Kombat II
Mortal Kombat 11 is probably the best game in the series but the second SNES entry remains just as fun today as ever. It’s not as violent as the Genesis version but don’t complain because my mom will think we only play video games for the blood and guts.
Just play it cool. We’ll play the Genesis version at your house next week.
Mega Man X
Mega Man X isn’t just the first Mega Man title released for the Super Nintendo. It’s also one of the best. I haven’t played all of the series but I’ve played a fair amount of them. Mega Man X is one of my favorites.
I chose a more plain picture for Super Metroid for so many reasons but the biggest is that no journey is the same. Samu Aran’s journey through Super Metroid may have some objectives that everyone will complete along the way but no two will be entirely the same.
The Metroidvania term was coined to describe titles that were similar to Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in how the games are built and structured. Metroidvania titles are typically built around a once-powerful protagonist gaining power while exploring, filling in a map, and unlocking new areas and abilities.
The genre is filled with hundreds of capable and well-made games but very few come close to Super Metroid. And even then, so many games were built on the foundation that was laid down by Super Metroid, Castlevania: SOTN, and the rest of the games on this list.
Technology will grow and technically better games will be released on top of last year’s hotness but it’s important to remember the art that came before so we can carry it forward. I can’t imagine a world where we only have access to things that were released within the last five years.
Let’s work together to fight for video game preservation! <3