10 games were too few for this super library
I’ve made it clear by now that ranking games in a franchise or a system’s library is not easy. Even if these rankings are subjective, deciding which games are “best” wracks my brain for hours before I finish a rough draft. This is why I do not say lightly that all my lists to this point pale in comparison to the difficulty of ranking the best SNES games.
Lord Spencer elegantly described my 10 best Mario games list as “a list of nines rolling into tens.” As I jotted down my picks for this list, I realized they were all potentially tens. The SNES is so jam-packed with incredible titles that we upped the count to 15 to represent it. This is a system where legends were born, franchises were codified, and memories were made magical. No list can contain every SNES game worth playing, but know that I have tried my hardest to honor some of the greatest games ever created. If your favorite title didn’t make the cut, I’m sure it is still well worth remembering.
Let’s quickly establish some ground rules. For the sake of diversity, only one game per series qualifies (though spinoffs are okay). I’m only including games with official English releases since this was tough enough without trying to fit in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War. That said, here’s my longest list of honorable mentions yet just because of how absolutely packed the SNES library is: The Ninja Warriors, Super Ghouls and Ghosts, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Super Punch-Out!!, Demon’s Crest, Shadowrun, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Super Turrican, Super Castlevania IV, and Actraiser. Whew, maybe I should have made this a Top 25. With that, place your bets on how many games below will have the word “super” in their titles.
15: Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1993)
Look, I don’t know fighting games well enough to say that Street Fighter II was the first good one. All I can safely tell you is this is the first fighter I remember anyone caring about. Popping Street Fighter II in your SNES was like having an arcade in your home, with detailed sprites and responsive combat unheard of on home consoles. I’d argue it was better on the SNES than the arcade, solely because I didn’t worry about losing my allowance to M. Bison. I swear I’m definitely good at this game, he just cheats.
I grew up with vanilla Street Fighter II, though Turbo is the preferred entry among enthusiasts. It’s no Rainbow Edition, but you know, it’s still pretty dang good.
14: Contra 3: The Alien Wars (1992)
I am a firm believer in the artistic potential of video games. I also believe art can involve speeding down the highway on a futuristic motorcycle and gunning down aliens and robots before grabbing onto a missile lodged in the undercarriage of a helicopter, only to be fired off at an aircraft while you jump between missiles to avoid enemy fire.
In other words, Contra 3 is art.
13: Secret of Mana (1993)
Ladies and gentlemen, my childhood. This was the preferred co-op adventure in my house by a landslide. In retrospect, it fills me with awe how well Secret of Mana combines menu-based RPG elements with action RPG combat. Is it a little dated by modern standards? Sure. But in 1993, there was nothing like this. With whimsical visuals and memorable music, Secret of Mana remains unforgettable to this day.
As an aside, I didn’t count Trials of Mana since it technically didn’t release on the SNES in English. If you want to say the Collection of Mana release qualifies within this criterion, throw that on here instead.
12: Super Mario RPG (1996)
Once upon a time, Squaresoft was such a hot commodity that even Nintendo was dying to get Mario in on that sweet RPG action. There have been many Mario RPGs since the SNES era, but none have felt quite like Super Mario RPG.
On the one hand, Super Mario RPG is an achievement in presenting a fully realized RPG for casual audiences to enjoy. On the other hand, this game is an absolute fever dream. Seeing Mario and Peach next to the likes of Geno and Booster is surreal, but honestly, that just adds to the game’s timeless charm. Super Mario RPG is an absolute must-play, regardless of whether you typically like RPGs or not.
11: Kirby Super Star (1996)
Most consider Kirby a good but not great franchise, with the mainline games and numerous spin-offs averaging to the mid-70s range of review scores. But if any of you say Kirby Super Star isn’t a great game, we’re going to have issues.
The obvious gimmick of Kirby Super Star is the variety of game modes included. From the exploratory Great Cave Offensive to the speedrun-focused Revenge of Meta Knight, there is never a dull moment in this package. That said, what makes Kirby Super Star so good is the rock-solid foundation linking these games together. The powers are fun, the visuals are wonderful, and the co-op makes this well worth replaying. I mean, come on, the game was designed by the mind that gave us Smash Bros. Of course it’s fantastic.
10: Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals (1996)
Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals is one of gaming’s greatest glow-ups. While the first Lufia was an adequate RPG for the SNES, Lufia 2 single-handedly elevates the franchise to legend status with fantastic combat, igneous monster collecting, and some of the finest dungeon design ever put into an RPG.
Seriously, Lufia 2’s intricately crafted levels more closely resemble The Legend of Zelda than any of its turn-based counterparts. In fact, every system in Lufia 2 so intelligently serves its puzzle-filled dungeons that its only notable comparison is Golden Sun. Featuring a stellar soundtrack and a self-contained roguelike dungeon with its own fan community, Lufia 2 is an adventure leagues ahead of its time.
9: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (1995)
Some may argue which Donkey Kong Country is best, but Diddy’s Kong Quest gets my vote, hands down. The tight controls and creative level design of the series are here in full force, and it features an absolutely unforgettable aesthetic to tie the package together. Seriously, I can still remember first stepping into the beehive or riding on that roller coaster with fireworks exploding in the background, especially accompanied by David Wise’s best soundtrack of all time. I’d say that’s a bold claim, but when you write a song that people associate with checkpoints in their real lives, I feel less inclined to defend myself.
Plus, it’s a scientific fact that games become better when they add characters who glide. Just look at how much Sonic 3 improved once “& Knuckles” was added to it!
8: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992)
Some debate how well 3D Zelda games age, but A Link to the Past is like a fine wine. The title’s packed with secrets to uncover and deadly dungeons to solve, but it hardly wastes your time with padding. You find items and new areas so quickly that no concept ever outstays its welcome. And the progression through the dark world that lets you see the world map in a new light? Absolutely fantastic.
A Link to the Past isn’t as complex as its sequels, but it’s essential playing for anyone looking for an engaging adventure from start to finish.
7: Mega Man X (1994)
This was so close between Mega Man X and its immediate sequel that you could honestly swap them here if you want. Mega Man X makes the cut for me because it still retains all the charm of the classic Mega Man games with spruced-up new features. The progression of secret upgrades, along with useful boss abilities, just does the trick for me, no matter how many times I revisit it.
And the music. Seriously, the music. Spark Mandrill’s stage theme is a nonstop guitar solo. I can barely pay attention to the game with how hard I rock out to this track.
6: Earthbound (1995)
It’s funny. Earthbound is the inspiration for countless indie games, yet nothing quite compares to it. The modern-day setting and quirky humor are the obvious attractions, but equally as impressive are the unforgettable moments that make Earthbound genuinely profound. Scenes like the coffee monologue with the Mr. Saturns and the final battle against Giygas come so far out of left field, but they put you at the forefront of the story better than any deliberately fourth wall-breaking game could.
Earthbound is like a mother’s hug. As a child, it may seem silly, and you don’t really understand the point of it. Yet as you grow older and reflect on the memory, you’ll only remember how loved it made you feel.
5: Final Fantasy VI (1994)
Arguably the best Final Fantasy ever created. Final Fantasy VI is a majestic combination of the SNES era’s conciseness with the innovative concepts of the franchise’s later entries. Despite the large ensemble cast, every character in Final Fantasy VI is memorable and breathes life into the world. It’s worth playing multiple times just to master everyone’s unique gimmicks and look for secrets you missed the first time around. A game this big has no business being this replayable, but Final Fantasy VI pulls it off without breaking a sweat.
Besides, there’s the part of the game where you can suplex a train. I’m not asking you if you love this part; I’m telling you that you do.
4: Super Mario World (1991)
Easily one of the best Mario games ever created. Super Mario World is a launch title that proved any franchise could spawn a massive adventure enjoyed across multiple play sessions. It successfully set the standard that all great SNES games followed: engrossing quests that elevate our favorite genres to heights we couldn’t dream of before.
It’s not just the size of the world or the number of levels; the core controls are tight in a way that only a Mario game can be. Running, jumping, and flying are inherently fun in Super Mario World, and the level design complements Mario’s abilities at every step. I’d go as far as to say the memes about sacrificing Yoshi to save yourself show how mechanically inventive the Mario franchise has always been. Whether you’re speedrunning or aiming for 100% completion, Super Mario World is pure fun. Apologies to our dear green dinosaur.
3: Terranigma (1996)
To this day, I have never played a game like Terranigma. If any video game could be compared to an epic poem or a work of philosophy, it’s this.
Taken at face value, Terranigma is one of the finest action RPGs you’ll find on the SNES. That said, Terranigma is so much more than that. It is a deep reflection on the good and evil that mankind is capable of. It is an exploration of the cycle of life and death. Terranigma is a game filled with love for the natural world, even though it is not afraid to stare the brutality of life in the face. All these concepts manifest in Terranigma’s gameplay just as much as they do in its story, creating an impeccable connection between our thoughts, fears, and desires with the events we see play out in front of us.
To simply tell a coherent story in the mid-90s was an achievement all its own. Yet Terranigma aimed so much higher than its peers to create a nuanced tale that relies on you to draw your own conclusions. It is a game with its share of imperfections, but it achieves so much that it absolutely belongs in the upper echelon of one of the greatest libraries in gaming history. Terranigma is beautiful and magnificent, and, above all else, it is an exquisite work of art. Just like Contra 3.
2: Super Metroid (1994)
Even if Super Metroid didn’t lay the groundwork for the Metroidvania genre, it would still be an indisputable classic. Many have discussed its interconnected world and its plethora of secrets to uncover. For me, Super Metroid is all about atmosphere.
Despite featuring virtually no dialogue after the intro, Super Metroid tells a better story than most games I’ve ever played. The build-up to bosses like Kraid is genuinely terrifying due to the foreboding audio and uncanny sprites. The death animation for Crocomire is so brutal that I can’t believe it’s in a Nintendo game. Conversely, anyone who has seen this game to the end knows how heart-wrenching its final boss is. Making us care so much for a parasitic blob is an achievement on its own, and contrasting it with the rest of Super Metroid’s frightful world makes the moment hit that much harder.
Super Metroid is proof that a game can tell an incredible story without actually focusing on its plot. It puts its action and exploration at the forefront, but it hides so many tiny details that make it worth replaying over and over again. Combining this with robust controls and exemplary world design, it’s no wonder Super Metroid holds a level of reverence that even the other legendary games on this list can’t claim to have. Make no mistake: I didn’t give #1 to Super Metroid, but it is an absolute masterpiece.
1: Chrono Trigger (1995)
As a child, my teachers would often ask me during class if I was feeling cold. They’d notice the goosebumps on my arm and get worried I might be feeling a draft from the window. In truth, I was not cold. In fact, I’m the type to wear shorts while there’s snow on the ground. My mind was wandering thinking about Chrono Trigger, and the memories would literally give me chills.
Chrono Trigger is a game famously created by “the dream team.” With Final Fantasy’s Hironobu Sakaguchi and Dragon Quest’s Yūji Horii working together at arguably their creative peaks, this is a once-in-a-lifetime RPG. Summing up why Chrono Trigger is so unforgettable is no easy feat. It’s the immaculate pace that tells incredible self-contained stories that build to a bombastic climax. It’s the careful balance of battle mechanics that makes even normal encounters feel significant. The music is an absolute triumph and stands as possibly the best original soundtrack ever created. Yasunori Mitsuda once said that the ending theme, “To Far Away Times,” was a song he originally composed for someone he “wanted to share a generation [with].” I love this quote because it captures the one word that sums up Chrono Trigger best: love.
It’s no mistake that Chrono Trigger begins and ends with Crono and Marle. Love is what drives the characters, as these two will risk anything to save each other. It’s felt in the battle system, as your most powerful moves can only be used by working with your teammates. Love for the world is the basis for the plot, as the party refuses to watch the planet die despite knowing they’ll be long dead before the apocalypse. Perhaps more than anything, Chrono Trigger is a demonstration of the sheer love these developers have for their work. Whether you analyze the mechanics, story, or visuals, Chrono Trigger overflows with the passion that elevates an incredible title to one of the greatest games of all time.
Whether you played Chrono Trigger in 1995 or experience it in the distant future, it will always be impeccably special. We may never see another game like Chrono Trigger. Yet when a game is so transcendent that it sticks permanently into my memory, who am I to ask for another title like it? Just don’t ask me if I’m feeling cold; you already know what’s on my mind.