The SNES played a huge role in popularizing RPGs in the US, with classic hits like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI, and Earthbound. But truth be told, there were plenty of excellent non-RPGs for the system as well, and looking back, these games may have had an even bigger lasting impact on the future of console gaming than the aforementioned RPGs.
As the very first gaming console I ever had, the SNES holds a special place in my heart, and I often find myself reminiscing about simpler times when I could plop down in front of my TV, grab a controller, and let the world melt away. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and I hope the following SNES games bring back as many wonderful memories for you as they do for me!
1. Super Mario World
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Super Mario World? Sure, Mario Bros. may have launched the franchise and Super Mario Bros. may be the most recognizable entry in the series, but Super Mario World expanded the possibilities of what a platformer could be and truly lived up to the “World” in its name.
2. Super Mario Kart
Super Mario Kart introduced us to the first Mario spin-off and became so successful that it jumpstarted its own series of racing games. With a cast of eight characters playable across three game modes and 24 unique tracks, Super Mario Kart offered endless replayability, all set to a jamming soundtrack.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
For me, Turtles in Time may just be the finest beat-em-up game on the SNES, if not of all time! The music in every single level is catchy and unforgettable, which alone accounts for 90% of this game’s nostalgic power, but the quirky animations and responsive controls made for an exciting playing experience.
4. Super Bomberman
Not only was Super Bomberman the first of its franchise, it was the first four-player game available on the SNES, which unlocked all kinds of new fun that just couldn’t be found in previous games. Even afterward, there weren’t many four-player party games on the SNES, leaving Super Bomberman as a top pick for most sleepovers and after-school hangouts.
5. Kirby Super Star
Kirby was already a known face by the time Kirby Super Star came out, but this game made waves with its creative “8 games in one” design, where each game had its own unique twists but all played into the greater overarching story. The ability for a friend to tag in as second player led to some fun sessions, and the game’s AI wasn’t half bad when a second player wasn’t available.
6. Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country brought a new kind of platforming experience that felt more frantic and looked completely different from other platformers like Mario, Kirby, and Sonic. With one of the best soundtracks on the SNES and some of the best artwork as well, there’s a good reason why Donkey Kong Country is often considered one of the greatest games of all time.
7. Top Gear
One of the first racing games to hit the SNES—released in the same year as Super Mario Kart, actually—Top Gear proved quite fun with its nitro boosts and fuel management. With a choice of four cars and a set of 32 different tracks, the replayability was there. It was eventually succeeded by Top Gear 2, which was also released on the SNES.
Pilotwings sticks out in my mind as the only flight simulator on the SNES, and what a joy it was to be a kid and feel like I was actually flying a plane! Of course, it’s more than just a simulator with its game-like elements, and the gameplay was unique whether you were flying a plane, directing a hang glider, controlling a jet pack, or trying to land a perfect skydive. Truly a unique game in the SNES library.
9. Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose!
Buster Busts Loose! wasn’t a particularly good game, but it was a challenging one, and it taught me a lot about resilience, dedication, and not giving up in the face of failure. Plus, the fact that it featured the cast of Tiny Toons appealed very much to me at the age when I was playing it. I still think the “feed Dizzy Devil” minigame is one of the most fun times I’ve had on the SNES.
10. Street Fighter II Turbo
To this day, there are many fans who think Street Fighter II Turbo is the best entry in the Street Fighter series. I personally wasn’t very good at it—no matter how hard I practiced, I could never execute the moves consistently!—but my friends loved it, so we ended up playing it way too much. Easily the best fighting game on the SNES, with Mortal Kombat II a close runner-up.
11. Mortal Kombat II
I loved this fighting game, if only because it was so gruesome. There are so many iconic moves in Mortal Kombat II: Raiden’s Flying Thunder God, Liu Kang’s Bicycle Kick, Scorpion’s Hand Spear, Sub-Zero’s Ice Puddle, Kung Lao’s Hat Throw… I could go on! Not to mention the fatalities, which are impressively drawn given the limitations of SNES graphics.
12. Harvest Moon
Is Harvest Moon an RPG? I guess it could be, but it’s so different from the usual brand of SNES RPGs that I think it’s more fitting to include here than there. I sank so many hours into this farming simulator when I was a kid, engrossed not only in the growth and progress of my farm, but also in the fun dating side game and the exploration of surrounding lands. Whew, I almost want to break it out again!
13. Mega Man X
Mega Man X may just be the pinnacle of action platforming. The blast-and-dash gameplay was amazing, but more so than that, being able to acquire new fire modes by defeating bosses and upgrading various armor pieces by locating capsules made for an exciting sense of progress. It’s one of the first games I remember with true speedrunning potential.
14. Star Fox
Seeing it with fresh eyes, Star Fox is a clear contender for ugliest SNES game ever made. The portrait sprites are fine, but the simulated 3D graphics are just awful. But hey, props to Nintendo for trying something new! The gameplay itself was a blast, and I loved the fact that there were different paths to the final stage, resulting in lots of replayability.
15. Mario Is Missing!
What a trash can of a game. Little did I know before young me bought it, Mario Is Missing! is an educational game without much actual gameplay. You basically run around, talk to people, gather clues, and answer trivia questions related to history and geography. But as bad as the game is, I can’t help but remember it fondly.
What are your favorite non-RPG games from the SNES era? Let me know in the comments! I’m sure there are plenty that I’ve overlooked, and I’d love to be hit with a few more waves of unexpected nostalgia.
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