The SNES Classic Edition is a cute device, and it’s great because it has so many wonderful games. Its 21 retro hits, include platformers, fighters, role-playing games, racers, and more. They all range from great to fantastic. Some of them are among the best games ever made.
GamesBeat went ahead and gave each of the 21 games a mini-review below. This means we’ve just written a paragraph or two or three about what makes each game special. Instead of our traditional 1 to 100 scoring method, we’ve ranked them either Good, Great, or All-Time Classic. Because, really, you won’t find a single dud in system’s library.
Also, we’re gonna do this alphabetically, because we’re not anarchists here.
Contra III: The Alien Wars
This is one of the best run-‘n’-gun games ever made. Contra III has you fighting against an alien invasion with pure firepower and machismo. Levels switch between traditional controllers and inventive top-down stages. It works as a serious, challenging single-player experience and as a chaotic cooperative game for two players.
Donkey Kong Country
At the time, Donkey Kong Country stood out for its revolutionary use of prerendered 3D models for its character sprites. But it still holds up thanks to its solid platforming and sidescrolling action. It’s a bit outclassed by some of the system’s better platformers (like Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island), but this is still challenging and satisfying.
Final Fantasy III
The original SNES release was the only time developer Square called this game Final Fantasy III in the U.S. In Japan and for every release since, it has the proper Final Fantasy VI moniker. Confusing naming aside, this is one of the most classic role-playing games ever made on consoles. This is the peak for the hallmark series before it transitioned to 3D. Its story is epic, the characters are memorable and easy to sympathize with, and the score is operatic (in fact, a literal opera is the backdrop for one of the game’s most famous sequences).
I almost refrained from calling this an all-time classic. The Super Nintendo version of Final Fantasy III has bugs and awkward translation problems that Square fixed in a later re-release for the Game Boy Advance. This is why I prefer that version. But the GBA release does have worse music and some lighting contrast issues. And some will always prefer the nostalgia associated with the original. So even if I wish we could do a fusion dance with this and the GBA version, it’s hard to not give Final Fantasy VI (er, III) top marks.
EarthBound is another role-playing game classic, but this one sticks out for its quirky humor and heart. Even today, aside from the games directly inspired by it (like Undertale), you won’t find much like EarthBound. The actual turn-based battles have simple mechanics and visuals, showing its age more than Final Fantasy III or Super Mario RPG. Its writing and visuals remain unique, keeping it relevant.
F-Zero was the futuristic launch game that helped show off the Super Nintendo’s graphics (we’re talking about the Mode 7 feature, which could turn 2D textures into fast-scrolling roads). It’s a pretty game, and the visuals, sound effects, and music still convey that crazy rush of speed that helped make it stand out.
But it’s light on features. F-Zero doesn’t even have a two-player mode, which is an odd omission for a racing game. It’s still exhilarating to work your way through the circuits while dodging other racers and perfecting those tight turns.
Kirby’s Dream Course
Although he started as a 2D platformer star, Kirby has been in a lot of oddball games. This is one of the best. Kirby’s Dream Course combines the pink puffball’s signature ability to copy enemy abilities with minigolf. It’s an absurd concept that works better than it has any right to.
Like other golf games, you have to aim your shots, time a button press for velocity, and you can even add top or back spin. Enemies litter each course. If you kill all of them but one, that remaining baddie will turn into the hole. So you need to plan ahead and think of the best way to line up a shot so you’ll roll over every enemy and drop into the hole, all while accounting for power-ups that can help you jump high into the air or give you a parasol to slow down and give you control over your descents. Sure, it’s a bit niche, but it’s about as inventive as games can get.
Kirby Super Star
Speaking of Kirby’s 2D platformers, this is the best one Nintendo ever made. It was the first to introduce two-player co-op to the series, and it gave you access to more complicated move sets when you acquired an enemy ability. Getting the Sword doesn’t just let you swing the weapon, as you can also do a dash attack, a spinning air attack, a downward strike after a jump, and more.
Super Star presents itself as a collection of multiple games. This includes some minigames, but most of them are campaigns similar to traditional Kirby titles. Some are basic, just having you work your way through a series of levels. Some up the presentation level, like the epic Revenge of Meta Knight. Others change the formula. The Great Cave Offensive is more a Metroidvania, having players explore a non-linear world as they hunt for treasure.
Like most Kirby games, the whole thing is still a bit on the easy side. Super Star never gets as challenging as Super Mario World. But it’s still a fun platformer that works best with a friend.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Everyone considers the original The Legend of Zelda for the NES an all-time classic. A Link to the Past took everything from that game and made it better. You’d expect better visuals, but it’s also a much less obtuse game. You could actually beat it without a strategy guide.
This is the first Zelda game that best blended all of the elements that we now associate with the series: combat, puzzles, exploration, and story. That last one was the ingredient most missing in Zelda’s NES entries, which barely put any emphasis on plot or character. Not that A Link to the Past is an ambitious story (it’s still simple, especially when compared to later Zelda games), but just having some narrative to help guide and encourage players made a big difference.
A Link to the Past’s Dark World mechanic still stands out as one of gaming’s most clever ideas. By using a mirror, Link can travel between two different versions of the same world. You’ll have to do this to navigate around obstacles and solve puzzles. We’re still seeing similar ideas used (and celebrated) in modern games, including the recent and great Titanfall 2 campaign.
Mega Man X
Trying to make an edgier reboot out of the classic and sometimes cutesy Mega Man franchise might sounds like a bad idea, but Capcom pulled it off with Mega Man X. The shift to a darker setting helped separate it from the glut of sequels we already saw on the NES. As much as people liked Mega Man, it was beginning to grow stale.
But X didn’t abandon the principles of Mega Man. You fight eight bosses in any order you want, and you earn a new weapon every time you kill one. Finding out which bosses are weak to what weapons remains important. But Mega Man X gives you access to some crucial abilities that completely changes the way the game feels. You can jump up walls and chain together dashes for an experience that feels a lot faster than the NES games.
It’s all just so smooth. People talk about “good game feel.” That’s when controls, mechanics, and physics come together to create an experience that feels natural and fun. Mega Man X has some the best “good game feel” you’ll ever find.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana mixes The Legend of Zelda’s top-down sword combat with RPG elements like character stats, leveling up, equipment, and spells. It’s one of the earlier memorable action-RPGs, and it also features fun co-op action for two players. But its cumbersome menus and difficulty spikes can make it a grind.
Star Fox is a space shooter that was able to make use of early 3D graphics. At the time, the results were stunning. Today, it’s the game on this list that has aged the most. You can almost hear the Super Nintendo beg for mercy when you’re playing Star Fox. The game suffers from slow-downs and a short draw distance.
But it’s still a memorable experience. There’s something about hearing the chirpings of your animal squadmates as they beg for help over the radio that still makes me smile. Nostalgia, more than the other SNES Classic games, can help keep the original Star Fox entertaining.
Star Fox 2
Star Fox 2 suffers from a lot of its predecessor’s problems. But its strange history makes it more interesting. Star Fox 2 never actually came out for the SNES. Nintendo cancelled the game when it was practically finished. Its inclusion in the SNES Classic Edition will be the first time most people will get to play it.
It has a unique structure that helps the sequel stand out from the first Star Fox. You use a map to travel to levels while defending a planet from missile strikes and enemy ships. It adds a welcome layer of complexity, and new features like the ability to transform your space ship into a walker are surprisingly ambitious for the SNES era.
Now, it’s not that much better than the first Star Fox, but it’s such a curiosity that it’s much more interesting to play.
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
Street Fighter II is an obvious classic. It invented the modern fighting game genre. It’s still fun to grab a friend and throw fireballs and uppercuts at each other. But Street Fighter II came out in many versions on the SNES, and I wish that Nintendo instead included Super Street Fighter II, which added four new characters.
Super Castlevania IV
Before Castlevania went for more of a Metroid approach with nonlinear levels, the series featured some of the best traditional 2D action in the 8-bit era. The early Castlevanias have a unique feel. Jumps are heavier and attacks are slower. While you still need good reflexes to survive, you also have to be methodical. A single mistake will easily kill you.
Super Castlevania IV is like a 16-bit remake of the original Castlevania, but it features a lot of improvements. You can swing your whip in eight directions. Even small additions, like the walking slowly while crouching, help Castlevania IV feel a bit more merciful than its NES cousins.
I love the Metroidvania Castlevania games, but Super Castlevania IV is such a pure experience. There’s a fine line between being difficult and frustrating. This game gets just about as close to that line as possible, making each victory incredibly rewarding.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
We look back at a lot of old games and marvel at how hard they were. The Ghosts ‘n Goblins series is one of the most difficult ever made. Everything in Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts wants to kill you, and everything probably will. Only a couple of hits make you die. You can’t change your jump trajectory in midair, and enemies come at you from all directions.
Beating a lot of hard games comes down to reflexes and memorization. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is so difficult that you’ll only have a chance of conquering it if you’re willing to replay levels dozens of times. It makes Super Castlevania IV look like a Kirby game. The challenge can still be fun, but it’s often frustrating.
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario Kart must have seemed like an oddball idea during the SNES days. Now it’s one of Nintendo’s most quintessential franchises. The original is still a lot of fun, but it’s a more simple game. You can’t use drifts to gain speed boosts, and all the levels are flat. But the Battle Mode, which has you driving around smaller arenas while you try to throw shells and bananas at your opponent, is still a multiplayer hoot.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario RPG is the RPG for beginners that anyone can enjoy. It’s an easier game than Final Fantasy VI or EarthBound, but it still requires enough strategy to keep RPG pros engaged. It also features a funny script that made it one of the first games to add personality to Mario’s world.
The combat is also more engaging than typical turn-based affairs. You’re still selecting attacks from menus, but you can time additional button presses to deal more damage or defend yourself. It makes fights feel more active and interesting.
Super Mario World
Mario is synonymous with 2D side-scrollers, and this is the best of the bunch. You have the colorful levels and characters many of us still think of when we hear “Mario,” Yoshi is introduced for the first time as the series’s best power-up, and the branching world map and its secrets and hidden routes help make the game feel huge. I can’t think of anything wrong with Super Mario World.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Forget about that whole Super Mario World 2 thing. Yoshi’s Island is a completely different beast. It still focuses on 2D platforming, but you also have to throw eggs and keep your ammo supplied by eating enemies. It’s less about running and more about aiming, but it’s just as excellent as Super Mario World. Plus, its coloring-book aesthetics are some of the most beautiful and creative you’ll see in a Super Nintendo game.
Super Metroid is arguably the greatest game ever made. People were using words like “atmospheric” to describe it before that term found wide use in gaming circles. Super Metroid is a near-perfect mix of action, platforming, and exploration that uses visuals and music to fill players with a sort of eerie loneliness. Tons of other games have used its formula. Many of them are excellent. But Super Metroid is still the best of its kind, and maybe just the best game — period.
This is similar to Punch-Out!! on the NES, but the improved graphics make characters more expressive and cartoony. Ultimately, it’s all about watching out for tells from your opponent so you know when to dodge and when to attack. It’s a bit simple, and memorization is often more important than reflexes, but Super Punch-Out!! is still enjoyable. It just doesn’t add much to the formula created by the original.