Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is not only a brilliant game in its own right, it's a history lesson in how the Mario role-playing series began. Anyone who has played the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series should play Square's original title that started it all. Super Mario RPG paved the way and inspired both of these series, and we should be eternally thankful to Squaresoft for this gem.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (not Diddy Kong's Quest) is a beautiful secret-filled game with a gorgeous soundtrack that helps create a atmosphere that sticks in the memory. You end up returning to this simply to enjoy your surroundings and have 'that feeling' again. Debate will rage as to which of DKC games is best, but this is up there with the very, very best.
EarthBound succeeds at not only being one of the most unique and refreshing RPG experiences ever created, but also one of the most epic and entertaining as well. Combining classic RPG gameplay elements with a heart-warming modern spin, the game somehow feels familiar yet strange all at the same time. With a peerless visual style, soundtrack and storyline, playing EarthBound is like revisiting a vivid childhood memory of fun and adventure. You can't repeat the past, but you can certainly revisit it. Mother!
Mega Man X is a fantastic game. It retains the charm and pacing of the classic Mega Man series and adds a much appreciated spin of its own. With plenty of hidden items and upgrades — don't forget the super-secret one in Armored Armadillo's stage — and a host of fun new weapons to use, Mega Man X is a game worth playing again and again. Later entries in this sub-series might be a bit of a mixed bag, but there's no denying that this first title is a masterpiece.
Yoshi's Island is a masterpiece; a work of digital art from Miyamoto and Tezuka that still looks fantastic 25 years on, and one that we'd wager will look just as good a quarter-century from now. Baby Mario may prove divisive to this day, but we're pretty sure there's a law requiring you have this in your collection whether you like it or not.
In the West Final Fantasy VI cloaked itself in a cunning disguise and carried the name Final Fantasy III back in 1994, but it's an utter gem whatever you choose to call it. The RPG debate over whether Chrono Trigger or this is better wages to this day. For a long time this was the final Final Fantasy from the mainline series to appear on a Nintendo console — indeed, it remains the last one to launch on a Nintendo console, remakes notwithstanding.
The GBA version by TOSE added some bells and whistles, but this is a winner however you play — it's available on the SNES Classic Mini, too. If you're only going to play one old-school Final Fantasy, we'd probably go with this one; if you chose to only play one from the entire series... our answer might well be the same.
We dislike overusing the word 'masterpiece', but in this case (and in the case of a chunk of top-tier SNES releases) it's absolutely accurate. Super Metroid is the standard by which all Metroid games are judged, and an impossibly high one, at that. If you're a franchise fan, you'll have played this to death. If, however, you've never dipped your toes into Nintendo's pool of sci-fi action exploration, this is the one you need to play. That's all there is to it.
There is endless debate about whether Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World is the better game. For our money, they are two sides of the same coin — two faces of the same monumental peak in the video game landscape. This remains an incredible achievement of invention and sheer entertainment that the 2D platforming genre has been struggling to live up to ever since. Three decades on, it still doesn't get much better than this. All games have flaws, but if there's an exception to that rule, Super Mario World is it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of the best games of all time, and if you haven't experienced it yourself... you probably have through one of the other Zelda games, such was its influence on the series and the action-adventure genre. There's no shortage of 2D and 3D Zeldas to choose from these days, but this 16-bit entry codified the core elements of a 'Zelda game' for the two decades that followed. It's still got that touch of magic about it nearly 30 years later. Unmissable.
Chrono Trigger is, and will always be, one of the most unforgettable RPG experiences ever to grace a video game console. Even the first time you play it, you'll immediately know that you're experiencing something special. It brought so many new ideas to the table that give it its unique look and feel, and on a remarkable system noted for its extensive catalogue of RPGs, Chrono Trigger is at the very top of the SNES pile.
Some rather good video games there, wouldn't you agree? Disagree with the ordering above? Remember, you can still influence the ranking by rating your SNES games and, perhaps, elevating one that's bubbling under into the top 50. Either click/tap the User Rating stars on the titles above to rate games from this article, or head to the Nintendo Life games database and search for your game of choice. Click on the title to go to the game page and tap/click the 'Game Rating' box on the right to give the game a rating out of 10.
For any SNES games missing from our database that you would like to see, we're working on adding the full library of Super Nintendo games to our database. With this being an ever-changing list, there's no reason they can't appear once they've been added — we'll let you know once they're live and we can revisit this ranking to see if and how it changes.
Feel free to let us know your favourite 16-bit treasures below.