A lot can happen in thirty years. To be fair, a lot can happen in one year (2020's been a stark reminder of that), but thirty?!? We've seen five-ish console generations in that time, and some incredible advances in the tech and design ideas behind video games, but there was something special about the 16-bit generation.
Maybe it's just rose-tinted specs for our long lost childhood. Maybe the console wars and the playground debates gave every game release an extra little frisson. Or perhaps developers and hungry platform holders really were at the very top of their game—the peak of their powers—before polygons arrived and sent teams back to the drawing board to re-examine and experiment with the expanded possibilities of household gaming.
Whatever the reason, the 16-bit Super Nintendo and SEGA's Genesis / Mega Drive represent a pinnacle of gaming for many of us. On the 30th anniversary of the Super Nintendo's launch in Japan (known there as the Super Famicom, of course), we present to you the top 50 Super NES games ever, as rated by Nintendo Life readers.
Much like our previous Top 50 lists covering other Nintendo consoles, the ranked list below is dictated by User Ratings for each game in the Nintendo Life game database. As such, the order below is fluid and can fluctuate even after publication. Haven't rated your favourite SNES games? Simply click on the User Rating star next to each title below and give it a score out of 10. The score will immediately be counted towards the total and be reflected in the ordering.
Already rated your SNES collection? Thank you! In that case, simply sit back and prepare to scroll through the 50 best SNES games ever...
50. Shadowrun (SNES)
There are some things about the controls that irritate and visually Shadowrun lacks polish but for the most part the game is challenging fun, with atmospheric music, interesting characters and a gripping narrative that makes each play through an absolute joy. Perhaps the only disappointing thing is that the ending mentions ‘Shadowrun II’ and whilst games based on the license appeared on the Mega Drive, Mega CD and Xbox 360, sadly none were the much-deserved sequel to this.
The opening level of U.N. Squadron may be a little too tough but the difficulty curve is otherwise well-judged in what is a challenging game. The occasional instances of slowdown are unfortunate but there's not much else to fault with this excellent shooter. With some great music, varied levels, exciting action and interesting bosses, U.N. Squadron is a game that's enjoyable to play through again and again.
The Super NES Ogre Battle cartridge is quite rare and expensive, but this unique game still stands as one of the best strategic offerings of the 16-bit era and remains an absolute must-have for strategy game fans.
There's certainly no denying the quirky charm Soul Blazer emanates as you take part in the quest, but what makes this game such a joy to play is the incredible play control system and unique gameplay elements inherent throughout. Who would have ever thought that some of the better ideas from Actraiser could ever make for such an engrossing RPG experience when placed in the right developer's hands? If you want to see what the action-RPG genre is really all about, look no further than this 16-bit classic.
A great looking game from genre-hopping studio Rare, the SNES port of arcade fighter Killer Instinct is yet another feather in the Twycross studio’s considerable cap. Bringing the arcade experience into the home on 16-bit hardware was most impressive back in the day, and the series would go on to be one of the few fighting games to appear on Nintendo’s next console.
Secret of Evermore is quite a refreshing take on the Secret of Mana gameplay formula and serves up one of the more unique and interesting Squaresoft RPG story lines of the 16-bit generation. The high level of difficulty at times might turn you off, but if you've got the mettle to stick it out, you'll find that the quest is one well worth experiencing. If you enjoyed Secret of Mana, you'll likely find a lot to like here as it's very similar in style and presentation.
44. Axelay (SNES)
Finishing Axelay on hard mode reveals the tantalising sign-off, "See you again in Axelay 2". By the time many of us had become skilled enough to reach this screen, some of Konami's most talented programmers and designers had departed to form Treasure, a company which you could argue continued the Konami tradition of 2D excellence in the years since. The sequel never materialised, but Axelay reminds us just how rich the 16-bit era was. Many shooters from this same period have aged badly, the years having exposed the fragility of their mechanics and the crudeness of their presentation, yet Axelay gleams like a piece of software which rolled off the production line only yesterday. The SNES catalogue is packed with games that are often described as timeless classics, but few are as worthy of that accolade as this.
Street Fighter II' Turbo: Hyper Fighting is arguably the best entry in Capcom's premier fighting franchise on the SNES, but there are more than enough flavours of Street Fighter II floating around to satisfy all tastes. While not the best Street Fighter on the system, squeezing Street Fighter Alpha 2 onto the Super Nintendo was a hugely impressive feat that deserves your admiration. You can play the arcade port of the game already on Switch as part of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, but the SNES version is still a sparkling example of what could be accomplished on the console.
By no means a bad game, Mega Man X3 is disappointing. From a design standpoint, there's simply too much that feels lazy and incomplete compared to X or X2. Unremarkable weapons, illogical solutions to environmental puzzles, and repetitive boss fights take some of the shine off the X series, although franchise fans will find enough here to warrant a play-through. Those looking to dip a toe, however, would be much better served by either of its predecessors.
Final Fantasy V expanded the series' job system and came to the West in TOSE's 2006 GBA port Final Fantasy V Advance. The port touched up the game's visuals and added a sprinkling of new content and features to make it arguably the best version to play - it remains the only way to play the game in the West on Nintendo systems, although it's on Japanese Virtual Consoles and is widely available on other platforms (PC, PlayStation, mobile).