I have made it no secret that the Super Nintendo is possibly my favourite console, ever. It came at a time when I started to really appreciate the medium of video games, and although I owned a Mega Drive for a few years before Nintendo’s 16-bit system, it was this sleek, grey box that really captured my heart. I have so many fond memories of this system, and to this day it’s the classic console I still dig out and play on a regular basis.
As I have done for other consoles in the past, I wanted to talk about the games that I believe defined the Super Nintendo – The releases that made this system such an important one to fans such as myself. As usual for my definitive lists, these titles may or not be the best games or the bestselling, but they’re the ones that matter.
Here’s my list, but I’d love to hear from you what games defined the Super Nintendo and why, so let me know in the comments down below. Now, it’s on with the show.
I’m going to start with a game that not only defined the Super Nintendo, but also the 16-bit console wars and the entire arcade industry. Having Street Fighter II as an exclusive for the Super Nintendo was a massive win for Nintendo, with Capcom’s seminal brawler having such a wide appeal. This exclusivity wouldn’t last forever as Capcom continued to roll out various different versions of Street Fighter II as both SEGA and Nintendo engaged in some sort of arms race as SEGA would get a better Championship Edition, then the Super Nintendo would get an even better Turbo edition, before both versions getting their own Super editions.
Street Fighter II was one of those games that appealed to so many people, thanks to a cast of zany character, finely-tuned fighting mechanics, and a great learning curve for novices but a lot of room for advanced level play. Just as it attracted crowds in arcades, those who owned Street Fighter II would find their living room crowded with friends, taking each other on tense one on one battles. Its fighters would become cultural icons, and much like other important gaming milestones such as Tetris, it still remains just as playable as it was back then.
This game sold Super Nintendo systems, without a shadow of a doubt, and it was perfect for the system’s standard six-button pad.
As the twilight years of the console started to shift into focus, and as the arrival of the 32 and 64 bit systems seemingly hailed the end of the Super Nintendo’s lifespan, the return of a long-forgotten Nintendo star helped send the system off in style. Who knew that the return of Donkey Kong would be such a massive boost for both Nintendo, and Rare – The small British studio that made it all possible.
Donkey Kong Country was given a sense of importance due to its hyped use of similar Silicon Graphics technology to what would soon be seen in Pixar’s Toy Story. These massively powerful graphical workstations cost about £80,000 at the time – And Rare purchased two of them, a gamble that ultimately paid off, as the Super Nintendo could claim to have visuals that could match the more powerful rival machines coming to market.
Granted, these claims weren’t entirely true, as the impressive CGI renders were simply digitised into SNES sprites, in the same way, that live-action footage was used in games like Mortal Kombat. However, it was still impressive to see computer-generated visuals in this fashion and combined with Nintendo’s gargantuan level of hype, you couldn’t escape Donkey Kong Country.
And at its core, it was a solid game, even if it doesn’t quite hold up as well as games like Super Mario World. Its focus on secret areas and items helped define a template for many of Rare’s future titles, and it helped tell the world something that British gamers already knew – That Rare was an incredible developer. It’s success led Nintendo to purchase a substantial stake in Rare and led to an integral partnership between the two, one that would not only define the Super Nintendo’s final years but the entire lifespan of its successor, the Nintendo 64.
How do you follow up a true classic like Super Mario 3? You release it on a brand new console and improve upon every aspect of the previous game. As the Super Nintendo’s launch title, Super Mario World had a lot of responsibility on its shoulders – It needed to show the world how different the Super Nintendo was from its predecessor, to justify that console’s existence. As it happened, Super Mario World did just that.
Hyped as boasting a massive 96 levels (a fact which wasn’t quite true and was changed in later releases to the more realistic 96 exits), this was a sprawling adventure that took Mario away from the well-trodden land of the Mushroom Kingdom, and into the all-new location of Dinosaur Land. No, it’s not the place where Jurassic Park is set, but it is filled with all sorts of exotic wildlife, the likes of which had never before been seen in a Super Mario game.
Being so far from home, this was an opportunity to evolve the series’ formula, keeping the number of power-ups to a minimum, and adding new items such as the Cape Feather and a new companion in the form of Yoshi. It also had more secret areas than any other Mario game to date, giving players multiple routes to reach Bowser’s castle. From start to finish, it continued to show the player new things, even saving the game’s use of the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 sprite-scaling abilities to the very end.
It’s a masterpiece, up there with any of Nintendo’s best – A game so great that it took them years to even attempt a follow-up.
The 16-bit console war was bitterly fought, and SEGA was attempting to turn it into a technological arms race, through the release of multiple add-on systems to turn the Mega Drive into a CD-based system and later a 32-bit one. Nintendo wasn’t terribly interested in matching SEGA’s ambitions, save for the ill-fated SNES PlayStation project.
However, a few British teens would give Nintendo an opportunity to improve the Super Nintendo’s power. The act of adding chips to individual game cartridges to improve a system’s capabilities was nothing new – Many NES titles did this, and even early SNES games like Pilotwings used a DSP chip. But this young group of developers, Argonaut Software, did something truly special and developed the Super FX chip, a RISC-based processing unit that helped the Super Nintendo with 3D visuals.
It’s debut title, Starfox was an impressive showcase for the time. An on-rails shooter with a cast of anthropomorphic characters, it stood out from every SNES game out there. Multiple routes, hidden areas, intimidating boss battles – Starfox had it all.
Those visuals weren’t entirely a gimmick either, as it made for a game that plays unlike any other on the system. It was as thrilling as it was good looking.
But it also laid the groundwork for other Super FX-enhanced titles; games that would help Nintendo convince the world that they didn’t need expensive add-ons to be on the cutting edge.
Being in Europe, we didn’t know how good the Super Nintendo was for role-playing games, mainly because the best releases never made it here, such as Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, and the next game on my list, Final Fantasy VI, released in North America as Final Fantasy III.
Truth be told, the Super Nintendo was the golden era of JRPGs, and with so many to choose from, I could have picked many others as definitive games for this list. However, this Final Fantasy VI is just so important to both the system and the medium of video games as a whole.
The last Final Fantasy game on the Super Nintendo, and ultimately the last main Final Fantasy release on a Nintendo console, Square made sure that this entry was their greatest achievement so far. They took the opportunity to take everything they had learned from developing 2D JRPGs, and use that experience to create an incredible world filled with an ensemble cast of compelling characters, strung together with a narrative that truly helped push the boundaries of what was expected from a video game.
It’s simply amazing at how these relatively simple 2D visuals were able to convey such a deep and engaging story, while the refinement of the mechanics used in previous Final Fantasies took the kitchen sink approach to game design, and in this case, it worked to great effect. Meanwhile, the soundtrack was some of the best tunes the SNES was capable of, as Nobuo Uematsu was reaching the heights of his talent.
This was a console that excelled at JRPGs, and Final Fantasy VI is the game I feel best defines this.
That was my list, but now I want to know yours. What games defined the Super Nintendo for you? Did Super Castlevania VI suck you in? Does the soundtrack to Chrono Trigger take you back in time? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you.
As usual, I’ll be back very soon with more gaming greatness. Please share this video with your friends and social media followers as it really does help me out and let me know that there are people out there that like what I do.
Until next time, thanks for watching, and happy gaming.