Top Ten Tuesday 16

My Top Ten Super Nintendo Games

Disclaimer: There are many top ten lists, but this one is mine. If you think a game is missing here, I either didn't play it, didn't have any interest in it, or I just hate you.


Pre-List Notes

In terms of actual ownership, I was very late to the SNES party. As I imagine was the case with many kids, most of us owned one console if we were lucky and had friends that had the other consoles so we could end up playing all the games. As mentioned in my Top Ten Sega Genesis list, I had married myself to Sega's console while noticing that all the best games were starting to come out on the SNES. The grass was much, much greener.

Thankfully, one of my best friends did have an SNES, and he was all about renting games just about every weekend that we could play. I would be satiated for awhile playing Super Mario Kart, Super Mario World, Rock 'N Roll Racing, and all manner of Beat 'Em Ups for awhile while sulking with my less and less used Genesis. Finally somewhere in the mid-90s my dreams came true, and an SNES found its way into my living room where I got to experience the joys of Super Metroid, Final Fantasy III, and Super Mario RPG. I rented as many games as humanely possible, and the advantage to getting a console so late in its cycle quickly became apparent - I knew exactly which games to play.


Top Ten SNES Games


10) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

I woefully forgot to include the previous classic Turtles Beat 'Em Up - Manhatten Project - in my Top Ten NES list, and I will certainly not make the same mistake here with the pinnacle of Turtles gaming. The turtles oozed everything late 80s and 90s and were by far the biggest franchise during my childhood with an insanely popular cartoon, comic books, live action movies, and every bit of merchandise you could want. Hell I had TMNT pajamas that I wore every chance I could.

Beat 'Em Ups, besides having hilariously descriptive nomenclature, were one of the most popular cookie cutter genres in the 90s (along with fighting games), but the Turtles games were always some of the most popular, partially thanks to the popularity of the franchise, but also that the games were just plain awesome. Turtles in Time bounced our four heroes throughout all the coolest time periods in every kid's mind - Pirate Ships, Dinosaurs, Wild West, and the Future all provided great backdrops for unique levels, even if the Foot Clan was still the primary opponent in each and every level. Turtle Power!


9) Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals

Lufia 2 actually serves as the prequel to the original game, which I never played. Lufia 2 is a unique JRPG that combines some of the best elements of Phantasy Star and The Legend of Zelda and carves its own path in the glorious deluge of JRPGs in the 16-bit era. A traditional overland map gave way to dungeons where enemies were visible and moved only when you did, creating some interesting tactics and a chance to avoid the annoyance of random encounters. The combat system was a traditional turn based affair with four party members plus a cool Capsule Monster. These beasts were found in various locations, could be fed equipment to level up, and had their own unique skills. Player skills were tied to equipment, and a bar was charged by taking and receiving damage and could be spent releasing devastating attacks. Another really unique feature was the Ancient Cave, a special randomized dungeon that contained some really awesome loot - but if you died you'd wipe out and have to start back at the top of the 99 floors, creating a fun and challenging Rogue-like experience for anyone that wanted to take a break from the adventure.

Not only did it boast an awesome gameplay system under the hood, the story was also amazing, telling the story of the ancestors of the hero of the first game. Maxim is your typical young JRPG spiky-haired hero with his typical childhood friend and romantic interest Tia. But during their travels he meets another woman, Selan that he actually ends up marrying and settling down with in the middle of the game. Their son is captured by the Big Bad that they'd thought they'd defeated, and he and Selan have to take up weapons to save him, ultimately sacrificing themselves in the end to defeat the Sinistrals. Now that's parenting.


8) Lost Vikings 2

One of the few SNES games I actually own. If you've played or at least heard of Trine or the most recent The Cave, the Lost Vikings series is essentially their progenitor. Puzzle-platformer doesn't sound all that exciting but the Lost Vikings gameplay was something special. Controlling Erik, Baleog, and Olaf the player could switch between them seamlessly in a level while solving puzzles to get all three to the exit. Unlike Trine, all three exist in the world at all times, so many of the puzzles involve trying to get everyone to the exit alive. The sequel's storyline, of which our heroes are newly equipped with special advanced cybernetic equipment, allows for time travel through the levels from Pirate ships to Transylvania to Medieval Caves and the Future. Along the way we also meet and recruit a werewolf and a dragon which come with their own unique abilities, and every level gives you a specific three characters to make it through. Erik can jump and swim underwater, Baleog can defeat opponents with his sword and grapple with his arm, Olaf can block projectiles with his shield and serve as a platform (as well as float using...flatuelence), Fang can attack and jump, and Scorch can breathe fire and fly. Solving the trickiest puzzles often involved utilizing multiple abilities while quickly switching between characters, and the game could be quite unforgiving, but I always came back for more (thanks to password-save system). Fun Fact: I never have played the original Lost Vikings game! And yes, it's one of many awesome 16-bit era games made by Blizzard before they really took off as a AAA PC developer.


7) Super Mario Kart

In terms of pure hours played in multiplayer, laughing or cursing side by side on the couch, nothing beats the first of a soon to be landmark series for Nintendo. Any time Super Mario Kart was within reach of the Super Nintendo, we ended up playing it. The simple split screen racing game was nonetheless amazingly fun thanks to a large variety of vibrant levels featuring all the great Mario characters and locales. Not to mention special thematic levels like the haunted house and Bowser's Castle.  Even if we grew momentarily bored with the racing, there was always the ridiculously fun battle mode, where you'd roll around arena's trying to shoot down each other's balloons - a formula that worked so well it was repeated in every subsequent generation.


6) Demon's Crest

The number one game I was curious about revisiting in the late 90s emulator craze, a game I had only rented a few times but absolutely loved. See my Top Ten Metroidvania list for another Demon's Crest entry. Combining very Castlevania-like side scrolling action with a cool overland map you could fly around in, tons of secret locations, items, and bosses, and multiple gargoyle forms, Demon's Crest became one of my earliest surprise hits. Who doesn't like the concept of playing a bad guy fighting even worse bad guys?


5) Super Mario World

It seemed a daunting task to create a follow up to the widely praised Super Mario Bros. 3 (see my own Top Ten NES list for where it ranks). Somehow Nintendo basically succeeded in creating a worthy successor, a wonderful Mario game in its own right, and the must have title for the console all in one. Mario World brought back a new and improved overland map, infused the gameplay with a head-spinning amount of secret levels, added awesome new powerups like the cape, added a freaking dinosaur of foot stomping, tongue lashing death, and more memorable musical tracks to get stuck in your head. The only reason Super Mario World isn't unanimously considered one of the best Mario games, and thus one of the greatest games ever, is that SMB3 came first, and gamers are woefully divided - usually by that slight generational gap. I love both games, and I strongly believe it's a testament to how much stronger the lineup was on SNES that World ranks lower on my list than most.


4) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

I have an oddly humorous relationship with Super Mario RPG - a title that I was insanely curious about as a fan of both Mario games and JRPGs like Final Fantasy. I would end up renting the game on multiple occasions, always getting to about the same halfway point before it had to be returned, before I finally got the game for a birthday or Christmas. Finally I could play through the whole game to completion, and it was as glorious as my feverish mind had made it out to be. Levels were played from an isometric view, and enemies were displayed on screen, Chrono Trigger style. Some rudimentary platforming was used in getting around and evading enemies, but once triggered, a more traditional turn based battle appeared. Mario RPG had a very fun active battle sequence, where pressing the correct button at the right time triggered a much stronger hit, a subtle addition that helped make combat that much more interesting.

Basically picture some of your favorite JRPGs of the golden 2D era, but with all the classic Mario heroes and enemies involved, as well as lots of new and original characters. Peach and even Bowser eventually joined Mario's party, along with new characters Mallow and Geno. The world was incredibly varied, from the Mushroom Kingdom to the sunken ship, sewers, mountains, and even a cloud city. When two major franchises come together, good things can happen, as further evidenced in the Kingdom Hearts games. But for the first glorious fusion of an established franchise with a flexible genre, look no further than Square and Nintendo's excellent offspring.


3) Super Metroid

Check my Top Ten Metroidvania list for a possible mention of Super Metroid.... Considered the grandfather of an entire subgenre, and still one of the best action-platformers ever made. Samus's adventures hunting down the Metroid is pure bliss for any science fiction fan, and the planet Zebes still has incredible atmosphere to this day.


2) Chrono Trigger

You see the Dream Team label attached to Chrono Trigger in just about every list or mention of the game, as this magical JRPG was assembled by some of the greatest Japanese game designers at the peak of their craft. An epic plot utilizing time travel, a great cast of memorable characters (and villains), multiple endings, character expanding side quests, and a revolutionary battle system that holds up incredibly well decades later has helped Chrono Trigger maintain a flawless and endearing reputation for any gamer fortunate enough to play it. Every role playing game should strive to achieve the wonderful balance of gameplay, story, characterization, and incredible soundtrack displayed here. I know many folks that read an annual favorite book or watch a favored movie every year. Some gamers even fire up a cherished game. If I did such a thing, I could easily see Chrono Trigger being my yearly cleansing of greatness.


1) Final Fantasy III

In the early and mid 90s the Japanese video game industry and consumer public was incredibly advanced, but Western audiences and developers were growing every day. In the case of role playing games, Japanese executives believed the titles would be too advanced, and let trickle only a few games while changing the numbering, leading to some incredibly confusing title issues before the days of the internet. Thus, Final Fantasy III was actually Final Fantasy VI, but it was only the third game in the series that was released in North America at that time.

Almost single handedly FF6 changed the preconceptions of role playing games, and certainly that of the landmark series as every entry since then has been directly ported over.

I first played FF6 after borrowing it from a friend, who in turn had received it from someone else. He didn't have much interest in role playing games, but I was insatiably curious about these incredibly long, story-driven, tactical experiences. From the moment the intro music started, I was hooked (see my #1 entry in my Top Ten Game Composers list). The story had a perfect mix of drama, intrigue, humor, and sadness, covered multiple romances, soul-searching, sacrifice, even a world altering apocalypse. It was the grandest thing I'd ever experienced in a video game, and had a wonderfully interesting customizable magic system in the form of Espers. The heroes were all unique and interesting, from the disillusioned general to the thief with a heart of gold to the brothers who flipped a coin on who would rule a kingdom. FF6 also easily still boasts one of the greatest villains in gaming in the sociopathic clown, Kefka, a true Watch the World Burn type. With unforgettable moments like The Opera House, the crazy twists, and the music I continue to hum to this day, FF6 is quite simply one of my favorite games of all time, and certainly my favorite SNES game.


Honorable Mentions

There are several games that I consider near the peak of their genre, but their genre wasn't as deep or affecting as the ones that made this list. Namely Sunset Riders, Urban Strike, Rock 'N Roll Racing, and Donkey Kong Country.

IGN's list describes Sunset Riders as a glorious combination of Contra and Turtles in Time. It's essentially a Beat 'Em Up with guns instead of punches, and a perfect Wild West theme. I adored the game but ultimately had to give the edge to the more popular and more vibrant Turtles in Time.

Urban Strike was the third entry in the Strike series that had you piloting a helicopter in an overland map gunning down opponents, saving people, and generally playing pretty great. It was an odd game for me to enjoy, but I played it a lot, or at least the same first couple levels over and over again.

Rock 'N Roll Racing is the game I'm saddest that I couldn't squeeze onto this list, as I still carry a torch for this simplistic racing game to this day. RNR Racing is an isometric racing game where you raced around a track with your opponents while battling each other with lasers, land mines, and oil slicks. It was supremely fun and as the name suggests, boasted a killer MIDI classic rock soundtrack with the likes of Black Sabbath and AC/DC. I may have first heard the likes of "Paranoid" while racing around a track blasting my opponents. See also Biker Mice from Mars for essentially the same game, minus the soundtrack.

Donkey Kong Country is the final game I'm going to give mention. DKC was simply the best looking game anyone had ever seen on a console at the time, and it backed up its killer graphics with tight controls, solid gameplay, and a head-bobbing, Mario-esque soundtrack (those jungle drums!). Traditional platformers were never my go-to genre, Mario games aside, so DKC was never on the edge of making this list, but it was a really amazing game.


Wrap Up

I'll start by addressing the elephant in the room, and quietly point you to My Gaming Confessions post where I mention my sad state of Zelda-affairs. I've loved the 2D Zeldas that I've played just as much as the 3D ones, and I'm sure A Link to the Past would make this list had I ever played it. Even without that entry, this was by far the most difficult top ten list I've ever made, hence the extended Honorable Mentions section. It was agonizing bringing my favorites down to ten and even worse to rank them.

Jumping into the console so late in its life span ownership wise meant I had the knowledge of which games were breakout hits and which were a waste of time. Thus my time spent with the SNES is even more bright than most as I played nearly all of the best games on the system. The SNES is widely considered to be the greatest overall console of all time, and I am inclined to agree.