This piece originally ran in August 2016.
With the gushing enthusiasm that greeted Nintendo’s announcement of its NES Classic, a mini replica of the original containing 30 pre-installed classics from an 8-bit era long past, it’s hard to imagine that an SNES equivalent isn’t in the works for the near future. With that in mind, here are 30 games from that era that would be perfect to have pre-installed on a mini SNES.
1. F-Zero (1991)
Before Super Smash Bros. cemented his status as a Nintendo icon, Captain Falcon got his start in a futuristic racing game. Mixing the mechanics of Formula One with the aesthetic sensibility of Judge Dredd, F-Zero showed console racing games could compete with what was on offer in the arcades. Its neon colors and deafening speed transformed racing to a colosseum fight for survival.
2. Star Fox (1993)
Don’t let its plain skyboxes and simple polygons fool you, the original Star Fox remains a crucible of sharp reflexes and quick thinking. Despite being on-rails, the third-person shooter allowed players to slow down or speed up, as well as sustain limited damage to their ship without instantly dying. Add to that a diverse cast of charismatic, anthropomorphized animal pilots and Star Fox still captures the thrill of scraping through a space fight like few others.
3. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993)
LucasArts’ top-down action adventure game was an homage to the throw-away sci-fi and paranormal movies of the 50s, but with a modern edge. And like many of those movies, Zombies Ate My Neighbors didn’t find the following it deserved until long after the sun had set on the SNES. Witty and vibrant, the game worth revisiting as much for its level design and challenge as the pop culture references littered throughout.
4. WWF Royal Rumble (1993)
Released during the same year that Monday Night Raw debuted, which helped usher in a new phase of pro-wrestling’s cultural dominance, WWF Royal Rumble is as 90s as it gets. Relying on a simple set of inputs to produce uncanny moments of violent absurdity, it captures the glory days of lo-res, local multiplayer like few others can. Button-mashing has rarely been so sublime.
5. Rock N’ Roll Racing (1993)
A successor of sorts to R.C. Pro-Am, Rock N’ Roll Racing sported a clean, isometric view and car on car combat that hasn’t been explored in such beautiful detail since. An in-game economy also let players upgrade and customize vehicles, making it as much an RPG as a fighting game. A testament to SNES-era rule breaking , Rock N’ Roll Racing showed there was more than one way to make a racing game.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1992)
There’s nothing quite like shredding legions of foot ninjas with a few of your closest friends. Unfortunately, each new attempt at a Turtles game has fallen short as developers tried to foist modern conceits onto an aging genre. That’s what makes revisiting Turtles in Time so refreshing. It’s short and repetitive, but not gratingly so. More like zen meditation than a quarter-eating grind, Turtles in Time proved a well that was always worth returning to.
7. Super Bomberman (1993)
What Tetris was for the NES, Super Bomberman was for the SNES. By adding explosives to the traditional mix of logic puzzles and spatial reasoning, Super Bomberman made hyper-rationalism interactive. Like if Pac-Man were given a copy of the Anarchist’s Cookbook, the game invited players to traverse mazes not by managing the chaos but by learning how to exploit it.
8. ActRaiser (1991)
Few games on the SNES experimented with grand ambitions as unflinchingly as Actraiser. Set to a beautiful score composed by Yuzo Koshiro, Quintet’s RPG combined a world building simulation with side-scrolling dungeons that played out in real-time. Connecting these disparate elements was a religious allegory so trippy it left ActRaiser etched into the memory of anyone who played it.
9. Super Punch-Out!! (1994)
Punch-Out on the NES succeeded not by trying to recreate boxing but by deconstructing it. What resulted was direct, uncluttered, and mesmerizing. Which is why the sequel, Super Punch-Out!!, changed so little. With a slew of new, and in some cases more complex, opponents, the series’ second outing was a welcome remix of an all too rare formula.
10. Earthworm Jim 2 (1995)
Doug TenNapel and David Perry’s idea to put a worm in a mech suit and have it gun its way across surrealist locales seemed completely at home in the decade of Ren & Stimpy and Beavis and Butt-Head. Its mind-melting visuals and unusual mix of platforming and shoot-em up won over hearts and minds despite the occasional sloppiness.
11. The Death and Return of Superman (1994)
This game was perhaps the only good thing to come out of DC Comics’ decision to fake-kill Superman. While seemingly just as rote and uninspired as the comics on which it was based, The Death and Return of Superman’s undivided attention to imposter Supermen punching one another helped it soar above its source material. Anything worth preserving about that period of comic excess and decadence can be found here rendered in exquisite, rippling detail.
12. NBA Jam (1994)
Before sports videogames aspired to the clinal realism of NBA 2K or managerial minutia of Madden NFL, they were content just to recklessly fun. No game quite captured this sentiment like NBA Jam. Disregarding fouls and free throws and focusing instead on exaggerating the prowess of its superstar players, NBA Jam channeled the no-holds-barred spirit of a street game into your neighbor’s basement.
13. Super Mario Kart (1992)
Nintendo got a lot of things right on the first try, and Super Mario Kart is no exception. While each new iteration has added feature and looked better, everything that made these improvements possible can be found in the original. And with the best battle mode the series has ever had, Super Mario Kart is one of the console’s proto-party games that can’t be missed.
14. Mega Man X (1993)
One of the few spin-off series to rival its predecessor in popularity and acclaim, Mega Man X didn’t just remake the Mega Man series for a new console, it completely transformed it. Adding a dash option and wall climbing, as well as a new blaster that allowed players to power up their shots, Mega Man X felt less oblique and more intuitive. Its quick pace and more sinister tone made it a true evolution of the concept which had originated five years earlier.