Last week I wrote about the best NES games on Nintendo Switch Online. Nintendo’s online app doesn’t just let you play Switch games online; it also includes a library of great NES and SNES games, with some of the most important games ever made lining up alongside overlooked obscurities worthy of a comeback. It costs $20 a year, making it a great deal especially considering SNES games were $8 a piece on the Virtual Console on the Wii and Wii U.
With the NES list out of the way, let’s jump ahead a few years and consider the SNES. The Super Nintendo section of Switch Online isn’t as well-stocked as the NES one—there are currently 31 games on there after this week’s most recent update, which added Donkey Kong Country and Natsume Championship Wrestling (definitely worth playing if you’re a wrestling fan). So instead of looking at the 20 best games, as we did with the NES selection, we’ll cut it down to 12—a delightful dozen old-time hits that are still great today.
Let’s get to it: here are the best SNES games on Nintendo Switch Online.
Part of the appeal of racing games, historically, is their ability to show off a system’s graphical capabilities. Forza and Gran Turismo today pride themselves on their photorealism. F-Zero blew players away when it launched alongside the SNES because it was basically a demo for the system’s vaunted Mode 7 graphics, which simulated a 3D perspective by creating a background layer that could rotate and change in size. The actual game underneath the graphics is a barebones racer gussied up with a slick sci-fi aesthetic and technology that hasn’t broken any ground in over 25 years. There’s nothing terribly bad about F-Zero, there’s just not much to it.
One thing you can be sure of with Nintendo: there will always be more Kirby. Sometimes lots more Kirby, in fact, as with Super Star. Or at least many different iterations of possible Kirbys past and present, a panoply of platforming minigames that place Kirby in a variety of different situations. It’s actually a pretty great little micro-gaming collection, but somehow the whole feels less than its parts. Ranking in this low on a list like this isn’t much of a slight: pretty much every game from here on down is worth at least some amount of your time.
Not nearly as iconic as the NES original, this boxing game is still an addictive rush of pattern recognition and colorful racial stereotypes. It’s a simple formula, one that’s hard to mess up, but also one done so perfectly on the NES that every subsequent version was bound to feel a touch unnecessary. That’s the rub with Super Punch-Out!!: it’s well-designed and exactly as good today as it was when it came out, but it’s still hopelessly stuck in the shadow of its forebear.
Flight simulators were big business in the computer software world in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but weren’t really translatable to the consoles of the day. So Nintendo took the general concept and made something light, fun, and traditionally Nintendo with Pilotwings. Structured as a series of trials using four different aerial vehicles, Pilotwings provides the thrill of flying in a streamlined, easy-to-understand package. It’s also a killer showcase for the Super Nintendo’s then-groundbreaking Mode 7 graphics system.
Capcom was a top developer of action titles in the NES and SNES era—they gave us Mega Man, Strider, Bionic Commando, and more—but with Breath of Fire they branched out into the world of the role-playing game. Japanese RPGs were a big deal on the SNES—it’s where Final Fantasy really came into its own, and gave us Earthbound, a Nintendo original that really should be on Switch Online—and Capcom wanted in on the action. The result is this well-made RPG, which compensates for its lack of ambition with a high level of craftsmanship. Don’t expect Final Fantasy VI, but it’s a perfectly fine RPG evocative of the era in which it was born.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins is one of those games that seemingly exists on every single gaming system ever made, despite always being kind of terrible. Okay, many people love it, and it has made an indelible impact on the medium, but good luck actually enjoying this brutally tough game. Demon’s Crest, a slightly deeper spinoff for the Super Nintendo, is probably the best thing to come out of the almost 40 year history of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It’s still a challenging side-scrolling platformer, but with a bit of RPG business tossed in, along with some Metroid-style “return to the scene of the crime” jive. It’s one of the deeper cuts on Nintendo Switch Online, but don’t sleep on it.
Nintendo pumped these monkey games out on the SNES, releasing Donkey Kong Country in 1994 and then two sequels over the next two years. Only the first of Rare’s platformers are on Nintendo Switch Online, though, which is a smart call—they’re all pretty similar. The original’s still a tough, tricky run-and-jump game, with then-groundbreaking 3D graphics and a great musical score. You can see why this wound up being the second-best-selling game on the entire system.
This game’s absolutely gorgeous, with an art style that still stands out today. It’s less of a true sequel than a stealth pilot for a new gaming concept built around Yoshi. It’s like when a sitcom would introduce a new character and then have an episode entirely about them and their wacky family and then four months later suddenly they have their own show. Yoshi’s Island is the Just the Ten of Us of Nintendo games. That little bit of bait-and-switch might not rest well with those expecting a traditional Mario game, but this unique little number remains a true gem.
The first Mario Kart can be hard to go back to after all the additions and expansions of the last two decades. If you can look past what’s not here, you’ll find a compulsively playable competitive racing game that transcends mere nostalgia. Mario Kart won the checkered flag on its very first attempt, and only got better from there.
In which the former Jumpman and notorious dinosaur abuser goes on his biggest adventure ever at the time. The flagship SNES game might not stack up to the near-perfection of Super Mario Bros. 3, but it’s an amazingly crafted delight with just the right amount of challenge.
Before Link went 3D on the Nintendo 64, he marched throughout Hyrule with a camera pointing down at him from above. A Link to the Past returned to that original perspective after the side-scrolling detour of Zelda II, while also introducing concepts that have recurred in almost every Zelda since, from parallel timelines / dimensions to the Master Sword itself. Many consider this Link’s greatest adventure, and it holds up better today than most of the 3D Zelda games.
The big theme with the Super Nintendo was that it did what the NES did but better. Super Metroid summarizes that more than any other single game. Metroid was a revelation in 1987, but 1994’s sequel remains the best example of how to improve an already great game in every possible way. Its drip-feed of progress and waves of initially unattainable goals mastered the balance between temptation and reward that drives all games. If you’ve never played it, it’s the best single reason to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online. You know, outside of playing games online, and whatnot.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.