Even though the Big N has released five more consoles since the Super Nintendo, many Nintendo fans would say the SNES is still the best console that the House of Mario has ever released.
Much of the console’s success has to do with its roster of games, of course. From third-party titles to Nintendo’s own franchises, this was an era—from 1990 to 1996—that showcased the platform’s total dominance over the industry, even as the Sega Genesis proved to be a strong competitor—and we all know who won that console arms race in the end. It’s not difficult to see why: Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are the very best games in their respective series. And that’s not even counting games made by outside studios, such as Capcom and Konami.
There’s a lot more to the SNES library than just Mario, Samus, and Link, and more than two decades later, many of these games are still criminally overlooked. These are the 25 most underrated games on the SNES:
25. Saturday Night Slam Masters
1993 | Capcom
Wrestling games were extremely hit or miss in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. You could argue that the WWE, really the only name in professional wrestling in the U.S., didn’t put out a single great game until the N64 era. That’s fine, though, because it gave other companies the opportunity to innovate with much more creative titles that focused on the over-the-top nature of sports entertainment.
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Saturday Night Slam Masters was one of those games, playing more like a traditional fighter that ends with pinning your opponent than a wrestling game. The art, which was created by Fist of the North Star artist Tetsuo Hara, almost made the game feel like a Street Fighter II wrestling game, which is not a bad thing at all.
24. Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
1993 | Quest
Ogre Battle is possibly the greatest unfinished saga in gaming. The very first game in the series appeared on the SNES and began with a tarot reading that determined your fitness for leading a revolution against an evil empire. And what a revolution it is, as you spend dozens of hours recruiting and building an army of soldiers, witches, and even griffins in a strategy game that still feels incredibly deep more than 20 years later.
The SNES version is one of the rarer titles on the console, but it’s since been re-released on the Wii Virtual Console. There’s also a quality PlayStation port that’s slightly cheaper, but still one of the higher priced games on that system. Regardless of which version you play, this is a game that all strategy and RPG fans need to experience at least once.
23. Tetris Attack
1996 | Intelligent Systems
Nintendo seems content to re-release a barely updated version of Dr. Mario every few years but has completely ignored its best puzzle game of the ‘90s. Don’t mind the Tetris in the title, this is a completely new puzzle game where you match colored blocks as they rise from the bottom of the screen in an effort to keep them from reaching the top.
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It’s all wrapped around a story involving Yoshi and Bowser, which is fine, but the real star here is the ultra-competitive two-player mode. It’s a real shame that Nintendo hasn’t yet released an HD version of this game with online multiplayer.
1994 | Interplay
Because Mario and Sonic were such massive successes in the ‘90s, virtually every other publisher assumed that they too needed a mascot to put them on the map. This led to some…unusual creations, most of whom have thankfully been forgotten.
Boogerman is one of those characters that are maybe better left in the ‘90s (a 2013 Kickstarter to revive the franchise was a massive failure), but he actually starred in a pretty cool game. It had some of the better graphics and music of any platformer from the era, and while the ability to burp and fart on your enemies is incredibly sophomoric, it still entertains adult me almost as much as 10-year-old me.
21. Goof Troop
1993 | Capcom
Goof Troop was a fairly forgettable Disney cartoon starring Mickey Mouse’s talking dog pal, but at least it gave us a surprisingly good Super Nintendo game. This was a time period when Capcom could do no wrong, and the company put Shinji Mikami, who would later go on to direct much of the Resident Evil series, in charge of Goof Troop.
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Sadly, there are no zombies or gore, but there are some surprisingly strong survival elements, like having to defeat enemies with objects in the level rather than facing them head-on. If you’ve ever wanted to see where some very early Resident Evil ideas got their start, this is the game to check out.
1995 | Visual Concepts
Weaponlord is the definitive example of a game ahead of its time. While accessible fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter ruled the roost in the mid-’90s, the team at Visual Concepts set out to create an extremely deep fighter focused on weapon combat, countering, and parrying. While Weaponlord featured only a few characters, they each had tons of special moves and “death combos” that put many of Mortal Kombat’s fatalities to shame. And which characters you killed during the story mode actually had an impact on the ending.
Despite these innovations, reviews were largely negative at the time of release. Still, the game’s reputation has improved quite a bit in recent years. Publisher Namco even used many of Weaponlord’s ideas in its Soul Edge and Soulcalibur games.
1992 | Kemco
Phalanx might take the prize for worst box art on the SNES. Despite being a 2D shooter, it features a bearded old man playing banjo on the cover for some reason. There’s a space ship too, but most of the focus is on the old guy. Maybe there was a mix-up in the art department, and they didn’t have time to fix it. It’s not really clear what happened.
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Anyway, those who got past the box actually found a surprisingly fun shooter. You could control the speed of your ship, store multiple weapons simultaneously, and even sacrifice these weapons for smart bombs. It’s not the deepest game on the SNES, but it is one of the most enjoyable in brief spurts.
18. Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures
1994 | LucasArts
LucasArts’ Super Star Wars games still get a lot of love, but its lone Indiana Jones game on the SNES is arguably superior. The game takes you through all three Indy movies (let us never speak of the fourth one), as you take out baddies with Indy’s iconic bullwhip.
While primarily a platformer, there are also a few levels featuring flying, a mine cart, and even a raft traveling down a mountain. Sadly, there have only been a handful of Indiana Jones games released over the years. This one is easily one of the best.
1994 | DMA Design
If you’ve never heard of DMA Design, they were a small Scottish developer that went on to develop a little series known as Grand Theft Auto. Uniracers has pretty much nothing to do with GTA. There are no open worlds, mob bosses, or murders.
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Uniracers is just a relatively simple, family-friendly, incredibly fun game about racing unicycles and pulling off tricks with them. Certainly, no one would object to Nintendo resurrecting the series, or Rockstar including an homage to it in the next GTA.
16. The Adventures of Batman & Robin
1994 | Konami
Batman: The Animated Series stands up as one of the greatest cartoons of all time, and the SNES game based on the show is the rare ‘90s licensed game to do its source material justice. The graphics and sound are outstanding for their time. This is a game that almost looks and sounds like the cartoon, which was almost unheard of back then.
All of the major Batman villains from the series are included as bosses, and you need to use a variety of bat-gadgets to take them out. The Batmobile stages are a little hard to control, but they’re worth putting up with because everything else is of such high quality.
15. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
1996 | Neverland
In the ‘90s and early 2000s, many great games took longer than expected to develop, were released just as a new generation of consoles was on the horizon, and were completely forgotten until they were rediscovered by nostalgic fans years later. Lufia II is one such game.
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Building on a good, but not great RPG released earlier in the SNES’s life cycle, Lufia II featured deeper puzzles and gameplay mixed with some of the best music on the console. Lufia II is easily one of the best RPGs of the ‘90s that Square had nothing to do with.
14. Ys III: Wanderers from Ys
1991 | Nihon Falcom
Despite eight main entries released to date, and a surprising number of remakes, the Ys action-RPG series hasn’t really broken into mainstream gaming. While the earlier games in the series were strictly top-down, similar to the Legend of Zelda in many ways, Ys III was a more traditional side-scroller. Because of this, it’s often viewed as the dark sheep of the series, but that’s ignoring a surprisingly fun and epic game that can stand on its own as one of the better platformers on the console.
13. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
1992 | Konami
Goemon/Mystical Ninja is an absolutely hilarious and brilliant action-RPG series that is sadly so deeply-rooted in medieval Japanese culture that Konami has never quite figured out how to market it in the west. The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was the very first game in the series released in North America, and it’s an almost pitch-perfect beat ‘em up with strong RPG elements.
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Much of the series’ trademark humor translated fairly well in this version, and it has a wonderful soundtrack inspired by traditional Japanese music. Sadly, Konami seems to have completely lost interest in the series in recent years.
12. Mega Man Soccer
1994 | Sun L
Long before Mario made a name in the world of sports, Capcom tried to expand the Mega Man franchise with this bizarre soccer game. The gameplay is fairly standard for the time, with the addition of special attacks used by the robots in the main series of games. Somehow, this is actually a canon game that takes place after Mega Man 4.
In the game, Mega Man and Proto Man decide that the best way to stop Dr. Wily is a soccer match. While hardly the greatest game in the illustrious Mega Man series (or even the best soccer game on the SNES), it’s graphics and soundtrack hold up pretty well, and if nothing else, it’s worth checking out for the novelty of it.
11. Jurassic Park
1993 | Ocean Software
The Jurassic Park movies have inspired some surprisingly good games over the years, beginning with the very first title released on the SNES to coincide with the original movie. Yes, you play as Dr. Alan Grant, and you fight dinosaurs with a bunch of weapons from a top-down perspective, which wasn’t terribly innovative for the time. But this is actually a much more thoughtful adaptation of the film than you would first expect.
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You can communicate via radio with other characters from the film. Some of the characters will even try to impede your progress with bad advice. And when you head indoors, the game shifts to a first-person view as you collect ID cards. This is so much better than the typical movie cash-in that flooded the SNES library in the mid-‘90s.
1993 | NCS Corp
Cybernator proves yet again that there are few things more cathartic than manning a giant mech and shooting the hell out of other mechs and robots. The developers at NCS Corp seemed to take real joy in taking this generic concept and pushing it to its full potential, with tight controls, vibrant graphics, and even a surprisingly strong soundtrack. Cybernator remains somewhat obscure even today, but it’s well worth picking up if you run across a cartridge in the wild.
9. Metal Warriors
1995 | LucasArts
And if you loved Cybernator, I’ve got great news for you because Metal Warriors is basically an unofficial sequel. While developed by a completely different company (the legendary LucasArts), Metal Warriors doubled down on everything that made Cybernator great, with more mechs, faster gameplay, and better graphics.
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The game even featured the ability to exit your mech to get through certain areas. Some fans argue that Cybernator is the superior game, but Metal Warriors tweaked what made that game great just enough to edge out its unofficial predecessor.
8. Super Smash TV
1992 | Williams
Basically a twin-stick shooter before consoles came with analog sticks, Super Smash TV featured incredibly fast and intense gameplay. This nearly perfect port of the arcade version lets one or two players blow off steam by firing weapons at hundreds of enemies attacking them from all sides as part of a futuristic life-or-death TV show. Well, the 1999 setting seemed futuristic at the time.
1994 | Blizzard Entertainment
Before Blizzard built mega huge franchises like StarCraft, Warcraft, and Diablo, there was simply Blackthorne. But even back in 1994, Blizzard seemed poised for greatness. What could have been another generic 16-bit shooter was actually a much deeper game, which required you search for keys in its giant, vibrant levels to progress. Even if you’ve never played the SNES version, Blackthorne is a free download on Battle.net now, so there’s no reason not to play it now.
6. Zombies Ate My Neighbors
1993 | LucasArts
Back in the day, LucasArts was actually known for a lot more than cranking out Star Wars games and dysfunctional development cycles. The developer used to make really innovative games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors, a top-down shooter with tons of weapons, ranging from water guns to bazookas. And it had real personality, too.
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Zombies contained nods to numerous classic horror movies, and despite the title, monsters included enemies like squidmen, blobs, and even giant demon babies. This is also one of the more difficult games of the 16-bit era, but it’s well worth experiencing just for the creativity on display alone.
1991 | Quintent
Few games have ever pulled off the merging of two completely disparate genres into one like Actraiser did. Yes, much of the game is a solid, though not especially memorable platformer, but those sections are squeezed between a really interesting city-building section where you basically play God (in fact, you were referred to as “God” in the Japanese version).
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Even though it seems like these two gameplay styles should have nothing to do with each other, it works remarkably well here. Actraiser is one of the finest, most memorable games on the SNES, and its sequel is worth checking out as well.
1993 | Beam Software
There was no shortage of traditional sword and sorcery RPGs on the SNES, so Shadowrun stands out specifically for its dark cyberpunk setting. While receiving mixed reviews upon release, Shadowrun’s image has been rehabilitated in recent years, with many players praising its deep conversation system and gameplay that mixes traditional table-top rules with 16-bit RPG action. Plus, the game’s film noir influences helps give it what’s quite possibly the best storyline of any SNES game.
3. Illusion of Gaia
1994 | Quintent
Illusion of Gaia is an action-RPG for gamers who want something different from their action-RPGs. While combat remains relatively simple, there are so many new ideas that work surprisingly well, like an experience system that de-emphasizes grinding and a simplified item system.
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Those might sound like bad ideas at first, but they work surprisingly well in the context of the game. Wrapped in some truly ingenious puzzles and one of the best stories of the 16-bit era, you’ll wonder why more games haven’t tried to copy Illusion of Gaia’s innovations.
2. Secret of Evermore
1995 | Square Soft
Square released so many great SNES games in the ‘90s that at least one of them had to fall through the cracks. Secret of Evermore is unique among Square titles, as the only game ever released by the company that was designed by Americans. This meant a more westernized art style, and a focus on traditional tropes of American storytelling, like the adventure of a boy and his dog.
But you can also see a lot of the Square influence at play here too, with combat extremely similar to Secret of Mana (though the two titles are officially unrelated). Evermore may never quite meet the heights of Mana, but it’s still worth tracking down to see how a Square game would turn out with a stronger western influence.
1. Harvest Moon
1997 | Amccus
On paper, Harvest Moon sounds like the worst game ever. You inherit a farm. You grow crops and take care of livestock. If you’re particularly successful, you get married, too. But anyone who has played a Harvest Moon game knows that while this sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, it’s actually incredibly addicting watching your farm grow.
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While later games in the series included much more customization, the SNES original is still one of the most relaxing games around, and well worth a play through for anyone looking for something a little bit simpler than saving the world.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.