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Best Overall: Super Mario World at Amazon
"It has an incredible physics system of running and jumping, catchy tunes, and fun addictive gameplay."
Best for Racing: Super Mario Kart at Amazon
"The game that started the kart craze, Super Mario Kart is the first in its series."
Best Classic: Star Fox at Amazon
"Players pilot an aircraft and play as the leader of a mercenary team of animals who must defend their home world."
Best Challenge: Donkey Kong Country at Amazon
"Its unique gameplay has you slapping and toppling over enemies with the chance to ride giant frogs and rampaging rhinoceroses."
Best for Roleplaying: Chrono Trigger at Amazon
"The overhead 2D RPG has players explore various cities, forests, and dungeons in an overworld realistic map."
Runner-Up, Best for Roleplaying: Super Mario RPG at Amazon
"The 3D RPG game has players adventuring in different towns and wilderness areas and diving into turn-based battle sequences."
Most Talked About: Earthbound at Amazon
"This action RPG stars a young boy who investigates a meteorite crash in the middle of the night and gains psychic powers."
Best Beat-‘Em-Up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV - Turtles In Time at Amazon
"The action-packed game allows you and another player to fight side-by-side as you take on Shredder."
Best for Boxing: Super Punch-Out!! at Amazon
"The colorful and cartoon-like game is easy to play but hard to master."
Best for Two Players: Kirby Super Star at Amazon
"This is an easy-to-learn 2D side-scrolling platformer that allows for two players on a screen to be part of the action."
The Super Nintendo might be an old system, but that doesn't mean its best games don't have plenty of nostalgic value to modern gamers. If you're the owner of a retro Super Nintendo Classic and you're looking for games to add to your system, there's plenty of great titles to choose from. The best SNES games will have a mix of retro graphics, nostalgia, and generally fun gameplay.
One common issue for younger gamers is there tends to be a steeper learning curve and more punishing lives system, but fear not, we've reviewed them all to makes sure you can find the right level of challenge you're looking for.
Courtesy of Amazon
Great physics system
Some challenging levels can be punishing
It’s a hard choice, but Super Mario World is the best Super Nintendo game on the list because it was way ahead of its time in 1990. It had an incredible physics system of running and jumping, catchy tunes and fun addictive gameplay. Super Mario World has 96 levels, includes a power-up called the “Cape Feather” that allows you to fly, introduces Yoshi that you can ride on and features huge creative diversity (and maybe even a few hidden secrets).
Super Mario World is a side-scrolling platform game that has players navigate through an overworld system with several paths that connect to fortresses, ghost houses, forests and other places. Each level Mario plays in is filled with numerous obstacles and enemies that require players to traverse the stage by performing jumps, running and evading or defeating enemies that range from walking bombs, football players to man-eating angular fish. Super Mario World also contains a multiplayer option where two players take alternating turns as Mario and Luigi while they navigate through levels.
Multiple modes including multiplayer
Lots of weapons and powerups
Controls may not hold up
The game that started the kart craze, Super Mario Kart is the first in its series that features a cast of eight Mario characters such as Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and Toadstool who all race against each other in go-karts. The best racing game for the SNES includes multiple modes (single player, multi-race cups with three difficulties, time trial modes, and multiplayer modes).
Super Mario Kart features four different cups with a total of 20 unique tracks filled with sharp turns and wide curves that allow players to slide around and dodge numerous obstacles from the Mario series. Each track is littered with coins that increase kart speed, turbo boost tiles, jumps and various power-ups that give weapons such as shells, stars and bananas that can be used against other racers. The multiplayer modes let players simultaneously take part in cups, race head-to-head in one-on-one matches or engage in a battle mode where players attack each other with power-ups until the three balloons (representing their health) that surround their karts are popped.
"Super Mario Kart was the game that started it all, causing fights and breaking friendships after someone used a blue shell." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor
Great 3D graphics for its time
Fun gameplay loop
Can be a bit punishing at times
Even back as far as the '80s, Nintendo wanted to experiment with 3D capabilities using polygonal graphics, and Star Fox was one the first games to get it. Star Fox is the first title in the Star Fox series — a rail shooter space game where players pilot an aircraft and play as the leader of a mercenary team of animals who must defend their home world from being destroyed by an evil monkey scientist’s army of invading forces.
Star Fox was the first game Nintendo created that used a Super FX graphics acceleration coprocessor powered GSU-1 chip that displayed three-dimensional models with polygons. The games 3D visuals allow a third-person view and first-person cockpit perspective revolved around aerial combat. Players will get to perform fast maneuvers through loops and other obstacles, dodging and deflecting lasers, as well as shooting down both destructible environments and enemies, including spaceships, robots, and extraterrestrial creatures.
"Star Fox is one of the first 3D games on the SNES. In modern times it looks a bit like a rail shooter, but for the time it was pretty revolutionary." — Alan Bradley, Tech Editor
Single and two-players
Lots of action and obstacles
Limited lives can be a challenge
Donkey Kong Country is a standalone side-scrolling video game featuring everyone’s favorite ape in a tie. The game became a huge commercial success for its beautiful pre-rendered 3D graphics, quirky soundtrack, exciting challenge and unique gameplay that has you slapping and toppling over enemies with the chance to ride giant frogs and rampaging rhinoceroses.
Donkey Kong Country isn’t just a single-player platform game with 40 different, action-packed, side-scrolling levels but allows for two players as well (in both a cooperative team mode that operates via a tag team system and a competitive mode to see who completes each level the fastest). The challenging SNES game has players perform various tasks in themed levels such as swimming, riding in mine carts, being blasted out of barrel cannons and swinging from vine to vine. Players start off with only six lives (though can get more via points and items) and lose a life if they get hit by an enemy or fall off the screen, providing a difficult challenge that’ll get players gripping their controllers and sweating.
"Donkey Kong on the SNES is a classic, challenging that's sure to bring back nostalgic memories for those of us who played the game in the 90's." — Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor
Multiple endings and side quests
Unique battle system
Some RPG elements can be a little obtuse
Considered one of the best role-playing games in existence, Chrono Trigger was designed by what Square developers called the “Dream Team," where the creators of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball all came together to make an unforgettable video game. The story involves a group of adventurers who must travel through time to prevent an evil alien set on causing a global catastrophe.
Chrono Trigger was one of the few games at the time to include multiple endings, plot-related sidequests focused on character development, intricately designed pixel graphics, a compelling story and a unique battle system. The overhead 2D RPG has players explore various cities, forests and dungeons in an overworld realistic map where they talk with locals, buy items, solve puzzles and encounter various enemies. Chrono Trigger uses an “Active Time Battle” system — a staple in Final Fantasy games — where players take action for their characters once a personal timer hits zero, giving them a sense of character speed as they employ defenses, attacks and cooperative techniques to take down enemies and ultimately level up.
"Chrono Trigger is the prototypical turn-based RPG. Its unique quests with multiple endings and the impressive pixel graphics made it one of the most compelling games of its time with a style that's still emulated by indie games today." — Alan Bradley, Tech Editor
Super Mario RPG is Mario’s first roleplaying game developed by legendary Square features Final Fantasy elements and has you fighting alongside Bowser. The story involves a mysterious giant sword that falls from the sky and lodges itself in Bowser’s castle; Mario investigates and finds that an evil enemy named Smithy — hellbent on creating a world of weapons — has stolen seven star pieces that make people’s dreams come true.
With its 3D-rendered graphics, catchy soundtrack, humor and simplistic gameplay, Super Mario RPG manages to capture the hearts of Nintendo fans with charming characters, a big world and an even bigger story. The isometric 3D RPG platformer game has players adventuring in different towns and wilderness areas, gathering information and items and diving into turn-based battle sequences that trigger when Mario comes into contact with an enemy. There was never any real sequel to Super Mario RPG except spiritual successors that never quite caught the same magic that players to this day still dream for.
“This game stinks!” was a foolish marketing ploy that Earthbound was given during its 1995 release in America, paired with a humungous box that just seemed so unconventional along with simplistic graphics. Despite its initial failure, Earthbound was revived in 1999 when Super Smash Bros. featured its main character as an unlockable fighter that piqued the interest of inquiring gamers.
Earthbound is a game you have to try. In fact, it’s still being talked about today, 20 plus years later. The quirky action role-playing game stars a young boy named Ness who investigates a meteorite crash in the middle of the night, gains psychic power and is told by an insect from the future named “Buzz-Buzz” that a demonic alien entity has corrupted the souls of every living being on Earth. Ness is then told that he is destined to save it along with three other kids from around the world. Phew! But really, Earthbound is an example of a video game that’s so much more than just…a “video game." Its personality shines through its environments, dialogue, characters you empathize with, music, aesthetics, far-out enemies (New Age Retro Hippie and Spiteful Crow, to name a few) and what some consider to be the best writing for a Nintendo game ever.
Originally an arcade game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time was ported to the SNES as one of the best side-scrolling beat-‘em-up games where players play as one of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The action-packed game allows you and another player to fight side-by-side as you take on Shredder and his foot clan army.
In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time, players are sent back to various time periods, including the 1800s and a prehistoric era where they fight everything from ninjas, robots, pirates and menacing alligator bosses. The game offers players a large array of moves and attacks that can cater to anyone’s strategy, including running, slide sweeps, jump kicks, spin moves and even picking up and throwing an enemy at the screen. Gamers who want a thrilling arcade challenge with exciting gameplay should definitely pick this one up and see how far the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have come.
Unique and quirky characters
Some strategy required
Easy to play, but hard to master
Controls can be finicky
With the success of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo sought out to expand a more intriguing and detailed arcade boxing game with Super Punch-Out!! for the SNES. The exciting boxer game breaks all the rules and features a unique set of quirky characters from clowns to kung fu masters that players have to seriously strategize against in order to win.
Dodge, hook, duck, jab and do all sorts of moves as Little Mac in Super Punch-Out!!, a game where an amateur boxer pursues the big dream of becoming the World Video Boxing Association champion. Players fight from a transparent behind-the-back perspective and are given three minutes to knock out their opponent by performing a series of maneuvers, including charged power shots and rapid attacks. The colorful and cartoon-like game is easy to play but hard to master, giving players a simple gameplay format with a high replay value as they progress to defeat and find the weaknesses of 16 boxers in four circuits.
Supports two players
Lots of minigames
A little bit of a button masher
Kirby Super Star is an exciting and easy-to-learn 2D side-scrolling platformer that allows for two players on a screen to be part of the action. Players play as Kirby, a delightful pink creature that can inhale enemies and absorb their powers.
In Kirby Super Star, players can create a helper by inhaling certain enemies, copying their abilities and magically reproducing a character out of thin air. At any time, a second player can jump in and assume the role of the helper, who can fight alongside Kirby in six different exciting subsection episodes of the game. The game comes with two mini-games that also have a multiplayer option, too: Samurai Kirby is a time-based quick draw event where players hit a button as soon as a signal is given and Megaton Punch has players press a series of buttons to see who can punch the biggest crack in the planet.
The Super Nintendo still has plenty of games that are worth playing. On some level, it's nice to play a game like Super Mario Kart or Star Fox to see the games that started it all. Or if you're feeling nostalgic and up for a challenge, you can see how rusty your skills are in Donkey Kong, or just relax with Super Punch-Out! They may be old, but they're all still gold.
Alex Williams has written for Lifewire since 2016 covering video games and tech. He's previously been published on TechRadar, and has experience as a front end web developer and UX designer, giving him a more analytical look at what made some of these old classics great.
Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor at Lifewire, has been a gamer all his life. His first system was a Sega Genesis, but he spent plenty of time playing his friend's Super Nintendo. From Donkey Kong and Legend of Zelda, to Mortal Kombat, he's played many of the games on the SNES. He particularly enjoyed the challenging nature of Donkey Kong and its bonus co-op gameplay as Diddy Kong.
Alice Newcome-Beill is Associate Commerce Editor at Lifewire. Her work has previously appeared on PCMag, PC Gamer, and GamesRadar. As an old hand at emulating software on the DOSBox, she's played Mario Kart and particularly enjoys its competitive power-ups.
Alan Bradley is Tech Editor at Lifewire. His work has previously appeared on Rolling Stone, the Escapist, Gamasutra, and many other publications. He's played just about every SNES game on this list, but he's a particularly big fan of Chrono Trigger for its intricate quests with multiple endings.
Nostalgic value - If you're an older gamer who grew up with a Super Nintendo, the biggest thing these retro consoles and games have going for them is nostalgia. When you're every feeling melancholy about your carefree childhood days, there's no reason not to fire up a game you used to play and take a trip through the past.
Retro graphics - The 16-bit art style is a classic, and even today you can find plenty of indie games that ape to the past. The old pixel graphics hold up really well under scrutiny, while 3D games like Star Fox were impressive for their time.
Fun gameplay - What kid doesn't know the frustration of trying a level over and over again, until the exhilaration of finally getting it right. Many of these older SNES games having challenging levels and obstacles, and lives systems that can border on sadistic, but that's all part of the fun. After all, why play if you're not pushing yourself?