This week, we're going way, way back in time to the 16-bit era. And the reason for that is because we want to know what is your favorite Super Nintendo game?
Hopefully you're old enough to answer that question, and if you're not we suggest it's high time you checked out Nintendo's virtual console lineup and tried some of the classic SNES games like Super Metroid and Super Mario World. And if you don't have a Nintendo console to do just that, then perhaps it's time you bought one - you're missing some of the greatest games of the early to mid 1990s.
While you ponder what is quite a tricky choice, here are USgamer's staff picks:
I'm sorry, everyone, I want to be unique and surprising with this answer and come up with some answer out of left field that makes everyone stop and admire my ability to see the greatness of a less-loved creation, but... no. It's got to be Super Metroid for me.
Sorry if this week has been me droning endlessly about Metroid games. Between this question and Axiom Verge, the series has been on my mind a lot. I've grown somewhat critical of the way most developers who aim to create a metroidvania game these days just copy Super Metroid's formula, skills, and structure, but that's not a knock on the original source mater. On the contrary, it's high praise! Super Metroid, along with A Link to the Past, are the Super NES's perfect games.
I realize that not everyone loves those games, but that's not what I mean by "perfect." Can you point out flaws in them? Sure, if you want. But by perfect I mean both games set out to accomplish something specific and absolutely nailed it. In Super Metroid's case, Nintendo dropped players into an alien world with very little guidance, allowing them to find their way through a vast underground labyrinth through discovery, empowerment, and self-actualization. It was also drenched in a moody atmosphere, a nearly wordless adventure whose narrative played out through pantomime and inference.
Super Metroid absolutely nailed the entire concept of a densely designed game world brimming with secrets to be uncovered. Its earliest areas took the form of a twisty maze packed with tantalizing yet inaccessible obstacles and objects; later, the game opened up to match heroine Samus' growing array of skills, crossing back into previously covered ground and frequently presenting players with multiple options for exploration, begging them to return once they'd staked out their current branch of the world. Many games have imitated or even duplicated Super Metroid - but I've yet to play a one that bests it at its own game. A masterpiece.
This is a tougher-than-expected choice for me. My first answer is to go straight to the original launch games on SNES - because those had such a huge impact on me. When I first got my Super Nintendo, the three games that came with it were Super Mario World, F-Zero and Pilotwings. All three of those console exclusives showcased just how good Nintendo's new machine was, and helped instantly establish its credibility as a serious 16-bit contender. And it really needed to do that, because Sega's Genesis had two years head start on it and by the time Nintendo finally rolled out the SNES, Sega's system was really beginning to run away with the market - and I was a huge fan of it.
However, those three titles really turned my head. Super Mario World was just a revelation to me. The fourth in the series, it brought some really imaginative new features to the series - while also featuring much of what had made it such a brilliant game the three prior outings. But then there were the two Mode 7 games. Pilotwings was a huge amount of fun, and like nothing else out there. Its different flight modes were all highly entertaining, and its challenge was pitched perfectly to keep you playing. F-Zero, on the other hand, presented some of the fastest, smoothing racing we'd seen at that point. I played all three of those games to death, and loved every minute of them.
But if truth be told, while I remember those launch titles very fondly, none of them had me rushing home to play them like Super Metroid did. That game edges them out as my favorite Super Nintendo game thanks to its simply brilliant design. Having played Axiom Verge recently - itself a stunning Metroid tribute - I was reminded of how Super Metroid made me feel. Its mysterious storyline. The way it doled out weapons and abilities. And the outstanding way the game unfolded made it an experience I savored every minute of. Like I said, it made me rush home to play it several nights running, and I just couldn't wait to get back to the machine to uncover the next secrets it held.
Few games have had that sort of impact on me, and I remember feeling genuinely sad when I finally completed the game. Sure, I could play it again, but I knew I'd be chasing the dragon. There really have been few experiences in my gaming life like playing through Super Metroid for the very first time - and that's why it's my pick as my favorite SNES game. And indeed, one of my all-time greats.
One Christmas, my father brought me a Sega CD. I played it for two nights. (Sewer Shark, why?) Three days later, I returned it and used the money to buy a Super Nintendo. The first game I bought? Super Mario Kart.
Before Super Mario Kart, I was fine with my Sega Genesis. It was good enough and I never had any problem with it. Until Super Mario Kart. I went to Toys R Us every day to play Super Mario Kart. I got on my bike and rode the 15 minutes to get to the store nearly every day. If I had free time, I was at Toys R Us, playing Super Mario Kart. I became a regular fixture there, wandering around the store to let others play, but wandering back when they were gone.
Super Mario Kart was my go-to game. Other titles came and went - Secret of Mana, Super Metroid, Starfox, Mega Man X, A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger - but I could always go back to Super Mario Kart. Every cup, every course, every character; simply amazing. Jeremy talks about perfect games, but for me, Super Mario Kart was utter perfection, outdone only by later Mario Kart titles.
I was recently thinking about my Super Nintendo collection on Virtual Console, and I was kind of surprised to realize that I don't have a lot of long-lasting SNES favorites compared to, say, the NES. I expect a lot of that is a byproduct of the fact that I never owned an SNES during its heyday, which meant that I missed out on the cultural zeitgeist. But out of Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and a handful of other favorites, I would probably have to choose Final Fantasy VI as my personal favorite.
As I related on Axe of the Blood God (speaking of which, have you listened to our new RPG podcast yet?), Final Fantasy VI was my first "real" RPG. That is to say, it was the first RPG that I specifically sought out and engaged with as a game from that genre. Final Fantasy VII ended up being my heroine, but Final Fantasy VI was the gateway drug - the RPG that really got me started.
Looking back, I'm stilll blown away by its ambition. You could really see Square Enix straining against the limitations of 16-bit consoles, wringing every last bit of juice from the Super Nintendo in a bid to create a truly epic adventure. And somehow, what should be cheesy in this day and age still works. Celes' opera scene is still a tearjerker, Kefka is still a grand, theatrical villain, and the World of Ruin is still a shock to behold. Out of all the 16-bit era RPGs, only Phantasy Star IV and Chrono Trigger match the storytelling ambition of Final Fantasy VI.
I've been meaning to get around to playing it again on the Wii - probably the best legitimate way to play Final Fantasy VI outside of buying the cartridge itself - but my time has been sadly limited. Whenever I do make it back, though, I'll be delighted to see Celes, Terra, Locke, and Ultros, and to once again hear that stirring soundtrack. If you haven't tried it out yet, then I urge you to find a copy and play it. Everyone has their personal favorite Final Fantasy, but Final Fantasy VI is the one that I'm most comfortable calling the best.
There's a lot of Super Nintendo games I could have chosen for this topic. But among greats like Final Fantasy VI, EarthBound, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and Yoshi's Island, only one stands out as being completely flawless (to me, anyway): The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Yeah, I'm being a little hyperbolic. But every time I go back to play A Link to the Past-something I try to do every few years-I'm immediately struck by just how perfectly everything fits together. Granted, it owes a lot to the original Legend of Zelda for its structure, but A Link to the Past thoughtfully expands on this basic concept without overcomplicating it. There's a reason why the many Zelda games to follow used A Link to the Past as their framework.
In fact, there's just so much good stuff in A Link to the Past, it's hard to know where to begin. How about that misleading first act, which makes you think you've nearly reached the end before revealing an entire new map to explore? And on that note, the interplay between Hyrule's two dimensions is a concept that hasn't been pulled off successfully since A Link to the Past-even Ocarina of Time's past and future world feel a little undercooked in comparison. True, it's really not that big of an adventure, but the sheer density of the game world makes up for it; there's typically worth investigating within every square of Hyrule.
At this point in time-nearly 25 years after its release-it seems odd that I'd have to describe why A Link to the Past is so great-that's self-evident to anyone who's had a chance to play it. But if it's somehow escaped your grasp over these past two decade, drop what you're doing now and find some way to play it. A Link to the Past isn't just one of the best Super Nintendo games; it's one of the best games ever.
For my 4 year old self, Mario Paint was like a coloring book come to life. From the Music Maker to Animation mode, every facet of that game was a new creative experience-- and one that never expired. I still vividly remember the actual coloring-book pages in Art Mode; Mario & Yoshi, wild animals, an underwater scene, and a birthday cake you could change the toppings on. Who knows how much time I spent making 16-bit cakes...
25 years later, players are still sharing their unique Mario Paint-ings and cover songs online. In fact, Music Mode has become so popular that a fan-made program called "Mario Paint Composer," emerged that allows you to create and save your own music using the same 19 sound stamps from the original game. Just search Youtube and you will find thousands of artist tributes, song covers, and original creations.
Within the mecha of creative tools and seemingly random things to doing in Mario Paint, a super addicting mini-game called "Gnat Attack!" (also known as Coffee Break,) can be found. Survive each level by swatting 100 different types of flies and at the end you will encounter the super-fly boss, Watinga. The game has no final round, instead it just loops endlessly getting slightly harder each round. I don't know if it was the music or funky sound effects that kept me watching, but when I was a child I really enjoyed seeing my Dad rage-quit again and again.
There are also a number of Easter Eggs you'll only find after loading the game up about 100 times, most of which can be found in the start screen. By clicking 'M' in the title, Mario will shrink or grow. By clicking P in the title, a landscape will appear. If you click the shooting Super Star, stamps from Music Mode will rain down as the sounds of harps play. By clicking 'O' in the title, Totaka's Song will play. 'Totaka's Song' is a 19-bit melody the sound designer Kazumi Totaka is known to insert on the titles he works on. Most recently you can find his song in Yoshi's Wooly World.
I started to worry that I wasn't going to come up with something, since at the time the SNES was a big deal I was barely getting into video games. Sure, I'd had my time with Atari and the even NES, but I wasn't so heavily into gaming that a lot of options jumped out at me. In fact, in the interest of full transparency, I hit up Wikipedia to refresh my memory, then I saw NHL '94 sitting there, ready to save the day.
It's probably not going to make any other lists of great or influential SNES games, but it was the starting point of a 21 year (currently in progress) journey, and has always been the center of my video game universe. Yes, I have played every single NHL game since NHL 94, and logged more hours into the franchise than any other. I've also been somewhat disappointed with where things have gone with the NHL series as of late, but even with the half done NHL 15 that we currently have, I still can't help but fire it up get lost for a couple of hours here and there.
Perhaps the best part about NHL 94 being my pick, is that unlike others I don't have to use Nintendo's virtual console to play my favorite game from the SNES era, I just have to pop NHL 14 in and enjoy the anniversary mode.