Like most creatures on earth capable of sentience (and who possess hands instead of flippers or prehensile trunks), we're excited for the SNES Classic Edition. Every game pre-installed on the tiny box of joy is a masterpiece – so of course, we're compelled to list those masterpieces from the "worst" to the best.
Here's how the USgamer team ultimately ranked the SNES Classic's line-up once we finished glowering at each other from opposite corners of Slack and licking our fresh wounds. What do you think?
21. Star Fox 2 (Unranked)
Where does Star Fox 2 fall on this list? Who knows! This is the first time we're all going to get to play Star Fox 2, which was canceled shortly after completion back in 1995. Like the original Star Fox, it will be hampered by its dated graphics, but its ambitious format—which ditches the linear shoot 'em up stages for a more strategic approach—is definitely intriguing. In any case, it's an amazing addition for fans and collectors alike. Hopefully as many people as possible will get to play it. —Kat
20. Kirby’s Dream Course
The mid- through- late-'90s had a weird obsession with getting mascots to bounce around in 3D isometric environments. Kirby's Dream Course is one of the few games that got the gimmick right. While it honestly doesn't hold a candle to most of the games on this list (hence its, ahem, low placement on the line-up), it's still a solid miniature golfing game with a dollop of fluffy pink icing on top. Give it a try. —Nadia
19. Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
As with the NES, Capcom gifted Nintendo with a gaggle of ghosts and goblins when the Super Nintendo debuted. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts offers better craftsmanship than its predecessor, though. It's still tough, but it's a little more fair. At the very least, endless swarms of Red Arremer don't respawn again and again to tap-dance on Arthur's head.
The "Bad Ending" cop-out is still a thing in Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, though. Hey, you need just a pinch of the cheap stuff to make it a real Ghouls 'n Ghosts experience, right? —Nadia
18. Donkey Kong Country
Everyone will complain about Donkey Kong Country being chosen over its superior sequel, but it's still better than nothing, even if it doesn't quite hold up. Back in 1994, Donkey Kong Country was one of the most impressive Super NES games around: a technical showpiece that slammed the door on the Sega Genesis and gave the 16-bit generation a couple more years of life. With the benefit of hindsight, Donkey Kong Country is a rather repetitive platformer that relies too heavily on reskinned bosses, and its formerly impressive 2.5D graphics haven't held up all that well. But it is a piece of gaming history, as well as a perfectly enjoyable platformer. It just happens to be up against a lot of competition on the Super Nintendo. —Kat
17. Super Punch-Out!!
The original Punch-Out!! tends to get more love from retro fans, but Super Punch-Out!! is still a pretty cool 16-bit boxing game. Based more on the arcade version than the NES original, it's notable for its gigantic sprites and boxers like Gabby Jay—a fighter who manages the notable feat of being even more pathetic than Glass Joe. Despite not being as popular as its predecessor, Super Punch-Out!! is still really fun, and it stands out as one of the Super Nintendo's better-looking games. It may not get a second renaissance on the SNES Classic, but it's solid fun in any case. —Kat
16. Star Fox
Star Fox was the Super Nintendo's technical showcase back in 1993. It was Nintendo's way of thumbing their nose at Sega and saying, "Yeah, but can the Genesis pull off 3D graphics?" It was a little rough even for the time, not to mention really hard, but there was no denying how impressive it was to see a full 3D shoot 'em up on a 16-bit console. It was further bolstered by its memorable cast of animal pilots, who lent an otherwise generic shooter some much-needed fun. It obviously doesn't look so great now, but it's nevertheless a welcome addition to the SNES Classic lineup, as this is the first legitimate release the original game has seen since 1993. And it's more than just a curiosity: That kickass soundtrack is forever. —Kat
15. Contra III: The Alien Wars
While a number of series jump from one generation to the next with just a feature coat of paint, Konami went above and beyond with Contra III: The Alien Wars. The game keeps the same tag-team shooting action of the original games, but adds so much more. Contra III was a constant feeling of surprise; fights take place on hovercycles, on the sides of long ladders, or as you're hanging from the bottom of missiles. Mode 7 allowed for top-down levels, where both players could spread out to complete objectives. And the bosses utilized all of these various level designs and compositions to create some amazingly memorable boss fights. The series never quite reached the high point of this game again, though titles like Contra 4 and Contra ReBirth definitely took a shot at the crown. —Mike
One function of launch games is to show off all the shiny new features your game has to offer. In the case of the Super Nintendo, one of those features was Mode 7, letting the system fake 3D by scaling and rotating a background image. F-Zero was the showcase title, a high-speed futuristic racer using Mode 7 as the basis for its tracks. No other racing game played like F-Zero, like its hovercars jumping and drifting across a wide variety of courses. It's one thing to show off a new system's graphics. It's another to actually be a great game at the same time. F-Zero did both. Plus, the series gave us Captain Falcon, who would later Falcon Punch the world in Super Smash Bros. —Mike
13. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
We were all so innocent back in 1994. Back in the days of Street Fighter II Turbo, it was still possible for scrubs like me to believe that we could be good at fighting games. It was inarguably the most popular genre of the 16-bit era—a period when platformers were still popular and console shooters felt like a pipe dream. Every new fighting game felt like an event, and Street Fighter II Turbo might have been the best of the lot. In addition to marking the first appearance of Bison, Sagat, and the rest as playable characters on the SNES, it sports one of the best-balanced rosters of any fighting game before or since. It's no longer the graphical showcase that it was back in 1994, and the SNES pad isn't exactly the best way to play a fighting game, but Street Fighter II Turbo is still as fun to play now as it was back then. For a few fleeting seconds, you can pretend that the Internet doesn't exist, and that you really are one of the best Street Fighter players on your block. —Kat
12. Kirby Super Star
Kirby Super Star isn't a single Kirby game so much as a gathering of Kirby-based experiences. I'm not discounting this perfectly lovable title as a mere mini-game collection, though. Most of these sub-games offer a rich experience that are worthy of the Kirby title. The "Spring Breeze" sub-game alone is a remake of the original Kirby's Dream Land (albeit simplified), and the "Great Cave Adventure" is a Metroidvania treasure-hunting adventure. Kirby Super Star is all killer, no filler, and it's an exciting addition to the SNES Classic Edition's line-up. —Nadia
11. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario RPG is notable for many things: it inaugurated the Mario RPG spinoffs, took Nintendo's familiar mascots in new and interesting directions, and concluded Square's legendary run on the Super Nintendo. Of all the Square RPGs on the Super Nintendo, Super Mario RPG is the most familiar and accessible, exchanging the complexities of Final Fantasy for a simpler timing-based format. But its real charm is in how it plays with our expectations of how a Mario game should play out as it turns Bowser into an ally, puts Peach in a starring role, and pokes fun at the series' conventions. It's not so novel now as it was back in 1996, but it's still a delight. If you want to learn more, we have a longer retrospective here. —Kat
10. Secret of Mana
The pitch for Secret of Mana when I was a kid was amazingly straightforward: "Would you like to play The Legend of Zelda done by the folks who created Final Fantasy, with your friends?" That answer was a resounding "Yes!" Secret of Mana was the game that made me pick up the Super Multi-Tap, though Super Bomberman and other titles would continue to justify the purchase. The hours were burned away on a grand journey to save the Mana Tree with my friends, getting together every weekend until we beat the game. Great graphics, awesome combat, cool bosses, and Flammie added up to a game that sticks with me until this day. —Mike
If you told me about a decade ago that Nintendo would feed us Earthbound several times over, I would've said you're crazier than a rat trapped in Master Belch's outhouse. Goes to show you never know what surprises the universe has in store for you.
Earthbound's notoriously (but necessarily) vocal fan community is to thank for keeping the game's memory alive, and I'm glad the Starmen forums spent so much energy stamping its feet and banging pots and pans. Earthbound is one of a kind, though the adventure admittedly gets off to a slow start. Its Dragon Quest-style menus, difficult early battles, and restricted inventory space isn't a home-run for everyone, even dedicated RPG fans. But if you stick it out for those first couple of hours, you're rewarded with a lovably bizarre experience that I can only describe as "Peanuts meets Stephen King." —Nadia
8. Super Mario Kart
It all started here. One of Nintendo's primary anchor games on every system in every generation. The best-selling racing franchise in the United States. The old trend of kart-based spinoffs for mascot franchises. It all started here in this cute kart racer starring Mario and company.
It's even more amazing given the genesis of the franchise. Mario Kart began as a prototype for a multiplayer version of F-Zero.
"Our original plan (for Mario Kart) didn’t include Mario or karts. The game’s roots lie in one of the launch titles for the SNES: F-Zero. The game was designed for single-player gameplay because of our focus on getting across the sense of speed and the size of the courses. It was a prototype for a multiplayer version of F-Zero that ended up being the starting point for Super Mario Kart, and from there we went through a period of trial and error to find what worked." the game's original creators told Retro Gamer (via Games Radar).
That trial and error led them to the premier kart racer. It was a game everyone could play, but it rewarded precision racing and track knowledge. Two player split-screen meant you could spend hours racing alongside your friends in Grand Prix or Time Trial modes. And the coup de grace was Battle Mode, a free-for-all racing melee with shells, feathers, and mushrooms flying. It's an amazing game that stands at the top of the Super Nintendo lineup. —Mike
7. Super Castlevania IV
There's a handful of games I buy every time the opportunity presents itself, and Castlevania IV is one of those games. The simplest reason: It's just a great Castlevania game. One of the best. Better than Rondo of Blood, in my whip-snapping opinion.
But Castlevania IV is also a one-of-a-kind game in its series. You'll never find another Castlevania game that looks like Castlevania IV, or offers eight-direction whipping, or has the whip-dangling (hee-hee) trick that's an effective foil against out-of-reach enemies and Medusa Heads.
Oh, and Castlevania IV has the greatest Castlevania soundtrack outside of Symphony of the Night (best rendition of Bloody Tears, bar none). I'm happier than a zombified horse-head nose-deep in a bag of oats to see Castlevania IV on the SNES Classic Edition's menu. —Nadia
6. Super Mario World
Super Mario World is the best Mario game, in my humble opinion. Period. End of story. (Well, not end of story. I guess it's highly debatable.) Super Mario World ushered in a new era for the plumber: where the world was brighter, more varied, and more colorful than it had ever been before. The music was effervescent and unforgettable. It was the first time we met Yoshi, Mario's affable, enemy-licking steed. It felt like everything Mario had built up to this point was crystallizing here, in this very game, for players to fall into. Super Mario World birthed Mario as we know it today. Or at least, the Mario, Yoshi, and Luigi that we think of when our minds drift back to the ol' plumber's 2D, side-scrolling days. —Caty
5. Mega Man X
I don't know if aspiring game developers take "How to Re-Invent a Classic Game Series 101" in school, but if that's a class that exists, Mega Man X should take up a big chunk of the curriculum.
Mega Man X is the quintessential mascot upgrade. It's built on the foundation of the shooting and platforming that makes Mega Man great, but it's sleeker, faster, and gives players incentive to wander off the beaten path (platforms?) thanks to hidden power-ups and new skills that let you dash and clamber over obstacles.
Add a Terminator-inspired story about death-robots and garnish with excellent graphics and one of the SNES's best soundtracks, and you've got a timeless game. Mega Man X is still worthy of every drop of praise it received in 1993, and I'm glad Nintendo reveres it enough to include it on the SNES Classic Edition. —Nadia
4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
A Link to the Past is my personal favorite Legend of Zelda game, as someone who has always leaned towards the grimmer entries for the series. But A Link to the Past, as Jeremy Parish once wrote during a long-form series for us, also curbed players' expectations. The game wasn't only about saving Princess Zelda. Instead, it's more about the aftermath. What do you do after you've saved the princess, and Hyrule remains in turmoil? Well, you bounce between two worlds of course. (And eventually, save Zelda again.)
A Link to the Past was a return to the series' top-down perspective, as opposed to its prior flirtation with 2D side-scrolling. The parallels between the Light and the Dark world are haunting. The Light world being the Hyrule you know, the Dark world being the opposite. The game feels like Link's most intense journey yet. Where in order to save Hyrule, he's dragged into an entire new world that's completely foreign to him—one with unsettling parallels to the Hyrule he knows and loves. Between its non-linear dungeons, parallel worlds, and darker themes, A Link to the Past is the Legend of Zelda at its most bold. —Caty
3. Yoshi’s Island
I took a hard pass on Yoshi's Island when it first came out. I was a sullen teenager by 1995 and dark RPGs about the end of the world were totally my jam, not baby-games about candy-colored dinosaurs and literal babies. Besides, Nintendo didn't help Yoshi's Island with its gross-out advertising campaign. Who the hell kept approving these Nintendo commercials and ads based around bodily functions, anyway? Were they a secret Sega plant?
I happened to play Yoshi's Island at a cousin's house on a lark, and I was legit shocked at how good it is. Despite the "Super Mario World 2" branding, Yoshi's Island is a different experience than its predecessor. It's a little trickier, and a little less forgiving, but every bit as engaging as the best Mario titles.
No other Mario game has Yoshi's Island beat for charm, that's for sure. The squishy-stretchy Crayola graphics are like nothing else on the SNES, and I challenge anyone to stay still when the game's "Athletic" theme starts playing.
In short, Yoshi's Island is a game about a screaming baby, and it's one of the best platformers of all time. That's Nintendo for you. —Nadia
2. Final Fantasy III
As perhaps the most beloved Final Fantasy ever made, Final Fantasy III (né Final Fantasy VI) is a very welcome addition to the SNES Classic's lineup, not the least because it's actually pretty hard to find. It's been re-released on multiple platforms now, but the original is the only one that isn't horrendously flawed in some way. Even the rather rough localization isn't so bad in light of the ugly load times and terrible art direction of the other versions.
Anyway, Final Fantasy III is perhaps the most ambitious game ever made for the Super Nintendo, outstripping even its equally beloved contemporary Chrono Trigger in terms of sheer scope. Its story extends to the end of the world and beyond, and every member of its massive cast gets at least one moment in the sun. Its four-part final battle, which is paired with a sweeping operatic score, is unmatched by anything else on the Super Nintendo. Even today, it's pretty dang impressive.
As Jeremy Parish wrote a few years back, "If the essence of role-playing games boils down to player choice, FFVI represented a brilliant expression of the genre. No, choice didn't come in the form of narrative; the game's story shook out the same way no matter how you played it. It's how you got there—the way you built your characters, the order in which you tackled the freeform events of the second half, the limitations you imposed on yourself for fun—that kept FFVI so interesting. The game was crammed with detail, with options, and with secrets. It was the sort of RPG that players obsessed over for years in such numbers that obscure glitches and Easter eggs have earned their own names and inspired entire guides. It was the kind of game that gives you seemingly useless gear so that you could turn a debilitating status ailment into an advantage, should the notion occur to you. It was a playground for the dedicated fan, and a gateway drug for newcomers."
If the SNES Classic marks your first experience with Final Fantasy VI, then settle in, because you are in for one of the biggest, greatest experiences that the Super Nintendo has to offer. —Kat
1. Super Metroid
Along with Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid represents the Super Nintendo's pinnacle—the perfect mixture of pacing, storytelling, and world design. It was mind-blowing when it came out back in 1994, and it continues to hold up very well today. Everyone remembers the tear-jerking moment with the Baby Metroid, of course, but there's the also the escape from the research laboratory… the first moment you exit your scout craft in the ruins of Zebes as the thunder and rain pound all around you. It even lets you save your little alien helpers in the final moments just so you aren't like, "But what about my alien buddies! They're gone!"
Jeremy Parish summed it all up rather nicely with this piece from a few years back, where he broke down the seven reasons that Super Metroid remains a classic. He wrote, "Super Metroid doesn't waste your time, but it also lets you take your time. It trusts you to figure things out on your own, but only after discreetly teaching you all its tricks. This sense of respect for the player helps make a great game truly one-of-a-kind. In fact, the worst thing about Super Metroid is that it all comes together so well that the franchise has struggled to escape its gravity and find a compelling style that isn't simply a reprise of this adventure's design. After all, how do you improve on perfection?"
With the release of the Super Nintendo Classic, a new generation will hopefully get to experience Super Metroid for the very first time, thus continuing the legacy of what is inarguably one of the greatest games ever made. —Kat