The SNES Classic Games, Ranked by What to Play First

What Nintendo Games to Play
Nintendo/Evan Lockhart/Thrillist

Some folks wholeheartedly consider the Super Nintendo (SNES) to be the greatest console in the history of gaming. They might be right. The popular platform thrived in a decade that was dominated by Polly Pockets and Super Soakers, and it did so with a vast library of games and a never-ending loop of replayability. The SNES became a catalyst for sleepovers, date nights, and Saturday afternoons with mom and dad, and thanks to Nintendo, it’s now a $79.99 relic that's returning to TVs everywhere.

Following the short-lived run of the NES Classic, the aptly titled Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is slated to launch on September 29. It comes with two wired controllers and 21 different games ranging in levels of fun. Which game do you start with when you pick up yours? Like we did for the NES Classic games, we've ranked the pre-loaded games for convenience (and a little refresher on what they actually are -- it's been awhile). Apologies in advance to Chrono Trigger, NHL ‘94, or Turtles in Time fans -- we love them, but they don't come packaged this time around.

Kirby's Dream Course

21. Kirby’s Dream Course (1995)

Kirby’s Dream Course is a mini-golf game that used the squidgy pink hero as the ball, essentially an inventive play on Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball. The course designs were demanding, but Kirby’s beloved cake nap animation makes it more accessible than Hal’s Hole in One Golf.

20. Star Fox 2 (2017)

There are a lot of questions surrounding Fox McCloud’s SNES sequel since it was technically never released (and had prematurely leaked as a ROM). The rare opportunity to play an official Nintendo project that was embedded with innovations (split screen multiplayer) and eventually cancelled due to the success of the PlayStation and Sega Saturn in Japan, puts this relatively unknown entity just above the bottom slot.

Super Ghouls

19. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991)

Capcom’s side-scroller returned to the SNES for another quest in which you save the Princess from the demons. Outfitted with prettier visuals and a vital “double jump” feature, the game stayed true to tradition by hiding the sequel’s true ending at the end of a punishing New Game Plus.

18. Kirby Super Star (1996)

Nintendo’s late-cycle addition to the Kirby series featured seven game modes and two smaller mini games that formed one of the best compilations in the SNES era. These included Spring Breeze, a 16-bit remake of Kirby’s Dream Land; Gourmet Race, a hybrid platformer that’s based on King Dedede challenging the pink one to an eating contest; and The Great Cave Offensive, a "Metroidvania" where Kirby hunts for treasures such as the Triforce and Captain Falcon’s Helmet.

Donkey Kong Country

17. Donkey Kong Country (1994)

It’s no Diddy’s Kong Quest, but Donkey Kong’s original SNES adventure fended off the polygonal future of video games by being a true 16-bit platformer. It was all about running, swinging, and jumping on enemies with a unique graphical style and a long list of secrets to wipe clean DK’s recognition as an arcade villain. From 1994 on, he was the pro-necktie hero we needed.

16. EarthBound (1995)

EarthBound, known as Mother 2 in Japan, isn’t as complex as Persona 5 and Tales Of Berseria but it’s a great starting point for those unfamiliar to Japanese role-playing video games. Its story follows a young boy named Ness (of Super Smash Bros. fame) whose journey immediately throws you into a bizarro take on alien forces, Western culture, and jazzy, Beach Boys-inspired sounds.


15. Contra III: The Alien Wars (1992)

Contra III is all action. Two soldiers, Jimbo and Sully, take on the year 2636 and its endless swarm of cyborgs, spider-mechs, rocket ninjas, centipede tanks, and tri-transforming wall-walkers. There are also motorcycle chases and two top-down stages which reinvented the shooter franchise, known for its extreme inclusions of giant, bee-infested tortoise bosses.

14. Super Punch-Out!! (1994)

Here’s the thing about Super Punch-Out!! for the SNES: it’s embarrassingly difficult. The direct sequel to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! forced you to use timing and precision to defeat cartoonish characters named Bear Hugger and Narcis Prince. Each boxer had a quick KO point but trying to find them usually led to moments of despair -- like watching a tanned-out, Pumping Iron reject spin-punch you into oblivion while you hurl one of your controllers at your bedroom window.

Yoshi's Island

13. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)

Yoshi’s Crayola-colored sequel to Super Mario World was a launch pad for his signature moves (the egg throw, the flutter kick) and affinity for puzzles. It was also an anxiety-riddled platformer that featured a crying Baby Mario, unshaven slime bosses, and levels that fully realized Nintendo’s weirdness. To this day, “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy,” the seventh level of World One, is still one of the weirdest moments in gaming.

12. Secret of Mana (1993)

This sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure expanded on standard SNES RPGs by tying a detailed combat system to real-time action. Throw in a beloved story and timeless musical imagery and you have a retro, high-fantasy epic that’s perfect for fans of Rogue Galaxy and Kingdom Hearts.

Star Fox

11. Star Fox (1993)

Despite its affiliation with Star Fox Zero and Guard (Wii U), the first entry in the Star Fox series is still a pinnacle of Nintendo’s history. The rail shooter was the first game to use a Super FX chip and in turn, the full 3D graphics rendered a fun-as-heck simulation of aerial combat. There were lasers, bombs, and quirky in-battle quips but nothing topped the feeling of nailing a barrel roll.

10. F-Zero (1991)

Nintendo 64 and GameCube die-hards be damned -- F-Zero for the Super Nintendo is still king. The SNES original used envelope-pushing Mode 7 Scrolling to simulate 3D environments and, as a result, it was a visual head rush that pitted friends against friends in a winding speed run of hover car madness.

Mega Man X

9. Mega Man X (1993)

It’s difficult to top the first six installments of the original Mega Man series, but Mega Man X is up there thanks to depth and maturity. Capcom and Keiji Inafune reinvented the Blue Bomber by introducing new mechanics that allowed him to dash and wall jump his way through eight worlds and a new tier of main bosses that were overtly '90s cool (see: Chill Penguin, Boomer Kuwanger).


8. Super Castlevania IV (1991)

Simon Belmont? Check. Enhanced whip physics? Check. Supernatural Transylvanian creatures that feel no remorse for the weak and impatient? Double check. All in all, Super Castlevania IV is a parallax-scrolling, 16-bit reimagining of the vampiric classic that laid waste to inferior difficulty settings and set the standard for immersive scores. The best part? The soundtrack has finally been pressed to vinyl.

7. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)

If you intend on taking a deep dive into the X-COM screwball that is the Nintendo Switch's upcoming Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, then you’ll want to (re)discover Legend of the Seven Stars. The Nintendo hybrid made a name for itself by interweaving traditional Mario gameplay elements with Square’s JRPG sensibilities, and in turn balancing 3D platforming with a turn-based battle system. Its overall depth is often overshadowed by its spiritual successors (Paper Mario, the Mario & Luigi series), but it’s one of the few stand-alone cult favorites that’s still supported by a hardcore community.

Final Fantasy III
Square Enix

6. Final Fantasy III (1994)

There’s Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XII, but then there’s Final Fantasy III (also known as Final Fantasy VI). Numbering hijinks aside, the Square original was a masterclass in JRPGs as it paired a cinematic take on storytelling with fast, menu-based combat, item customization, side quests, and 14 playable characters whose storylines were every bit of memorable.

5. Super Mario Kart (1992)

Since its inception, the original Mario Kart has inspired additions such as 3D visuals, two-player karts, motorbikes, hang gliding, submersible vehicles, anti-gravity tracks, potted Piranha Plants, and online multiplayer. But guess what? The SNES version of Rainbow Road still holds up.

Street Fighter 2

4. Street Fighter II' Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1993)

There’s a Street Fighter II for everyone but this particular version hadoukened everything into “turbo mode.” Hyper Fighting featured new moves, new costume palettes, and new movement speeds that ultimately changed the way players executed combos and required them to hone multiple strategies in PVP matches. This sublime Super Nintendo fighting game still puts distinguished SNES hits like Samurai Shodown and Mortal Kombat II to bed.

3. Super Metroid (1994)

Much like this series' NES debut, Super Metroid threw players into the deep end of Samus Aran’s search for a stolen baby Metroid. The sequel drastically improved the 2D side-scrolling visuals and and packed the play with new abilities, power-ups, and monsters. It also pinned an auto-mapping feature to enormously detailed environments that made every section of the planet Zebes feel like an endless swell of claustrophobic rooms.

2. Super Mario World (1991)

For ‘90s kids, Super Mario World was everything. It took the core elements of Super Mario Bros. 3 and stuffed them into an entirely new universe that was heightened by 2D graphics, palettes, and textures that couldn’t be found anywhere else. It didn’t reinvent platforming, but it did set the precedent for what a platformer should be; the introduction of Yoshi, Dinosaur Land, and Mario’s trusty cape feather underlined the value of discovery. That's on top of the switch puzzles, Star Roads, and sudden realization that Bowser is what millennials call a “daddy.”

Link To The Past

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992)

Fact: A Link to the Past is the greatest game to ever grace the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Sure, it might not be the greatest installment in The Legend of Zelda series but from that one rainy night to Link’s final battle with Ganon, it never hits pause for a break in the action. The sword combat, dungeon puzzles, memorable bosses, and trips between parallel worlds turn an ordinary fetch quest into one sprawling Nintendo epic. Twenty-five years later, it still looks and plays like a modern 16-bit creation -- proving some SNES titles were meant to stand the test of time.

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Joshua Khan is a Toronto-based writer who spent most of grade school obsessing over POG slammers and SNES box art. Follow him and his personal endeavors over at @blaremag