This article originally appeared on VICE UK, hence some of the titles.
The past, being a foreign country, is where all your hopes and dreams go to die. Or where they did die a while ago. I forget. Regardless, it's also where all those games you remember from your younger days live, and it's where most of them should remain, because they're shit.
No, but really, they are.
Some of them, though, aren't – and in heroically going through the annals to find what was still above the level of semi-amusing garbage on the Super Nintendo, I found that, actually, there's a ton of stuff on Nintendo's great 16bit machine, celebrating its 25th birthday in November 2015, that are still worth a pop. More than these 25, in fact.
But it's 25 that you're getting – 25 SNES games to mark 25 years, each of which is worth your time today, regardless of how shiny that new Xbone shooter looks.
Super Mario All Stars (1993)
By this I mean the second version including Super Mario World, which I'm putting here just to see how many people pay attention to the words used, rather than just the emboldened bits. Also included is Super Mario Bros. one and three, and also The Lost Levels. That's insanely good value for money. Okay, it also features Super Mario Bros. 2, which is exactly as much fun to play as it is receiving a hug from a huge man made of broken glass. Who's also on fire. And he sweats. Everything else, though, is dreamy – and Nintendo used to give this shit away as a pack-in freebie. The Big N, there, adopting the techniques of your friendly neighbourhood heroin dealer.
Contra III: The Alien Wars / Super Probotector (1992)
Set in space year 2636, Contra III (hilariously re-badged and re-sprited as Super Probotector in Europe) shows the direct consequences of a Corbyn government: destruction on a global scale, hostile alien invasion, guns everywhere. This dystopian vision of Things To Come would be utterly harrowing were it not for the fact that it's such a fucking good game, one of the best arcade shooters out there. It's hard, sure, and some people will be put off by that – but since you're not a moron, tuck right in.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)
I'll just come out with it: I don't actually like Zelda games. I've played most of them, but not one has really grabbed me enough to make me care. But my keen games-critic-journalist-writer's eye can see A Link to the Past has everything going for it to still be enjoyed these days. It looks and sounds beautiful, and the gameplay is straightforward yet never dull. It's big, so it's going to last a while, which means value by today's standards. I think. What is the current exchange rate between money in and hours out?
Final Fantasy VI (1994)
This RPG, though, I did like a lot. Not that I ever finished it. FFVI (or III, depending on where you bought it) is atmospheric like few other games of the era, telling a story that, while riddled with amnesiacs and deus ex machina bullshit, is a lot of fun – certainly more so than latter entries in the series, like Final Fantasy XIII, or that bullshit Blue Dragon game.
Super Metroid (1994)
Super Metroid is always up in the top five, maybe top three, of greatest SNES games ever lists, and with good reason. Deeper and more complex than it has any right to be, the game constantly forces you to think, react, remember and retrace – in a manner that's consistently entertaining. And you know what's most surprising? I hear inside that suit is a woman. Imagine that, eh lads?
Star Fox / Starwing (1993)
Yes, the Super FX chip's 3D visuals look shit today. Yes, younger players will probably be put off by that and throw the cartridge out of the window. You should punch them for that, by the way. But Starwing (I'm English, so that's what I'll call it) is loads of fun, played in 2015. It's a very Nintendo take on SEGA shooters like After Burner and Space Harrier, if that makes any sense to you, instantly captivating and silly and funny. It's no challenge to finish, but absolutely warrants recognition here.
A game with an amazing sense of place, despite primitive visuals, EarthBound is special. It's a deeply personal yet relatable tale told through the medium of the Japanese RPG. You have a mum and a dog, a best friend and a sister, an alien invasion, a quaint, quiet town, and a hope and a prayer. Really, EarthBound shouldn't have been as good as it was, and it certainly shouldn't still resonate today. But maybe it's just the fact that most of us have such fond memories of childhood – it's a way, among many others, to relive that.
Before racing games became realistic sims, and incredibly dull, they could involve super-powered hover-things from the future, with Captain Falcon not Falcon Punching anyone. The original F-Zero was awesomely fast and worked perfectly with the SNES's smooth Mode 7 graphics.
I'm going to be a bit of a shit and bundle this in with Starwing as a game that you'll play and enjoy, but one you probably won't have switched on for long. Its captivating core concept of freefalling through score rings before landing as closely as possible to the centre of a target while parachuting is something that hasn't dwindled in appeal over time, but isn't something to hold the attention for lengthy sessions. It's a simple concept, done well – and what more do you need?
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Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1993)
As if it has to be said. One of the best fighting games ever. A few mates, a bit of friendly (hateful) competition, an impromptu tournament, bliss. Still, to this day.
Kirby Super Star / Kirby's Fun Pak (1996)
There's a bunch of other Kirby games that comprise cheery distractions, but for me it's the Fun Pak (again, going with the European name here) that wins out. The reason why is its basic premise: a bunch of mini games strung together with the kind of multiplayer functionality that will make anyone, even idiots who claim to hate games, want to play. There's racing, traditional platforming, even an adventure game – and it's all done surprisingly well, with some modes offering an experiences you don't even get in full releases. Unless said full releases are directly based on mini games from Kirby's Fun Pak, as I've never bothered to check.
Super Castlevania IV (1991)
The spate of remakes and re-releases and reboots we see in gaming today isn't a new thing in the slightest, as Super Castlevania IV shows. A remake of the original 1986 NES game, it offered some of the most gorgeous sprite graphics seen prior to Symphony of the Night, and a slightly tweaked and modernised take on the slightly aged gameplay of the first Castlevania. Super Castlevania IV is often overlooked in comparison to the majesty of Symphony, but I'd say it's a solid foundation for what followed, and it plays brilliantly. Give it a chance.
Super Mario Kart (1992)
Because I'm still trying to beat my brother's times around the first Ghost House circuit. Seriously, that tosser used to annihilate me with Donkey Kong Jr.
Unirally / Uniracers (1994)
Undeniably a forgotten gem, Unirally is both brilliantly weird – you race unmanned unicycles – and superb fun. Think a side-scrolling, race-centred, two-dimensional Tony Hawk game and you're on the right track. And it's wonderfully designed, so tight and so slick, so simple to just get into and play. The tricks come naturally, as your confidence builds, and suddenly what seemed a simple proposition is revealing amazing depth. Then, it hits you: you're in love with a game where you racing sentient unicycles and your mind explodes in a shower of grey-pink gloop, because video games are fucking weird.
Wild Guns (1994)
I will forever be amused that Natsume, creators of Wild Guns, was also the studio behind the Harvest Moon series. One is about guns and shooting and not much else; the other is about being kind and friendly and farming and settling down with a nice young man or lady. Anyway, Wild Guns is a single-plane shooter like, say, Operation Wolf, except instead of being on rails your character can jump and dodge. It's a pared-down arcade experience the like of which we so rarely see in 2015.
International Superstar Soccer Deluxe (1995)
This is the game I'm least certain about including here. I love it, and I can play it just as much as any modern football game. But I can also see why it might not appeal to humans who weren't privy to a childhood as thrilling as mine. For those of you in that boat, I can offer an olive branch: it's a basic football game, but give it a chance and after not long you'll be demanding just one more match. And doing brilliant impressions of the commentator.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1992)
A fine, arcade-style, multiplayer time-sink while you're waiting for the washing to finish, or some paint to dry, or whatever it is normal human adults do, Turtles in Time lets you choose your favourite hero in a half-shell and go into side-scrolling battle against Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan. You're hammering a single button for a couple of hours, but – as if the game is working some kind of magic – you won't even notice the time going by. So maybe don't turn it on with a pizza in the oven.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993)
It's the one everyone remembers, isn't it? Trampolines, X-ray specs, zombies, B-movie vibes – Zombies... is one of those classics of game design, very much of its time and something you couldn't repeat these days. Well, you could, but nobody would bother. They just do things like Diablo and Divinity: Original Sin. Where are my rad games about cool dudes bouncing around gardens, eh? I guess I'll just have to stick with this evergreen.
Super Bomberman 2 (1994)
The tweaks and tucks to the Bomberman formula brought in by this sequel make it the best in the series. The single-player adventure mode is still fun for a bit, which I definitely didn't expect when I loaded the game up on my Definitely Legal Emulator. But it's in multiplayer where the real action is. Bomberman is all about you and a friend (or a few friends) being locked in an arena together, laying down high explosives and legging it away before lobbing a comedic-looking, yet highly dangerous bomb at another chum. That's never getting old.
NBA Jam: TE (1995)
I actually forgot about all the secret characters in NBA Jam: Tournament Edition, only to lose an hour or so chuckling to myself as I unlocked them and dunked away. Then I stuck with the Fresh Prince, because he's still cool to me, dammit. Basketball itself was cool in the UK for a couple of years, back in the early 1990s, and nothing confirmed that more than the infinitely cool NBA Jam. Its semi-sequel, TE, was so much more – especially in the over the top stakes. It's simply fabulous with friends, coming into its own as pre-or-post pub entertainment. He's on fire, and so on.
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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (1995)
Just look at how pretty it is. And, it's arguably better than Super Mario World. Arguably.
Chrono Trigger (1995)
Another one of the few JRPGs that has managed to maintain its status as good back then and still good now, Chrono Trigger (see main image) also has the distinction of being a video game that went a bit mad and let the player go anywhere they liked, in space and time. The imagination on show here will never fade, and while the gameplay is your standard JRPG fare, it's world is so gorgeous that you really will want to play through it to the end. I did, but I never beat that shit of a last boss, because video games are sods like that sometimes.
Mega Man X (1993)
Capcom really had to go big with the first SNES Mega Man, so that's precisely what they did. This is one of the best, and hardest, action-platformers I've ever played. It's not actually the tenth game in the series, though, which is pretty confusing. Play this for 30 minutes and its conventions-trashing design will have you realising why people are so bloody excited for Mighty Number 9, its spiritual successor.
The Firemen (1994)
I am consistently shocked by how little love this game receives, as it was a staple of my SNES-shaped diet back in the mid-1990s. It's as simple as it gets: you're a fireman (with a computer-controlled partner, hence the title), and you have to go through a building that's on fire, dousing the flames with water. You're a fireman. There's some strategy, I suppose, like what sort of water to use with each kind of fire. It's cute looking and just really good fun. Multiplayer would make it amazing, but the single-player game is surprisingly engaging experienced now, for a 21-year-old game made by a bunch of students.
Wikipedia makes it sound like shit, to be honest, but Shadowrun was a game ahead of its time. A bit clunky, I'll be honest, and it doesn't look as good as my brain tried to say it did, but god damn if this isn't some brilliant cyberpunk action-RPG... action. And, of course, it sold fuck all back in the day. Just like all great things do.