30 games Nintendo should include on the Super NES Classic Edition

Screenshot: Super Mario World
Screenshot: Super Mario World

As soon as Nintendo announced the NES Classic Edition, its miniaturized replica of the classic ’80s console with 30 built-in games, people starting speculating about the inevitable next step: a Super NES Classic Edition. And while the NES will forever hold the honor of being Nintendo’s first dedicated system, reviving the home video game industry, and introducing tons of beloved characters and series that are still around to this day, its library of primordial releases can’t hold a candle to the Super NES’ deep well of groundbreaking classics and hidden treasures. So with the rumors starting to fly that Nintendo is indeed readying a mini-SNES for release in 2017, and hopefully making enough of them to satiate the inevitably humongous demand, we’ve assembled our own list of 30 games we’d love to see packaged with the new Classic Edition console. Thanks to licensing issues, specialty hardware, and region-exclusive releases, some of these games are serious long shots, but where’s the harm in dreaming?

UPDATE: It was inevitable. On June 26, Nintendo went and announced that, yes, the Super NES Classic Edition is real and it’s coming this fall. The total number of games comes in at 21, down from the 30 included with the NES Classic. We nailed 17 of them—we don’t know if anyone would have called Kirby’s Dream Course, let alone the previously unreleased Star Fox 2—but we stick by our list. ActRaiser was robbed.

1. ActRaiser (1991)

ActRaiser is so brilliant that it’s shocking it didn’t get ripped off like crazy. It’s basically a fantasy-themed Sim City-style game, but when you try to expand your civilization, it transitions into a side-scrolling action-platformer like Castlevania. It has overt (and fairly offensive) Christian themes, but it’s so good that it’s worth putting up with a little proselytizing.

2. Chrono Trigger (1995)

Chrono Trigger has a million things to offer new and returning players: a pleasantly brain-bending time-travel plot, broadly drawn but lovable characters, and what is, hands-down, the finest RPG soundtrack of the Super Nintendo era. But its true selling point is its length: a brisk 20 hours, meaning you can experience much of what one of the SNES’ best games has to offer in a fraction of the time you’d spend on a later-generation RPG.

3. Contra III: The Alien Wars (1992)

No console series has captured that hungry arcade machine “feed me quarters” feeling better than Contra, and The Alien Wars might be the best of the bunch. Fast-paced and brutal but fair, Contra III refines the series’ NES roots while adding in enough Mode 7 sequences and batshit crazy moments—like a battle playing out entirely on the back of a salvo of launched missiles—to keep the adrenaline pumping until the inevitable “Continue?” screen arrives.

4. Demon’s Crest (1994)

Making an involved action-role-playing game around Ghosts ’N Goblins’ most dickish villain is a bold move, but by taking Firebrand, that swooping armor-robbing red devil, and making him the defender of his own lurid monster kingdom, Demon’s Crest turned a conventional hero’s journey into a singular, eerie adventure. The game’s unique features—like different forms with different powers, flying, and wall grappling—made the game stand out from anything else on the system.


5. Donkey Kong Country (1994)

Donkey Kong may have been a household name before, but it was Rare’s series of CGI-enhanced platformers that gave him a necktie and turned the angry ape into a star. While Country and its sequels are notable for their world-class soundtracks and diverse levels, the real story here is the look, which used technological wizardry and clever visual tricks to squeeze 3-D characters and rich worlds out of the waning Super NES.

6. EarthBound (1995)

Given what a hassle it was to get Shigesato Itoi’s classic on Virtual Console, this one’s probably a long shot. But the history of the Super NES wouldn’t be complete without EarthBound, the game that dared to make heroes out of homesick kids, villains out of self-immolating trees, and a whole fantastical world out of Itoi’s crackpot, comedic vision of Americana. (Even if that 1/128 drop rate on Poo’s Sword Of Kings can still totally go eat a bowl of boogers.)

7. Final Fantasy II (1991)

Japan kept two Final Fantasy titles to itself before releasing the fourth entry in the U.S. under the name Final Fantasy II. The first installment for Nintendo’s 16-bit system, it tells a detailed, well-crafted redemption narrative. A haunting score, cool monster designs, the occasional trip to the moon, and graphics that make your stomach drop every time an airship is lifted into the clouds makes Final Fantasy II (IV, we know) an enduring chapter in the series.


8. Final Fantasy III (1994)

Final Fantasy III—which is actually the sixth game in the series, but the third released in the U.S.—is both a perfect distillation of what makes the Final Fantasy series beloved and also one of its weirdest, riskiest installments. All of the requisite in-jokes and running tropes that would define later entries are there, as is the fantastic scope and polished turn-based combat of its predecessors. But it also took place in a strange (particularly for the mid-’90s) steampunk world and featured an evil clown antagonist who (spoiler) destroys the entire world midway through the game. While its follow-up, the legendary Final Fantasy VII, has aged strangely, looking in hindsight like a teenager caught between phases, Final Fantasy III has only become more quietly iconic over the ensuing years. It’s as good an example of the glory days of the Japanese RPG as any you’ll play.


9. Final Fight (1991)

Unless Nintendo pulls off a miracle and frees Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time from the copyright nightmare it’s been trapped in, Final Fight is the next most logical choice to fill the system’s side-scrolling beat-’em-up slot. While this SNES version is a notable downgrade from the original arcade classic, it retains all the satisfying grit and ’80s action-movie absurdity of this epochal brawler.

10. F-Zero (1991)

While Mario Kart is obviously the racing series that has proven to have longer legs, it has never really been able to match the pure, high-speed action of the original F-Zero. The faux-3-D graphics still mostly hold up, and its slightly more serious—yet still wildly cartoonish—setting is a fun departure for Nintendo. Plus, although he doesn’t do any punching, it gave the world Captain Falcon.

11. Kirby Super Star (1996)

Kirby never really caught on the way Mario or Zelda did, but if any game underlines how much of a shame that is, it’s Kirby Super Star. A showcase of everything there is to like about the Kirby series, Super Star packs in eight small-ish games that range from traditional platformers to goofy multiplayer battles, and they’re all fantastic.


12. The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past (1992)

Putting together a list of games for a potential mini-SNES and not including The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past would be akin to God forming man and leaving off the head. Not simply one of the best Legend Of Zelda games, but one of the best SNES games and games period, Link To The Past built on its predecessors with such an astonishing leap in depth, features, and well-realized world-building that its absence would be ridiculous.


13. Mario Paint (1992)

Mario Paint is an early example of Nintendo’s willingness to buck conventional game-design formulas in favor of something lighter and more creative. It came packaged with a mouse that let users create their own pixel-art masterpieces and then animate them, compose their own music, or take a break to swat flies in a weirdly addictive mini-game. While this was obviously released in the days before such user-created tools necessarily mandated an online component, adding one could create a utopia of crudely drawn fan art, lo-fi pornography, and blurry, pixelated memes—the glorious successor to the Miiverse for which we’ve all dreamed, in other words. As for the mouse, simple Bluetooth connectivity should suffice.


14. Mega Man X (1994)

After six entries on the NES, Mega Man was in desperate need of a reinvention. Capcom took the story and setting in a darker direction, while smartly expanding on the series’ standard-setting run-and-jump action for its Super NES debut. The resulting cyberpunk-lite adventure is one of the console’s—if not gaming’s—best.


15. Metal Warriors (1995)

In Metal Warriors, you control a big robot and shoot other big robots, but at any point, you can press a button to climb out of your robot and continue on foot. You’re very fragile in this state and can’t do much damage, but having the option to ditch your mech and find a better one is as revolutionary as stealing cars in Grand Theft Auto. It also has a surprisingly good death-match-style multiplayer mode.

16. Ogre Battle: The March Of The Black Queen (1995)

If you ever need proof that video games are better when their designers take influence from outside their own medium, look only to the work of Yasumi Matsuno, whose first major release, Ogre Battle, turned a bunch of Queen references and a parable for the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia into a classic strategy-RPG. It set a mold that the iconoclastic designer would pursue in beloved later games like Final Fantasy Tactics, with squads of noble, conflicted soldiers waging war over carefully designed maps. Ogre Battle shows some early wrinkles to the formula—much of it takes place in a real-time overworld, with cuts down to the grimy, interpersonal battles taking place in swamps and forests—but the core appeal of dense intellectual world-building and the thrill of commandeering a squad of complementary beast masters and mages remains intact.

17. Pilotwings (1991)

The little tech demo that could, Pilotwings was more than just a way for Nintendo to show off its new pseudo-3-D graphics: It was a test of perfection, daring players to master fiddly light planes, stomach-churning skydives, and the bouncy, wonderful rocket belt, all while their grousing instructors looked on. Hours of painful crashes and impact craters were all worth it, though, if it meant seeing that bastard Big Al break down crying at the sight of a perfect 100/100 hang-gliding score.

18. Secret Of Mana (1993)

There are, hoo boy, just a lot of great old RPGs on the SNES, but Secret Of Mana has probably the best outright feel of them all. While many games in the genre get by on gonzo operatic plotlines and 100-hour grinds, Secret Of Mana opts instead for bake-shop bright art and a crisp idea of real-time swordplay. It is the rare game known for its item management system—which spiraled around your character, pausing the battle so you could spin through your items like spices on a rack. It’s a long game but it delights in making each button press entertaining, a quality that only becomes more apparent when playing it with a friend or two in its forward-thinking multiplayer mode.


19. Shadowrun (1993)

A moody noir based on the pen-and-paper role-playing system, Shadowrun condenses the game’s sci-fi and fantasy elements into a compact story. Instead of managing a party of specialists, your character is imbued with the multiple abilities. You can hack computers, cast spells, or, if a problem requires a less esoteric solution, just plain ol’ shoot someone. Plus, Marshall Parker’s John Carpenter-esque synth score is fantastic, and reason enough alone to merit inclusion here.

20. Star Fox (1993)

Another one for the long-shot category, Nintendo’s first foray into 3-D gaming on a home console has been lost to time thanks to the special Super FX chip hardware that made it run. While Star Fox’s on-rails shooting has trouble holding up in 2017, its charming cast, primitive undetailed art—which almost looks purposefully minimalist and surreal today—and place in Nintendo history make it worthy of inclusion, assuming the company can work out the kinks.

21. Street Fighter II Turbo (1993)

Of all the groundbreaking games to grace the Super NES, Street Fighter II might just be the most impactful. It’s the grandaddy of all fighting games, laying down the core tenets the entire genre has adhered to ever since, and it’s just as complex and fun today as it was 25 years ago. If it’s going to make the cut—and it’d be ludicrous if it didn’t—Turbo is the version to go with, as it sports an expanded cast of World Warriors and the “Turbo” mode for speeding up your one-on-one battles.


22. Super Castlevania IV (1991)

Super Castlevania IV came out about a year into the Super Nintendo’s life-cycle, and in some ways, it plays it safe. It’s essentially a remake of the original Castlevania, and it undoes many of the innovations of Castlevania III (like branching paths and additional playable characters). That thread would be picked up again by later games, scaling up to the masterpiece of Symphony Of The Night. What Super Castlevania IV offers, instead, is a sense of wonder at what the new system could do, painting the lurid Hammer Horror setting of the series in rich new hues and trippy 3-D effects, rendering it almost a giallo. It adds in a useless but delightful physics system for the whip, and provides a bit of polish to the series’ legendary difficulty, making such actions as “jumping” and “walking up the stairs” slightly less hair-pullingly difficult. It’s 10 straightforward but beautifully rendered levels of vampire-hunting psychedelia.


23. Super Mario Kart (1992)

The genesis of one of Nintendo’s most popular series and a subgenre so ubiquitous that it became a joke, Super Mario Kart is unquestionably a SNES must-have. Its simplicity helps it stand up today against even the greatest of Mario Karts, and it’s yet another of the SNES’ superb muiltiplayer offerings.

24. Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars (1996)

Today, it seems like something out of a dream: Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto teaming up with the RPG makers at Squaresoft at the peak of their cultural dominance to make a long-playing adventure set in the Mushroom Kingdom and its neighboring countries. The fusion created a lovable game too strange to ever be repeated, with a smartly scaling battle system and a droll sense of self-awareness. Its richly rendered levels were drawn in isometric angles, allowing Mario’s surreal world to be viewed from an entirely new angle. While the game never received a proper follow-up, it did spawn two separate series—Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi—both of which trade on the original’s goofy charm with diminishing returns. Better just to return to the inimitable original, which does stranger things to the Mario universe than the denizens of New Donk City could ever envision.


25. Super Mario World (1991)

Though plenty of people prefer Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World arguably improves on every aspect of that already-great game. Yoshi alone is a huge addition to the Mario canon, but World also adds the cape—which is a lot more fun to use than the previous game’s raccoon tail—and a more detailed, inter-connected overworld map that brought a new dimension of exploration to the game’s stages.


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

Like the similarly Super FX-powered Star Fox, the enchanting crayon-drawn worlds of Yoshi’s Island have yet to see the proper rerelease they deserve. This pseudo-sequel (or is it a prequel?) to Super Mario World is Nintendo at its most audacious, using cutting-edge technology not to create verisimilitude but something sublimely surreal and consistently surprising.


27. Super Metroid (1994)

Super Metroid lost some of the oppressive isolation that infused the NES original in the transition to the Super Nintendo, but more than made up for it by creating an alien world teeming with detail. Honeycombed with hidden passages and forgotten shrines, the world is a puzzle Samus Aran must unlock with the powers and abilities she unearths there. Super Metroid so well balanced these exploratory elements, it essentially codified an entire subgenre of game.

28. Terranigma (1996)

Like every game from the melancholy masterminds at Quintet, this unsung action-RPG classic has two concepts at its core: heartbreak and the painful resurrection of dying worlds. Massive, ambitious, and beautiful, Terranigma carries its own tale of sorrow. It was translated for European markets but never made available in the States. Its unlikely inclusion on the SNES Classic would go a long way toward undoing its unearned obscurity, restoring Ark and his story to their proper place in the pantheon of the console’s fantastic RPGs.

29. Tetris Attack (1996)

Doomed to licensing hell thanks to Nintendo’s decision to slap the Tetris name on a game that has absolutely nothing to do with Tetris (it was originally released in Japan as Panel De Pon, a series that would be eventually known outside Japan as Puzzle League), Attack easily tops the Super NES’ puzzle-game heap. Brought to life by adorable art based on the characters of Yoshi’s Island, its frantic match-three action hasn’t aged a day, especially when you get a second player on board for some dramatic competition.

30. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993)

Admittedly, you’d need a second controller to really enjoy this top-down horror spoof, but it’d be worth the price. Zombies forces a pair of teenage monster hunters to race through suburbia, saving their idiot neighbors from the chainsaw-wielding freaks, alien plant duplicates, and giant babies that want to turn them into lunch. It’s the rare non-Nintendo exclusive to make our list, but who’d want to pass up on weed-whacking a horde of mushroom men, or blasting Martians with bazookas, out of blind console loyalty?