You’ll have to pardon grandpa gamer over here. I keep thinking that I’ve done enough rambling about the good ol’ days of gaming. I keep thinking “I need to stay up to modern trends.” Then I surf all over Steam and the Android store looking for the hot new thing.
But you know what we keep getting searches for? Old stuff! Super Nintendo, good gravy, you’d think the web were woven from dusty blog posts about Super Nintendo console oldies! But nope, interest in the SNES still rides high after two decades. This is thanks in part to SNES emulators keeping the game system titles alive for new generations.
My colleague Adam already hit the SNES well once for underrated Super Nintendo games. Rather than the big hit games that everybody raves about today, these are the titles which get overlooked, but still have some decent play value. That’s great, but y’all haven’t seen Pete’s list of underdog SNES titles!
For purposes of clarification, we’re going to avoid games from the typical top-rated list. We all know Earthbound and Chrono Trigger are the greatest achievement of mankind. We’re fishing for the second-greatest, the games that don’t suck (believe me, there’s plenty of those too!), but were just too niche to get appreciated the first time. I’m also avoiding the games that Adam did. That’s quite a few filters here!
Furthermore, I’m going in alphabetical order, because ranking them relative to each other doesn’t have much purpose. This list is a matter of taste. Hopefully you pick up a couple tips for overlooked games you missed on the first pass.
Yes, I know, everybody pooped on this game for being such an obvious rip-off of Sonic the Hedgehog. Well guess what? Crash Bandicoot came out another three years after Bubsy Bobcat, it was a Sonic rip-off too, but everybody loved him for it by then!
Bubsy Bobcat has a lot going for him, and it’s doubly heartbreaking because this one title, all by itself, refuses to play nice with any emulator that we know of. But if you do get the chance to experience this: Bubsy is indeed sort of like Sonic, but actually plays like you first expected Sonic to play: Running insanely fast, leaping to stupid heights, rebounding off crazy stunt props, and flying through the air on a trajectory with certain death.
The downside of Bubsy is that it’s way too difficult, because the map is chock-full of hazards too numerous to keep track of. This is made possible by an upside: The maps are HUGE!!! You have never seen, before or since, a platform level this infinite. It takes a week to get a handle on one level, and then you give up on it half-explored. To this day, there are no fully documented maps of this game, certainly not all the secrets. Add to that, the maps are imaginative and creative, taking you through carnivals with rideable roller coasters and western deserts with rideable trains. Half the best ideas from Crash later came from Bubsy. But avoid the sequel; it’s too bad for words.
This is one of the many PvP fighter games that came along. There is really not much to distinguish it, and yet it is still one of the more inventive fighters from this era.
The game has its flaws, but I think it earns back points by being so wildly creative. These characters can morph, twist, stretch, turn into other objects, and more. There’s a clown themed fighter whose arsenal includes pies to the face and spray bottles of seltzer. There’s an Elvis impersonator fighter. There’s a blob that can turn into a sawblade to slice through the opponent. It’s silly, cartoonish, and hours of dumb fun. As the YouTube reviewer points out, the fact that these guys are clay and rendered in cartoon style let them get away with much more violence that censors wouldn’t otherwise allow. Shout out to Primal Rage, the forgotten dinosaur fighter game (ported to SNES) which could also go here.
We can’t list the great action RPGs in a list of SNES underdogs, but we can get away with listing the also-decent ones. This game is yet another JRPG that the SNES became so famous for.
So yeah, it has some original twists. The main character can switch back and forth between three forms, each of which is good at a certain category of challenges. Rather than let you backtrack over the map like other JRPGs, this game compels you forward. You want to seek out the music, because it’s one of the most epic soundtracks ever made for an SNES game. Bottom line: If you liked Secret of Mana and Legend of Zelda, this is more of the same by the almighty Enix.
Be warned, this game is a “love it or hate it.” It’s an admittedly phoned-in entry in the Simpsons franchise. And it’s about trapping rats. Only in a Lemmings-like context.
This game is among the most brutal of the infamously “Nintendo-hard” games. No saves, play it through, sissy! Mess up a level and need to start over, that costs you a life, chum. Listen to that YouTube reviewer snivel “there’s no way to change weapons” – no, you get one weapon at a time – be glad we give you ANY! You have to count individual pie and ball bearing hits with those weapons, waste one shot and you won’t be able to complete the puzzle three doors down. Some of the later puzzles are Mensa-level hard to figure out, too. By the way, not only is the timer not shown (and there’s a time limit!) but you also don’t have a hit point meter. Keep track, peon!
That’s why I love this game! It’s funny and sarcastic with sadistic deathtraps for the mice, while also being a an outstanding example of most merciless Nintendo boot camp torture. Hurt me, daddy Nintendo, huuuurt me!
Another JRPG for fans of Secret of Mana and Legend of Zelda. Second verse, same as the first. Except this one was not made by Enix, but Square. It wasn’t even developed in Japan!
As the reviewer notes, this is a very original game which broke a lot of new ground in the action RPG formula. The alchemy system where you make spells out of combining ingredients adds depth. Since the game was made in America, it can afford to toss in some cultural references that an American audience will get. You also get a pet helper, unusual for JRPGs.
But there are downsides as well. This game is stupidly difficult in places, and the dungeon design is the epitome of the worst grind-for-hours grubby gameplay. But it has great music to get you though the maze. Behind Secret of Mana and Illusion of Gaia, rank this #3.
This is a real curve ball. We’ve referenced Secret of Mana so many times here, I almost hate to tell you… but this is the actual sequel to Secret of Mana! It’s also now known by the alternate title Trials of Mana, but that was never released in the US at first. Until the Nintendo Switch port, we made do with a fan-made English translation straight from the bootleg network.
Now for the ultimate cult gaming experience, because getting good at this game requires you to shave your head and join a monastery. This is more like a JRPG squared, because it packs in much more replay value. That’s because you can pick from six playable starting characters, and then two of the others join you later on in your quest. Each main character has their own path through the game. They each have unique skills and abilities, even their own villains changing depending on your party mix.
Wait, we’re not done! Each character also has a character class tree which forks twice as they level up in the game, eventually winding up as four different classes of character – with their own unique abilities again. They even get their own music. Now how much would you pay for 480 (6 starting * 5 secondary * 4 tertiary * 4 classes) different play experiences through a Secret of Mana sequel game? Yeah, they crammed all this into one cartridge alright, with top-notch graphics and music too.
Yah, that about covers it. There’s actually many more games we could recommend you at least check out for SNES, but these we’ve selected over two articles plus the canonical top games list is plenty to complete.
Join us next time, you sore-thumbed Nintendo-heads! It looks like we’re stuck with each other for a long time yet.