I’m sitting at my computer today, writing about video games for a living, because of the NES. The formative experience of walking into a friend’s basement and hearing the peppy notes of Super Mario Bros.’ World 1-1 theme is forever burned into my brain. That particular nostalgia aside, the Super NES is my favorite console and hosts one of the finest libraries in the industry’s history. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at the list of titles baked into the Super NES Classic, announced by Nintendo earlier today for a September 28 release date.
Eighty dollars—and the luck of Tyche and Fortuna combined, unless Nintendo ships more units than it did for its now-discontinued NES Classic—will get you 21 first- and third-party classics from Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and Zelda: A Link to the Past to Mega Man X, Contra 3: The Alien Wars, and Secret of Mana. While stellar and arguably stronger pound for pound than its NES Classic brethren’s, the SNES Classic’s lineup falls shy of perfection.
The following 11 games failed to make Nintendo’s cut when assembling the Super NES Classic’s library. Some of them are inferior to ones chosen for inclusion, but have historical significance. Others are better in some way than those chosen for canonization. All 11 only scratch the surface of games I’d love to play on this latest mini console—a testament to the depth and quality of Super Nintendo’s panoply of titles and the console’s influence on the industry.
Of all the games left behind, this one strikes me as the most surprising. Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as one of Square Enix’s (née Squaresoft) strongest RPGs and a shoo-in on virtually every best-games list written since the mid-1990s. The game’s time-traveling story as well as its charming graphics and soundtrack qualify it for a spot on the Super NES Classic.
Then again, perhaps Nintendo and Square omitted it due to the many ports—especially the 3DS edition—available on other platforms. Or maybe they’re fully aware that diehard fans will buy it again when the Virtual Console service comes to Switch, although that event doesn’t appear to be in the cards until early 2018 when Nintendo rolls out Nintendo Switch Online.
Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior
This is one of those instances where one chapter of history took a backseat to another, and deservedly so. Street Fighter 2 Turbo, the SNES port of coin-op classic Street Fighter 2 Hyper Fighting, is considered by many to be the best version of the game on 16-bit consoles. Even so, that doesn’t diminish the historical significance of SF2: The World Warriors.
During the heated “console” war between Super NES and Genesis, Sega gained ground by marketing edgier characters and games that spoke to teen and adult gamers who considered Nintendo’s more colorful mascots and software too juvenile for their tastes. Landing the premiere console port of Street Fighter 2, the game that single-handedly brought arcades back from the brink of obsolescence, was a major get for Nintendo and for SNES players. While the game is slower and less robust than SF2 Turbo, it holds a special place in my heart as an adult who held it up as a shining example of Nintendo’s superiority during many a heated playground argument.
Mortal Kombat 2
The absence of any of the four Mortal Kombat titles ported to Super NES—the first, second, third, and the latter’s Ultimate flavor—doesn’t surprise me. Nintendo’s loosened its kollar quite a bit since its moratorium on bloodshed in favor of sweat in the original Mortal Kombat on SNES, and the Klassic line of konsoles seems targeted at families who would blanch at all the head-slicing, arm-tearing, torso-exploding antics in Midway’s sequel, as much as collectors and old-school players.
Nevertheless, the SNES version of Mortal Kombat 2 warrants a mention. Not only does it remain a fan favorite among MK faithful, it marked a turning point for how Nintendo approached its draconian publishing restrictions. After the Genesis version of the original Mortal Kombat outsold the SNES port by an order of magnitude thanks to Sega’s and Acclaim’s under-the-radar addition of a blood “kode,” Nintendo let Midway and Acclaim off their short leash for the sequel. The outcome was a home konversion every bit as gory and vibrant as its arcade kounterpart.
Super NES Classic’s roster abounds with platformers, racers, and RPGs. One conspicuously absent genre is the beat-em-up. In vogue before Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat uppercutted and Hadokened their way to dominance, beat-em-ups gobbled up countless quarters during the 1990s. Their ubiquity, combined with the relative sophistication of 16-bit hardware, opened the floodgates for a healthy selection of button mashers on the SNES, none of which will be represented on Nintendo’s miniature platform this September.
I’ll argue that Batman Returns was the cream of that crop. Danny Elfman’s soundtrack played overtop beautiful visuals, a utility belt’s worth of gadgets, combo attacks, and context-sensitive moves like grabbing two thugs and bashing their heads together, and throwing evil clowns through storefront windows and against park benches, which bent and shattered on impact. Rocksteady’s Arkham series nailed the feeling of being the Batman years later, but before the Joker held Arkham Island hostage, Batman Returns was the closest we got to stepping into the Caped Crusader’s steel-toed boots.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
The inaugural Donkey Kong Country deserves its spot on the Super NES Classic. Before its release in late 1994, consumers and industry pundits had already eulogized 16-bit consoles, engulfed by the shadow of looming 32-bit machines such as Sony’s PlayStation and Sega’s Saturn. Nintendo’s partnership with Rare, forged after Nintendo got a look at the studio’s cutting-edge graphical tech, resulted in Donkey Kong Country. The graphical tour de force showed the world that the Super NES still had gas left in the tank. That being said, Donkey Kong Country was a by-the-numbers platformer. Not bad, just insipid.
And that’s fine. Visuals, not gameplay, was what Nintendo needed to keep players interested in the SNES until its successor, the N64, was ready to ship. Enter 1995’s Donkey Kong Country 2. Secrets were hidden more intuitively, and marked with “B” bonus barrels so you had a landmark to look for instead of throwing barrels at every wall in your path. Diddy’s and Dixie’s abilities complemented each other. Levels were more varied, and the animal friends were more useful.
The sequel’s graphics didn’t turn as many heads, mostly because the original had already raised the bar, but DKC 2’s gameplay was vastly improved, and could give any other 2D platformer a run for its golden coins.
Super Star Wars
Although the original Star Wars trilogy concluded eight years before the Super NES landed on shelves, the “Super” takes on each movie gave fans ample reason to spend more time in George Lucas’ long-ago galaxy. Kids ate up the Star Wars stories, vistas, and characters, while adults enjoyed all three games for the surprisingly high difficulty level they posed.
Any of the three Super Star Wars titles would fit this bill. If I had to pick one, I’d back Super Empire Strikes Back. Luke gets his light saber, and the mix of melee, ranged, and space battles is more versatile than that of the first Super Star Wars.
Capcom’s most notable beat-em-up was much simpler in terms of mechanics compared to Sega’s Streets of Rage or Golden Axe. On the subject of the Super NES Classic, Final Fight was likely excluded since it dropped two-player co-op from the arcade original. Still, the game’s simplicity doesn’t make it any less fun. In fact, sometimes simpler is better.
Final Fight’s straightforward approach to brawling—walk to the right, mash attack to beat up anyone that moves—made it a tonic after a long day of school or work, when you wanted to play a game but your brain felt too mushy to solve a dungeon in A Link to the Past or go toe-to-toe against Dr. Sigma’s final form in Mega Man X.
Super Mario All-Stars
The Super Mario Bros. trilogy got its due on the NES Classic, but Super Mario All-Stars would have been a slick way for Nintendo to add four games—including the Lost Levels, the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2—for the price of one. The bump up in graphics and audio quality benefitted every game in the collection, and frills like a save-game feature, while not strictly necessary on the Classic thanks to save states, elicited a sigh of relief from little kids the world around who were used to leaving their NES consoles on over multiple days and nights while they attempted to dethrone Bowser and Wart.
Mario Paint was less a game and more a suite of tools that let you paint and compose music. The interface demanded a mouse; as a matter of fact, Nintendo packed in the mousey peripherals with every Mario Paint cartridge.
I bring it up only because it typified the breadth of creativity Nintendo made possible on the SNES. The game still has legs today: Industrious streamers have a knack for recreating contemporary game and TV-show theme music using Nintendo’s breakthrough imaginative title.
Thanks largely to Mario Paint, the SNES became one of the first consoles where users could create content instead of consuming it. It would have been fun to pay homage to that aspect of the console’s history by shipping Mario Paint on the Super SNES Classic.
Speaking of experimental software, ActRaiser took two seemingly disparate genres and smooshed them together. You played a disciple of God charged with clearing away demons and other ne’er-do-wells so you could then turn your attention to overseeing the construction of villages and cities. The switch between platforming and city building was seamless, and each half of the game was as fun to play as the other.
You’d be hard-pressed to place Pilotwings in a list of the 50 best games on the Super NES, let alone the top 21. What it lacks in captivating gameplay, it makes up for as a showpiece. Pilotwings was a launch game, a glorified tech demo engineered to show off the power of the SNES’ whizzbang effects such as Mode 7 graphics. Sure, you’d probably only play for a time or two, and for as many minutes, but Pilotwings shines as a historical curio.