Let’s go ahead and cut right to the chase: I think the Super Nintendo is the best console ever made. Interestingly, I never owned a SNES during its glorious heyday (I had a Sega Genesis). But I played a ton of Super Nintendo with friends who had it, and did eventually get my own during the N64 era! I had to play “catch up” on a lot of the SNES library-there are several games I didn’t play until well past their release window. So I have a different kind of SNES nostalgia!
I’ve always thought the best check against gaming nostalgia playing the game today and seeing how it holds up. And SNES games not only pass this test, but do so with flying colors! The graphics, controls, gameplay, and genre innovations hold up extraordinarily well today. Several series still have a “best of” game on the Super Nintendo that I still love completing 100%! So many mechanics we all take for granted now were pioneered and perfected with the console. Let’s look at why I have so much SNES nostalgia despite not growing up owning it!
A last minute pickup
I played a lot of Super Nintendo with a close friend in my neighborhood growing up. I was the Sega kid, and he was the Nintendo kid! I would go over to his house to play Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, and he would come over to play Sonic, Streets of Rage, and Aladdin (the Sega version is better!). Then we each got our own N64 when it released, and I sort of figured I’d never actually own a SNES since its popularity was winding down.
Until my family was Christmas shopping in Target, December of 1998. I had $20 left in my “Christmas budget” of $100 and wasn’t sure what to ask for. Then I stumbled upon this magical console package in the Nintendo game display case:
It was only $40! I could own a SNES and Link to the Past (one of the greatest games ever made) for only $40! I rushed to my parents to see if I could chip in $20 of my own money and get it for Christmas. They agreed, and there was much rejoicing (from me). I had just finished Ocarina of Time, so it was glorious to play through my very own copy of Link to the Past that winter break! But the SNES era was coming to a close, and there were very few new games available to buy at stores. So beyond Zelda, all of my SNES games are second hand!
Second hand stories
Most Nintendo 64 (and other console) games in my collection were purchased first hand by me from retail stores. While there’s certainly some meaningful stories behind those purchases, having to find each game in my SNES collection second hand adds even more nostalgia for me! The pickups are an eclectic mix of stories from different time periods in my life.
My copy of Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart come from a friend who traded them to me since he didn’t want his SNES anymore at the end of high school. My Super Mario RPG cart is from a cardboard box in the back of a FuncoLand. I bought my copy of Turtles in Time from a flea market in the Rio Grande Valley with two of my best friends (we beat it that night, obviously). My original Mega Man X cart is from Game Zone in Salem, MA (featured in the excellent documentary Not for Resale). Super Mario All-Stars simply comes from eBay a few years ago, using a coupon my wife had!
It’s been really fun piecing together my collection, and I hope it continues to grow! I don’t own a single original SNES box, by the way. All the boxes housing my carts and manuals are from the excellent Custom Game Cases. They’re not only durable and look great, but remind me of renting games from Blockbuster! I highly recommend them if you’re like me and managing a collection of loose carts.
Aged like a fine wine
Super Nintendo graphics have held up obscenely well. NES graphics, while charming, can be a bit crude to look at today. N64 visuals, as much nostalgia as I have for them, are from the early days of 3D and can be pretty rough on the eyes. But SNES is in the “Goldilocks” spot-the 16-bit sprites are as gorgeous to look at now as they were then! So many games are just gushing with bright and colorful charm. They’ve also inspired countless indie games to use a similar style of graphics (often touched up to modern standards).
One of my favorites is the excellent story-driven Metroidvania, Iconoclasts. It’s so reminiscent of SNES days that Limited Run actually did a Super Nintendo-styled box for it’s physical release! (which naturally was irresistible to me)
I also quickly want to note something I feel is underrated about the SNES: its controller. It really laid the groundwork for future controller designs-its four main buttons on the right and shoulder buttons on top are now ubiquitous. It’s very ergonomic and had just feels right to play games with! Even though the Switch Pro controller is amazing, I always use the my “Nintendo Switch Online” SNES controller when playing Super Nintendo titles on my Switch.
The SNES controller continues to function perfectly and makes you feel truly in control when playing the most excellent games on the SNES. Speaking of which…
The greatest games ever made
At least half of my personal “top 10 games of all time” list is Super Nintendo games. There are so many titles from this system that were, and still are, the pinnacle of their series or genres. Like it’s actually a little insane how well these games have held up. And this is really where the bulk of my SNES nostalgia comes from. I could (and will!) do numerous posts about the best games on the system, but I want briefly highlight a few of my favorites.
The first RPG I ever played and finished, and still my favorite. I fell in love with it, and honestly thought every other RPG would be as good as Chrono Trigger. How wrong I was! Chrono Trigger is something special. The beautiful, thought-provoking story, phenomenal characters (you genuinely care about ALL OF THEM), simple but innovative gameplay with meaningful sidequests, and gorgeous soundtrack. You absolutely must play Chrono Trigger. I love the nostalgia of my SNES cart but also highly recommend the Nintendo DS version with re-translated (and in my opinion, much better) script if you want to play on the go!
Donkey Kong Country 2
I play through DKC 2 every October for a variety of reasons. This is the pinnacle of SNES platforming that has yet to be topped (though Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze comes close!). Check out my full Donkey Kong Country 2 retrospective I wrote for its 25th anniversary! Then go play the game immediately. It’s part of the Nintendo Switch Online catalog now-no excuses!
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
As revolutionary as the original Legend of Zelda was, this was the game that truly cemented the franchise as legendary. Nearly every Zelda game since this one has copied its formula and structure. Why? Because it’s amazing, and it works so well! The sheer size, scope, and epic nature of this game was unrivaled back in 1992 and it holds up beautifully today! It’s my third favorite Zelda game of all time.
Mega Man X
I’m personally more of a “casual” Mega Man fan. But honestly, how can you NOT fall in love with Mega Man X? If you grew up in the 90s, it doesn’t get any better than the graphics and rockin’ soundtrack of Mega Man X. This game does everything-everything-right and has yet to be topped in the Mega Man franchise, even by it’s own stellar sequel.
Some of my best friends bought me this beautiful anniversary edition of the game from iam8bit for my birthday a few years ago. It’s one of my favorite items in my collection:
When we’re talking Super Metroid, we’re talking my top 3 games ever made. I’ve definitely beaten Super Metroid more than other game (but still recently picked up the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide for it because SNES nostalgia). I love everything about the game so, so much. The graphics, the atmosphere, the feeling of isolation, the exploration. The terrifying bosses. The feeling of empowerment as you get stronger. The mood-setting soundtrack. The “Metroid” part of the Metroidvania genre is this game, plain and simple. I absolutely adore several newer Metroidvanias (like Hollow Knight and the Ori series), but Super Metroid remains the pinnacle. It’s a masterpiece you have to play.
“New” SNES nostalgia
I actually think it’s really neat when you don’t get to experience certain games until much later in life. It’s a different type of nostalgia but can often be a more accurate gauge on how good the games are! I’m not sure if the SNES will ever be de-throned as my favorite console ever (the Switch IS making a strong argument!), but it will always be very close to the top. It’s truly brilliant.
Tell me about your SNES nostalgia! Did you own the console during the 90s console wars? Or pick it up later? Is it your favorite of all time? What are some of your favorite games and memories? Let me know in the comments below!