SNES Nostalgia: still the best console there is!

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, which I also love). 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. And the Game Boy Advance, essentially a portable SNES, had a ton of success with a library packed full of excellent SNES ports. Let’s look at why I have so much SNES nostalgia despite not growing up owning it!

SNES game box art collection
My entire SNES collection! It’s actually pretty small, but every one of these games is spectacular.

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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:

SNES Jr. Target Exclusive Console Box
How could I possibly resist?

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.

Super Mario RPG box, cart, and Nintendo Power player's guide

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 the spectacular 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!

Turtles in Time box, manual, cart, and Donatello figure
Every time my friends and I do a “classic game day”, we absolutely must beat Turtles in Time.

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. And don’t be afraid of carts in rough condition-they can be cleaned!

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).

Mario Kart SNES box, cart, manual, and SNES controller
Mode 7 just blew our minds back in the early 90s!

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)

Iconoclasts Switch Limited Run Special Edition
I’ve never owned an original SNES box, so it was pretty cool to add this to my collection.

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.

NSO Switch SNES controller box
It’s no wonder these things sell out in a hot second.

I’m also a big fan of the 8bitdo 2.4G SNES controller for wireless play-it functions flawlessly with no lag! 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.

Chrono Trigger

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! Now let’s hope the rumored third game, Chrono Break, ever sees the light of day.

Chrono Trigger SNES box, manual, and cart with Chrono Trigger DS
Everyone needs to play Chrono Trigger. Everyone.

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! (and while you’re at it, play the DKC-inpsired Kaze and the Wild Masks on your Switch too)

Donkey Kong Country 2 Cartridge, Box, Player's Guide and Nintendo Switch playing DKC 2
Definitely chose that background because it looked the most “pirate themed” in keeping with the game!

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.

Zelda Link to the Past SNES box, cart, and manual with GBA version
My only first hand SNES cart and manual.

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:

Mega Man X iam8bit Anniversary Edition box, manual, and cart
I didn’t get the rare and magical translucent blue cart, but it’s still glorious!

Super Metroid

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.

Super Metroid box, cart, Nintendo Power Player's Guide, SNES controller, and two Metroid figures

“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. Check out some of its best titles on Nintendo Switch Online if you never have before!

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!

4 thoughts on “SNES Nostalgia: still the best console there is!”

  1. The SNES would have beaten the Genesis except for one Blunder: Mortal Kombat. Like tens of thousands of others (hundreds of thousands?) MK was the reason I got the Sega vs the Nintendo.

    1. Oh for sure. I had a Genesis first and it was pretty glorious to get Mortal Kombat and put the fabled “blood code” in! Nintendo got destroyed in sales on the first game, then learned their lesson and released MK II in its authentic form!

      I’ve actually been on a Genesis nostalgia kick the past few weeks (I’d forgotten how awesome some of the library is) and plan on releasing a post about it on the next two weeks!

  2. The SNES is without a doubt my most nostalgic and favorite console of all time.
    To rattle off games or half baked memories would not do it justice.
    The controller _is_ gaming perfection as you mentioned.

    Where the NES had a near monopoly, with many legendary, excellent titles, you have to wonder if part of the SNES quality being so high resulted from good old competition.

    A Sega in its “golden age” at the onset of the SNES, coupled with the fledging PlayStation brand towards the end of the SNES helped bookend the console with strong, formidable alternatives. I don’t have the story on what produced SNES launch title F-Zero (fun research for later), but the “speed” and “feel” of it reminds you of a Sega arcade game (Outrun perhaps or HangOn). And Donkey Kong Country was a successful attempt to stave off the new 3D graphic era ushered in by PlayStation.

    Additional reason for high quality: this was the crescendo of 2D gaming. Developers the world over had been working in a 2D environment. This ended up being the last 2D exclusive generation and hence the great games created happened to fit this form factor.

    1. Brilliant analysis. I think you’re absolutely right about competition being a driving force behind quality. Risk-taking too; giving another developer the reins to Donkey Kong was a “rare” (pun fully intended) move for Nintendo and it paid off in spades, keeping the SNES afloat since the “Ultra 64” was delayed.

      And I didn’t even think about this being the “crescendo” of 2D gaming-that’s an excellent point (also I need to use the word “crescendo” more, both on this site and in everyday speech). It’s like how some of the best games made for each console come out towards the end of its lifespan. Developers have learned from their earlier games and know how to push the hardware and genre to its limits. Multiply that several times over for 2D gaming with the SNES!

      So glad we still have the indie scene keeping beautiful 2D games alive 🙂

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