Super Punch-Out is a stellar sequel, nailing what was great about the original and updating the formula using more powerful hardware. The game is easy to pick-up, but leaves plenty of room for mastery. The colorful cast of boxing foes go a long way to keep things feeling light-hearted and interesting. After all, how many games have you boxing against bearded rednecks, or lumbering clowns? And the animations are top-notch SNES goodness — every punch lands with a satisfyingly goony look on your opponent's face.
Known as Final Fantasy IV in Japan, FF II was an ambitious title. It told a large-scale story, spanning entire worlds and shifting through the perspective of many different characters, both of which were innovative at the time. It also introduced the Active Time Battle system, a variant of traditional RPG gameplay that revolutionized turn-based combat for the better. Rather than combat being divided into strict player turn=> enemy turn => player turn order, players and their foes were making decisions at the same time, leading to battles far more intense than the relatively leisurely combat the genre was known for.
Running and gunning has never been more literal than in the Contra series, and Contra 3 brings that style of gameplay to an entirely new level. Sure, you'll shoot badguys, grab powerups, and try not to die. You'll also navigate multi-tiered, shifting levels, some of which are in a top-down perspective thanks to the SNES' fabulous Mode 7 capabilities. Unlike many games, the U.S. version was actually harder than the original Japanese release. In Japan, the game allowed the use of cheat codes, including the infamous thirty lives cheat. In the U.S., all we got was our skills and our thumbs.
It's difficult to create a moody atmosphere with hardware that lends itself towards cartoonishness, but Super Castlevania IV somehow managed to pull it off. The first stage has you whipping skeletons and Medusa heads like it was going out of style, with the Belmont theme, "Vampire Killer," blasting in the background to get you pumped. From there, however, things take a turn for the spookier. The enemies become more nightmarish, and the music tends to lean towards "haunting," rather than, "exciting." These ominous tunes helped build a unique atmosphere to SCIV, setting it apart from the other platformers of the day.
Do a barrel roll! Sure, Starfox's 3D models don't hold up to today's standards, but in 1993 these bundles of polygons were our tickets to the stars. Most games were content with standard difficulty curves. But in Starfox, Easy, Normal, and Hard mode were all represented with different routes through space, meaning that you'd play a different series of levels depending on which difficulty you wanted. This helped give the game a unique degree of replayability. In most other SNES games, replayability meant plowing through the same levels, time after time.
It's not often that gaming historians can look at a game as the progenitor of a new genre, but Street Fighter 2: Turbo is often considered the granddaddy of all fighting games. Sure, there was Street Fighter and Street Fighter 2, as well as a few other lesser-known titles of the time, but it's ST that brought fighting games to the forefront of public consciousness. Players would throw down in arcades, or on Super Nintendos, for hours on end, trying to master their combos and get their shoryuken timings down just right.
What started as an experiment ended up being one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises. Super Mario Kart (and its slew of excellent sequels), are fast-paced affairs best played with friends. The tracks are wild, the music is catchy, and ... well, it's the freakin' cast of Mario characters throwing turtle shells at each other while driving go-karts. What's not to love?
Speaking of Mario's experimental years, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars began as an odd partnership and ended up being one of the greatest games in history. One of the most interesting things about Super Mario RPG is its combat system: attacking and defending were no longer the passive affairs they were in most RPGs. Precise button pressing would lead to extra damage, additional spell effects, and could even save your life. Plus, the entire game is a tightly tuned experience— no grinding required to reach the end of this RPG.
Mega Man hadn't fared so well in the early '90s. His one SNES outing was met with lukewarm reception, and Capcom wanted to reinvent the franchise with a new look, faster gameplay, and a story more complex than "Dr. Wily doing bad things." Thusly, Mega Man X was born. Not only does MMX build on the Mega Man series' formula of, "fight eight bosses and take their powers; each boss is weak against the weapon of another," it included a massive series of secrets and power-ups (including a fantastic nod to the Street Fighter series in the form of an unlockable Hadoken). Levels would also change depending on which level you beat them in. Head to Flame Mammoth's stage first and it's a never-ending series of lava pits and torrential infernos. Beat Chill Penguin before going there and the entire place will be iced over for easy walking.
Tired of rescuing princesses/girlfriends/frogs? Try rescuing your bananas! Donkey Kong Country is a platformer of the highest caliber. Each level is a masterfully orchestrated affair from start to finish. Secrets are strewn about liberally, with some being easy to find and others being fiendishly well-hidden. DKC's graphical style was something that had never been done before. In technical terms, the pre-rendered 3D graphics allowed them to chisel out each sprite with an unprecedented level of detail. In layman's terms, the game looked really cool.