The NES was selling well since its debut in 1985, and fantastic games were being released for it all the way into the 1990s, but Nintendo saw the writing on the wall, and it said “16 bits.”
The 16-bit era had begun in 1987 with NEC’s PC Engine (TurboGrafX-16 in North America), and Sega had tremendous success with the release of the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) in 1988. Nintendo saw where the future of gaming was headed, so even as the NES was still popular, they began working on a follow-up console.
Designed by Famicom designer Masayuki Uemura, the Super Famicom was released in Japan in 1990 to instant acclaim, and it came to America as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System aka Super NES or SNES.
The SNES was the most popular 16-bit console and it had games that were perhaps even more beloved than the NES library.
Super Mario World (1990) had perfected the formula started by Super Mario Bros. and expanded in Super Mario Bros. 3 with a brilliant platformer that was as challenging as it was fun.
Futuristic racing game F–Zero (1990) demonstrated the console’s ‘Mode 7’ ability, which rotated and scaled backgrounds to give the impression of 3D environments, something impossible to do convincingly on the NES.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991) was an even more epic version of The Legend of Zelda for the NES that set the standard for the Zelda series with many elements that have become series mainstays, including time travel.
Sci-fi shooter Star Fox (1993) was the first game to use the SuperFX chip developed by the British company Argonaut Games. The chip allowed the SNES to render polygons and advanced 2D effects. This was an impressive feat for 1993.
Super Metroid (1994) is a masterpiece of game design that popularized the Metroidvania subgenre, a name derived from a combination of the Metroid series and Konami’s Castlevania series, which is similar to Metroid in its non-linear, exploration-heavy gameplay.
Final Fantasy VI (1994) from Squaresoft was a sophisticated steampunk RPG epic full of personality, drama and mature themes like sexuality and suicide. It remains a highlight in the long-lasting Final Fantasy series.
Earthbound (1994) was one of the most unique role-playing games ever made. It was a typical RPG mechanics-wise, but its setting was a land very similar to 20th century America. Instead of swords you had baseball bats, instead of magic you had psychic powers, and instead of dragons and witches you fought hippies and cult leaders. It was totally bizarre but very self-aware, and it had heartfelt themes underneath the oddball surface of American satire.
Donkey Kong Country (1994) may be the most popular SNES game. It was a typical platformer but with realistic graphics that looked impressive compared to almost every other game on the market. It is said to have kept the popularity of the SNES going even as 32-bit competitors challenged Nintendo.
Other excellent SNES games include Pilotwings, Street Fighter II, Chrono Trigger, Contra III, Mega Man X, Super Castlevania IV, Axelay, Actraiser, and Yoshi‘s Island. Plus, many others that are just as brilliant that I failed to mention.
It’s amazing how Nintendo had such great third-party support from other game developers like Squaresoft, Capcom and Konami. The diversity led to the SNES having some of the best platformers, RPGs, and action games in video game history.
Nintendo ceased production of the SNES in 1999, but the console’s library lived on being re-released on future systems, including the Wii, which allows you to purchase many of the games from Nintendo’s past via the internet, further proving the popularity and impact of the system.