You might not believe it, but it’s absolutely true: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or the SNES, for short, is now old enough to have serious regrets about its life, and if you’re old enough to have had one of these wee grey boxes in your living room, then you’re probably even older.
Inspiring stuff right? In all seriousness, though, the SNES is certainly one of the all-time greats in the console department and now that Nintendo is starting to add SNES games to the online Switch library, what better way to celebrate than to list our top 50 SNES games.
We gathered together some of our best and brightest to help us celebrate, and we hope you’ll join us too!
Best SNES Games #50. Super Mario All-Stars
While there’s little argument that the red plumber’s SNES debut, Super Mario World, is certainly his finest moment on the console, this little retro package certainly gives that dinosaur filled classic a run for its money.
While there’s little argument that the red plumber’s SNES debut, Super Mario World, is certainly his finest moment on the console, this little retro package certainly gives that dinosaur filled classic a run for its money. Comprising not only the original classic Super Mario Bros, but also its oddball sequel Super Mario Bros 2, and the untouchable cornerstone of any quality childhood, Super Mario Bros 3. As if these games weren’t enough to justify the price tag, this package also includes the infamous Lost Levels from the original game as well, previously only playable in Japan.
Comprising not only the original classic Super Mario Bros, but also its oddball sequel Super Mario Bros 2, and the untouchable cornerstone of any quality childhood, Super Mario Bros 3. As if these games weren’t enough to justify the price tag, this package also includes the infamous Lost Levels from the original game as well, previously only playable in Japan.
It’s a rather robust quartet and one of the best purchases a parent could make for their wee ones back in the 90s. Literally, dozens of hours of entertainment can be found in these four games, and if you were too young to have experienced them on the NES, then the deal was all the sweeter. (Mike Worby)
Best SNES Games #49. Harvest Moon
Harvest Moon is the original farming sim, with a legacy that goes back all the way to 1996 on the SNES. On paper, the game doesn’t sound very exciting and yet, surprisingly, Natsume’s smash hit managed to make farm simulation fresh and interesting. Working through the seasons planting goods, meeting new characters, attending festivals, finding hidden treasures and getting married all paid off at the very end. It spawned an entire franchise, and some would argue a sub-genre, and it remains a shining example of the RPG genre done right. With all the secrets available in this game, there is more than enough reason to revisit this gem in the present day. If you’re a fan of simulation and RPG elements, this is definitely worth a try! (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #48. Super Star Wars
Following the tradition of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, the SNES was home to huge amounts of licensed video games. Unlike its NES predecessor, however, the SNES delivered a fantastic series of Star Wars games that deserves to be counted among the consoles best run and gun platformers. Super Star Wars began the adaptations of the popular films for SNES owners, who were treated to labors of love that brought the world of Star Wars to life (or as well as they could be for a 16-bit system).
The platforming elements themselves were addicting and interspersed with other levels in which the player could control a land speeder or X-wing. But it was the different levels of difficulty that kept people coming back. The hardest levels of Super Star Wars approach Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts territory in terms of frustration, but SNES users were probably already used to masochistic tendencies when picking up a Nintendo controller. Later generations of gamers who grew up on things like Knights of the Old Republic might balk at the Super Star Wars franchise were they to play it now, but all the successful Star Wars games of different genres that came after Super Star Wars owe a debt to its huge popularity. (Sean Colletti)
Best SNES Games #47. Mega Man X3
The Mega Man X series was just the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed after so many similar titles having been released on the NES in such rapid-fire succession, and Mega Man X3 might be the best game the spin-off series ever produced.
In addition to refining the mechanics from the first two Mega Man X titles, X3 also let players step into the boots of X’s badass, plasma-sword wielding partner, Zero. Easily the coolest character in the X series, it was particularly thrilling to play as Zero this time around, even if it was only for a short time.
With a great selection of bosses, carefully hidden upgrades, and fantastic music, Mega Man X3 is one of the best Mega Man games ever released and is still worth replaying even today. (Mike Worby)
Best SNES Games #46. The Death and Return of Superman
Easily one of the biggest cultural moments of the 90s was the death of perhaps the most iconic character in American history, Superman. Though he would eventually be resurrected, this was before the cavalcade of me-too superhero death stories that followed, so at the time it was believable that the Man of Steel could truly be gone for good.
The story of his death and eventual return is retold in the aptly titled brawler, The Death and Return of Superman. The game tells the tale as well as can be expected for any game from the time period, giving ample screen time to all of the Man of Tomorrow’s would-be successors, before making way for the eventual reveal that Superman is alive after all.
It’s a classic tale retold wonderfully well in its new medium, and a whole lot of fun to play. There was nothing quite like being put in control of some of the coolest comic book characters of the 90s during one of the best stories ever told about Superman. The Death and Return of Superman still stand as one of the best brawlers on the SNES, and it isn’t hard to see why. (Mike Worby)
Best SNES Games #45. SimCity
Before The Sims gave us death by swimming pool, SimCity threw $10,000 our way and told us to get building. Released as a launch title for the SNES, SimCity feels different even to this day. Its mood is contemplative. The soundtrack is oddly soothing. Nurturing a city takes time, but the gameplay can be picked up in minutes.
It doesn’t really matter that SimCity starts in 1900 and yet there are nuclear power plants and planes crashing all over the place. The little inconsistencies hardly detract from a game that rejects an in-your-face storytelling experience and instead sits back and gives the player room to ruin or create as they see fit. Plus all those pollution warnings probably did more for environmental awareness in the 90s than the Clinton administration.
The player-as-God scenario isn’t what makes SimCity great. It’s that we actually get time to care. Our tiny palette of icons may be the functional mechanic that allows us to paint our city however we imagine it, but time is our main currency outside of, you know, actual money. Seasons change from winter to spring, and we can take a breather to sit back and admire our city before letting Bowser reduce it to ashes. Moving a cursor around with the D-pad never felt so satisfying.
That doesn’t mean the controls aren’t clunky as hell. And the game’s looping soundtrack, despite being tied into city level and changing as you advance, does sometimes make you want to self-harm.
SimCity is simply too addictive for it to matter. When the intro screen loads and the music plays over a scene of skyscrapers at night, we have to push start.
No other SimCity has come close. (Luke Geraghty)
Best SNES Games #44. Kirby Super Star
Kirby Superstar is one of the best values on the system. Instead of one linear traditional adventure, gamers get to choose from eight different experiences on one cartridge. This is also one of the few instances in which players get the best of both worlds, quantity, and quality. Each game can easily stand on its own and provide plenty of fun and replay value, however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few standouts among the group. Gamers looking for a more traditional Kirby experience will likely have a blast with Spring Breeze or Milky Way Wishes, whereas those looking for a challenge can have a go at The Arena. Gourmet Race is probably the most unique title on the cartridge, as Kirby must race King De-de-de to the end of the stage while collecting as much food as possible. It offers a nice distraction between playing the other games and can become quite addictive when doing the time trial modes.
When Kirby Superstar was released back in 1996, there was nothing else like it at the time. The amount of content in the game put it head and shoulders above the competition, leaving very few players bored. While a superior sequel was released for the DS years later called Kirby Superstar Ultra, the original must still be appreciated for its innovation within the platforming genre that was excelling on the SNES at the time. It’s one of Kirby’s finest and most diverse outings. (Zack Rezak)
Best SNES Games #43. Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The last of the three installments released in the Super Nintendo’s groundbreaking Super Star Wars series, Super Return of the Jedi promised more of the same great experience offered as its two forerunners, and boy did LucasArts deliver.
Like the previous two outings, Super Return of the Jedi is a 2D platformer in which you take on the Star Wars universe, only this time around the roster of playable characters grew to five (Luke, Chewie, Han, Wicket and Princess Leia, who wears her bounty hunter disguise and Endor forest survival gear at the various points in the game). With its toned-down difficulty, depth and polished presentation, Super Return of the Jedi is considered by many to be the best of the three games in the series. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #42. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Lufia II, a prequel to the original Lufia, has the incredible distinction of being one of the best RPGs on a console with quite possibly the best library of RPGs ever. While Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (VI) are appropriately in another tier of gaming altogether, Lufia II is one of the few games that has a legitimate claim to being the best of the rest.
A huge part of its strength comes from being a classic, traditional RPG on the surface but exhibiting non-traditional RPG (at least for the Japanese-developed RPGs that populated the console library) elements in its gameplay. Lufia II has a much greater emphasis on puzzle solving than, say, a Final Fantasy game. It borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda series, incorporating vast dungeons that require as much thinking as they do grinding. There are also several side quests that pad the already sizable main narrative, making Lufia II one of the longer RPG experiences on the console for completionists.
And even though the main story and conflict surrounding Lufia II’s characters aren’t as classic or memorable as many of the other well-written RPGs for the SNES, its ultimately Lufia II’s commitment to gameplay that makes it such a powerhouse. Little tweaks, such as the IP gauge that gives you different abilities to perform based on equipment or Capsule Monsters (a Pokemon-lite kind of monster collecting and leveling system that allows you to bring a buddy into battles), give Lufia II a unique personality that separates itself from so many of its peers.
A much-loved, little-played series in general, Lufia games are hard to come by, making Lufia II an expensive cartridge to pick up (and it is not available on the Virtual Console). DS owners, though, may be able to find a remake, Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, which is completely revamped into an action-RPG instead of the turn-based system the SNES original uses. In any way it can be experienced, Lufia II is a genuinely must-play RPG. (Sean Colletti)
Best SNES Games #41. R-Type III: The Third Lightning
Nintendo certainly has a storied history of classic shmups. Among the strongest games on the original NES were Life Force, Gradius and The Guardian Legend, each a perfect example of how simultaneously addicting and frustrating the sub-genre of shooters can be at its best. In the case of R-Type III, more of the same goes a long way with the added sound and graphical capabilities of the system.
Like any shmup worth its salt, R-Type III is teeth-grindingly difficult. It is a speedrunner’s kind of game in the sense that memorization is absolutely essential to success. Each of its six stages is huge and has an array of details to new settings and enemies, including memorable and thrilling boss battles. But in the process of beating each level, players will undoubtedly become familiar by way of death after death after death.
This, though, is the kind of challenge that gives R-Type III and other shmups longevity and replayability (there is also a two-player mode, which makes for even more sensory chaos), because there is nothing unfair or cheap about the difficulty level. Unfortunately, the game and series are nowhere to be seen on the Virtual Console, but a watered-down GBA port is available if you can’t find a copy of the SNES cartridge. (Sean Colletti)
Best SNES Games #40. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
This third installment was one of the Super Nintendo’s last hurrahs. Released in 1996, it immediately seemed archaic against the new three-dimensional Mario title, released two months before on Nintendo’s next-generation 64-bit machine. It was also the weakest entry in the Donkey Kong Country franchise, marred by the inexcusable introduction of the sluggish, babyish Kiddy Kong, and by needless updates that sacrifice usability for visual splendor, like the lovingly-designed vehicles that awkwardly transport players between worlds.
Nevertheless, Donkey Kong Country 3 features on this list because the franchises core values remain intact: fast-paced gameplay, sublime graphics, bountiful secrets, varied level design, and spectacular music. Level in and level out, composers David Wise and Eveline Fischer (who would go on to provide Joanna Dark’s voice) produce melancholy, funky, and industrial sounds to accompany the player’s quest. More than other platforming series, Donkey Kong Country always placed an accent on atmosphere, which has allowed the series to remain fresh and relevant in this age of arty, side-scrolling, indie platformers. (Guido Pellegrini)
Best SNES Games #39. Illusion of Gaia
Genre(s) Action RPG Illusion of Gaia was something of a spiritual sequel to Soul Blazer, with very loosely linked gameplay and story elements. Named Illusion of Time in Europe, the game put you in command of Will, a young adventurer with latent psychic abilities and the power to morph himself into the fully-grown adult body of a knight and also the alien-like lifeform named Shadow. Saving the world required using each version of the hero at the appropriate time. As an action-RPG, Illusion of Gaia fails in the RPG section but shines well in its action. Although not as close to perfection as its predecessor, it still manages to be one of the most entertaining action RPGs available on the SNES, and a fitting second game in a trilogy. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #38. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Unlike the 8-bit generation, there were only a few games released on the SNES that became infamous for their vicious and unrelenting difficulty – Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts might be the hardest of the bunch. This SNES sequel to the NES rage-inducing Ghosts ‘N Goblins was just as likely to have players throwing their controllers across the room. On the surface, the game looks like any other side-scrolling platformer, but tackling the game’s challenging and unrelenting levels is no easy feat. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a hard game to beat and I do mean hard, but that is also why Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is such a great game. It’s challenging design philosophy, atmosphere and story helped pave the way for contemporary classics such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and mastering Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts gave an unparalleled sense of accomplishment. For those of you have finished the game, you most likely agree this should be higher up on our list. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #37. Zombies Ate My Neighbors
This run and gun game developed by LucasArts and originally published by Konami for the Super NES wasn’t exactly a commercial success, but it was well received and praised for its graphical style, warped humor, and deep gameplay. Back when local couch multiplayer was the lifeblood that kept games forever replayable, Zombies Ate My Neighbors offered kids countless hours of ridiculous non-stop fun while navigating through the game’s 48 main levels and 7 bonus levels in order to rescue the titular neighbors from monsters often seen in horror movies.
Aiding the protagonists Zeke and Julie are a variety of weapons such as tomatoes, weed whackers, bazookas, holy crucifixes and more, along with various power-ups that can be used to battle the numerous enemies scattered throughout. Meanwhile, assorted elements and aspects of popular horror movies are referenced in the game with some of its more violent content being censored in various territories such as Europe and Australia, where it is known only as Zombies. This love letter to B-grade horror films is a rare gem and a cult classic that absolutely deserves all of its praise. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #36. Breath of Fire II
Unlike the original Breath of Fire, the SNES sequel in Capcom’s overlooked RPG series is an in-house production (Square Soft, a god amongst third parties at the time, helped localize the first game). The result is a love letter of a project that is a little rough around the edges. Though similar to its predecessor, it is ultimately a better game than Breath of Fire and a fine addition to the SNES library of RPGs that would set the series on a course for true greatness.
Different versions of the characters Ryu and Nina return in Breath of Fire II and would become series staples. The rest of the cast is full of lively personalities and poignant archetypes that add to a wider scope and much-improved storyline of redemption. In the same way that the PlayStation’s Suikoden II is essentially the same game as Suikoden—just a lot better—Breath of Fire II builds on every layer of the foundation built by Breath of Fire (the only exception possibly being that the music lacks some of the charm).
Capcom’s most successful traditional RPG series, Breath of Fire would make the jump to the Sony consoles and produce three more main series games. And while the third and fourth installments are the most rich experiences overall, the first two make up an of-the-era pair that is deeply nostalgic and indicative of how simplicity of design and vision isn’t necessarily a drawback if tone and atmosphere are done right. Both games are available in Game Boy Advance ports and on the Wii U Virtual Console. (Sean Colletti)
Best SNES Games #35. Final Fight
Final Fight — which was originally titled Street Fighter ’89 but had its name changed just before release — was a massive arcade hit across the globe and given Capcom’s close relationship with Nintendo, it became a launch exclusive for Nintendo’s 16-bit console. However, what fans got wasn’t all that it was hyped up to be. Final Fight is one of the earliest titles for the system, and due to the hardware limitations of the Super Nintendo, Capcom was forced to make some changes from the port of the original 1989 arcade game. The removal of co-op, for example, eliminated one of the most appealing features present in most beat ’em ups and Nintendo’s censorship policies ultimately replaced several characters including the iconic boss, Rolento.
Despite all of this, many of the core factors that make Final Fight so appealing are still intact, and the SNES version helped define what 16-bit home console brawlers would be. Capcom’s classic does not stand the test of time but it was evolutionary, taking the beat-’em-up structure of games like Double Dragon to the next level. And for that, it deserves a spot on our list! (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #34. Earthworm Jim 2
The SNES certainly had its fair share of weird titles, however, few can come close to EarthWorm Jim 2 when it comes to strangeness. Jim’s second outing is vastly different from his first. What was once a consistent side-scrolling shooter is now a varied assortment of odd genres? Each level shakes up the gameplay in some pretty interesting ways, so much so that it would be hard to tell they were all part of the same game. In fact, some of these stage descriptions sound more like a drug trip than an actual video game level. One stage has Jim disguise himself as a blind cave salamander in order to swim through a series of intestines. At the end of the stage, the player is thrown into a game show that could result in the loss of the mealworms they collected throughout the stage. Another has Jim dodging falling grandmas while riding a stair-lift. Normal stuff.
What makes this title special is how the unique gameplay structure complements the game’s personality. Every level is so odd and different from the last; it’s impossible to tell what’s coming next. A funky synth-filled soundtrack and beautiful environments bring the whole package together to form one of the strangest yet most fun titles on the SNES. As Jim would say, it’s GROOVY! (Zack Rezak)
Best SNES Games #33. Pilot Wings
One of only three different launch titles available to own alongside your newly-purchased SNES back in 1991, Pilotwings was a basically a tech demo for the Super NES’ Mode 7 that created the illusion of depth by taking flat surfaces and presenting them from any angle. But as much as it was a graphical showcase, it was surprisingly enjoyable as well.
Pilotwings was an odd title and while it may not be fondly remembered by most, those who chose to delve deep into its depths swear by how great it is. Regardless of how you feel about the game, it spawned a new Nintendo franchise and gave gamers a glimpse of what would later come with the N64. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #32. Earthworm Jim
Earthworm Jim is a run and gun 2D platformer that stars Jim, an earthworm who obtains an ultra-high-tech-indestructible robotic suite to defeat his foes. It’s up to Jim to save the princess from the likes of Psy-Crow, Professor Monkey-for-a-Head, Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed and the final boss, Slug-for-a-Butt.
At the time of its release, Earthworm Jim was praised for its unique cartoon style animation, refined gameplay, mind-bending soundtrack, and strange characters. They honestly, rarely make games like this anymore, and though subsequent generations have tried to revive the series, it has never been met with success. Earthworm Jim is part of the grand tradition of balls-to-the-wall games in the vein of Psychonauts and Monkey Island and comes highly recommended for those who prefer a unique brand of oddball charm. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #31. Mega Man X
Following up the critical and commercial success of Mega Man X was no small task, but Mega Man X2 did an admirable job. The plot follows the android protagonist, X, who has saved humanity only six months prior. Now a trio of Mavericks calling themselves the X-Hunters have arisen, intent on destroying X by luring him with body parts of his colleague Zero, who sacrificed himself during the conflict with Sigma in the first X game.
This second installment gives the android protagonist X, five new cyborg sub-bosses to battle, and seventeen bosses, both new and old, including Bubble Crab, Crystal Snail, Wheel Gator, and Overdrive Ostrich. Just like the games before it, Mega Man X2 doesn’t really do much in the way of innovation. It features much of the same action-platforming elements dating back to the original Mega Man series. While it isn’t groundbreaking in any way, X2 comes highly recommended to anybody that enjoys the previous title. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #30. Mario Paint
In 1993, according to the US Census Bureau, only 31.9 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 17 had access to a computer at home, while 60.6 used one at school. Now that we’re all surrounded by monitors and devices, it can be difficult to imagine a time when most youngsters were not born into a menagerie of desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and e-readers. As William Gibson once said: “It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future.”
Mario Paint, released in 1992, was a bizarre concoction and, for many children, this writer included, an introduction to personal computer literacy. A spruced up Microsoft Paint, it came with a mouse and a pad, which made the title as expensive as it was irresistibly novel. Along with basic music generation and animation tools, to produce short and crude videos, it also offered a ridiculous fly-swatting mini-game, a throwback to simple arcade gameplay before retro gaming turned into a millennial cliché.
This kind of compartmentalized experience was not common on the Super Nintendo. There was usually the one game included in the cartridge, and that was it. Games within games would be more prevalent in later years. But Mario Paint incorporated the windowed logic of an operating system and allowed users to engage in different kinds of activities, save their work, and combine it.
This merging of the personal computer and console interfaces anticipated the gaming future, when consoles would behave like low-end, web-ready desktops with home screens, as comfortable with YouTube videos as with The Last of Us. And it also reflected the immediate past, when a personal computer like the Commodore 64 could compete with consoles (and is now often, albeit erroneously, equated with them); and the Nintendo Entertainment System, even as it popularized the concept of simplified, kid-friendly, plug-in-and-play gaming, was compatible with specialized modems, disk systems, and the Family BASIC, a cartridge-and-keyboard bundle for game programming. Mario Paint, then, taught many children an obvious but easily forgotten fact: consoles are computers, too. (Guido Pellegrini)
Best SNES Games #29. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Though not as influential as its predecessor, this sequel is nevertheless a summation of everything that is enjoyable and exciting about the franchise. Like its prequel, it eschews the impossible and abstract architecture of other platformers, like Mario and Sonic, and instead settles for, not precisely real-world locations, but at least recognizable environments–twisted versions of jungles and factories, frozen mountains and carnival fun-houses, distorted visions of places we might conceivably visit in real life (save for some notable, honeycombed exceptions).
Diddy’s Kong Quest places the lumbering Donkey Kong in an uncharacteristic Princess Peach role: as the captured person (well, primate) of interest, who must be rescued from the villain. In his absence, Diddy Kong becomes the protagonist, while his girlfriend – the lithe, ponytail-twirling, hovering Dixie Kong – tags along as his partner. Both are quick and nimble, and together, they make this into the most frantic, agile installment of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. (Guido Pellegrini)
Best SNES Games #28. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has a bit of a strange twin in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Both followed widely acclaimed and genre-defining games, and somehow both chose to do somewhat similar yet insanely different things with their respective sequels.
In the case of Yoshi’s Island, it was casting Yoshi as the hero, rather than Mario, and relegating the latter to a screeching infantile annoyance instead of the protagonist. Baby Mario’s recurring cry is probably the number one reason not to enjoy this game but luckily there’s a host of new ideas that more than make up for it. For one thing Yoshi plays dramatically differently from Mario, and the fact that he is constantly hampered by having to keep everyone’s favorite plumber safe gives the game a puzzle-lite element that no one saw coming.
The gorgeous animation and trademark level design only further raise SMW2’s status as an instant cult classic, and another great example of how going a different direction for a sequel, rather than retreading the original, can work wonders in the long run. (Mike Worby)
Best SNES Games #27. NBA JAM
NBA Jam was an absolute blast and perhaps the game I played the most as a young teen. It tore up the arcades from the day Midway released it, and drained every quarter from my wallet.
So when it was finally announced for release on Nintendo’s home console, I started saving my quarters instead, in order to ensure I had enough money to pick it up the day it came out. Whereas nowadays, sports games insist on realism, Midway delivered a frantic and oftentimes gravity-defying sports experience that gave us countless hours of fast-paced basketball action.
Reduced to two-on-two match-ups and featuring a super-powered roster (not to mention tons of unlockable characters), NBA Jam was the number one jam in my household. (Ricky D)
Best SNES Games #26. Demon’s Crest
Of the many incredible platformers for the SNES, Demon’s Crest remains one of the most underrated an overlooked (even if more and more retrospectives have been kind to it, it deserves to be considered alongside the Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World franchises). The third installment in the Gargoyle’s Quest series that began on the Game Boy, Demon’s Crest is also—unfortunately—the final game in the Ghosts ’n Goblins spin-off trilogy that follows Firebrand, that frustratingly hard-to-hit enemy from the main series.
While game mechanics and a balance between challenge and reward typically bolster a platformer like this into ranks of the elite, Demon’s Crest is so memorable for its tone and atmosphere. Like Super Castlevania IV and Super Metroid, Demon’s Crest is a moody piece with a dark color palette that is as immersive as many of the great RPGs for the console without the benefit of a carefully-constructed story. And although it is less an RPG-hybrid that the original Gargoyle’s Quest, its free-roam overworld and Crest scheme, which allows you to gain and use different abilities to complete the platforming challenges, separate the game from more streamlined platformers, such as the aforementioned Donkey Kong Country games.
A relatively short game to complete, Demon’s Crest remains immensely replayable because of its ability to give the gamer such an engrossing experience, helped by yet another incredible OST (this is very much a common thread of the SNES greats). At a time when it seemed like Capcom could do no wrong, Demon’s Crest is an example of true creativity, crafting a whole world around a throwaway enemy from a completely different series and delivering the third part of one of the most underrated series of all time. (Sean Colletti)
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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