Nintendo’s back was up against the wall. In 1985, with the release of their 8-bit NES system, they effectively saved an entire industry from collapse. Videogames were big business again. But five years later, the Nintendo phenomenon was finally on the wane. They had to come out with something that proved they weren’t a one-hit wonder. More than that, they had to convince an army of parents to buy a new system that didn’t play all those old games they already had, effectively making the older system obsolete overnight. No game company in the modern era had transitioned from one popular machine to the next: Atari’s 2600 gave way to the 5200 and 7800 with less-than-stellar results; the ColecoVision had no successor. Sega’s Master System audience was nowhere near as large as the Nintendo’s when its follow-up, the 16-bit Genesis, grabbed the attention of teens everywhere as a cool new alternative to Mario and pals.
On August 23, 1991, the Super Nintendo finally came out. The ensuing battles in the marketplace—and in the courtroom—have been well-documented. Those who chose sides in the great “Console Wars” still vouch for their preferred system to this day. We here at Paste might privately be TurboGrafx partisans, but publically we remain steadfast in our diplomacy. We take no sides. But on this day of celebration and remembrance, let us shine a light on the SNES’s most lasting contribution: the games, specifically those that deserved more players than they ever received, those not marked by a shared memory of millions but instead cherished by smaller, but no less feverish, circles of fans. These are the Super Nintendo’s ten most overlooked games.
Where Star Fox got all the praise and sequels and remakes, this less-polished racer came and went with little fanfare. The very “Nintendo-like” take on the Virtua Racing genre of the era barely worked on the hardware, but made up for its low frame-rate with surprising, inventive tracks. Plus you could drive a semi. Its mix of trucks and googly eyes would find their way into another under-praised racer, ExciteBots: Trick Racing on the Wii.
This completed a side-story trilogy based on an enemy character from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts that started on the Game Boy. So I guess it’s little surprise that the game didn’t find a larger audience. But the dark themes, luscious visuals and a character progression system that echoed Super Metroid make for an exemplary 16-bit adventure. Luckily, its recent release on the Wii U Virtual Console has allowed a new generation of fans to discover it for themselves.
The Super Scope 6 was a giant plastic bazooka peripheral for the SNES that, sadly, never caught the public’s imagination like the original NES Zapper. But if you’ve never tried one, you’ve never played this crazy one-on-one Mech duel (or its sequel, Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge). Whereas Duck Hunt was a more plaintive shooting experience, Battle Clash takes the giant robot battles popular in the same anime that was just starting to come westward in the ‘90s and puts the gigantic metal trigger in your hand. Given the simplistic input device, the game is more complex and in-depth than expected: not a surprise, as it was co-developed by Intelligent Systems, the studio behind Fire Emblem.
Long before Spore, this game let you take a creature across eons of time and watch it evolve. You begin in the sea, eventually earning the ability to sprout legs and roam the land before growing wings and taking to the air. The ideas out-stripped the technical know-how of the day, however; trying to illustrate such a complex ecosystem, not to mention the changing biology of an animal across millions of years, was a tough ask for the 16-bit system, and E.V.O. lacked the visual wow factor of its contemporaries. In retrospect, few games pushed the idea more of what a simple side-scrolling platformer could be.
Developed by a little-known studio at the time called Blizzard Entertainment, this game took the rotoscoped animation technique found in Out of this World and Flashback and paired it with grittier, more Western sensibilities, from the flash-bang of your shotgun to the Dark Horse comic appearance of your hero. It’s your basic son-of-victimized-ruler-returns-to-save-his-planet story, but in its art and refined control you can see the seeds of Blizzard’s future greatness. And you can play it now for free (if you have a Battle.net account).
There’s a reason this trick-based racing game might have skidded under your radar: Only 300,000 copies were made before a lawsuit by Pixar ceased production. Turns out the computer-animated unicycle bore too close a resemblance to the character in Pixar’s early short “Red’s Dream.” DMA Designs would go on to do great things—as Rockstar North they’d make a little game called Grand Theft Auto—but it’s a shame this inventive, speedy high score affair didn’t have a chance to find a bigger audience.
With Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat keeping the nation’s teens in their thrall, Interplay turned the genre on its head with the parody Clay Fighter. But it’s this other claymation effort by the same studio that’s the more interesting effort. You control a ball of clay that can be morph into a number of different animals to solve environmental puzzles (the cat can walk up vertical posts, the mouse can squeeze through tiny holes) and defeat enemies. The entire game has a bright, jovial carnival atmosphere. In an era dominated by personality-driven mascot platformers, perhaps the split attention given to your various clay creatures doomed the game to be lost amongst a sea of Hedgehogs, Earthworms, and Bobcats.
Casino and card-game collections have a long and less than illustrious history in videogame form. But this sequel to the NES game Vegas Dream is a worthy spin on the genre. The classic and time-tested gameplay of the five included games (Blackjack, Slots, Roulette, Craps, Seven-Card Stud Poker) still work. But what makes this title noteworthy is that it’s closer to a “Trip to Vegas” sim than a straight-up gambling game. You arrive in a car packed with friends and check into your hotel. While you’re playing, strangers come up to you and ask you for help—they could rob you, or they might give you half their winnings later on. These variables add to the sense of being in a place packed with unpredictable people with dubious motives.
This past spring, Natsume revealed they’ll be bringing Wild Arms Reloaded to the PlayStation 4, an HD revival of the SNES original released in 1994. It harkens back to shooting gallery arcade cabinets like ‘Nam 1975 or Operation Wolf, but this one merges the Wild West with futuristic cyborgs. Play solo or with a fellow gunslinger as Clint and Annie fill the scenery and its pesky inhabitants with holes. The two-player cooperative play was a precursor to another pair of cult classics, Sin & Punishment on the Nintendo 64 and its under-played Wii sequel, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor.
Publisher: Vic Tokai
If you’ve ever wanted to try and escape a sinking cruise ship without the pressing fear of imminent death, play SOS. Known in Japan as Septentrion, this game uses the system’s Mode 7 sprite-rotation to masterful effect; as the boat pitches and yaws in the surging waves, the screen moves around you. A clock ticks down while you clamber through the labyrinthine ship searching for survivors. But you can only bring seven in your life raft: Who do you save? Before running through the chipper Super Mario World for the 100th time, seek out and try this under-appreciated test of will.
Since 2003, Jon Irwin has been paid to write about film, techno, ice cream, wine, golf, drag-racing, French children and videogames. His first book, Super Mario Bros. 2, was published last year by Boss Fight Books. Follow along: @WinWinIrwin.