The Best SNES Platformers

Gaming Jump - October 2019

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Nintendo is probably the most famous name in the gaming industry, having created many iconic games, characters and consoles dating all the way back to the 1977 release of the Color TV-Game console.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short, was Nintendo’s third entry into the home console market and was released in 1990 as a reaction to the growing popularity of the Sega Genesis (known as the Mega Drive outside the US). The Genesis had released a couple of years before and was steadily increasing its market share at Nintendo’s expense. With the release of their new product, Nintendo triggered the beginning of what would later be called the first console war.

The SNES and Genesis were very evenly matched pieces of 16-bit hardware, with Sega’s machine having a slight advantage in processing speed. However, this was countered by the larger color palette and far superior sound of the SNES, which led to SNES versions of multi-platform games generally receiving the better reviews.

The SNES would eventually allow Nintendo to win their battle with Sega, as they dominated the worldwide market throughout the generation despite Sega’s impressive North American sales. One of the main reasons for Nintendo’s continued success during this time was their stellar line up of first party or exclusive games, such as Super Mario World, Final Fantasy VI, F-Zero, R-Type III: The Third Lightning, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Platformers are one of the oldest genres of computer games and, although they seem to have gone out of fashion somewhat these days, they were among the most successful types of game on Nintendo’s console. The SNES was home to such outright classics as the genre-defining Super Mario World – regularly cited as one of the greatest games of all time. As well as Mega Man X and Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – two of the finest examples of the action-platformer released in the 90s.

In this article we take a look at some of our favorite Super Nintendo platformers and detail just what made them so good.

Super Mario World

Super Mario World, published by Nintendo in 1990, is often considered one of the greatest games ever made, and for good reason. The game maintains the excellent, tight controls and fun platforming of previous entries in the Mario Bros. franchise while making use of the greater power of the SNES to introduce new characters and mechanics.

The plot involves Mario and his brother Luigi attempting to save Dinosaur Land and Princess Toadstool from Bowser, the series antagonist, and all his minions. The game features more of the iconic side-scrolling platforming gameplay of other Mario titles, while regularly bringing fresh ideas to the table.

Mario can now effectively store an extra power-up for later use and can even fly through the air using the new cape power-up. Super Mario World also introduced Yoshi, a friendly dinosaur that Mario is able to ride around and who can actually eat most enemies – which also provides some unique and fun power-ups for the dinosaur.

Pitch-perfect Mario Bros. gameplay coupled with constant new ideas and innovation made Super Mario World an enormous success on the Super Nintendo and an all-time classic platformer.


ActRaiser

Released in 1990 by developer Quintet, ActRaiser is a unique combination of platformer and city building simulation, with some shoot ‘em up and real time strategy elements thrown in for good measure.

The plot centers on the struggle between a god-like being, known as the Master, and his evil enemy Tanzra. During the competent, if uninspired, side-scrolling platformer levels, players control a statue brought to life by the Master and must complete the level by killing enemies to achieve a high enough score before facing off against a boss.

The city building simulation portion of the game was clearly an influence on later ‘god’ games, such as Populous. In these stages, players control another avatar of the Master, this time a bow-wielding flying angel. Players must help a fledgling civilization to grow by planning their town’s construction and using miracles such as lightning and rain to aid the people. Flying monsters constantly harass the town and must be defeated using typical shoot ‘em up mechanics.

Such an unusual blend of different game designs and focus on philosophical and religious concepts made ActRaiser a stand-out game for the Super Nintendo.


Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Super Ghouls n’ Ghosts, released by Capcom in 1991, is an action platformer and continuation of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series.

Players control Arthur, a knight who must rescue a Princess of the realm from the evil clutches of the Emperor Sardius, before defeating the Emperor himself. The gameplay was similar to previous entries in the series, requiring players to traverse each side-scrolling level while killing as many enemies as possible, although players now had access to a handy double-jump. Collecting armor upgrades would grant Arthur more powerful attacks, the ability to block enemy projectiles, and at least some level of protection from enemy attacks.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was a famously difficult game, with many enemies present on screen and a player character whose armor could often be destroyed by a single enemy hit, leaving him nearly naked and highly vulnerable. To make things even more tricky, the game must essentially be beaten twice – once to save the Princess, then again to defeat Sardius.

All this added up to a very challenging but fun and rewarding experience, even if we were never able to actually complete the whole game ourselves.


Super Castlevania IV

Released in 1991 by developer Konami, Super Castlevania IV received huge critical praise at the time and is still regularly featured in lists of the greatest games ever made. The game was a continuation of the popular Castlevania series and further refined the excellent gameplay and moody atmospherics common to the franchise.

Players assume the role of Simon Belmont, a vampire hunter in 17th century Transylvania, who must defeat Dracula after the vampire lord has risen from his grave to terrorize the realm. Players must complete eleven levels before the final fight, using a whip as their primary weapon to dispatch enemies. However, the whip can also block enemy projectiles and can even be used to latch onto rings which allow the player to cross gaps that would be too wide to jump. Players can also get access to a range of secondary weapons to help them on their quest, such as an axe or dagger, or even a magical watch which can stop time temporarily.

Super Castlevania IV made full use of the power of the Super Nintendo, resulting in some graphically stunningly and evocative level design and one of the best soundtracks of any videogame.


Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country, published in 1994 by Nintendo, was a revolutionary platform game created by famed developers Rare.

The simple premise of the game involves Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong trying to reclaim their hoard of bananas, which has been stolen by King K. Rool and his minions. Players must traverse each side-scrolling level, picking up bananas and other collectibles along the way, while also defeating a wide range of enemies, primarily by jumping on or rolling into them.

Both Diddy and Donkey Kong are normally present on most levels and the payer is able to switch between the characters at will. Each Kong has different attributes, with Donkey being able to defeat enemies more easily using his great strength, while Diddy is more agile and can jump higher.

Players can even get help from various friendly animals, like Enguarde the swordfish and Expresso the ostrich as they work their way through the diverse selection of level environments, such as jungles, underwater caverns, and abandoned mines.

Featuring 3D models, detailed animations, and innovative gameplay, Donkey Kong Country went on to be a massive success – eventually becoming the third best-selling game ever on the Super Nintendo.


Kirby Super Star

Kirby Super Star, known in some regions as Kirby’s Fun Park, was released by HAL Laboratory quite late in the SNES’s lifecycle in 1996. The game was another entry in the long running Kirby series and featured the titular character making his way through eight distinct game modes and mini-game sections, each with their own simple plot.

Throughout all levels, players control Kirby – the small, pink, vaguely spherical character at the heart of the videogame series. Kirby is able to run, jump and even float by inflating himself, but the most important gameplay element is Kirby’s ability to defeat enemies by swallowing them whole. Not only does this kill his foe, but by swallowing certain enemies, Kirby is able to copy their abilities and make use of them himself – allowing players to carry out a diverse range of attacks.

The game even featured a fun, if limited, two-player mode. Players could choose to transform one of Kirby’s abilities (acquired from an enemy) into a helper character which could then be controlled by a second gamer to aid Kirby on his mission.

Kirby Super Star was praised for its charming visuals and depth of content, and went on to become a critical and commercial success on the Super Nintendo.


Super Metroid

Published by Nintendo in 1994 as the third chapter of the action-platformer Metroid series, Super Metroid was a huge critical success upon release and is still often named as one of the best games of all time.

The plot involves the series protagonist, Samus Aran, and her attempts to recover the last Metroid – a dangerous alien creature which has been abducted by the hostile group known as Space Pirates. Samus follows the Pirates to their home planet and begins her mission to destroy them.

The game features more classic Metroid gameplay, with players controlling Samus as she wanders the planet’s various levels, shooting enemies and wall jumping all the while. Players are able to collect a diverse array of power-ups during the game, these provide a variety of iconic abilities – such as allowing Samus to curl into a ball and roll into otherwise inaccessible areas, or providing an electric grappling beam which allows players to swing over large gaps.

Super Metroid was praised by critics for it state of the art graphics, impressive sound design, and wide selection of weapons and power-ups. Even though the game struggled in Japan, it’s huge sales in North America ensured it became more than just a cult classic.


Mega Man X

Developed by Capcom and released in 1993, Mega Man X was a spin off from the popular Mega Man series and the first to appear on 16-bit consoles.

The game takes place roughly 100 years after the events of the original Mega Man series, with the world now being home to both humans and Reploids – powerful advanced robots capable of feeling emotions and possessing free will. These traits often lead Reploids to carry out radical and destructive acts, necessitating a special task force to deal with them. Players control a member of this force, the android Mega Man X, as he tries to stop a dangerous Reploid named Sigma from destroying the human race.

The gameplay is a further refinement of the Mega Man style, with the player running and jumping through the eight different stages, while killing enemies using their arm cannon, before eventually facing off against the stage boss. Some major advances were made to the Mega Man formula however, with the characters movement ability now much improved and allowing players to slide down, climb, or jump off almost every wall.

Acclaimed by critics and the public alike for its variety of gameplay options and excellent graphics, Mega Man X reinvigorated the series and became a fan favorite.


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  • Updated November 5, 2019
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