The SNES is a console that hasn’t just aged well – its games seem to actually be revealing themselves to be better and better as they mature, with lessons being taken trom 16-bit game design on a regular basis by indie developers even now.
The very best games on SNES are absolute masterpieces, as well as being incredibly extensive sources of inspiration amongst gamers and developers alike – games such as Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart and Super Metroid are all responsible for inspiring countless titles and in some cases, for spawning entire genres.
Some SNES entries in various series are still thought of as the best titles in their respective franchise, even now, stand tall (just take a look at our own Best Super Nintendo (SNES) Games list!)
Yet, with thousands of titles available for Nintendo’s 16-bit console, there’s more to the SNES library than just the familiar, extremely highly regarded titles that everyone has heard of (and played) over and over again.
There’s a wealth of titles that perhaps didn’t get the attention they deserved for whatever reason – usually because they released in the shadow of a more highly regarded title in the same genre or were unfairly maligned by audiences and critics spoiled for choice on the SNES (see our 10 Best SNES Fighting Games list for an idea of how many classics were available for the SNES in just one genre!).
With so many titles to choose from, it is quite a tough task to whittle a list down to just ten titles – but here at Retro Dodo, we’re never likely to shy away from a challenge like that. So come with us and take a look at 10 Underrated SNES Games.
10. The Lawnmower Man (1993)
Based on a little known Stephen King story (which bore so little relation to the film that King successfully sued to have his name removed from the credits), the movie version of The Lawnmower Man was massively hyped as the ‘first virtual reality movie’ back in 1993.
Full of then-cutting edge CGI-animated scenes, it was a critical failure but a modest commercial success – but there wasn’t much appetite for a video game adaptation.
Yet the SNES title – despite the bland visuals and boring enemies in the game’s main run-and-gun stages – remains a bit of a hidden gem. The side scrolling action may look dull, but it plays really well and has an inventive, multiplier-based scoring system.
Not only that, but the sheer variety on offer when it comes to the different types of stage you’ll traverse is really impressive.
Moving into a computer terminal places you in first person, hurtling through a smooth and very fast virtual landscape.
You’ll sometimes enter one of these stages and be armed, taking down digital enemies before moving swiftly on through the stage again.
Mode 7-powered, third person flying/shooting sections are also on offer and feature some breathtakingly fast levels with beautifully stylised visuals. Logic puzzle minigames offer bonuses at some in-game terminals too – but the piece de resistance is the game’s phenomenal soundtrack, which in my opinion is still among the best in-game music of all time.
Tarnished unfairly by its association with the awful film, The Lawnmower Man absolutely earns its place on the list of the 10 Most Underrated SNES Games.
9. Super Adventure Island (1992)
Though released after Adventure Island II on the NES, Super Adventure Island really went back to basics with its platforming gameplay.
Newing close to the formula of the original game – which was actually an adaptation of Wonder Boy arcade game, the character and title rights to which had already been sold to Sega, necessitating the change to Adventure Island by publisher Hudson Soft.
It’s a really straightforward, very arcadey platformer – dismissed as dated and basic upon release, it’s a very pure challenge and is another game that features an excellent 16-bit soundtrack, with Super Adventure Island’s surprisingly good tunes provided by Yuzo Kushiro, most famous for the phenomenal music found in the Streets of Rage games.
8. Nosferatu (1994)
A brilliantly Gothic, very cinematic platform game, Nosferatu is often criminally overlooked. Though fairly slow paced, the excellent atmosphere and great audiovisual style are an impressive achievement on the 16-bit console.
One of the reasons it was marked down by critics was the lack of any save or password function, which is a perfectly valid criticism of the game – this made it incredibly hard to make progress.
However, these days – with save states available, for example – that particular issue can be ‘fixed’, elevating Nosferatu somewhat and demonstrating that it’s absolutely one of the ten most underrated SNES games.
7. Goof Troop (1993)
Though Capcom superstar Shinji Mikami is most famous for the iconic, genre-defining Resident Evil, one of his earliest game credits came in the form of Designer for Disney-licensed puzzle game, Goof Troop.
A far cry from Resident Evil, Goof Troop is a one or two player puzzle game in which Goofy and his son Max solve block-pushing puzzles and defeat bad guys by throwing anything they can get their hands on at them. It’s charming, it’s beautifully presented and it’s a fairly unique experience too.
Often dismissed because of its slight lack of challenge, it’s a fun title that should definitely be more highly regarded than it is; a perfect contender for the ten most underrated SNES games list.
6. Battle Pinball (1995)
As Battle Pinball never made it out of Japan, it’s sadly little known in the West.
However, it’s a fantastic pinball game, which features tables with characters from Gundam, Kamen Rider and Ultraman (as well as a table based around an original character created by the game’s publisher, Banpresto).
The tables straddle the line between being ‘realistic’ pinball tables and more fantastical in style, with lots of fun touches such as a table set underwater (with appropriately aquatic visual effects), in a city under attack by kaiju and even in space.
The visuals use the classic ‘super-deformed’ Japanese style to give everything, including the superheroes and monsters, an appealingly cute look and, with three levels to each table, there’s plenty of opportunity to chase high scores.
5. Top Gear 2/Top Racer 2 (1994)
The SNES became known for its Mode 7 racing games, giving the genre a unique look and feel that just wasn’t technically possible on other machines at the time.
While this meant that players were familiarised with incredible experiences such as F-Zero and Super Mario Kart, it meant that more traditional racing games could often look dated – and were unfairly overlooked.
Top Gear 2 (known as Top Racer 2 in Japan), may not have looked the part when it released in late 1994, but it was a pretty advanced experience in everything but its visuals. With 64 tracks across 16 different countries and mechanics such as vehicle damage, car customisation and even different weather conditions (necessitating the use of wet or dry tires), Top Gear 2 was fully loaded with impressive gameplay features.
It’s easy enough these days to find it too, as it’s also available on the Piko Interactive Collection 2 cartridge for the Evercade (check out Retro Dodo’s Evercade review!).
4. Unirally/Uniracers (1994)
After unsuccessfully losing a court case – in which Pixar accused the developers DMA Design (creators of Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto) of copying the unicycle idea and design from their early CGI animated short, Red’s Dream – Unirally (known as Uniracers in the US), was forced to be removed from sale, which means that very few SNES owners got the chance to try out this excellent 2D racer.
Unirally was fast-paced, well animated and the gameplay was simple and accessible, with a strong, competitive two player mode.
Though the visuals in general – particularly the backgrounds – were a bit dull, the unicycles themselves were full of character and the gameplay was incredibly addictive.
It’s a real shame that Unirally became so hard to get hold of after what DMA Design felt was unfair legal action – as DMA developer Mike Dailly commented, “The problem with Pixar was that they seemed to think that any computer generated unicycle was owned by them.”
It’s a charming and unique game that definitely deserves a wider audience; sadly, it seems destined to be mostly forgotten due to the legal trouble it ran into. Definitely a worthy entry for the 10 Most Underrated SNES Games list.
3. Boogerman (1994)
Cartoony platformers were absolutely everywhere in the mid-90s, with publishers constantly on the look out for the next animal hero mascot with attitude (due to the runaway – pun intended – success of Sonic) or another surreal hero to try and recreate the success of massively hyped characters such as Earthworm Jim.
Boogerman was an attempt at the latter from Earthworm Jim’s publisher, Interplay, but failed to make much of an impact upon release. A Kickstarter to fund a modern sequel and revive the franchise was launched in 2013, but massively failed to reach its goal.
It’s a real shame; the original Boogerman (subtitled: A Pick and Flick Adventure) which sees the eponymous hero flinging snot and burping at bad guys through disgustingly slimy, oozing landscapes – with plenty of puerile humour packed into the game – is a much better game than you may expect, with excellent visuals, great sound and superb animation.
It still holds up well today (it’s another game that has seen a new lease of life thanks to Blaze Entertainment’s cartridge-based retro console, the Evercade) and its offbeat, gross out humour gives it an unusual look and feel, especially given the Nintendo console’s family friendly image.
2. Equinox (1994)
Designed by the still-prolific Pickford brothers (Ste and John, also responsible for the excellent Plok! on the SNES, among other highly regarded games), Equinox is a sequel to isometric puzzle adventure Solstice, which released on the NES in 1990.
It’s a game that has a charming 16-bit style and is a real challenge to get through, but it’s compelling and addictive nonetheless. Adding to its appeal is a superb, ethereal and melodic soundtrack by legendary composer Tim Follin.
With a lack of competitors in the isometric puzzle game genre on the SNES – it was a genre that had fallen out of favour somewhat at the time – Equinox still feels fairly unique in the Nintendo console’s library.
1. Shadowrun (1993)
Here we are at number one – and another game with an isometric viewpoint! With cyberpunk, fantasy and tabletop RPGs in general enjoying a renaissance right now, it definitely feels like SNES Shadowrun is long overdue another mention.
The SNES wasn’t short of RPGs (take a look at our Best SNES RPGs list for a great idea of the very best ones – and yep, we made sure to include Shadowrun on there too!), but with most taking the form of top down, colourful, Japanese games, Shadowrun perhaps didn’t get the success – or audience – that it deserved.
The setting of Shadowrun still feels pretty unique even now, more than thirty years after the original tabletop RPG was released: following an apocalyptic awakening, creatures of myth and legend have returned to the otherwise technologically advanced world in Shadowrun, set decades into our future – bringing real magic and mysticism with them.
It’s a great cyberpunk/fantasy mash-up that allows for high tech to rub shoulders with high fantasy; you’re just as likely to be raised from the dead and guided through your new life by a dog spirit as you are to engage in gunfights with orcs or hack your way through cyberspace terminals after attending a concert performed by a hypnotic, silver-skinned pop star.
It’s brilliantly written, has a superb cyber-noir atmosphere and has some great mechanics, such as the words added into your amnesiac character’s vocabulary once you’ve heard them in conversation.
A superb game that even received a trio of PC sequels – 20 years after its release, Shadowrun more than earns its place at the top of the 10 Underrated SNES Games list.