Super Aleste (SNES)
This is easily one of the best shmups on SNES. It has everything you’d expect from a great 2D shooter: Gorgeous graphics, rocking music, fluid and pixel-perfect controls, great weapons and power-ups, huge and challenging bosses, cool looking and varied levels, and it pushes out some pretty awesome looking effects on the SNES’ hardware too, with a particularly great use of Mode 7 in one level. I love the numbered power-up system in the game, and the laser weapon, conveniently identified as 2 LSR, is one of the most satisfying in any shmup I’ve played. All round great Stuff.
Shovel Knight (Wii U)
What a great way to do justice to the classic 8-bit–16-bit era of gaming. Shovel Knight is a love letter to all those awesome action platform games on the NES and SNES, titles such as Mega Man, Super Mario Bros. 3, DuckTales, Castlevania, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, etc. And there’s even a bit of modern Dark Souls in there too. It mixes elements from all of those games together with aplomb and also still manages to be entirely its own thing with its own unique identity too. If this game had been made back in the days of the NES or SNES we’d be talking about it now as one of the all-time classics, and it deserves that kind of acclaim now.
Super Smash TV (SNES)
Smash TV is a classic arcade game that works brilliantly on the SNES’ controller and shows off just how versatile that four button diamond formation is. Using A, B, X, and Y to aim in one of eight directions feels like second nature, which is great because this game requires you to be extremely good at moving in one direction while simultaneously firing in the other, so you’d better get good at it and fast. It’s also a pretty hard game once you get past the first few screens, which means it’s going to give you plenty of challenge and see you die many times before reaching that final boss. “Good luck. You’ll need it!” Luckily it’s all great fun, and the ’90s cheesiness and sense of humour really helps round out the experience too. I mean who doesn’t want to put their life on the line to win loads of VCRs, toasters, and of course, lots of hard cash?
Super Metroid (SNES)
This is one of those games that let’s you know you’re in for a treat of the highest quality right from the very start, with a brilliant opening cutscene and stunningly atmospheric music really setting the mood perfectly. Escaping from the space station after your initial encounter with Ridley within the first few minutes of entering Metroid‘s alien world is one of the best beginning sequences to any game I’ve ever played, and it just gets better from there. It’s another game that sits very near the top of most “Best Games of All Time” lists, and deservedly so. I love how the game really just leaves you to explore and enjoy the world at your own pace and how isolated it makes you feel, like a genuine bounty hunter exploring a hostile alien landscape. It achieves far more easily what many games try far too hard to convey, a fully believable and immersive wold that you totally want to get lost in it and spend countless hours playing through it.
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (GBA)
WarioWare Inc. is one of those games that probably sounds crap on paper: Lot’s of silly mini-games that take about five seconds each to complete and with presentation and visuals that half the time look like they could have been drawn by a child—but that’s exactly where its magic lies. WarioWare Inc. is pure unadulterated fun. It never takes itself seriously and that’s why you can just allow yourself to fully embrace it’s zaniness and really have a laugh with it. The fact it’s also extremely well made, with perfectly responsive controls, many genuinely fun mini-games (some of which have ultimately gone on to become full games, maybe not made officially by Nintendo though), and a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when you do manage to survive for multiple rounds, is testament to the whole “sum of its parts” notion. WarioWare Inc. is the sum of its parts and more.
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
The first two Zelda games were great in their own rights but I think A Link to the Past is where The Legend of Zelda franchise really established itself as one of the all-time greats. It’s simply pure genius. Again, it’s the early moments that really set you up for an epic adventure, reading the opening story, waking up in bed and your dad heading off to the castle, and then stepping outside in the thunder and pouring rain ready to go off on your great quest; you know this game is going to be special right from the get-go. And exploring the world of Hyrule has never been so much fun; it’s just such a beautifully and brilliantly realised fantasy realm, from Kakariko Village to Death Mountain. The whole light and dark world mechanic is genuinely inspired game design too. It’s tens of hours of gaming bliss, and, by the time the final credits roll, you will feel like the legendary hero you were destined to be.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Skyward Sword is one of the more divisive Zelda games but I love it. And although the motion controls aren’t always perfect, when they do work I think they’re probably the most satisfying of any Zelda game. It’s certainly one of the best showcases for motion controls to date. There’s a great sandbox to play around in and really explore the nuance of those controls as well (even with it unfortunately being broken into separate areas), with enemies that are brilliantly designed to really challenge you to make use of all kinds of motions and gestures. I love the painterly art style too, except for the slight over-emphasis on blurring in the distance. Other than Ocarina of Time, Skyward Sword is the only other Zelda game I’ve actually completed, so, despite the naysayers, there’s obviously something in it that was fun, compelling, and rewarding enough to drive me to play through the whole experience. I think it’s one of those games that’s better than most people who weren’t fans of it fully remember or realise.
Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
This has to be one of the greatest game compilations of all time, even more so with the “+ Super Mario World” version, which I actually would have put here but seeing as I already have Super Mario World elsewhere on the list I didn’t think it was necessary. Not only does it bring together many of the greatest 2D platform games of all time; it goes that extra mile by upgrading all of the NES graphics to SNES quality visuals (and they look great), as well as tweaking a few other little things here and there like adding in proper game saves for Super Mario Bros. 3 (very welcome). In fact, the version of Super Mario Bros. 3 here is the definitive version of the game anywhere in my opinion, and that alone makes this compilation essential.
Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES)
Balls to the wall ’90s action all the way; Contra III is like a bunch of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies all rolled into one hardcore video game. And it’s pretty awesome. It controls like a dream, while the challenge is high, enemies are plentiful, bosses huge, and the deaths will be many. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This game also has some of the best sprite/pixel art on the SNES to my eye. It just looks extremely pleasing at all times, with enemies dying, parts flying, and vivid colours and massive explosions going off everywhere. The music is perfectly suited to the hectic action too. Pure hardcore fun, that’s this game in a nutshell. It’s one of the very best run ‘n’ gun titles of the 16-bit era.
Virtua Fighter 2 (Arcade)
If Street Fighter II Turbo is the greatest 2D fighter of all time, and I say it is, then I’d have to say Virtua Fighter II is the greatest 3D fighter. It’s simple (by today’s standards) but perfectly formed. I’m sure the series has become more complicated and convoluted since VF2 but I think the perfect balance was struck right here with this title. I never had enough cash to pump as many coins as I really wanted to into this arcade cabinet back in the day but the time I did spend with it was 100% satisfaction guaranteed. And, it’s one of those old 3D games that was made so well I’d say it still holds up basically perfectly today. The controls and gameplay are obviously brilliant, but even the graphics are still really appealing in their own way, and not in a nostalgia-goggles way but more just a great artistry way. If arcades still existed, which they sadly largely don’t, I expect I’d still be pumping money I can’t afford into this game. Just watching the excellent title screen alone still brings a smile to my face.
So, that’s 30 of my favourite games of all time (at the time of writing this article). I know there’s even more I could list but I’d likely end up creating something that’s far too long and self indulgent for most people to even read. Hopefully a few of the titles I’ve picked would appear on your own Top Games list; it would be nice to believe I’ve generally got pretty good taste when it comes to videogames. I’d love to hear from you guys in the comments about those games that you’ve had the most fun with and have spent the most time immersing yourselves in. “But enough talk… Have at you!” 😉