The Super Nintendo is often regarded as one of the best video game consoles of all time and for all of the right reasons. From its controllers to its design to its lengthy battle for fourth-generation domination against the Sega Genesis, it was a true global success.
And for any console to be a success, it needs games, and the SNES had them by the truckload with more than 717 games released in North America alone (1,757 worldwide). Some of the console’s most memorable games were not those of Mario or Zelda, but instead fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, which would help not make these types of games a mainstay of home console releases.
Let’s explore the best fighting games the SNES had to offer!
What is a Fighting Game?
The definition of a fighting game has seen some changes over the years but there are always some basic truths. At its core, a fighting game for the SNES was largely seen as a best-of-three, one-on-one match against either another local player or a computer.
Well before online gaming was a reality, fighting games on the Super Nintendo were often console-based ports of popular arcade games that saw developers looking to extend their revenue by jumping on the growing home video game console market.
Was the Super Nintendo Known for Fighting Games?
The Super Nintendo was known for a lot of different game formats, with fighting games among them. Games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were already incredibly popular because of their arcade counterparts, so bringing them to home consoles was the obvious next step. While the Super Nintendo will always be best known for the likes of Super Mario World, Donkey Kong, and Super Mario Kart, fighting games played a strong role and are well-represented on any list that covers the best-selling games in SNES history.
What can be said about emMortal Kombat 3/em that hasn’t already been said? It was already an iconic fighting game franchise by the time it was released for home consoles in 1996.
For a 16-bit title, emMortal Kombat 3/em was an excellent port of the arcade game with a fantastic group of character options who must fight against Shao Kahn and stop his quest to take over Earth. Players praised the introduction of new combo moves, as well as an entirely new set of Fatality moves known as “Animalities.”
The only real downside of emMortal Kombat 3/em was the lack of Scorpion, a fan-favorite character who was omitted from the game due to rumors the developer did not want ninjas in the game. True or not, Midway replaced Scorpion with new characters like Cyrax, Sektor, Nightwolf, and Kabal who all made their first Mortal Kombat appearances in this game.
One bonus feature emMortal Kombat 3/em is well-known for is the addition of a “run” button that could easily help close distance between you and your opponent. emMortal Kombat 3/em would go on to sell more than 1.2 million copies on the SNES during its lifecycle, which is a testament to the popularity of the genre.
#6: Dragon Ball Z: Super Butõden
Released in 1993, Dragon Ball Z: Super Butõden was a beloved fighting game for the platform that gave anyone who wasn’t on the Mortal Kombat bandwagon something to play.
Based on the Dragon Ball franchise, the game is made up of one-on-one fighting that makes solid use of Super Nintendo’s six-button controller configuration. As is the case with most fighting games, victory arrives when you deplete the health bar meter of your opponent in matches consisting of three rounds. With 12 total characters in all, there are plenty of Dragon Ball Z favorites like Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, and more.
Where Dragon Ball Z: Super Butõden stands out is that it really delivers a unique delivery method for special moves through different button combinations. Popular special attacks like the Ki blast were initiated by holding the Y and B buttons at the same time.
Another standout aspect of Dragon Ball Z: Super Butõden is the split screen which allowed for the player and the computer opponent to be virtually far away from one another in the game but still appear as if they were closer to the player. Selling more than 1.45 million copies, Dragon Ball Z: Super Butõden was a big hit for the SNES capitalizing on the popularity of the Dragon Ball Z name.
#5: emFinal Fight/em
Even as we tend to think of fighting games as one-on-one gameplay, that isn’t always the case. Games like Fatal Fury help prove that side-scrolling beat ‘em ups were just as much a fighting game as any match-based game. Having previously been a big arcade game success, emFinal Fight/em was ported over in 1991 to the Super Nintendo where it would go on to sell 1.48 million games worldwide.
The Super Nintendo port wasn’t without some hiccups as it would remove the two-player options as well as removing a popular protagonist option, Guy, from the arcade version. Additionally, the SNES could only display up to three or four enemies on screen at a time whereas the arcade could show upwards of ten enemies at once.
Even as the SNES version offered up some changes, the core gameplay was left intact and that means it was as much fun to play at home as in the arcade. Controls were great and it kept repetition to as much of a minimum as possible all while maintaining its button-smashing persona to ensure the arcade port was immediately recognizable to a home console audience.
Arguably the best Mortal Kombat title on the Super Nintendo, emMortal Kombat II/em marked a big change in Nintendo’s approach toward the franchise.
Whereas the first Mortal Kombat port on the SNES did not show any blood (who remembers green blood?), emMortal Kombat II/em and Sega’s ever-increasing sales forced Nintendo to rethink its position. With that, we have emMortal Kombat II/em with all of the blood and fatalities a fan of the game and franchise could want. Blood or no blood, gameplay in emMortal Kombat II/em is a major step up from the previous game, and it’s just so much fun to play.
The storyline picks up after the events of the first game where Goro has been defeated and Shao Kahn is back to try and take over Earthrealm. Whether you want to learn the storyline or not, the core gameplay will keep you coming back for more. The game shows off the best of what the SNES is capable of as a 2D game with 12 players to choose from as well as a few hidden characters. It sold 1.5 million games which is a continued testament to Mortal Kombat’s popularity and passionate fanbase.
Like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter is an iconic franchise in the fighting game space, and for all the right reasons. emSuper Street Fighter II/em continued the legacy of its namesake and brought forth a large library of available characters plus a new set of special moves to make you even more engaged.
And, if you wanted a few more characters, the good news is four new additions are included, all of which can take in the SNES version’s eight-player tournament mode. Unfortunately, emSuper Street Fighter II/em dropped during Nintendo’s “no blood” era so any portraits of the characters post-match were replaced with sweat.
Best of all for SNES owners, emSuper Street Fighter II/em has a learning curve that makes it fun for both beginners and hardcore fighting game fans. That’s especially true when you consider the special moves which ranged from very basic all the way to “I’ve tried this so many times I want to throw my controller around the room.” Rest assured for any emSuper Street Fighter II/em player, mastering all of the special moves takes time.
Graphically, the game looks great with familiar background graphics and a welcome soundtrack. To move more than 2 million copies worldwide, emSuper Street Fighter II/em had to do something special, and the whole package definitely is special.
- Game features all ten characters from the original arcade edition, including the boss Eyedol
- Combos, stages, sound effects and spectacular graphics
- Considered by many to be the best Super NES fighting game ever
- For 1 or 2 players
Developed by 1990s giant Rare, emKiller Instinct/em was another arcade port that was introduced to the Super Nintendo in 1995.
While Rare’s original intention was to push the release of emKiller Instinct/em to Nintendo’s Ultra 64 or what would become the Nintendo 64, the console’s delay caused a pivot toward the Super Nintendo. Fortunately, for SNES owners, this was great news as emKiller Instinct/em is easily one of the best fighting games on the console. Even if it lacked some of the arcade game benefits such as higher resolution graphics, the developers got everything that mattered in the game right with the SNES port.
Elements like the 3D-rendered character models gave way to plenty of praise as they pushed the SNES to its graphical limits. The same can be said for the game’s soundtrack and overall gameplay, which, when combined, made for an outstanding title. But where emKiller Instinct/em really stands out and separates itself from the rest of the fighting game lineup on the SNES is its excellent combo system. It’s very reminiscent of Mortal Kombat but in a way that still feels like something that can stand on its own all while requiring plenty of time to master.
emKiller Instinct/em was an immediate hit for the Super Nintendo as it would sell 150,000 copies on the first day of its release and 3.2 million copies in total.
- The first official sequel in the Street Fighter series
- First player vs. player game where you could choose your characters from a lineup
- New attacks, such as grappling moves
- Play in matches against your friends
The fifth best-selling Super Nintendo game of all time, emStreet Fighter II: The World Warrior/em was the absolute best fighting game you could own in the early 1990s.
Released in 1992, the SNES release had a lot to live up to as the arcade version had been played by at least 25 million people in the United States. That led to a huge amount of anticipation for its promised home console release and when it did release, on the Super Nintendo, the numbers were big — millions big. Selling more than 6.3 million copies in total, emStreet Fighter II: The World Warrior/em more than lived up to the hype.
Setting the bar for generations of fighting games to come, the emStreet Fighter II: The World Warrior/em included eight playable characters including Ryu and Ken. As the two best known characters, they were often considered the primary protagonists of the game while Chun-Li and Guile were also fan-favorites.
Street Fighter’s influence over the fighting game genre cannot be overstated as it’s frequently considered the game that took fighting games beyond a niche audience and right into the mainstream. Today, Street Fighter lives on next-generation consoles and it’s because of the success of this title that made that possible. If only the 1994 movie was as good as the game.
The Super Nintendo was undoubtedly home to some of the most influential fighting games of all time. That’s even more true when you consider games this list doesn’t mention like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters or Gundam Wing: Endless Duel, both of which are true classics. Thankfully, games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat remain iconic titles that are fondly remembered for gameplay that still holds up almost three decades after their initial home console release dates.
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