Today, sandbox games are a very popular genre, thanks in part to advancements in artificial intelligence and simulation. Additionally, modern computers and consoles are powerful enough to run these complex games. However, sandbox games on the SNES were few and far between as it was very complicated to run them. Graphics were also quite limited, which made creating a realistic experience difficult.
With that in mind, the SNES managed to pull off some of the first and best sandbox games successfully. Although the games did not have massive realistic worlds like newer titles, they did provide a way for players to craft their own adventures. But more importantly, sandbox games on the SNES paved the way for many of the games that we enjoy playing today, but many of these old games are also worth playing.
Let’s explore the 7 absolute best sandbox games for the SNES.
Chrono Trigger is arguably one of the best SNES games, not only on this list but of all time.
It had the advantage of coming out in the later portion of the SNES lifecycle, meaning it was optimized to take full advantage of the console’s power. But what sets Chrono Trigger apart is just how different it is from any other SNES title, from its story all the way to its vivid graphics.
The game is an RPG with pretty standard fighting elements. There are also boss battles that are complex but they aren’t overly difficult. Like other RPGs, you gain points that allow you to level up, which improves your in-game capabilities. Plus, you get the option to choose between several characters whose backstories are really well-fleshed out, with each giving you unique abilities.
As for the sandbox aspect, the game is quite large, which gives you a lot of places to explore. The graphics are really good, but the best part is how some levels use limited power to simulate motion.
Playing through Chrono Trigger‘s story, you will notice that there are some linear elements, but you are mainly left to explore. The game culminates with one of twelve endings, depending on your choices.
In the 1990s, Jurassic Park movies were all the rage, and companies were looking to profit from the movie’s success.
However, most video game adaptations of movies tend to be pretty bad. Fortunately, Jurassic Park is a pretty good game with a great sandbox to explore. It’s also worth noting that the SNES version is completely different than the Sega Genesis Jurassic Park game, which is a platformer.
The game is set on Isla Nublar, just as in the movie, and you must escape the island with all of its animals on the loose. In your quest to get off of the island, you must explore and shoot or evade dinosaurs that get in your way. In addition to exploring the island, you must also enter various buildings where more dinosaurs lurk to find keys that open up the next areas.
You play through these interior areas in the first-person perspective, which does look a bit dated. However, the exterior landscapes are well-crafted. Jurassic Park is a massive SNES sandbox game that is fun to play, but it can get confusing since it is easy to get lost. The game also does not have a save function and is very long, so you will need plenty of time if you want to do a full playthrough.
- Authentic Super Metroid
- Does not come with original case or manuals. Cartridge only
- Cartridge and label are in nice condition
- Fully tested and guaranteed
Super Metroid is considered by many to be one of the very first SNES sandbox games.
While there were definitely older games that fit the definition of a sandbox title, Super Metroid was the first to pioneer features that are now a staple of the genre. One of the most notable additions is the world map, which is pretty rudimentary by today’s standards, but nonetheless helps the player get a sense of direction.
Super Metroid is the third game in the franchise, coming after the NES and Game Boy titles. Like the others, the game centers around battling enemies, but more importantly, exploration. In fact, exploring the map is the most important part of the game, with you needing to find new paths and unlock others, which can require some backtracking.
Gamers who have never experienced the older Metroid games may find this annoying, but it added a level of depth and complexity that was rare in the SNES era. Because there is so much emphasis on exploring, there aren’t many story elements that would otherwise slow the game down. Additionally, the graphics still hold up well for an open-world 2D sidescroller.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Everyone loves a good Zelda game, and A Link to the Past is no exception.
It is also a major improvement over its NES predecessors, going back to the top-down perspective of the first game. It is one of the best sandbox SNES games because it lets you freely explore the world, trudging through dungeons in a quest to get the Master Sword and defeat Ganon.
A Link to the Past is considered by many to also be one of the best games of the 1990s, or even all time. Its unique story came at a time before the intricacies and complexity of the Zelda universe we know today. Despite having a pretty straightforward story, you do get to explore the massive world on your quest to collect three pendants to unlock the Master Sword.
Besides exploring the map, there is a lot of puzzle-solving and combat in the dungeons. But Link has a plethora of weapon options that you can collect and switch between. The game’s graphics are also amazing for coming out so early in the SNES lifecycle. All of the dungeons are very well designed and with plenty of different enemies and elements to interact with.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
- First RPG featuring superstar character Mario
- Save the Mushroom Kingdom by finding the Seven Stars
- Seven stages and 29 areas to explore
- 1 player
Before Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and all the other 3D Mario games we know and love today, there was a little-known 3D Mario title on the SNES that didn’t receive as much success as the later games. While this game has received a lot of notice from collectors in the last decade, it never saw the popularity of other titular Mario games. But what really sets Super Mario RPG apart is its sandbox setting.
Most Mario games have an overworld where you select the level you want to play, or even encounter mini-challenges. This started back on the NES for Super Mario Bros 3. However, they are not the same as a true sandbox game. In Super Mario RPG, Mario gets to explore towns that have buildings and dungeons to explore. In these locations, you must battle enemies, which works like a typical turn-based RPG.
Super Mario RPG has a lot of creative and fun dialogue that help out its story. However, it has a much more comedic tone than other Mario games, despite the seriousness of needing to rescue Princess Peach and rebuild the Star Road. Unfortunately, the graphics look pretty dated, partly because the game uses an isometric perspective. This creates an illusion of 3D, which was revolutionary at the time.
Final Fantasy III
- Epic storylines with an intuitive control system
- Countless weapons, magic spells, and special skills
- Various side quests and hidden endings
- The unique "Esper" magic system allows characters to cast over ninety different magic spells
Final Fantasy is a major video game franchise spanning several decades. But in the early 90s, it was just gaining traction in North America. In fact, Final Fantasy III is actually Final Fantasy VI outside of North America.
The original version was released exclusively on the SNES, but there were later ports to the PlayStation plus some remakes. The game was a major departure from the previous two Final Fantasies.
Final Fantasy III isn’t the traditional SNES sandbox game. Like other Final Fantasy titles, it focuses heavily on RPG mechanics and boss battles. However, it puts you in a large world to explore freely and forge your own path. But even more massive than the expansive world is the game’s story, which sees you converse with characters that you can interact with and who each have unique dialogue.
For its time, Final Fantasy III was a major leap forward in story-telling and providing player freedom. Of course, the gameplay was also excellent, with unique abilities for each of the game’s fourteen characters. The graphics are also really good for the SNES era, with plenty of details that vary with the landscape and buildings, which are all masterfully crafted.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana has received a lot of notoriety in recent years, thanks in part to a remastered version released on the Nintendo Switch.
The SNES version was a spinoff of the Final Fantasy series, which is why you may notice some similarities. However, its gameplay and mechanics were vastly different. Unfortunately, none of this was enough to help Secret of Mana reach widespread success on the SNES.
The game takes place in an open world that you can explore at your own pace. Similarly, the game’s story is not linear, so you progress as you make your way through the world. Like most other SNES games, it used a top-down perspective rather than a first or third-person view. The biggest downside is that it lacks some of the deep story elements of other titles like Final Fantasy III.
But the lack of dialogue may be a positive thing if you don’t like clicking through tons of boxes. Plus, what the game lacks in story, it makes up for in its gameplay, much of which involves battling with various enemies. Additionally, the graphics still look excellent, with differing landscapes throughout the world. Much of the game uses vibrant colors that really pop, but there is also an excellent soundtrack.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©P.Cartwright/Shutterstock.com.