Nintendo’s SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), released in 1991, was the successor to their original home console, the NES. The SNES competed primarily with offerings from Sega and NEC in the form of the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, respectively. Although NEC’s console was the first of the fourth generation to be released, sales were dominated by Sega and Nintendo. The competition between these two companies is one of the most notable video game rivalries in history. Much of Sega’s success came from their new Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, which directly competed with Nintendo’s Super Mario series. Even so, the SNES would enjoy longer success. This is partly due to the best SNES action games that helped revolutionize the genre.
Although the Genesis was widely successful, the SNES managed to beat it by around 1.5 million sales. This is impressive since the SNES was priced higher. Considered by some to be the best console ever, the success of the SNES continued into the 32-bit era. Its excellent game library and advanced graphics definitely assisted this.
While the SNES is well-known for its contributions and innovations to the RPG genre, its extensive selection of action games can’t be ignored. There are many games to choose from because action games involve a range of sub-genres. However, in this article, we’re going to narrow it down to the very best SNES action games.
Kirby Super Star
Arguably the best in the Kirby series of video games, Kirby Super Star was released in 1996 and technically features eight games. The first six feature almost identical game mechanics, with the last two being a boss attack mode and a selection of mini-games.
While the first game on Kirby Super Star is basically a remake of the first Kirby game (Kirby’s Dream Land), the other five involve new stories and levels. These range from fighting a giant bird called Dyna Blade to racing King Dedede and even exploring a cave, collecting treasures along the way. Kirby’s mechanic of swallowing enemies to copy their abilities is present throughout most of the game. In the final game, however, abilities are permanently obtained and can be selected at will from a list. As well as using enemy abilities, Kirby can run, jump, swim, and even fly for a limited time. The game also allowed cooperative play, with Kirby being able to create another character from an enemy.
Kirby Super Star was universally acclaimed and enjoyed commercial success. GamePro awarded it a perfect score and Electronic Gaming Monthly praising it for the content, two-player mode, and game mechanics. The game gives hours of fun, particularly when playing with a friend. The cave levels, which are reminiscent of the classic Metroid and Castlevania games, are spectacular. Fans of the Kirby series will not want to miss this title. It’s easily one of the best Kirby games, and certainly one of the best SNES action games overall.
Contra III: The Alien Wars
Contra III: The Alien Wars is the first Contra title released for the SNES in 1992. Like its predecessors, the player aims to fight off an alien invasion. Four of the game’s six stages take place in a side-scrolling style, while two of the stages use an overhead perspective. This is similar to the original Grand Theft Auto game. Contra III was intended to contain more comical elements than the previous two games and a more cinematic soundtrack.
As a run-and-gun game, the gameplay is similar to Contra and Super C. During the side-scrolling stages, players can run, jump and shoot at enemies, and even play in multiplayer mode. The overhead stages involve the player navigating the stage to destroy certain targets. Each level culminates in a boss fight, and sometimes there’s a mid-stage boss too. Alternate weapons can also be picked up during stages. However, these are lost when a new weapon is picked up or when the player loses a life. The player can also use a limited supply of bombs to damage all enemies on screen. A spinning jump while firing weapons can also be performed.
Contra III received praise for its improved graphics, including its use of sprite rotation and scaling. Electronic Gaming Monthly said that the SNES hardware limits were pushed, and called it the 8th-best console game ever in 1997. Most critics applauded the way the characters are controlled, as well as the challenging gameplay and soundtrack. IGN called it the best in the Contra series, tying closely with Contra: Hard Corps. In terms of the best SNES action games, it’s easy to see that Contra III deserves a spot.
Mega Man X
Apart from Mega Man 7, Mega Man X is one of the only Mega Man games from the main series released for the SNES. The game came out in 1993 and started the Mega Man X series. Mega Man X largely features familiar game mechanics but follows X, Mega Man’s successor. X is a new kind of robot with the ability to feel emotions. Set in the future, the game follows X as he battles against robots known as Mavericks. These are rogue robots who have free will like X does but with nefarious agendas.
Similar to the Mega Man series, Mega Man X features linear stages that can be completed in any order. Defeating a boss grants a special ability. The gameplay has some updates, however, in that X can also obtain armor upgrades. Abilities like wall jumping and dashing are also new. Completing certain stages first affords benefits, as bosses are usually weak to another boss’ weapon. Terrain can also be affected to make navigation easier for the player. An interesting feature is the inclusion of a secret capsule that gives X the Hadouken ability. This is a common attack used in the Street Fighter series.
Mega Man X was considered to have helped reinvigorate the Mega Man series in its transition to the SNES. GamesRadar and ScrewAttack called it the 8th best SNES game, while most critics rated it highly for everything from the graphics and soundtrack to the gameplay and controls. Gamers familiar with the Mega Man series will find much to love in Mega Man X. Any retro gamer who loves the SNES will consider this one of the best SNES action games.
Donkey Kong Country
Released in 1994, Donkey Kong Country rejuvenated the Donkey Kong series. It centers around Donkey Kong and his nephew Diddy Kong as they journey to recover their stolen banana stockpile from King K. Rool and his army of Kremlings.
Although it is a side-scrolling platform game, Donkey Kong Country features varied gameplay. Players can swap between Donkey Kong and Diddy, with Donkey being stronger and Diddy being more agile. Donkey Kong can also pound his fists on the ground to damage enemies or find hidden items.
Levels are completed in a set order on the world map, and generally involve running, jumping between platforms, and either defeating or avoiding enemies. However, some levels have alternate gameplay elements such as riding mine carts, swinging ropes, and blasting out of cannons. Each level features a boss at the end, as well as un-lockable animals which grant different abilities. If the player reaches full completion by obtaining bananas, balloons, and animal tokens, a different ending is achieved. Cooperative mode is also available, which only enhances the enjoyment of the game.
As the best-selling Donkey Kong game and third-bestselling SNES game, Donkey Kong Country certainly made its mark. Total! called it the best game of 1994, and most critics praised it for setting a new standard for video games. The graphics were considered excellent, as it was one of the first console games to feature pre-rendered graphics. While viewed by some as similar to Super Mario World, others thought it was superior, with improvements to the gameplay. If you’re looking for one of the best-looking games on the console that doesn’t sacrifice gameplay, look no further than Donkey Kong Country.
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Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Since Donkey Kong Country was so good, it didn’t seem likely Nintendo would be able to emulate their success again. But they certainly did with Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, which came out the following year. The story focuses on Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong as they set out to rescue Donkey Kong, who has been kidnapped by King K. Rool.
Each world has a variety of enemies and a boss at the end, much like the original. The gameplay is similar, with both characters having their own attributes. Diddy is faster, but Dixie can jump higher and glide using her hair. The other character can also be picked up and thrown by the player. The animal friends also return from the previous game, granting abilities to assist with movement. Some levels feature environmental effects, such as thunderstorms, rain, fog, and even sticky surfaces covered in honey.
As the second-bestselling game of 1995, retailers initially struggled to keep up with demand for the game. Most considered the gameplay to be better than the first game, as the game is extended in length and the graphics even better, which seemed smoother and more animated than the original. GamePro gave the game a perfect score, and it received critical acclaim from many sources. Taking what was good about the original and pushing it even further, Diddy’s Kong Quest is an excellent game in its own right and one of the best SNES action games you can buy.
- Single-player game pits you in battle against Kaptain K. Rool and his army of Kremlings, who have kidnapped Kong
- Advanced Computer Modeling (ACM) graphics are specially optimized for Game Boy
- It's up to Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong to rescue their kidnapped pal
- Over 40 levels, each filled with special traps, hidden items, and dastardly Kremlings
- Second installment of Donkey Kong Country 2
Super Mario World
Known in Japan as Super Mario Bros. 4, Super Mario World hit the US market in 1991 and raised the bar for the Mario series. With the choice to play as Mario or Luigi, the story is rather typical. The brothers are on a mission to rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser and his Koopaling minions. The game is also the first in the series to introduce Mario’s sidekick Yoshi.
While most stages progress linearly, sometimes alternate paths are available. The game can be completed quicker by unlocking Star Road routes by obtaining special keys throughout the levels. Each world finishes with exploring a castle and defeating a Koopaling. The final world is where the showdown with Bowser himself commences. The gameplay is rather traditional, with players navigating through the stages by running, swimming, jumping, and collecting power-ups such as Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Cape Feather. When Yoshi is obtained, he’s granted different abilities when eating the variety of Koopas encountered. These include flying or shooting fireballs.
The game is often considered one of the best in the Mario series and even one of the best video games ever made, being the best-selling SNES game of all time. The graphics in particular received universal praise, as well as the innovative gameplay and replay value. Mario and SNES fans will enjoy everything Super Mario World has to offer, as the game still holds up well as one of the best SNES action games.
- Help our heroes Mario and Luigi save Dinosaur Land from the villainous Bowser
- Classic 2D action-adventure platformer
- Released for SNES in 1990
- Has a number of hidden boards and levels for high replayability
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was released in North America in 1995, and has since been ported to many other consoles, a testament to its quality. Departing from the traditional storyline of the Mario series, this game focuses on Yoshi, Mario’s dinosaur companion when Mario and Luigi are babies. As a stork is delivering the babies to their home, the evil Magikoopa, Kamek, kidnaps baby Luigi. Baby Mario and Yoshi must venture across Yoshi’s Island to rescue baby Luigi from Bowser.
The game was notable for the inclusion of a time-based health mechanic — when baby Mario is separated from Yoshi, a timer begins to count down. The player loses a life if the timer reaches zero before Mario is picked up. Yoshi also has abilities unavailable to Mario, such as hovering and ingesting enemies. This produces an egg that can be spat at enemies and bounced off walls. The levels conclude when Yoshi reaches a goal ring. A special star is obtained if the player achieves a perfect score during the stage. Points are awarded by collecting smaller stars, flowers, and red coins.
The game was acclaimed for its gameplay, with Nintendo Power calling it one of the “biggest, most beautiful games ever made.” Nintendo Generation was impressed with the game’s “size and playability.” IGN considered Yoshi’s Island one of the most-loved SNES games that has stood the test of time exceptionally well. This sentiment is shared among many gamers. As one of the most imaginative platformers released for the SNES, this is one of the best SNES action games for Mario fans or anyone looking for outstanding games for the system.
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