Hey everyone, its time again for when I remember to make an arbitrary list of the games I played this year that I enjoyed and had thoughts about, but not enough thoughts to write an entire blog post about. This year there’s just one problem.
I, um, didn’t really play any new games this year.
But this year was also the 25th anniversary of the Super Nintendo! So I can still do an arbitrary list like the real writers do! Here are 25 Super Nintendo games I haven’t written about before! And to keep my weird gamer cred, I’ll focus on the obscure, non-Mario or Kirby ones.
Here we go, starting strong. Actraiser was one of the first SNES games, and yet felt amazingly ahead of its time. You play as God, and alternate between platforming action stages where you fight pagan deities and satans, and simulation stages where you encourage humanity to build civilization and occasionally blast their houses with lightning so they’ll build better ones. Separately, they would have been two sub-par games, but together they exceed the sum of their parts and create something new.
- EVO Search for Eden
Start as a fish and fight your way through every fossil era until you become intelligent and get to bang the Earth itself. Its not remotely scientifically accurate, and the dinosaur levels in particular are exceedingly bland design, but it let you create all kinds of weird creatures and explore the fossil record through a bizarre, almost nihilistic lens.
- Goof Troop
Most licensed games are drek. Some licensed games are surprisingly good. Some licensed games are just weird because no one publishing the game really gave a crap, and so the developers could get weird and experimental. Anyways, remember that bad 90s cartoon about Goofy and his son? Here’s a co-op Zelda-esque puzzle-adventure based on it.
- Soul Blazer
The first game in Quintet’s Heaven and Earth Trilogy. Soulblazer is kind of a companion piece to Actraiser, being made by the same studio, coming out not so far apart and having a similar premise. The world is barren of life after a king sold every living soul on Earth to Satan for a gold coin each. As one of God’s angels, you must find and release the captured souls of every person, plant, animal and sometimes inanimate object.
- Jerry Boy/Smart Ball
This simple platformer (an early work by a pre-Pokemon GameFreak) is merely a cute, serviceable romp in its US release. The original Japanese release, however, is… also just a cute serviceable romp, but one that features all kinds of additional story! In between levels you get to explore towns and communities, which tend to ignore you since you’re just a weird slime ball, and overhear how the larger conflict is impacting (or not) the people. These interludes are charming, and serve to showcase how the otherwise unrelated levels connect to each other.
- Illusion of Gaia
The sequel to Soul Blazer, taking the basic idea of a world waiting to be reborn and spinning it in a new direction. While Soul Blazer was rooted in judeochristian theology (albeit, one with a shinto lens), Illusion of Gaia takes a more humanist approach, looking at the twin drives of humanity, creativity and cruelty, and using them to explore ideas of fate and modernity.
- Live a Live
Squaresoft is famous for its Final Fantasies and Secrets of Mana of this era, but its more experimental games that didn’t leave Japan deserve more attention. Live a Live tells eight different stories, each a different genre and seemingly unconnected. Each story is short and based around a single gimmick. Only when taken as a whole do all the stories reveal their true connection.
- Hourai High
Comedy is hard to pull off in video games. Hourai High is a Dragon Quest-esque rpg mashed up with a high school anime, yet manages to actually be funny by our jaded, modern standards. The story takes place on a high school the size of an entire island nation, and follows the school newspaper as it tries to reveal the truth about the myriad punks, apple polishers, out of touch teachers and truent officers who are out to ruin everyone’s good time.
Remember the anime Iria – Zeiram the Animation? Sure you do. Anyways the guy who did the design for that animation did the design for this game. So if you like the idea of robots powered by Buddhist statues, get on in there.
- Sky Blazer
This was one of the few games Sony made for Nintendo before the…unpleasantness. Its a really well made action game in the Mega Man vein. A lot of similar games give you weapons and abilities that are only useful against one boss, if at all. All of Skyblazer’s abilities feel fun to use, and you never feel like you’re shoehorned into using any one weapon.
- Pocky and Rocky 2
The first Pocky and Rocky is one of the best “cute ’em ups” to grace any system. A girl and a raccoon run around and shoot cute goblins. The sequel loses some of the polish and two player options, but gains some additional content (what we called rpg-elements back in the day). I like shmup-adventure/rpg hybrids, and wish the franchise had continued that direction and hadn’t pretty much died off.
- Super Godzilla
Godzilla tend to lend itself to action and fighting games, so naturally they decided to make a leisurely-paced simulation game where you play the government organization whose goal is to guide Godzilla toward the bad monsters, destroying the parts of the city that they’re ok with losing and avoiding the military that apparently didn’t get the memo that Godzilla is controllable by a clandestine organization.
- Snoopy Concert
Did you know that Nintendo developed an official Peanuts game? Its a weird collection of point-and-click games where Woodstock is your pointer. If you ever wanted to hear Hirokazu Tanaka’s take on Vince Gauraldi, this is pretty much where you’d go.
- Terranigma. That’s still obscure, right?
Boy, a lot of SNES games were about building or rebuilding the world, huh? There was something really cool about those games, particularly how you’d start with a nothing wasteland and slowly find hope for the world, nurturing it until a real community emerged from the ashes of destruction again. Yet at the same time, the “new” world you created was always just our world. There was something sad and fatalistic about that. There was no room for revolution in these apocalypses, only the restoration of the status quo. The world of Terranigma was brought to ruin by humanity’s acquiescence to Dark Gaia, but we gotta get everything back the way it was when they made that choice anyways, including making sure fucking Columbus existed.
- Romancing SaGa 3
Its like a 2d, jrpg Skyrim that came out a decade early. Yep, that’s the take I’m sticking with. Romancing SaGa is 2d jrpg Skyrim.
- Christ, did I say 25? What was I thinking?
- Chaos Seed – Fuusuki Kairouki
Another of the weird experimental genre mish-mashes of the SNES. This one never got out of Japan, but there’s a fan translation available. It is complex as hell, mixing a roguelike with an RTS with a dungeon-managing sim. You run around a dungeon, adding new rooms to the part you control, recruiting celestial beings to gather resources and fight spawning monsters, building power plants and devices that control the flow of energy and money, all while utilizing the techniques of feng shui.
- Taz Mania
Another weird licensed game, this one utilizes the much ballyhoo-ed Mode 7 abilities of the SNES. You run Taz around a Mario Kart-esque track, trying to eat all the kiwi birds before time runs around. Its weird and loose, but more interesting than another bland platformer, that’s for sure.
- Ok, I’ve just decided that because of the Super Game Boy, all compatible gameboy games count as super nintendo games
- Great Greed
This is just a generic gameboy rpg, so why is it here? Well the ending is great. The king lines up his daughters and says “for saving us, you can marry whoever you want” but instead of having to marry a princess, you can then talk to ANYONE in the room, which includes all the party members and npcs, and the king goes “ok, you’re married now.” Marry the queen! Marry a baby! Marry some dude! Marry the king!
- Cosmo Tank
The gameboy was home to a lot of wild experimental games despite the extreme limitations of the cartridge. Cosmo Tank was an early gameboy game, and yet its still a weirdly progressive combination of shmup, first-person shooter, and action rpg. No one knew what kind of game would succeed critically or commercially in the newfangled handheld market, so developers were able to get away ideas that would be indie darlings today.
- Legend of the River King
The same goes for theme as well as game design. The gameboy was host to tons of games about subjects no other system would get for decades. Japan saw gameboy rpgs about insect collection, dog breeding, wilderness survival, fashion, and many more. Of those games, we in the west only got one of the myriad fishing rpgs. Still, fishing rpg!
- I don’t want to do this anymore
- Fuck it, I’m just going to end with Yoshi’s Island
- Yoshi’s Island
Objectively the perfect platformer. Not a single level is wasted. Everything you do feels unique, no gimmick outstays its welcome. The game’s aesthetic holds up even today, ignoring the dated CGI attempts of its contemporaries for a timeless illustrated look. Some people complain about the sounds baby Mario makes, but those people are wrong. Its SUPPOSED to be an annoying sound, just like a crying baby is supposed to be. Instead of dying when you are hit, the game offers you a buffer period with which a player can recover. The noise and countdown help make sure that the player is still being tested during that buffer, and when the player learns to maneuver the levels without losing the baby they are rewarded with additional content. Wanting Yoshi’s Island games to get rid of that flawless system (YES. Flawless!) for a generic health bar is why we can’t have nice things.