TheHande’s Top-10 SNES Platformers

SNESlogoAs of late, I’ve had a tickle in my nostalgia tooth and I wanted to make lists commemorating my favourite platformers for the SNES and the Sega Mega Drive a.k.a. Genesis. We’ll start with the Super Nintendo, just because it was a childhood system for me. However, as much the SNES might have had an over-all quality advantage, I think the platformers on it lacked the variety and colour of the Mega Drive to some extent.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There were obviously some serious gems on the SNES if you loved platformers and these are the titles you should definitely check out…

SuperCV410. Super Castlevania 4

Super CV4 carries the title among many as the best game of the classic old school series, before the series devolved into 3D action and CastleRoid type ventures. And I know people will want to have my head on a pike if I don’t mention it. Castlevania 4, indeed, is a very good game. It has creepy atmosphere, great music and top-notch graphics for a relatively early SNES title.

Also, while the game definitely sticks with the hard as balls design of classic Castlevanias, the game does throw the player a bone in the form of Boss Fights, which frequently just come down to whipping as furiously as you can. Herein, however, lies the game’s only weakness. It’s a little easy in the wrong places. The levels are difficult but, in my view, mostly fair (there’s some bullshit towards the end, but it’s manageable) – but it feels odd the game would then make the boss battles so much easier. Dracula doesn’t even get a second form for his boss fight (not a proper one at any rate).

However, I’d say this is a good title from the series for beginners. I can’t recommend Dracula X (a.k.a. Kiss of the Vampire) because I never played it, but I do think Castlevania 1, 3 and Rondo of Blood are all superior titles to this 16-bit remake of the original.

IndianaJonesGreatestAdventures9. Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures

In the mid-1990s, LucasArts took a daring dive into the realm of movie-to-platfomer adaptions in the form of the Super Star Wars trilogy which definitely paid off. Following in the series footsteps, LucasArts decided to give Indy his own high-quality platformer experience. Only difference, instead of three games for each of the films (that had come out at that point), they rolled them all into one.

Greatest Adventures definitely shared some of the outstanding qualities of the Super Star Wars titles. It had the signature music, the signature sound-effects, the look and design and, of course, Sean Connery saying “I’ve losht him!” whenever you got a Game Over. Not to mention those slightly iffy, pixellated screen-captures from the movie serving as cutscenes, but in Indy’s defense, they weren’t quite as dodgy as the first Super Star Wars.

The only reason Indy’s Greatest Hits doesn’t get any higher is indeed the length. Rather than make one, long well-crafted game – they sort of squeezed three short ones together. I have a hard time swallowing that LucasArts could stretch Star Wars, a movie I’ll admit not too easy to directly base game off of, into a full-length instalment, but for Indy they couldn’t do the same. It robs the impact of finishing a singular chapter a little bit, but I don’t think the game’s actually any worse for it.

superstarwars8. Super Star Wars: A New Hope

And speaking of Super SW – yes, the first instalment of the trilogy was in my view easily the best. Even though, LucasArts kept improving the graphic and sound capabilities of each instalment and even added more playable characters, I think the first game really nailed it in the most important area: fun. Super Empire’s problem was the laborious force-power system and the insane starting difficulty in comparison to the rest of the game. And while I felt that Super Return of the Jedi wasn’t as unfairly difficult, that game in turn suffered from extremely confusing level designs that made it possible for you to get lost.

Super Star Wars had none of that. It did have the iconic music, the iconic sound-effects and all the iconic locations from the movie in question. Sure, a couple of the levels were literally just straight-lines to the finish line, but at least you couldn’t get lost. Also, the difficult rose in a fair way and things got really fun once Luke got his lightsabre. There definitely were some superficial parts to the game, like the first Death Star level and Chewbacca (who really came to his own in the sequels) but it never stopped being fun for me.

Which is high praise for a SNES game with no save or password feature. That’s right! This is a single session game that you have to buckle down for in order to beat (though you can pick how many continues you have). For Star Wars fans, Super Star Wars stands as the first truly good licensed game from the franchise and a definite must-play on the Super Nintendo. The sequels are fun in their own right, but have for too many hiccups to make me want to pick them over the original.

MM7CoverArt7. Mega Man 7

The SNES marked the first time that two Mega Man series appeared together on the same platform. And although the X-series games were a bit more revolutionary and progressive as titles, I didn’t have the heart to ignore Mega Man 7. This is an underrated gem in the series and receives a lot of undeserved criticism for trying to offer a fun, colourful gaming experience.

MM7 was the first game in the classic series where the story took centre-stage, but you still got to beat Robot Masters in the order of your choosing in fun, colourful levels, listening to catchy music and using fun Master Weapons as you took down your robotic foes. And it probably had the most epic opening of the entire classic series (yes, more epic than the anime FMV at the start MM8).

Having said that, Mega Man 7 was perhaps more of just a reminder where the series had come from and not the next step for the franchise. Never the less, the game had wonderful art direction and great music, and the gameplay felt just as fun as before. Definitely worth a try if you’ve missed or dismissed it before.

SuperMarioWorld6. Super Mario World

As much of a Mario fan as I am, Super Mario World just doesn’t rank as high with me as it does with a lot of other people. I grew up playing Super Mario Bros. 3 more and apart from Yoshi, this instalment didn’t offer anything substantially new to the series. In fact, I was even a little let down that you couldn’t carry items around in an inventory the same way you could in SMB3.

Having said all that, I really loved playing through Super Mario World the first time. I loved the design of the game world and how you could see it all ahead on the World Map. Musically this game was also excellent, featuring some excellent memorable tracks which continue to live on in the series and it definitely had the second best enemy variety in the series (after SMB3). Graphically, it wasn’t much of a leap from the 8-bit classics, but the art-direction and the end of castle cutscenes were pretty darn good none the less.

Super Mario World is definitely cream of the crop as a platformer (it’s a Mario game for crying out loud), bu it just wasn’t special enough in my view to make it into the Top-5.

Earthworm_Jim5. Earthworm Jim

The ultimate multi-plat shooter-platformer of its day, Earthworm Jim is one of those titles that definitely warrants  try. A goofy Earthworm in a bodysuit battling against gooey and grotesque creatures from all corners of the galaxy. How could you go wrong.

Shiny Entertainment stumbled on a star in Jim. This guy appeared successfully on both of the big 16-bit consoles, was a solid game to boot and I even remember the cartoon show very fondly. Jim took you to positively insane locations and used both his gun and his head in creative ways.

As a game, Earthworm Jim is just so much fun it warrants inclusion in the top-5. However, the only down-side of the SNES version and the reason it’s not higher, ironically is the music. Ironically, because whereas the Super Nintendo would usually whoop the butt off the Mega Drive’s pathetic sound-chip, in this very rare instance it’s the SNES version that sounds positively awful in places.

donaldinmauimallard4. Donald in Maui Mallard (a.k.a. Cold Shadow)

Though people sing high praises (deservedly) to the Disney-Capcom titles of the NES era, I feel Disney’s own Disney Interactive titles (made with the help such mid-90s industry giants as Eurocom and Virgin Interactive) never receive quite the recognition they deserve. Eurocom’s Cold Shadow a.k.a. Donald in Maui Mallard is a perfect example of a forgotten gem.

In this game, you control Donald Duck as his detective alter ego Maui Mallard, trying to recover the stolen idol of Shabuhm Shabuhm. Doing so requires navigating colourful levels, shooting down baddies with various types of ammo and turning Donald into a ninja-warrior. The game has some brilliant, vibrant animations and graphics and the soundtrack is also notably top-notch.

In fact, Maui Mallard’s only weakness is the somewhat hit-and-miss gameplay. Generally it’s good, but Donald’s sprite makes orienting yourself a little awkward at times. This is a minimal complaint though, as the gameplay begins to feel more natural the longer you play – but it’s definitely one of the biggest weaknesses of this instalment.

MMX3. Mega Man X

Of course, I let the cat out of the bag a little soon again, but you all knew this was going to be up here. Mega Man X took something that was already awesome and just multiplied its awesome ten-fold. The gameplay was faster, the graphics were more vibrant and the soundtrack rocked harder than every before.

Generally, X1 and 3 are my favourites, but MMX perhaps rises a little above X3 due to its considerably more fair challenge. It’s definitely not a cake-walk, but as you get used to the gameplay, figuring out the patterns of the Mavericks becomes a whole lot of fun. Also, Mega Man X proved that it was possible to make a more serious, grittier interpretation of a classic series and still keep up level variety with a bunch of great locations.

However, in order to take down the final boss, you’re required to find pretty much all the E-Tanks and take part in one of the most droning final boss-fights of all time and this detracts slightly from the game’s awesomeness. It’s still an absolute must-play and my personal second favourite Mega Man game of all time, after Mega Man 5.

dkc22. Donkey Kong Country 2

DKC2 is one of the classic 2-over-1 situations, where a game’s sequel manages to improve in every single aspect compared to its predecessor (see: Mega Man 2 and Street Fighter 2). The graphics were more colourful and varied, the music was more memorable and dramatic, the gameplay was just awesome (thanks to Dixie) and the game felt like a bigger, more epic experience than the first – which was already a pretty awesome game.

DKC2 also provided balls-to-the-walls difficult levels and even though some would even make me want to tear my hair out, I kept coming back because I liked the game so much. This was also one of the few games I would pause just to listen to the music, it was just that perfect.

DKC2 could have easily been number-1 and it’s definitely one of my all time favourite games. It’s only the little imperfections, like the occasionally unfair level design and the fact that you have to pay to save your game that keep it from being number-1.

yoshi-island-box1. Yoshi’s Island

Did you really have any doubts that this was going to be number-1? With Yoshi’s very first spin-off title, Nintendo created a 2D platforming experience that was difficult to top.

Colourful, varied, cute graphics and deviously catchy music combined with excellent gameplay and level design. Not to mention 50+ levels of platforming goodness really made you feel you got your money’s worth with this high quality instalment. Who can forget the excellent boss-fights that forced you to think on your feet, whether we’re talking about the giant Boo, the Moon Guy or being inside the stomach of a Frog.

Yoshi’s Island is simply unbeatable in the SNES library as a platformer experience and it deservedly earned its original spot as my number-1 favourite SNES game.