Last week I published Best SNES Games: RPG Edition, a new article for Mini Fortress that explored some of the best RPGs to hit the Super Nintendo. As this will be an ongoing series intended to explore most genres, this week I’ve decided to get away from dungeon crawling and turn-based battling to look at platformers, perhaps one of the most popular genres from the early nineties.
It was inevitable, platformers were destined to grace the SNES because of their enormous popularity, but also because developers could give their trusty heroes the pretty new facelift they deserved. The SNES era brought back Mario and Master Higgins, but also paved way for new heroes to emerge, heroes like Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong Country
Speaking of Donkey Kong, my favourite ape hit the SNES with style. Donkey Kong Country wowed gamers with its pre-rendered 3D graphics. This style allowed Rare to create detailed sprites with more fluent animations, a style that put Donkey Kong Country on the map. Style aside, Donkey Kong Country also proved to be a competent platformer.
Donkey Kong Country introduced Diddy Kong to Nintendo fans, something that also had a direct effect on its gameplay; gamers can switch between both monkeys on the fly. Donkey Kong is slower, but stronger, allowing him the ability to take out beefy enemies with ease. Diddy Kong is more agile and can jump higher than Donkey Kong making gaps easier to clear. Donkey Kong Country is also known for its difficulty, mainly because one hit spells death for the Kongs. Having a partner available allows you to jump back into the action without having to lose a life; essentially, you can take two hits. This unique partner system also made for interesting cooperative play with one player controlling Donkey Kong while the second player controls Diddy.
Donkey Kong Country has many elements that make it unique including its use of barrels. An obvious throwback to the Donkey Kong arcade game, both kongs can pick up and throw barrels to eliminate enemies. However, barrels are also used as a form of transportation throughout the game. The inclusion of barrels (and vine swinging) made Donkey Kong Country feel much more different than other platformers at the time.
Super Adventure Island
While not as memorable as its NES counterparts, Super Adventure Island is still a fun platformer for the Super Nintendo. It goes back to basics with platforming being the key focus. One hit deaths, skateboards, fruit, and tomahawks all make their return, but Super Adventure Island really concentrates on level design as its strength. There are new enemies with different and challenging attack patterns, plus a variety of tricky jumps and other platforming obstacles to overcome.
Super Adventure Island also takes advantage of its new hardware to create bigger and better sprites, including some awesome Mode 7 moments. Bigger sprites also mean bigger and more challenging boss fights. Of course, boss difficulty can be countered by powering up Master Higgin’s weapons, a new feature for the series.
Super Castlevania IV
Super Castlevania IV is a remake of the first Castlevania game. Players take control of Simon Belmont, once again, in an effort to slay Dracula. While the plot may be similar to the first game, Super Castlevania IV improves the control of Simon Belmont and receives a killer update in the graphics department.
While Simon still suffers from serious knockback, he is given a wider move set that will allow you to avoid such situations. Simon can now lash his whip in every direction instead of just straight ahead. This ultimately makes your encounter with the enemy a less frustrating experience. You can now also use Simon’s whip to grapple hooks which is useful for swinging across gaps. Jumping is also improved, no longer do you have to commit, if you sense danger you can change directions mid-air, something that will no doubt save a few lives. All of these new gameplay improvements allowed Konami to make more varied levels.
Speaking of varied levels, Konami pushed the Super Nintendo hardware back in 1991 by using Mode 7 to its fullest. Konami’s fascination with Mode 7 technology gave us some unforgettable moments, most notably the spinning room that requires you to grapple with your whip until you can land on safer ground.
The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse
Mickey and friends starred in quite a few magical platformers back in the nineties, but none captured my heart quite like The Magical Quest did. Nostalgia melts my brain when I think about this title, much like how my heart melted every time I spotted it at the local convenience store. Why did this title make me dreamy eyed in my childhood?
Developed by Capcom, The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse is an extraordinary platformer. Its varied gameplay keeps the game interesting until the very end. Mickey can bop enemies on the head, but also has the ability to grab and throw blocks; however, the magic truly comes alive with the game’s outfit mechanic.
Throughout The Magical Quest, Mickey gains the ability to change into different outfits. Each outfit gives Mickey a different power such as being able to shoot magic by donning the outfit of a magician. Mickey gets three costumes throughout the adventure with each one being specifically tailored to the level in which you find them. Each level feels wildly different from the last with some containing elements that require a different outfit. Luckily, you have the option to change Mickey’s outfit on command, something that makes the game a lot of fun to play.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
An obvious choice for this list, the sequel to Super Mario World changed how gamers perceived Mario games. Instead of Mario taking the lead, a herd of Yoshis must help Baby Mario find and rescue his brother, Baby Luigi. Having Yoshi be the main character in this game drastically changed what would otherwise be considered conventional gameplay.
Yoshi has the ability to capture enemies with his tongue and turn them into eggs, a mechanic that is used plenty throughout the game. You must use eggs to hit switches, defeat enemies, and find secrets; of course, there are plenty of other creative uses as well. Yoshi also has the ability to perform a flutter jump, a technique that will prove useful for clearing dangerous gaps. It isn’t all fun and games, however, as Yoshi will have to protect Baby Mario at all times. If Baby Bowser’s henchmen steal Baby Mario, it’s game over.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is much more charming than Super Mario World thanks to its crayon art style. This art style matches not only the youth of Baby Mario, but also the birth of new gameplay ideas.
Was your favourite SNES game left off this list? Check the rest of our Best SNES Games series to see if it’s represented elsewhere.