“The suspense is terrible! …I hope it’ll last.”
-Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Switch anticipation has reached a fever pitch. I’ve thrown out all of my throw pillows and replaced them with square cushions with embroidered Switch icons. I’ve taken down all of the lousy wall-art and pictures of my “family” to paint the walls Nintendo red. I’ve made up an excuse about having syphilis so I could get out of work on launch day. I’ve watched the Switch trailers so much I see them in my sleep. I’ve scoffed down every rebuttal and negative review the hacks on YouTube have conjured up against Nintendo’s victorious handheld-home console fusion. And lastly, I set fire to all my Sony and Microsoft consoles in a kind of funeral pyre, watching them turn to cinder and ash.
One of the things I’m looking forward to most with the Switch is the possibility of changing gears (see how I avoided using the word “switch” there?) for Nintendo and bringing us the third-party games that made some of their past consoles so great. Take the Super Nintendo for example, which I would consider to be the greatest console ever next to the NES. The Super NES was crowded with some of the best Nintendo titles of all-time but also some definitive and exemplary third-party titles.
If Nintendo can find the balance of delivering that kind of content again, I have no doubt that the Switch will usher in a new utopian era of world peace and global self-realization. Or at the very least, it could just be a way awesome console. They did it before. Hopefully they can do it again.
Since we’re all hoping for some solid third-party titles for the Switch, let’s remind ourselves of a time when Nintendo dominated in this arena. Here are my choices for the top 20 third-party games on the SNES neither developed nor published by Nintendo.
It was tough to pick just twenty…
#20. E.V.O.: Search for Eden (1993)
Let’s start off this list of unique games with a bang, an eons-long, highly addictive, prehistoric bang. E.V.O. is notable for being so memorable and for being so fun that I completed it and still wanted more. Work your way up the evolutionary food chain from an ichthyoid predator to a thunderous lizard-monster and beyond, arming and “upgrading” your creature in true survival of the fittest fashion by devouring lesser animals for points. Finally, you can make that puppy-monkey-baby you’ve always wanted so you can rule the world and exterminate the dinosaurs. Finally.
#19. Contra III: the Alien Wars (1992)
So much dudebro fun and so little time. Contra III strips down the gruesome difficulty and adds in hideous monsters from outer space for one of the most enjoyable run and gun games on the SNES. We don’t really associate this macho image with Nintendo these days, but some of the Nindie titles they showcased resonate with old school games like Contra III, namely Shakedown Hawaii.
#18. Super Castlevania IV (1991)
No listicle of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras would be complete without the mention of at least one Castlevania game. In this case, I went with Castlevania IV because it has the word “super” in front of it and because it’s a remake of the original from the NES. Nintendo has since distanced themselves from the dark and the supernatural, but things seem like they’re coming back around. Expect to see a lot more from Konami on this list. Now if only they could get it together and come out with another Castlevania for Nintendo’s newest console.
#17. The Lost Vikings (1993)
Silicon & Synapse/Interplay Entertainment
An innovative, multi-character, puzzle-platformer like this would be perfect for the Switch. Puzzle games especially have a pick up and play kind of feel to them which would feel right at home with Nintendo’s new baby. The Lost Vikings was awkwardly hip and presented a real challenge for players dedicated enough to solve its many stages. I’d snap up something like this in a heartbeat.
#16. Out of this World/Another World (1992)
Delphine Software International/Interplay Entertainment
Eric Chahi’s pre-indie scene indie adventure was an early, early cinematic masterpiece that inspired Hideo Kojima and Fumito Ueda. That sentence alone should really make you want to hunt it down and play it for yourself, and furthermore wish for more games like it for the Switch. The modern artsy game (Journey, Rime, Abzû, Bound, Hyper Light Drifter) with its minimal dialogue and emphasis on surreal imagery owes a lot to the pioneering of Another World. It’s time for Nintendo to bring back the art!
#15. Mortal Kombat (1993)
Sculptured Software/Acclaim Entertainment
Just one of several definitive fighting games from the SNES, Mortal Kombat had its violence and gore famously dialed down by Nintendo. Nobody is asking Nintendo to ditch their “family friendly” appeal. It’s what makes them Nintendo. It’s what gives them their charm. However, the inclusion of Mortal Kombat on the SNES and other more adult games on the Switch is a step in the right direction in terms of variety and marketing to a much more mature audience. The brilliance of the 16-bit era is that it did just that. You could play your innocent Super Mario World and then the very next minute uppercut someone into a pit of spikes.
#14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time (1992)
TMNT4TIT is still one of the best side-scrolling beat ’em ups you can find, a great translation of a great arcade style game. If there’s anything the world needs more of, it’s beat ’em ups. Think of the Nintendo Switch’s capabilities in wireless local multiplayer and you’ve got the base foundation for a truly epic beat ’em up. Yeah, if some developer could get right on that, that’d be great. And no, Arms doesn’t count.
#13. Breath of Fire II (1995)
This is what made the SNES so good: tons of RPGs. Breath of Fire II may not have been even close to the best RPG on the 16-bit system but it was Capcom’s and only Capcom’s. It wrestled with high ideas of philosophy, destiny and religion, heavy subjects for Nintendo’s console, though it suffered from an… inconsistent translation, let’s say. There are some fine looking RPGs on the horizon for the Switch. Is it too much to ask for a new Breath of Fire title, Capcom’s answer to Final Fantasy?
#12. Final Fantasy IV (1991)
Speaking of which, Final Fantasy IV (then II) remains one of the most influential RPGs of all time. It relied heavily upon traditions yet paved the way with its innovative ATB system to fuse action gameplay with role-playing gameplay, which we’re still benefiting from today. Nintendo would do well to employ this winning formula of tradition fused with innovation, without sacrificing either for the sake of the other.
#11. Street Fighter II (1992)
Who can forget the game that practically built the tournament fighting genre as we know it? Anyone who played it was hooked. Didn’t matter if you’d never played a fighting game before. It was fast-paced, relentless and addicting. It was so wildly popular you could find an opponent in nearly anyone, and that is something which Nintendo could monopolize on right now. Come out with a fighter so widely embraced that I can walk right up to another person, a perfect stranger, with a Switch of their own and fully expect them to be ready to face me in said fighter. That’s what it was like in the 90’s, except we couldn’t carry around our Super Nintendos or arcade cabinets…
#10. Harvest Moon (1997)
We wouldn’t be talking about Stardew Valley and its brand new multiplayer features coming to the Switch if there was no original Harvest Moon. This addicting farming sim spawned generations of sequels, spin-offs, clones and copies all the way up to Nintendo’s newest console. I already know we’re getting the updated version of the latest and best homage to this classic game, so there’s not much to complain about. The Switch is absolutely built for Harvest Moon, to play it on the fly in short intervals.
#9. Soul Blazer (1992)
I came across Soul Blazer almost accidentally and decided to pick it up. I enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s a hidden gem that’s both Zelda-esque and also evocative of Final Fantasy. A beautiful collision. Now that Square has picked up the suffix of Enix, the world awaits with bated breath at the possibilities in store for the Switch, like Octopath Traveler. That’s high on my list.
#8. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991)
Capcom proved their love for all things ghoulish and spooky with one of the most recognizable games from the SNES. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was a rock hard platformer with so much Gothic appeal, Vlad the Impaler was rolling in his coffin when this came out. Can the Switch return to a time when games were actually both fun AND bearably difficult? I hope so.
#7. Disney’s Aladdin (1993)
Am I going to get sued for using this image? See, that’s the point. Licensed games used to be Nintendo’s bread and butter. Nowadays, video games based on movies and cartoons have largely taken a dive in terms of quality, though there are a few exceptions out there. If the Switch can somehow get back to featuring solid, impressive licensed games like Disney’s Aladdin then, well, you’ve got all kinds of built in interest and hype right there. Give me a Moana platformer! Take my money!
#6. Zombies Ate My Neighbors (1993)
LucasArts was once the height of playful weirdness and nothing matches the beautiful oddity that is Zombies Ate My Neighbors. With an emphasis on two-player simultaneous play, fighting back hordes of the undead and pop culture references was never more delightful. A game like this which is built in sets of stages utilizing either split screen or wireless co-op would excel with the Switch’s design philosophy. Forget Ghoul Patrol, can we get something along the lines of Zombies Ate My Neighbors 2?
#5. Earthworm Jim (1994)
“Off the wall.” No, it’s not wet paint. It’s the development platitude Nintendo needs right now. They’ve continued to churn out some of the great titles we’ve come to expect from them, but that’s just it, ain’t it? In some ways, Nintendo has become pretty predictable. Time has shown that we’re all waiting for the next Mario and the next Metroid. The world is drooling for Breath of the Wild. But Nintendo used to shock us. We already know making sequels for Earthworm Jim doesn’t work, so perhaps some of the more peculiar games to come could give Nintendo a little more of that magic word they call “variety”.
#4. Secret of Mana (1993)
Elegant, optimistic, and different, Secret of Mana remains one of the most beloved titles from its time. And no wonder. What other RPG included so much real-time action? What other RPG allowed you to bring a real life friend along for the journey? It’s this kind of innovation that pushed the Super Nintendo to the top. Secret of Mana was also an epic. Yes, the uniqueness of the Nindies is charming and most welcome but we’re all craving for the real RPG experiences with Nintendo again.
#3. Mega Man X (1994)
Capcom once ruled the day with so many awesome titles for the Super Nintendo but none of them was better than Mega Man X. This is how you reboot a franchise. One of the best games on the system was this third-party action side-scroller starring an edgier Blue Bomber in a more violent and dystopian world. The peachy hairs on the back of my neck stood up at the mere mention of my boy Mega Man during the Nindies Showcase, when they announced Blaster Master Zero. What happened with Mighty No.9 was a tragedy so I’m not necessarily asking for a new Mega Man, just a line of games which live up to the sheer integrity of Mega Man X.
#2. Final Fantasy VI (1994)
Never forget that what is arguably the greatest Final Fantasy of all time found its home on a Nintendo console. Final Fantasy VII would’ve ended up with Nintendo as well, if not for cartridges. But VI proved that Nintendo’s hardware could support the highest standard of graphics, storytelling and RPG gameplay possible. Square was one of the biggest voices on Nintendo’s consoles once upon a time and nothing makes me happier than seeing them come alongside Nintendo again. Will we get a game as conclusive a FFVI on the Switch? Only time will tell but remember that this is the equivalent of a massive, non-Nintendo triple A game.
#1. Chrono Trigger (1995)
There can be only one and that one for me will always be Chrono Trigger, no matter the list, no matter the subject, no matter the question. The answer is always Chrono Trigger. It’s not only the greatest Square game nor even the greatest SNES game… it’s the greatest game in existence, in my opinion. It’s everything the ultimate third-party game for Nintendo needs to be: beyond beautiful, musically inspired by dreams, open-ended, traditional and innovative, uniquely storied, and memorable to the point of being haunting. Nothing can ever top it. Or am I wrong? Ball’s in your court now, Switch.
And now, dear NPCs, I’m sure you can think of plenty others! What are some of your favorite third-party games from the Super Nintendo?
-The Well-Red Mage
(article also appears on Miketendo64!)