Last week we took a whistle stop tour of the SNES Mini to see what it had to offer fans of science-fiction. This week we’re casting our eye over the system’s more fantastical offerings in a quest to find the 5 games we think warrant some attention from fantasy fans. If you can find one at the retail price of £80/$80 there’s some serious retro-gaming time to be had here, with some of the best, and longest, adventures the 16-bit era had to offer.
#5 – Kirby Super Star
Okay, this one might seem a bit of a stretch – it’s certainly not your typical high fantasy. It’s not even low fantasy. For the uninitiated, Kirby games are (mostly) platform games about a cute pink orb that sucks enemies in and eats them to swipe their abilities. With Kirby Super Star try not to get too excited over the tagline ‘8 Games in One’ as it is a little misleading – some of these ‘games’ are very limited and best described as mini-games. So why recommend it to fantasy fans? The ‘Great Cave Offensive’ mode is one of the ‘games’ that has got a little more to it. Recycling assets and elements from the other modes into a huge, sprawling maze Kirby traverses searching for specific treasures, each with their own value. Unlike the platforming ‘games’ ‘The Great Cave Offensive’ is much more based around exploration, and is a pretty compelling adventure on its own. Importantly, it is one of the better co-op experiences the SNES Mini has to offer, making welcome use of the 2 controllers the system comes packaged with. Player 2 can take control of most enemy type if player one elects not to eat them, making for a huge variety of characters who can lend a hand. If you own a SNES Mini don’t overlook this mode: it’s definitely on the silly side, but its also undeniably fun.
#4 – Super Castlevania IV
With Super Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts also on offer the SNES Mini gives you an choice of horror-themed action games with a gratuitous ‘Super’ in the title but for most this will be the most appealing. In a retelling of the first NES game, Super Castlevania IV gives us an enhanced, if less precise, type of action game. For better or worse its also one of the last Castlevania games before the series went ‘Metroidvania’ and incorporated more exploration and RPG elements. The classic Castlevania formula is present and compelling as ever as Simon Belmont battles through an obstacle course of classic horror movies monsters to achieve his ultimate goal: killing Dracula. With challenging later stages the SNES Mini’s ‘save state’ function is a helpful addition for when you’re struggling to make it past a specific boss. Super Castlevania IV is a spooky, whip-snapping action game that’s just perfect for when you want to kill some monsters.
#3 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
There’s not a lot to say about A Link to the Past that hasn’t already been said. For many its still the definitive Legend of Zelda experience – its a very different game to the later 3D efforts. If you picked up Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds on the Nintendo 3DS then you’ll find this adventure pretty familiar (Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy was also a direct sequel to this game). Link to the Past is a top-down adventure game with a nice bright colour palette, an epic story and an environment that is just plain fun to explore. The game contains probably the most fantasy tropes on this list: kidnapped princesses, magic swords, evil wizards – but its all delivered with such charm it still feels fresh. If you’re a fan of fantasy and a gamer then chances are you’re pretty familiar with Zelda games, and you’ve probably played this – if not then its a must play. It’s a game most SNES owners will remember fondly, and it certainly warrants a second play-through, but is available in enough other formats that it shouldn’t be a deciding factor in anyone’s SNES Mini decision making.
#2 – Final Fantasy III
The third Final Fantasy game released outside of Japan, it is now better known to most as Final Fantasy VI. Under either name, its a pretty lengthy turn-based Japanese roleplaying game. For fans of turn-based roleplaying games there’s a lot on offer on the SNES Mini, and I suspect it’s these lengthy (often expensive) games that are the main selling point for most. Like Earthbound and Super Mario RPG it was not released in the UK back in the day so its inclusion here is very welcome, though it has since received numerous ports, including the original Playstation and PC. As with any lengthy, save point strewn game the SNES Mini’s save state function is a huge help here. There’s also a limited co-op mode. A second player can control certain characters during battle. While its certainly a nice addition that I’m sure was appreciated by little brothers across the land, you might struggle to find a friend to play along under such stringent conditions these days.
The ‘best’ RPG on the SNES Mini is an incredibly competitive category, but I don’t think it’s unfair to the other games on this list to say none elevated video game narrative the same way this one did. The opening of this game has become renowned in its own right, as has its soundtrack. For many its also a serious contender for best Final Fantasy game (though that is another argument that would occupy several entire kettles of fish) but it doesn’t seem too controversial to suggest that the sprite graphics on offer here have aged a little more gracefully than Final Fantasy VII‘s polygons. If you’ve never tried a Final Fantasy game or a turn-based RPG then this is an excellent one to cut your teeth on.
#1 – Secret of Mana
I’m not really saying Secret of Mana is better than Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda, but I do think its a more compelling reason to tryout the SNES Mini if you’re a fantasy fan for two main reasons. First of all, unlike Final Fantasy III, it’s an action-rpg (albeit a slightly clunky one). Whereas most RPGs give us menus and limited animation, Secret of Mana lets you move and attack without dragging you into a battle screen. To do the best damage with your weapon you’ll still need to wait a while before attacking, so it does retain a little bit of that turn-based feel. It’s not necessarily better but its more accessible and will be less of an acquired taste. Even now there aren’t many games that split the uprights between action and RPG quite as well as Secret of Mana.
Unapologetically continuing to beat the multiplayer drum, the reason Secret of Mana tops this list is that you can experience the full adventure with a friend. The original release was 3 player, but here you have to settle for 2. It takes a little while until you get an additional character to control, which means if you want to play through the full game as a team someone is going to have to spend some time backseat gaming. It certainly has drawbacks, but it is one of the best multiplayer experiences to be had with a buddy on the SNES Mini.