9 Super Nintendo Games and Oddities Too Weird for the SNES Classic

The Super Nintendo was a technical marvel upon release in 1991, with a 3.58 MHz CPU capable pumping out 256 colors alongside the famed Mode 7 graphics, which rendered a background layer at an angle for a 3D perspective effect (one of eight “ graphics modes,” primarily used to determine how background and foreground layers interacted). It launched with Super Mario World, the first of a string of hits—The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart, Super Metroid, Star Fox, Donkey Kong Country—nearly 50 of which sold more than a million copies.

mode-7-graphics-snes Mode 7 graphics rendered 2D backgrounds on an angle for a 3D effect. Nintendo

While many of the biggest SNES games loom large as high points for franchises that still exist, much about the console has been lost in the more than quarter century since. For a glimpse of the strange, the obscure, the inferior and the relevant from the SNES era we combed through The SNES Omnibus Volume 1, a newly released guide to every Super Nintendo game, with the first volume covering more than 350 releases—every title from A to M.

 

16-Bit Brand Integration

Any 90s gamer likely had dim sense of just how many weird, licensed video games were being released, but seeing it all laid out in The SNES Omnibus reveals the staggering scale of shovelware on the system. Sure, I had my copy of Cool Spot starring Spot the 7-Up mascot, but the two (!) Chester Cheetah games eluded me.

Not every crappy movie and TV show can afford the expensive console development cycle today, relegating them to mobile games and app store cruft, but the SNES took all comers. Some of the Super Nintendo movie adaptations make a certain amount of sense: Alien 3, Home Alone, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd, Last Action Hero, Lethal Weapon, Cliffhanger, The Lawnmower Man and the beloved Disney’s Aladdin. But who was crying out for video game versions of Cool World, Cutthroat Island, The Hunt for Red October, The Blues Brothers, three different Addams Family games, Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Beethoven: The Ultimate Canine Caper?

cliffhanger-07-snes Sylvester Stallone is glorious in 16-bit. Sony Imagesoft

The SNES hosted a similar glut of licensed games based on TV shows, including American Gladiators, Eek! The Cat, Goof Troop, Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit and three different Jeopardy! games, which required players to laboriously tap out answers on their Super Nintendo controller using an on-screen keyboard.

 

Ape for eSports

One of the stranger rarities released for the Super Nintendo was the Donkey Kong Country Competition Cartridge created for early game tournaments, including Nintendo PowerFest ‘94 and the Blockbuster World Video Game Championship II.

donkey-kong-country Who needs 40 levels when you can have eleven. Rare / Nintendo

Nintendo only made 2,500 copies of the game, a stripped down version of Donkey Kong Country with a five-minute timer. Each competitor would speed run through eight levels, selected randomly from the eleven levels included in the cartridge.

 

Super Nintendo: Infinity War

While the bulk of nostalgic remembrances seem reserved for 1992’s X-Men arcade game, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse for the SNES was also a fantastic brawler. Captain America and the Avengers was pretty good too. And who can forget Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, with blood red cartridge?

Comparatively, Marvel Super Heroes In War of the Gems has been mostly forgotten, primarily because it came out at the end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, over a month after the release of Nintendo 64 and the revolutionary Super Mario 64.

marvel-super-heroes-war-of-gems-thanos-infinity-war-snes-super-nintendo "Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems," a brawler adaptation of "The Infinity Gauntlet." Capcom

While the gameplay was standard beat-’em-up fare, War of the Gems is noteworthy today as an alternate take on The Infinity Gauntlet comic book miniseries, later to be the basis for Avengers: Infinity War. Players take control of Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Hulk to hunt down the six Infinity Gems. The last boss? Who else but Thanos?

 

Nintendo: Family Protector

Nintendo’s reputation for family-friendly gaming had an additional dimension in the SNES era, when the company was known for censored versions of multi-platform releases. Most famously, the Super Nintendo release of Mortal Kombat replaced the game’s blood with gray “sweat.” But smaller changes were made to dozens of games, like a single word change in 3D fighting game Ballz, from “you gotta have ballz” to “you gotta play ballz.” SNES releases were expected to conform to specific “Content Guidelines,” including bans on “sexually suggestive” content, “graphic illustrations of death,” “excessive force … beyond what is inherent in actual contact sports” and “subliminal political messages.”

super-nintendo-mortal-kombat Scorpion beats the sweat out of Sub-Zero. Midway

More often than the overt censorship of Mortal Kombat, Nintendo’s standards lead to strangely neutered versions of adult content (hardly a rarity in the 90s, a decade that managed to turn Troma’s Toxic Avenger into a kid’s cartoon). Witness: MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head, which turned the horney teen wastoids into skateboarding, pogo stick hopping, chicken-fighting mischief makers in the Bart Simpson tradition. Still, the plot of the SNES game is pitch perfect: Beavis and Butt-head are trying to get to a GWAR concert. Following the same trendline, the Super Nintendo also saw a bloodless Itchy & Scratchy game and a Blues Brothers stripped of Nazis.

 

PC-style Dungeon Crawling

The SNES has long been lauded for its astounding lineup of role-playing games, including Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI and Super Mario RPG. But while the system will forever be associated with epic and inventive JRPGs, the Super Nintendo also saw a handful of innovative dungeon crawlers, including a port of the groundbreaking Dungeon Master, which had players fighting through pseudo-3D passageways—a look that would be instantly familiar to fans of retro, grid-based RPGs like Legend of Grimrock.

Eye_of_the_Beholder_NES_story Bargaining with a drow in "Eye of the Beholder." Westwood Associates / Capcom

But only Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder combined PC-style, 3D dungeon crawling (“the graphics are hotter than you know what” a magazine ad reads, though I don’t know what) with D&D, the acme of all things role-playing. Using D&D 2nd Edition rules (a rule set released in 1989 and replaced in 2000), Eye of the Beholder successfully translated the staples of the genre, including a multi-character party, character classes, and six races: humans, elves, half-elves, gnomes, dwarves and halflings.

Even at the time, people were keenly aware of the split between PC and console gamers. “You send much of the game wandering around a giant dungeon maze killing enemies and picking up stuff. That’s for computer nerds, not SNES role-players!” a 1994 review in Game Players magazine, quoted in The SNES Omnibus, proclaimed.

 

Blizzard’s Forgotten First

In 1994, developers Silicon & Synapse renamed themselves Blizzard Entertainment. After collaborating with Sunsoft on a beat-’em-up adaptation of The Death and Return of Superman, Blizzard’s first original title, Blackthorne, was released for the Super Nintendo—two months before their next title, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, redefined PC games forever.

curse11-snes-super-nintendo-blizzard-warcraft Kyle Varos knows what's up. Blizzard Entertainment

Blackthorne stars Kyle “Blackthorne” Varos, a rad military hero with a shotgun and jean vest who learns he’s not really from Earth at all, but the rightful ruler of the planet Tuul, currently under the thumb of the evil Sarlac and his monsters of Ka'dra'suul. The game garnered rave reviews for its complex level design and smooth character animation created by, according to the game box, “over 1,000 frames of rotoscoped animation.”

Blizzard’s first, largely forgotten, gem can be downloaded for free if you have a Battle.Net account.

 

Gimmicks, Beyond the Super Scope

The Super Nintendo was a haven for game gimmicks, like the “NUOPTIX 3D” effects in Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D, which utilized an included pair of 3D glasses.

jim-power-super-nintendo Jim Power, tied there with Ardy Lightfoot and Lester the Unlikely for most forgotten Super Nintendo character. Loriciel / Electro Brain

“It’s a neat feature, but you get a headache after a while,” Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote in their 1994 review.

piano-snes-super-nintendo-classic An ad for "The Miracle Piano Teaching System." The Software Toolworks

Or how about The Miracle Piano Teaching System, which came with a full-sized keyboard and retailed for $500?

 

Mario Teaches Bait-and-Switch

A formative experience for many an SNES gamer was renting either Mario’s Time Machine or Mario is Missing!, thereby discovering the true nature—the agonizing reality—of disappointment. Both games were little more than Mario-flavored multiple-choice quizzes, with Time Machine focused on historical facts and Mario is Missing! on geography world landmarks. Beyond ruining countless weekends, Mario is Missing! has the dubious distinction of being Luigi’s first starring game role.

marios-early-years-fun-with-letters-16 "Mario's Early Years: Fun With Letters," tricking kids into learning since 1994. The Software Toolworks / Nintendo

But while Mario’s Time Machine and Mario is Missing! were deceptively packaged enough to retain notoriety to this day, the Super Nintendo saw the release of a surprising number of Mario educational games, including the Mario’s Early Years trilogy: Fun with Numbers, Fun with Letters and Preschool Fun.

 

Nintendo: For Your Health

The quixotic quest to make gaming somehow healthy goes back much further than Wii Fit. Just look at Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus and Captain Novolin, two of the stranger games featured in The SNES Omnibus. Endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Bronkie followed the titular dinosaur as he dodged asthma triggers and sought out lung power-ups for his main attack: blowing on enemies. The side-scrolling platformer was meant to help asthmatic kids learn to use daily medication and inhalers.

Developer Raya Systems also created Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeonit’s all about the harmful side effects of smoking—and two games for young diabetics. In Captain Novolin, a diabetic superhero must fight off “aliens” masquerading as donuts, candy bars and chocolate chip cookies, all to rescue Mayor Gooden, who only has enough diabetes supplies to last 48 hours. In between fighting enemies, players had to give Captain Novolin his insulin shots and keep track of his blood glucose levels.

captain-novolin-16 "Captain Novolin" taught kids how to administer insulin shots, one of the many strange games released for the SNES. Raya Systems

Though no one has much nice to say about the gameplay, the limited run of Raya System’s educational games have made them valuable collector’s items.