If you’re like me, you saw the news that the SNES Mini was a thing and felt excitement at the prospect of a new generation potentially discovering numerous classics, followed by crushing disappointment and seething rage at the conspicuous absence of Chrono Trigger. For all their talk about how much support Square-Enix was going to give Nintendo this time around with the Switch, they really aren’t doing a whole lot to prove their friendship here. Once the initial irritation at CT’s exclusion passed, however, it dawned on me just how many other amazing games weren’t included despite being some of the best the system has to offer.
I’m starting off with one of the more obscure titles, that being Uniracers (known as Unirally in some countries). This is a 2D racing game where you play as sentient unicycles and race down twisty-turny tracks while avoiding hazards, and it’s amazing. Especially in 2-player mode. You can do tricks to build up speed, but you have to time them so that the next sudden shift in direction doesn’t catch you in midair, causing you to lose precious seconds and fall behind. This one was made by little-known developer DMA Design, who has sadly languished in relative obscurity since Uniracers, developing games like Grand Theft Auto that no one has ever heard of. I think that’s a series about a piano that steals itself or something?
Lufia 2 is one of my personal all-time favorite games, featuring amazing puzzles, great combat, no random battles, and one of the best stories on the system. It can stand alone without the first game since it’s a prequel (and the first Lufia is kind of awful, honestly), and the absence of this one hurts equally as bad as Chrono Trigger. Modern gamers seriously need to discover/rediscover this incredible gem.
Breath of Fire
Breath of Fire is one of the tougher sells, what with its fairly rough translation and tendency to feel grindy. Still, push past that and you’ll discover one of the more weirdly charming games for the SNES. It’s also an early adopter of the day/night system; an early part of the game requires waiting until nighttime to sneak into a town while all the soldiers present there are asleep. Little things like this add up to make Breath of Fire a surprisingly great experience.
Breath of Fire 2
The sequel to Breath of Fire is an even tougher sell because it has an even worse translation and tons of random battles. It’s absolutely 100% worth it in the end, though. You eventually build up a town and can recruit NPCs from various locations around the world to live there, and you can customize your party members to a certain extent by fusing them with shamans found in random places. All of this combines with an unexpectedly dark story, campy charm, great combat, a great soundtrack, and some of the weirdest game sequences you’ll see on the SNES or any other system. I mean, you fight an evil statue inside of a whale and recruit a living grass person. Also, you spend a fair portion of the early game trying to clear the name of your thief friend Bow, who’s a dog. Obviously. Oh, and this one uses a day/night cycle, too. It’s a pretty incredible game once you get used to its weirdness.
Half challenging side-scrolling action game and half city (well, village) management game, Actraiser is a weird one, but we’re talking the kind of weirdness that sticks with you and makes a serious impression. You play as God, basically, and you have to fix the world up and beat Satan. Nintendo censorship kept the developers from actually referring to the characters thusly, but come on—we all know what’s up. Actraiser also has a hugely memorable soundtrack. The Fillmore level in particular has an insanely catchy theme bound to get stuck in players’ minds.
Illusion of Gaia
Speaking of Nintendo censorship, Illusion of Gaia (known as Illusion of Time in some places) has some seriously deep stuff on display, but a lot of that had to be pared down or left implied for censorship reasons. That’s not enough to ruin the game by any means, and there are some great gameplay features on display here like a system that keeps you from ever having to grind. Illusion of Gaia is the second game in one of the weirder trilogies out there, and while the elusive Terranigma would also be a great choice—especially since it never received a North American release—Illusion of Gaia is the one that stands out the most in my mind.
Final Fantasy 4
Final Fantasy 4 isn’t as good of a game as Final Fantasy 6, which is included in the SNES Mini under its original name, Final Fantasy 3, but it’s really where the series hit its stride in the eyes of most people. The translation has some of the most memorably weird lines in gaming history (“you spoony bard!”), but also manages to create a genuine sense of drama and tragedy at times. The amazing soundtrack certainly helps with that, as do the memorable characters. Honestly, this is the game that I’m most surprised isn’t being included, because it seems like a shoe-in.
These last two were always unlikely to happen, but given the inclusion of the never-released Star Fox 2, they don’t seem quite as unrealistic as they once did. Radical Dreamers is a weird game, being a Japan-only visual novel sort-of-sequel to Chrono Trigger released only for the Satellaview. An amazing fan translation exists for it, however, and having played it over and over again, I can honestly say that it’s time that this game is finally legitimately released in English. It being left off the list of games is understandable, but a missed opportunity nevertheless.
Seiken Densetsu 3
Of all the games that could possibly be localized into English and suddenly released via the SNES Mini, however, none were more deserving than Seiken Densetsu 3. Square-Enix really dropped the ball on this one; this is the sequel to Secret of Mana that was never released outside of Japan, and what sucks about that is that it’s the superior game. It even outdoes later games in the series in numerous ways, featuring a story that plays out differently depending on which characters you choose for your 3-person party, great graphics, a memorable soundtrack, and every bit as much charm as the other games on this list. The fact that I’d prefer this being translated and released over amazing strategy favorites like Fire Emblem 4 and Bahamut Lagoon should speak volumes about its quality.