The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a bit early in the development of the multiplayer experience, and as a result, the three-to-five-player options are rather limited. Still, there are some great games you should check out if you can, and one or two all-time gems.
A good multiplayer game has to have at least one of these four aspects, and the more it has, the better:
Party-friendly: This one’s easy to pick up for newcomers and enjoy the first time even against stiff competition. It’s also good for spectators.
Deep: Multiplayer games tend to be rather evanescent. These games have more meat on their bones, and stand up to multiple sessions or lots of consecutive hours of play on content variety alone.
Competitive: These are the games you play against your friends, build up skills and keep on challenging each other as you go. They’re addictive because of the rivalries they create.
Cooperative: There’s something about working together with friends that can really make an experience special. These do it, and they do it well.
Games can have smaller bits of these elements, and for those, I’m giving them these minibadges. I didn’t forget about these parts of these games, but they may not define the core experience.
Anyway, onto the list:
NBA Jam: Tournament Edition
We’ve finally seen a solid revival of the NBA Jam series in recent years, but there’s something about the original home iterations that still is a lot of fun. Is it the classic rosters? Is it the simple-but-tight gameplay? Is it just the comforting sound of the compressed audio? I have no idea. It’s still great to go back and take on Will Smith with a little kid named Air Dog, and even better if you get your friends Prince Charles and Randall Cunningham in the mix.
Super Puyo Puyo 2 Remix
The first of what will be a few Japan-only releases on this list. It’s very easy to play Japanese cartridges on an American system, and totally worth it for this four-player version of the series we barely got in the States. (You may have played the game as Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine or Kirby’s Avalanche, or caught the localized Puyo Pop variations in the early 2000s.) It’s the king of the competitive puzzler, and my friends and I can’t stop playing.
Super Bomberman 2
If you’re playing Bomberman, you’re probably better off playing it on the Turbografx-16 or the Sega Saturn, but the series had a solid run on the SNES (and largely served to push the existence of the system’s multitap). The second was the last to make it to America, and the best example of the series getting weird.
Another Japan exclusive, Battle Cross was a top-down, single-screen racing game that supported five players. (Actually, it supported six, but the system never did, so… I’m not sure what to say about that.) Consider it the Bomberman of racing games, with crazy item drops and frantic play. A warning: even for an import, this one’s a bit hard to find.
Secret of Mana
Admittedly, a lot of this list is devoted to the kitsch; it’s weird to go back and plug in a Super Multitap these days, so you’re probably looking for something distinct and not a marvel of lasting gameplay. Secret of Mana, on the other hand, is that marvel. You and two others can jump in and fight cooperatively, and by that I don’t just mean at the same time. There are actual tactics in this game, from weapon selection to elemental magic focus. If you ignore the rest of this list (or just can’t grab a Multitap), play Secret of Mana. It’s available on Wii Virtual Console with three-player mode intact.
Super Tetris 3
Japan’s puzzle game scene has always been more competitive, while the U.S. tended to go for the single-player, zone-out variety. Super Tetris 3 is somewhat of a hybrid, then, forming the basis of what would be the multiplayer Tetris experience. It’s a bit straightforward, but that’s kind of what you want out of Tetris.