Genre hybrids are ubiquitous to the point of meaninglessness in this modern age of gaming. A huge portion of AAA games rely on RPG elements to varying degrees, and once-solitary genres like stealth and narrative adventure games can scarcely find a market in the modern day without diversifying their gameplay to include elements of other genres.
But in the early-mid 90’s genres were more distinct from one another, and successfully mixing genres while ensuring the quality of the finished product was much more of a balancing act for developers. As a result, the average SNES fan tended to see a lot of “safe” genre combinations release in those days; action-RPGs, platforming beat-’em-ups, puzzle-platformers, etc.
But to focus entirely on those games is to ignore a huge part of the frontier spirit that made developing for the SNES great. It was a time for Nintendo to step it up – to justify this new, upgraded console with software that pushed the limits of what was possible within the games industry. And in that regard, every game on this list was a smashing success! Commercially successful or not, the games listed below expanded the potential of the multiple genres they drew upon, paving the way for the effortless genre blending we modern gamers enjoy today.
Cacoma Knight in Bizyland
Cacoma Knight is one of those games you would never expect to make it out of Japan. With its cutesy visuals, anime-style characters and mind-bending gameplay it doesn’t exactly sound like the makings of a mega-hit… And it wasn’t! But any SNES owner would be proud to own this engaging combination of action and puzzle gameplay for reasons I will now expound upon!
Cacoma Knight’s gameplay is all about restoring light and goodness to a corrupted land through the use of magic chalk, which your character is responsible for guiding through each stage. The stages are represented by a single screen of happy scenery that is corrupted before your eyes, prompting you to create lines across the image with your chalk while avoiding the enemies running amok over it. Each time you create a complete shape that part of the image will be un-corrupted, and it’s up to you to keep completing shapes until the entire image is restored!
The experience is super enjoyable and unlike anything else on the system, so be sure to try it out if you ever get the chance!
Even in the 90’s it was unusual for games to truly innovate on the work of arcade classics – it’s a bit like tinkering with the music of classical composers; you do try it, but you’re unlikely to ever surpass the original. Now, I don’t think Firestriker succeeds in surpassing Breakout, but it’s certainly a unique game worth the time of any SNES owner fortunate enough to possess it.
Like Breakout, Firestriker requires you to prevent a bouncing ball from going off the bottom of the screen – but that’s where the similarities end! Firestriker combines that gameplay with a dungeon-crawling adventure in which you control a magician buffeting a fireball back and forth while avoiding enemies and slaying bosses, which is cool enough on its own, but the game’s robust multiplayer options that put it over the top as a robust genre hybrid.
Outlander, while not quite the best game in the world, is notable for blending genres that had yet to be fully recognized by the game industry at large. Though most of the game is comprised of some fairly dull vehicular combat sequences, it’s the on-foot resource-gathering sequences that make the idea of the game engaging. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the game requires you to scrounge for materials like gas, food, water and bullets while on-foot, making Outlander something of a survival game before the genre was even acknowledged by most gamers.
SeaQuest DSV is what you would call a… Hmm… “Aquatic exploration and submarine management sim”? Easily one of the most complicated multi-genre undertakings on the Super Nintendo, the game demands a lot of the player; side-scrolling exploration using mini-subs and trained dolphins, isometric exploration of the open sea using your sub, and all the while requiring a careful balance of upgrade and equipment management.
Though systems like this would hardly register as noteworthy in a 90’s PC game, the fact that SeaQuest DSV managed to cram so much strategic gameplay into a SNES title while maintaining its enjoyability is a feat in and of itself!
One of the coolest games ever made and the primary reason for this article’s existence, ActRaiser is a triumph of game design revered by gamers to this very day. This is largely because ActRaiser performed one of the boldest genre fusions ever attempted in video games and pulled it off; the fusion of side-scrolling action and city-building sim.
In ActRaiser, you play as a god known as The Master trying to rebuild a shattered world. This is done in two ways; through an avatar of The Master during side-scrolling action sequences, and as a cute little angel flying above the overworld when you turn your attention to rebuilding society on the land you’ve reclaimed. The game is a unique and unforgettable experience, and richly deserves its status as the best genre hybrid on the SNES.
That concludes this list of intriguing genre hybrids! I hope that it has not only imbued you with a fuller understanding of the 90’s hybrid scene, but our current climate as well… But most of all, I hope it has encouraged you to never stop trying new things – because you never know when your next new thing might be the next big thing!