When it comes to Super Nintendo games, it’s easy to confuse rarity with value; the journeyman SNES collector’s mind may drift to titles like Chrono Trigger or Earthbound, which possess both a high pricetag and and a high level of desirability among collectors… But in reality, these games aren’t terribly hard to come by even without the help of online storefronts.
The truth is that most commercially successful SNES games were produced in high enough quantities that true rarity eludes them to this day – indeed, it’s mainly the strange, the overshadowed, and the technically-challenged that make up the bulk of the Super Nintendo’s most unobtainable titles!
So clear away those preconceptions and prepare to read about some games so rare that you’ve probably never even heard of them… And if you have, congratulations; that’s an impressive recall of obscure retro knowledge you have there!
Unlike most of the games on this list, Aero Fighters is a pretty high-quality game with mechanics that set it apart from the many other shooters available on Super Nintendo. It avoids the pitfalls common to most of the other rare games on this list and went on to spawn several sequels, prompting one to wonder why the original seemed to receive such a limited production run.
The true answer is complicated, as you might expect. First of all, the studio behind Aero Fighters, (Video System; later renamed McO’River), got their start developing games for arcade cabinets – not consoles. And that early lineup includes Aero Fighters, making the SNES edition of the game a port. Now, that doesn’t doom a game to the realm of unattainability by itself… That’s why it’s the departure of Aero Fighter’s original head developer, Shin Nakamura, that is commonly cited as the primary reason behind the game’s rarity. Unhappy with the studio’s move toward developing for platforms with horizontally-oriented screens, Mr. Nakamura departed with several other employees to form his own studio, Psikyo. Though Aero Fighter sequels eventually released on Neo Geo, they were done without the series creator’s involvement, and the original game was allowed to fall into obscurity.
Fun N Games
In contrast to the curious case presented above, Fun N Games is kind of an open-and-shut case when it comes to discerning the reasons behind its rarity. First and foremost is the nature of the game; a suite of SNES-based applications including a paint program, a music-making program, and a few minigames that alternatingly distinguish themselves as unstimulating or derivative. Cries of “Buy Mario Paint instead!” were common in the reviews of the day, and consumers had no problem taking that advice since, according to former Leland Interactive staff members who worked on the game, only about 2000 copies of the “game” were ever produced.
Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally/Speed Racer
The result of a collaborative effort between Nintendo and Life Fitness, “Exertainment Mountain Bike Rally/Speed Racer” allowed players to control their character’s speed and orientation in both games with specially-designed “Exertainment bikes” produced by Life Fitness, a stationary bike capable of linking to the Super Nintendo electronically!
Both games on this cartridge were later released separately, but the very fact that this is a compilation cartridge is exactly what makes it so desirable to collectors – it was only available as a pack-in deal during the initial launch of the Exertainment bike peripheral, making it one of the rarest games available on the platform!
Hagane: The Final Conflict
Widely accused of being a Blockbuster exclusive in the North America, (and with no definitive proof one way or the other), Hagane: The Final Conflict could be accurately described as a mid-tier Shinobi-like. It received positive critical reception at the time of its NA release in 1995, though due to the lag time between the original and North American release, the graphics did not hold up to those of recent titles such as Donkey Kong Country that sought to challenge the capabilities of 32-bit consoles.
Aside from its technical performance and mild gameplay annoyances, (such as samey environments, underutilised game mechanics and poor enemy placement), Hagane is well-regarded in modern day, and one of the most sought-after rare games on the SNES platform for those who enjoy playing as well as collecting.
Super Turrican 2
More a victim of being released late in the Super Nintendo’s life cycle than any other title on this list, Super Turrican 2 is a technically impressive game that traded in the freedom, (and, arguably, some of the identity) of the original Super Turrican for mind-blowing visuals/effects and satisfying action. While not quite as rare as some of the games listed above, the game is unusually hard-to-find considering its pedigree; Factor 5 was a respected studio at the time of its release, and it remains one of the most visually impressive titles on the SNES.
Untangling the rarity of this one is even more difficult than that of Aero Fighters, but I see it as a combination of two, (and potentially 3) factors: #1, Factor 5 released Turrican games on MANY platforms between 1990 and 1996 including the SNES, perhaps leading to production fatigue. #2, in 1996 Factor 5 began to favour the new Playstation console as a destination for their games rather than the SNES, and #3, Turrican as a property has shown some strange symptoms of being in dispute over the years. After being released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service in 2008, the game was mysteriously retired from all Nintendo distribution channels in 2013, and earlier this very month the co-founder of Factor 5 announced that they are returning to the game industry and have reacquired the rights to Turrican!
Due to the not-entirely-transparent nature of game industry deals at the time of Super Turrican 2’s release, it’s difficult to decide which of the above answers is the most complete in explaining the game’s rarity in the modern day. But one thing is for sure – I’d love to get my hands on a copy of this classic gem… Though preferably without it costing me an arm and a leg!
Ninja Gaiden Trilogy
Yet another title that is worth more than the sum of its parts, this Ninja Gaiden Collection is rare precisely because it compiles all the Ninja Gaiden games on a console that did not originally host them. It is also subject to many technical quirks in doing so – from green blood to comply with Nintendo’s new Family Friendly censorship policy to altered game mechanics to slowdown issues. If anything, however, these quirks have only made the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy more of a collector’s item, further distinguishing this collection from the three NES titles that came before.
And that concludes the list of the Super Nintendo’s rarest games! I decided not to include special competition cartridges and experimental software because, frankly, they’re interesting enough to have their own article – and perhaps, one day, they will. But until then, take the time to jot these games down on your retro wishlist if you’re a fan of collecting; because as we’ve seen, despite all the quirks and bad luck that tended to dog the games on this list, they have risen from the ashes to form an identity all their own in 2017… And if you’re looking for a crown jewel to stand at the forefront of your game shelf, you need look no further!