Going back to old consoles and discovering new games is one of the best feelings in the world. Well, for me at least. Playing classics is also a great rush of nostalgia and I need little to motivate me in going back, but hacks do nudge me even harder. They’re an excellent way for budding developers to test out their skills. Hacks can range from bug fixes, difficulty tweaks, or pallet changes on the lower tier of things. Some swap out characters for another, like playing Castlevania with Mario instead. Others create sequels to a degree by remixing stages, or adding completely new levels given the assets for that particular game. Technically fan translations are also mods, but I could easily make a list of the best fan translations out there for Japanese games so look forward to those possibilities in the future.
This list will instead focus specifically on hacks for video games released in the 90s. All of the games marked below came out between 1990 and 1999 for the U.S. for the systems mentioned, which provided me with convenient loopholes. For example, Final Fantasy I debuted in Japan on December 18, 1987 while the U.S. didn’t receive it until July 12, 1990. Another instance is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, which launched in arcades in 1989, but was ported to the NES in 1990. I fully admit to these cop-outs and more, but let’s brush technicalities aside and roundup a bunch of weird hacks.
Super Mario World still looks great today thanks to the amazing masters at Nintendo. There are a lot of great looking 8-Bit games, but generally I think 16-Bit ones stand the test of time better. I didn’t think the visuals could be improved in Super Mario World, but I was wrong. This hack is a complete remastering of the game with redrawn pixels, you know, as the name would suggest. It looks like a modern indie game’s approximation of 16-Bit graphics. One rarely needs an excuse to revisit this masterpiece, but the visuals are the sprinkles on top of the rich frosting. I want the model of Super Mario World Redrawn applied to the rest of my SNES favorites. Just thinking about that idea makes me drool.
Mega Man III might slightly beat out Mega Man II in terms of my favorite 8-Bit game in the series. So I know the game like the back of my hand. That said experiencing it with Atari like visuals was a treat. Not like oh my god this is gorgeous akin to Super Mario World Redrawn. No, I appreciate Atari Man III for the goofiness of it all. To see a stick jumping around with a buster gun, taking down equally ridiculous smooth sprites is too much. It’s also the newest hack on this list as it was released on January 18th this year. There were more extensive mods that created all new adventures using the engine of Mega Man III, but this was definitely my favorite, again, for the sheer zaniness of it all.
I could easily write a list dedicated to Streets of Rage 2 character swaps. Out of the dozen, or so I tinkered with finding the one that replaced Max with Diglett was my favorite. Diglett is way out of place and not just because he’s a Pokémon in a Sega title. His sprite is comprised of his head and the ground below so seeing it jump up is weird enough. What’s more it can pick up weapons with invisible hands. The angry sprite of Diglett's furrowed eyebrows brandishing a knife or pipe is hilarious. It’s silly I know, but the mod is also adorable making Diglett my new number one Pokémon. I’m going to start building a website dedicated to photoshopping Diglett’s angry sprite into inappropriate situations. He’s going to be the next big meme, just you wait and see!
Equally as silly we have fat Sonic. While there were some other interesting mods that created new levels from the assets of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, well, I just couldn’t help myself with this one. I mean look at that picture above me. Sonic with man boobs is inherently funny. What made him so? Well all of the rings have been turned into onion rings so every one collected makes him gain poundage. He can loose it by running, or through social boxes. If he eats too much he will no longer move and quickly die of what I assume is a heart attack. Zaniness aside, it’s actually quite brilliant as it adds another obstacle for players to avoid aside from the robotic enemies. I’m sure that wasn’t the author’s intent, but hey, I’ll throw him/her a bone.
Wilford Brimley is probably known more commonly today as that guy on TV that talks about diabetes. Who am I kidding, no one watches TV anymore. I mean the guy who talks about diabetes in those "hilarious" YouTube remixes. He’s an Internet meme so obviously it was only a matter of time before he was parodied into a video game and the first one I found was for River City Ransom. Sprites, both you and the baddies, look like the actor and you’re off to stop Kellogg, yes that Kellogg, and his cereal empire to save your beloved Quaker Oates. Wilford Brimley Battle is just another goofy hack that proved to be more entering then I thought and I feel great laughing about it because thankfully Wilford Brimley is still with us. On a side note go watch Cocoon, it’s great!
Capcom used to make amazing licensed based games for the NES and SNES and among them was Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. There was a sequel, which was good, but not as memorable as the first. I’ve always wanted another one, or to see Capcom tackle another Disney property. This hack isn’t a great sequel, but it sure is weird. It’s the most meta mod on the list as Lomax is attacking Chip and Dale’s game by adding in new sprites, like Mario, Scrooge McDuck, and those flying bees from Mario 2, to screw with their original quest. I should also mention it’s all in Russian, not that there’s much language you need to read in order to enjoy it, but it’s an odd note I knew to include. I guess they love Chip and Dale over there.
Darkwing Duck is another great Capcom NES title that’s not quite as good as Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, but stands above most licensed games for the console. Anyway, this hack is practically a new game with different levels all seemingly taking place in Japan. All of the text is even in Japanese and you visit an assortment of the land’s locales like samurai temples. It’s really hard too as the default exclaims right when you boot it up. As I played it I knew it seemed familiar when it dawned on me. I should have known with Edoropolis in the title, but there are just levels from another NES game, Kyattou Ninden Teyandee, which is about a bunch of Samurai Cats with Power Rangers esque powers. Why anyone would want to put Darkwing in there is beyond me, but hey, this is a bizarre list.
Let’s bounce back to the SNES with another Mario hack this time for Super Mario Kart. No new levels just an assortment of replacement characters as the title implies. There are some lackluster editions like Mario and Luigi bald editions, and Donkey Kong Jr. smoking a cigarette, but the rest are pure gold including Princess Leah, Hatsune Miku, and Bomberman. Better yet Pac-Man and Cactuar from the Final Fantasy series are here too, but have no karts. It’s silly, but it was enough to get me replaying the whole game as Cactuar. I just needed to see it and by that logic I also needed to watch Pac-Man destroy the competition as well. On a closing note, items have also been swapped out like instead of red shell there’s red leek, a trademark of Hatsune Miku.
This, if the name didn’t give it away, is a hack of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, aka the best Mario spinoff. Aside from replacing Mario and his other party members with the titular Axem Rangers, this mod is a complete reversal of the original game’s progression. You begin in Bowser’s Castle, but afterwards you are sent to Barrel Volcano, so you’re essentially trying to make your way back to that side of the map, but again, backwards. Most locations are the same, albeit altered slightly, but it was overall a little let down in terms of tone. Fighting the Axem Rangers was one of my favorite moments in the game, so I was hoping for an equally funny script, but alas it's not the same. Despite my gripes, hardcore Mario RPG fans should check it out.
Sunsoft’s Batman game is notoriously hard, but actually pretty good in terms of licensed based games and or Batman titles in general. Playing the game as a bright purple batman juxtaposed against dark backgrounds was weird though. I found a mod that corrected Batman’s colors, but this other hack was cooler in my opinion. As the entry suggests Batman is replaced with Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II and it’s a pretty good 8-Bit approximation of him too. Even the life bar was changed to match that of the PlayStation counterpart. Sadly when he punches, hidden blades don’t come out, so I will dock some points. Also the sprite for Batman’s gun was completely removed, so it looks like Ezio is holding an invisible gun while shooting real bullets. Okay that’s actually pretty rad so points go right back up again. More then anything though it made me want a full NES demake of Assassin’s Creed II.
Doesn’t that title sound enticing? It kind of happened with the latest Super Smash Bros. on the 3DS and Wii U with the inclusion of Mega Man and Ryu, but I want something more than that. What better time to suggest this concept then with the Nintendo Switch launch. A fighting game would be typical, but let’s go for a brawler just like this hack of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES. Instead of the shelled brothers, players can choose Oni Link, Luigi, Arthur, or Mega Man. The idea is sound, but man alive is this terribly programmed. The characters are ugly and they transition into turtles with altering moves like jumping. To be fair, the original game is pretty rough too, so tampering with this rom board must have been tricky. Until we get my dream brawler on the Nintendo Switch everyone will have to settle with this for now.
In a world filled with an obnoxious amount of zombie games, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t wish for a Zombies Ate My Neighbors sequel. Technically there was one, Ghoul Patrol, which was also released on the SNES, but it’s high time for a resurrection. Admittedly it’s not the best-designed experience as it feels more like an intricate Pac-Man game designed to eat quarters. Level layouts are simplistic and while there are a plethora of zones, most of them look the same. Still I remember having amazing co-op sessions back in the day. This mod is essentially a level pack and had just enough new levels to brighten up my spirits while I wait for Konami to make a new one.
Mega Man X is another SNES favorite of mine and while Mega Man X2 and Mega Man X3 for the console are good, the first holds a more special place in my heart. Needless to say, I was pumped to see hacks for it, but was disappointed around every turn. There’s a few that add new levels or remixed ones, but they are very basic. There’s a mod that adds Zero, but it doesn’t have his classic sword so I didn’t see the point. Then there’s this mod, which is also not fantastic, but I did get a slight bit of warmth in playing as the forgotten Protoman. It’s a neat character swap that changes text and allows X’s third buster available at the start along with some other gameplay tweaks.
Yeah I know that title is confusing, but this hack is for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which is my favorite Zelda game and dang near close as my top SNES game. There were more notable mods for it like The Legend of Zelda: Parallel Worlds, but this hack seemed more relevant with the new game here. When Nintendo first showed footage for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, fans theorized that Link was female or that the protagonist was actually Zelda, but sadly neither of those theories were true. Link is still a guy, but thanks to the fan community, it is possible to play as a girl and not just any girl. In this mod Zelda is swapped out for Link, which is intensely more odd when you rescue yourself from the castle dungeon. Nothing else is really changed, even the dialogue is the same, but hey, if you’re curious and still mad at Nintendo for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, hopefully this will quell that anger.
Let’s continue the girl power with another famous Nintendo princess and a hack of Super Mario Bros. 3. Unlike Zelda’s adventure being untimely the same, this mod places Peach in a whole new world with some excellent new levels taking place on a cursed board game. Plus Princess Daisy takes the place of Luigi. I’m astounded at how extensive everything is. Even the powers have been switched like the fire flower is actually a bomb flower and it allows you to shoot up. There’s even a mushroom that let’s you jump really high like you’re flying. The small sprite for the girls does look terrible and I would have liked if Peach could hover like in Mario 2., but those are small complaints in an otherwise great rom hack.
The original Banana Prince released only in Japan and Germany, which is very specific because most games released across Europe and not in a single country. It’s a shame too, because Banana Prince is an awesome hidden gem on the NES wherein players control what looks to be a caveman, or Tarzan clone, that is fighting against anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables. Currency comes in the form of rings and while you start simplistically with a stone axe, new weapons can be bought via an in-game shop. As for this mod, it replaces the prince with a horned goat boy and all the levels have been remixed. I highly recommend tracking down the original Banana Prince and then seeking out this patch because they’re both worth the effort.
Before Dynasty Warriors depicted Chinese history in a crazy anime style there was Destiny of an Emperor on the NES. This niche RPG by Capcom stars Liu Bei on his quest to unite China, or fight in a war to keep peace, or something like that. It’s a turn-based battle system where soldiers represent HP. For example, if Liu Bei has 300 HP that means he has 300 troops, which is a nice quirk for a mechanic. Now Dragon Destiny alters Liu Bei’s sprite into the hero from Dragon Quest, or I suppose more specifically Dragon Warrior as the U.S. and Japanese models differed. It also adds sprites to towns, like Slimes, as well as in battle. Most of the game otherwise is unchanged, so it’s hard to suggest past a curiosity.
Final Fantasy I is another game containing myriad of hacks. Most of them are like patches wherein they fix bugs, or text inconsistencies while others retool the difficulty, or add in new classes to the beginning roster. None of those are impressive compared to Dragoon X Omega II. First of all, it reduces the party from the start of the game to one, using the asset of a solider, or Dragoon, for the purpose of this game. It’s a new story, new world, and most importantly it switches the genre from fantasy to a more sci-fi approach, something we wouldn’t see in the series until Final Fantasy VI. It reminded me of Alien, but as a RPG. Like Final Fantasy I, this mod is pretty difficulty even more so as you’re alone, but that said, again, truly this is astounding.
Tiny Toon Adventures is an example of Konami doing good work with a licensed game, proving Capcom wasn’t the only one capable. They made quite a few Tiny Toon Adventures games, but this NES entry might be my favorite. This hack replaces Buster Bunny with Mario would have been fine enough, but the group went the extra mile and replaced enemies with classic Mario foes like the Goombas from Super Mario Bros. 3 and those weird dragons you have to squish twice from Super Mario World. Montana Max’s sprite was rearranged to look more like Dennis Hopper’s King Koopa from the live action film, which is a stroke of brilliance. Acquiring items no longer swaps heroes either. Instead Mario changes into a new power suit and takes the former of the previous members included in the game. For example, a feather will grant you the spin attack of Dizzy Devil. Otherwise than those tweaks, the game is completely the same.
Did you know that Undertale developer Toby Fox worked on two EarthBound mods? His first was called Arn’s Winter Quest: Gway Edition and the second was Radiation's Halloween Hack: Bad Fur Day Edition. Both switch locales and reanimate everything while keeping the basics of EarthBound’s combat at hand. The first is more lighthearted while the second is a more vulgar tale. Characters have also been swapped around with Arn’s Winter Quest: Gway Edition being the more interesting of the two, which is why I choose that one instead. Also the nonstop vulgarity got to me. Anyway Ness is kept, but there’s a new protagonist, a dog in pajamas, and also an orange. If you’ve played Undertale then you can definitely see a lot of EarthBound within and vice versa. Wasn’t a huge fan of the mods themselves, but it’s an interesting piece of trivia for Undertale fans like myself.
This year marks Kingdom Hearts’ 15th anniversary. As a huge devotee of the franchise, I’ve been researching fan games for a while now. One because it’s again the anniversary and two because I legitimately want to see a fan made game since it’s taking years to actually put out Kingdom Hearts III. Most avenues turned me up short, but this mod is close enough. Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is a lesser-known Capcom game based loosely on attractions found in Disney’s theme parks. The original had you play as a nameless kid wondering around, but this hack replaces said child with the protagonist of Kingdom Hearts, Sora. That’s about it. I was hoping it’d add more than just a sprite, like being able to wield his trademark Keyblade, but alas this is just a very basic character swap.
Despite my extensive research I could find only one Game Boy hack that interested me. Among the various Pokémon mods, this was definitely the weirdest of the bunch. Naming the hack as Pokémon Knife had me intrigued right away and I wasn’t expecting the results I found. A knife is added to your list of moves on the world map that when triggered, will cut a Pokémon, or character out of your way. It even works to important characters like Professor Oak. I slashed him in the lab and he still spoke, but his avatar disappeared, but then reappeared after I battled my rival. It’s pretty glitchy overall and can easily crash plus Pokémon sometimes come out looking like MissingNo, making it hard to play, but bugs aside Pokémon Knife has to be the most WTF Pokémon mod out there.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is a simple game at its core, consisting of an arrangement of boss battles with puzzling tactics to make it stand out among the boxing games for the NES. That said’ there’s not much one can do with a mod for it other than changing characters and wouldn’t you know that’s exactly what The All New? Punch-Out!! does, switching in fighters from other games in the series. Gabby Jay from Super Punch-Out!! replaces Glass Joe in the first match. Mario’s referee sprite has also been swapped for an ugly version of Wario. Move sets for each boxer seem to be the same as the boxer they replace. It’s not as crazy as I would have wanted, like putting in Mega Man as a boss, but for those craving any kind of new Punch-Out!! should give it ago.
Power Blade and Power Blade 2 are both obscure gems on the NES, so pointing out a hack for these may be a little weird. Basically they’re platform action games starring an agent that throws a giant boomerang. This hack of Power Blade 2 replaces the story to match the Captain America: The Winter Soldier film, darkening the pallet of all models and levels and inserting Captain America as the hero. Old Cap’s shield is way more iconic then a boomerang ever could hope to be, unless we’re talking about DC’s Captain Boomerang. Anyway the original wasn’t easy and neither is this version sadly, making Captain America feel like a weakling to the tamest of foes. There are better Captain America games out there anyway, but do please find a copy of Power Blade 2.
Chrono Trigger is another entry in my top SNES games of all time and it’s definitely the best RPG on the system, although depending on my mood that can alter. That said I’ve been looking forward to Square Enix reviving the series forever. Chrono Cross was good, but it was no Chrono Trigger. The closest we’ve come in decades was last year’s I Am Setsuna, which is essentially a spiritual successor. So it goes without saying that I’ve been trying to get through some hacks for years, but I’ve turned up dirt. The most prominent one was Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, but it never made it past a beta as Square Enix halted development and most patches for the game have been removed online. They’re not hard to track down, at least for this journalist, but since it’s not complete, why bother. It had promise too as it honed in on Magus from the start. Now I'm back to hoping for a true sequel, or remake.