Retro games are back in a major way. Nowadays, it’s not so difficult to find retro game consoles, handhelds, and build-it-yourself kits that help you relive your childhood memories. But nostalgia is powerful, and some of those gaming titles you have fond memories of might not be so great. Thankfully, a few retro games have stood the test of time.
I grew up way back in the ’80s when a moustached plumber was all the rage, and a blue hedgehog was considered cool. Back when Genesis did what Nintendo didn’t, the number of bits your console had was the most important thing ever. It was an era where console gaming was gaining momentum, and we were inundated with so many games (both good and bad).
Recently, I’ve been reminiscing about the good old days — when playing video games was less about how fast your ping is and more about how quickly your friend could come over. This made me wonder which of the many games that were released way back when are still fun to play today, irrespective of how horrible they might look (and believe me, some look really bad).
With that in mind, we decided to put together a list of some of the great retro games still worth playing today.
Let’s start off with the game that made Mario a household name, Super Mario Bros.
I remember playing this game for the first time and being amazed at just how much fun it was. There was no involved story, no tutorial, just a plumber on a mission to save a princess (who was never where she was supposed to be). I still have fond memories of playing the game at a friend’s house (that’s before I was graced with my own NES) and trying to see who could beat each stage the quickest. Surprisingly, Mario’s first outing still holds up today. Sure, the game can be completed in about an hour (if you don’t use the warps), but each minute of that hour will undoubtedly be filled with fun.
Mario still controls just as well as I remembered as a kid and while the newer games tend to be flashier and filled with all kinds of wonderful power-ups, the original is still as enjoyable as it was so many years ago. As soon as you pounce on the first of those darn goombas, you’ll immediately remember why gamers so revere this game. Super Mario Bros. is a great retro game and a part of gaming history that helped spawn the empire we now know as Nintendo.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog
So from Mario to his arch nemesis: the blue hedgehog we all used to love, started to hate, and now seem to love again. If one video game character has had a sordid history, then Sonic the Hedgehog would be it.
Starting life as Sega’s answer to the growing popularity of Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog was a game unlike any other when it was released. Gone was the slow prodding from point A to B, and instead, Sonic was able to race his way across a level at great speed (well, at least back then, it felt fast). Of course, this was all thanks to the Sega Genesis’ blast processing, which, while it did allow Sonic games to have faster horizontal movement, was blown out of proportion by the company’s marketing department. Whether blast processing was as big a deal as Sega said it was or not, one thing is certain, seeing Sonic rush through a stage at great speed was exhilarating for a young kid. While Sonic speeding through the Green Hill Zone is a sight to behold (especially back then), the thumping music played just as big a part in our enjoyment of the title. I remember having the various songs stuck in my head for days on end.
The game’s colourful levels, creative character designs and foot-tapping music make Sonic the Hedgehog still worth playing today.
3. Pokémon Red
If you mention the word Pokémon, chances are that people will immediately pull out their mobile phones and shout “where” and “which one?” With Pokémon Go basically having become a household name, heck, even my mom plays it. Few people out there don’t know their Squirtle from their Pikachu.
While Pokémon Go has done a great job of introducing newbies to the franchise, I still remember playing the game on the Game Boy for the first time. Actually, my brother owned a Game Boy, and I had to beg him to play Pokémon Red (go Growlithe) on it. And after many days of begging, I finally took my first steps into the world of Pokémon. So, what makes Pokémon Red still hold up today? Basically, it all boils down to the game’s mechanics. For the most part, each entry in the franchise revolved around exploring the various towns, capturing Pokémon and then defeating the multiple gym leaders. It’s a simple yet addictive loop that has kept many fans of the series returning to each newly released game.
For a game around 20 years old, it is still surprisingly fun and addictive. Sure, it can be a pain twisting your Game Boy so that the light falls on it just right so that you can actually see what’s going on, but once that’s sorted, returning to the region of Kanto is just as much joy as I remember. There is something to be said for how the game slowly reveals new areas and mechanics to you, making it truly feel like you are on an epic journey to become the best Pokémon trainer (cue the cartoon theme song). Instead of hunting down these elusive creatures on your mobile phone, why not give the game that started it all a go?
So back when I finally got my own Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I didn’t have access to many co-op games for the console, but one game I did get along with my console was a little frustrating gem called Contra.
Contra was one of the first couch co-op games I remember playing with my friends. While playing as Bill “Mad Dog” Rizer and Lance “Scorpion” Bean (aren’t those the best 80’s names ever?), shooting up aliens made for a great time. However, one thing that stuck with me through all these years is that the game was darn difficult. I initially thought that this might have been due to the fact that I was an uncoordinated kid when I last played the game but even as an adult, it’s surprisingly difficult to beat the game (or maybe I suck at it). Even playing with a friend, I died a lot (this was also mainly due to the friend causing most of my deaths), but as we slowly grew accustomed to the game once again, we were soon shooting down enemies like well-oiled ’80s action heroes.
Contra may not be a very long game, but its difficulty paired with its variety in gameplay, its power-ups (all hail the spread gun) and above all, its ability to play along with a friend makes this shooter one worth giving a go again.
One of my favourite animated Disney films of all time, Aladdin, was equal parts dramatic, funny and magical. So, when the licensed game was released on the Sega Genesis, I knew it had lots to live up to.
It’s important to note that before the game’s release, many licensed games were, at best, just okay and, at worst absolute crap. Aladdin showed us that licensed games can be true to the source material and still be fun. And while the game’s solid gameplay mechanics go a long way in making it a great game, it’s the game’s striking visuals and music, which look and sound like it was ripped straight out of the animated film, that lift this game to retro greatness. Sure, there are probably a few better retro platformers out there, but Aladdin combines everything I love from the film and rolls it into a fast-paced and fun experience; it truly feels like you are playing the actual film. A small caveat: that darn magic carpet level is brutal; I think that was the first time I ever lost my cool while playing a game.
If tight controls, wonderful visuals and a stunning soundtrack are your thing (oh, and if you love Disney movies), this game deserves a revisit.
I remember recently hearing about the new Micro Machines racing game, which excited my heart into overdrive. Finally, we’d get an updated game in a franchise that I absolutely loved as a kid. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and I was left wishing that the game didn’t come out at all, as it mostly tarnished the name of one of my most-beloved retro-racing series of all time.
Micro Machines 2, based on the miniature vehicles that were such a big deal back in the ’80s and ’90s, saw players choosing one of these miniature racers and trying to beat their opponents in a fast-paced race. What made this game stand out from many other racers is the fact the courses were made up of everyday objects you’d find lying around in your average home – you know, stuff like drill bits, walkie-talkies and various other obstacles. Courses ranged from kitchen countertops to a pool table, each just as creative as the next. Mastering your little racer takes practice, but thanks to some solid controls, it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it. Where the original game helped set up the idea of racing little vehicles across zany tracks, the sequel added a bunch of new modes, such as time trials, tournaments and an improved single-player mode.
Overall, this is one of those sequels that expanded on the original in every way, and if you love retro-racing games, you should give it a try.
7. Super Mario Kart
While on the subject of great retro-racing games, there is probably none more famous than Super Mario Kart for the SNES.
While I never personally owned Super Mario Kart, I remember arranging sleepovers at a friend’s house who did own the game. For its time, the game revolutionised the racing genre with tight controls, challenging AI, addictive multiplayer and above all, just being loads of fun. Even better, the game lets you choose your racer from a roster of well-known Nintendo characters, including Bowser, Yoshi and even Donkey Kong Junior. There is something exhilarating about racing against friends, dodging their various attacks and power-ups. You can pick up various power-ups to aid you and get on your friend’s nerves. Some of these power-ups, such as the infamous blue shell, have broken up many friendships over the years.
If you are looking for a retro racer with loads of charm and retro visuals that mostly stand up even by today’s standards, then grab some friends and get your hands on Super Mario Kart.
When the Nintendo Game Boy first launched, it wasn’t the most advanced handheld system out there and was mostly inferior to its competitors. So, what helped make Nintendo’s little (ok, big) handheld such a success? One word: Tetris.
Yes, that’s right, back when the Game Boy was released, it came bundled with Tetris, an unknown puzzle game with a mysterious past. The game proved to be so addictive that it helped lift Game Boy sales even more. Who would think that a game about lining up various blocky pieces would be such a great hit?
Fast-forward to today, and Tetris is still one of the most popular and addictive puzzle games out there. The game has spawned many iterations, with the latest titled Tetris Effect and is scheduled to release sometime this year. With the basic mechanics of the popular game stayed mostly unchanged throughout the years, the original still holds up today.
9. Street Fighter II
Now, kids, come and sit down around the fire and let me tell you about a wonderful thing called an arcade. Years before you had powerful consoles connected to your flat screen TV, kids wanting to play games had to travel all the way to a place called the arcade. Inside this place was a wonderful world, filled with magical cabinets that you could play games on by dropping money or tokens into a slot. One of these magical cabinets had a game called Street Fighter II on it, a 2D fighting game which saw you pitting two fighters against each other.
I remember going to our corner arcade and spending hours and what back then was loads of money on this particular game. Mastering a specific fighter’s move set after weeks of practice became a badge of honour. So, when the game was finally released on the SNES, it was amazing news to both my parents and me, who realised just how much money they could save by getting the game and console for me.
Even today, Street Fighter II is a masterfully crafted fighting game. While its predecessors have surpassed it, it still holds up surprisingly well for a game of its age.
One thing to remember about the ’80s was that for some unknown reason (it could be something in the water), anthropomorphic animals were all the rage, and the more radical, the better. Enter Konami’s go at the mascot game: an armour-wearing possum called Sparkster.
Now, he might not have been as rad as Sonic or have a majestic moustache like Mario, but Sparkster was an underrated mascot with an even more underrated game. As with most platforming games, Sparkster is on a mission to rescue a princess and save the kingdom. Basically, your standard platforming fare. The difference between Sparkster and the other more famous mascots is that he has access to a rocket pack that he can charge and propel himself through the air. Sparkster’s rocket ability comes in handy, especially when facing off against the game’s bosses. Visually, the game still looks surprisingly good, as the animations are smooth, and Sparkster oozes loads of charm. The game also has quite a memorable soundtrack which will get stuck in your head in no time.
If you are a fan of old-school platformers and animal mascots, then Rocket Knight Adventures is an underrated game that deserves a revisit.