The popularity of retro games is something of a strange phenomenon when you consider how technological advances have resulted in the ultra-realistic games you see on the market today. Many triple A games have virtual reality, and all have silky graphics and modern soundtracks.
The reality comes down to simple nostalgia but also in the fact that the simplicity of these games has a universal appeal (not to mention many are as hard as nails). In the case of seasoned gamers, these games remind them of their youth and offer familiarity and comfort in an increasingly strange and uncomfortable world. Playing old and familiar games has even been shown to reduce stress and boost wellbeing.
This enduring appeal means that classic arcade machines are increasingly popular in pubs, clubs, and even at home.
So what are the absolute greatest retro games?
Perhaps the ‘Daddy’ of all arcade games (not just retro games), Space Invaders was first released back in 1978 and has never left the conscience of much of the gaming world. Indeed, it is comfortably the highest-grossing video game of all time. The aim of the game is as simple as the graphics; shoot the invaders with your lasers whilst avoiding their shots and thus preventing an invasion. The music is another well-known feature.
Street Fighter 2
Probably the greatest combat game of them all. Street Fighter 2 brought all the best elements of the first game but with extra bells and whistles on top. The bonus games were improved, grabbing/throwing attacks were added, and most notably, a fantastic selection of playable characters was introduced, each with their own style and special moves. Superb gameplay, improved graphics, and a great soundtrack combine in this all-time classic.
A classic one player game from 1981, Frogger quickly found its way into popular culture. The player has to get their frogs across the busy road, then across the river to their homes. BUT they can’t touch the river (is it radioactive?) and must watch out not to get run over, or eaten by the snake or the alligator! Excellent sound effects and music combine with good looking graphics and simple but addictive gameplay.
This 2D shooting game is immensely popular despite being known for being rather difficult (mostly due to the complex control system). The gameplay is really addictive and the graphics are great. The audio-visuals connect plot and gameplay brilliantly. If you have the patience, you can master this game but it will take months rather than hours to do so!
Bubble Bobble stars the twin Bubble Dragons Bub and Bob. There are 100 levels to complete, a range of different enemies and also multiple possible endings. The gameplay is addictive and friendly but overall the game is tricky to master; doing so gives a great sense of accomplishment. The two-player mode encourages both teamwork and greed. Characters are colourful, cute, and wacky and there are a plethora of power-ups and items to collect.
Paying Tribute to the Retro Era
Many Pixel art games have been inspired by the retro games mentioned above and look a lot older than they are. They are increasingly popular amongst today’s gamers thanks to their vibe, simplicity, and nostalgic feel.
This is a beautiful 8-bit Metroidvania with addictive gameplay, fantastic style and appearance. Its stellar platforming and sense of adventure gives it a hypnotic quality. It is fairly easy to get to grips with but tricky to master. Death comes often and quickly, but so does the chance to start afresh.
Charming and quirky, Shovel Knight is a delightful 8-bit fantasy game. It takes inspiration from many of the classics such as Ducktales, Castlevania, and Mega Man 2, and even has elements of Monty Python thrown in for good measure! Gameplay is superb and the game is challenging. The graphics are appealing and the soundtrack is great. A modern classic.
This 2D platforming game has a great storyline, charming characters, and addictive and enjoyable gameplay. The player has to stop the delusional villain, learn the origins of the power, and save the Mimiga (rabbit-like creatures).
Hyper Light Drifter
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, Hyper Light Drifter is a great adventure. The player has to interpret everything – this is because there is no dialogue, no context, and no narration. The player has to slash and shoot their way across the planet in order to stop the evil force from consuming it. This superb 2D action game is great fun, highly addictive, and clearly inspired by 8-bit and 16-bit games of the past such as The Legend of Zelda and Diablo.
Sonic Mania is a fast-paced 2D platformer and a love letter to the much-loved Sonic games. Environments such as Stardust Speedway and Green Hill Zone offer a familiarity, the playability remains superb, and the graphics as pleasing as ever. The sound effects and soundtrack are also great and the difficulty level is reasonable. Beating Doctor Eggman and his robotic baddies remains incredibly satisfying.