There are dozens of reasons why people gravitate toward retro games. First, some gamers might actually remember ‘the good old days’ of playing a new arcade title or unwrapping a new console cartridge. This is especially true as gamers born in the 1980s and 90s push further into adulthood—unlike the gamers who came before them, they’ve had full access to games their entire lives.
Second, many people appreciate the nuance of retro games. The graphics were simpler, as were the mechanics. The worlds were newer and more exciting, along with the storylines and characters. In other words, retro games provide a full throwback to the past, letting gamers enjoy a sensation of nostalgia.
These are two of the main reasons why gamers enjoy retro titles—and they’re also contributing to the comeback of retro games. Not only are developers showing interest in rebooting old series and adding a retro flare to their game designs, but some major studios are even re-releasing old hits, porting them to new devices, and rolling out adapted versions of old consoles like the SNES.
In honor of the retro trend, let’s take a look back at some of the best titles from the retro era. We’re also including a few new releases that have taken inspiration from the previous millennia.
Cuphead nabbed multiple awards after its release—and for good reason. This game draws its visual and audio inspiration from 1930s cartoons, which makes it very retro. The side-scrolling game is also incredibly difficult, forcing players to buck up for every new boss battle (of which there are many).
Diamond Stars Classic (2022)
This throwback is one of the top online slots available virtually. The neon design takes players straight back to Miami in the 1980s, while the fruit symbols bring to mind the Las Vegas boom of the 1970s. Toss in a bit of synth in the music design and this game has all the right callbacks to this flashy era.
This game didn’t just put FPS titles on the map—along with Wolfenstein 3D, it invented them. But that’s not all DOOM did in terms of becoming a retro staple. It also introduced the idea of creating soundtracks with major hits on them. In DOOM’s case, most were heavy metal and rock.
Many would argue Tetris isn’t a retro hit on account of the fact that it’s still widely played. After all, is something a ‘retro hit’ if its updates don’t actually alter the game, its mechanics, or its layout because there’s simply nothing to be improved?
Stardew Valley (2016)
The idea behind Stardew Valley, which is a multiplayer farming simulator, is simple: let players craft their own homestead and tackle challenges alongside. It’s the game’s 8-bit visual design that makes it a retro favorite. Players will feel like they’re playing on a GameBoy thanks to this unique choice by developers.
Final Fantasy 7 (1997)
Though the 7th release in the Final Fantasy series, this game stands out for nailing the RPG adventure genre. Not only did it introduce players to likable characters on a fantastic mission, but it also introduced dozens of plotlines that became so popular in the genre that they have since become tropes.
Shovel Knight (2014)
This side-scrolling game was funded by diehard gamers who couldn’t wait for a title inspired by the NES. Though it’s since fallen under the radar, it’s widely considered one of the best video games ever released thanks to its unique storyline, varied gameplay, and retro visual design.
The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
Arguably one of the first major point-and-click PC games, this puzzle adventure game introduced gamers to the idea of comedic storylines. Its old-school graphic design is colorful and kitschy, while its puzzles are memorable, challenging and, at times, hilarious.
GoldenEye 007 (1997)
Games like DOOM helped put FPS games on the map, but this James Bond release brought in multiplayer modes—and the famous split-screen. Up to four players can share a screen as they engage in a deathmatch, tasked with killing one another before they’re targeted themselves.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (2022)
This game draws on the popularity of TMNT games from the 1980s and 90s. Those side-scrolling games remained popular enough for gamers that publisher Dotemu rebooted stories and characters from multiple games, mashing them together in this highly celebrated 2022 re-release.
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