So, what makes a game “retro” anyway? One would say that the only real qualifier is age and a graphical base that’s significantly behind the times, as it were. However, if you took a short-sided view of what it means to be retro then you’d be entirely avoiding the overall aesthetics behind recent trends which see gamers going back to explore titles from the past. Whereas a lot of analysts tend to see the retro movement as one concerned with a strong desire to explore specific types of older gameplay, one could just as easily argue that it is driven by an intense desire in modern players to explore the history of video games first hand.
But the really good titles haven’t just influenced gamers of course; they’ve continuously directed the course of development as well, helping to chart a course to the future, if you will. Needless to say, the following 10 games are exemplary in that they can be considered some of the top offerings of all time (or at least up to this point in history). Each one has definitely had an influence on the industry at large and maybe even helped to shape our entertainment culture in many ways…
Super Mario Bros.
Of all the games on this list, none have quite the pedigree that the original Super Mario Bros. for NES has. One could even argue that it was this unassuming title which virtually ignited the popularity of video game consoles in general. It just seemed to come out of nowhere with its amazing gameplay formula and wacky concept of turtle-stomping plumbers. Needless to say, you can’t call yourself a retro gamer unless you know where all the warp spots are in the original Mario.
You know what they say – the third time’s a charm, and that’s exactly the case with Super Metroid. Basically, this game is a more complete rendition of the unique sci-fi action found in earlier releases, essentially updating the model and bringing great new elements to the forefront with regards to 2D sidescrolling gameplay.
All one needs to see is a snapshot of the now famous series of girders and ladders to immediately recognize Donkey Kong. One could argue that DK is actually the most popular arcade game of all time, having been found throughout the world igniting the desire in gamers to reach the top platform and save the princess from the barbaric barrel-hurling ape.
Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo
The Street Fighter series in many ways was perhaps the first to ignite interest in fighting games due to its better-looking graphics and interesting characters. However, it wasn’t until Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo was released, which updated various elements of its classic predecessor, that people’s imaginations were truly ignited. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this game actually helped to influence virtually every other fighting title to come afterwards.
Sure, it might have been an extremely simple setup…just one tank at the bottom firing up at descending rows of space ships darting back and forth horizontally, but you can’t argue that it is seen as iconic now. In fact, it’s still fun to breeze through a few levels of Space Invaders, although now you can do it in your browser instead of on an impossibly large arcade box.
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Where the original Zelda broke new ground offering gamers a chance to explore an open world fantasy setting replete with extremely imaginative enemies and treasure gathering, A Link to the Past essentially improved upon the formula in every way possible. In short, many feel that of all the top down perspective retro titles, this one is perhaps one of the greatest of all time, especially if you’re into RPG’s.
No “best of” retro list is complete with out including Tetris in there somewhere. This seemingly innocuous title has risen to prominence and firmly established itself as both a fan favorite the world over as well as a benchmark for the thousands (if not millions) of similar flash-based browser titles to follow in its wake. Ask anyone you meet, even random strangers, and chances are that they’ve played some variation of Tetris before, it really is that popular and widespread.
When it comes to iconic games, none are quite as instantaneously recognizable as Pac-Man. Although it utilizes a really simple scheme – chomp around the board gobbling up yellow dots while avoiding the four ghosts who roam the board looking to kill you, its gameplay remains extremely satisfying, especially when you eat one of the larger dots in the corner and turn the tables on them.
If you want to know where the first-person shooter revolution started, one could easily point toward Wolfenstein 3D. This title, which basically laid the foundation and framework for those amazing games which were to come afterward (like “Doom” for example), provided an engrossing experience like no other up to that time. You assumed the role of a captured allied soldier fighting his way out of a Nazi castle, encountering a labyrinth of puzzles as well as dangerous enemies who were prone to jumping out from behind doorways, etc. Nowadays you’ll even find the game on additional platforms, most notably a port was created for the Xbox 360.
Whereas platformers like Mario coddled us with happy images and fun times, offerings like Castlevania exposed us to a more sinister, darker side of gaming. For all intents and purposes this title was definitely ahead of its time, perhaps seeking to push the boundaries of realism a bit further while also incorporating more horror / fear-based elements as well. Needless to say, encountering lord Dracula for the first time certainly chilled many a nervous gamer to the bone, of that there can be no question. At the same time, the title introduced lots of new elements which game designers took and implemented in their own creations.