We’re living in a golden age of gaming, with an incredible range of interactive experiences to suit every taste. Even so, it’s hard not to occasionally pine for the simpler days of the arcade era, and the 8- and 16-bit titles that turned us into the healthy, sleep-shirking addicts we are today.
Without further ado, here are the top 20 retro games that we still can’t get enough of.
The game that launched the career of a certain plumber, Nintendo’s 1981 arcade hit was pivotal. Having failed to crack the US, president Hiroshi Yamauchi convinced young designer Shigeru Miyamoto to create a new game. Jumpman (renamed Mario, after the US arm’s landlord, for the game’s Stateside launch) and his simian nemesis gobbled enough quarters to keep Nintendo afloat and launch countless Kong spinoffs (pictured). The rest’s history.
Atari’s take on table tennis brought the medium into the mainstream, but aside from its importance to the industry, it’s a great game in its own right. Two dials, two bats, one ball: it still works now.
Gaming’s great gift is allowing us to indulge in the kind of behaviour society frowns upon. Doing your job well gets you the high score, but flinging papers all over the place and subverting suburbia is hella cathartic.
If you think modern games are too easy, this Spectrum hit is the remedy. All 20 screens host a clutch of wild and unpredictable hazards. If it was released now, it would have an easy mode and a dubstep soundtrack; best stick with the original.
It introduced new maps and was harder: this gender-confused pill gobbler made for the most successful US-produced coin-op.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sega’s spiny speed merchant proved himself a worthy rival to Nintendo’s Mario with his Mega Drive debut. Yet it was the spectacular loops, corkscrews and clever environmental tricks in the follow-up that proved his makers carried the same swagger. With co-op partner Tails in tow (whose real name, Miles Prower, is one of gaming’s best dreadful puns) this blistering adventure was one of the finest two-player games of the 16-bit era and still leaves many of the modern Sonic games for dust.
This Atari masterpiece had four players crowd around a cabinet to finish its labyrinthine levels. This situated you perfectly for elbowing someone in the ribs if they ignored advice about shooting food.
Played at a faster pace than Donkey Kong, Chuckie Egg required pixel-perfect leaps. It was home grown, intense and satisfying.
Day of the Tentacle
No retro list would be complete without a classic point-and-click adventure, and there’s none finer than Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman’s barmpot sci-fi. Tipping its cap to Fifties monster movies and Chuck Jones cartoons, its time-travel plotline affords you bizarre pleasures. Uproariously silly.
Street Fighter II Turbo
It’s smoky arcades filled with old cabinets that have been left scarred from cigarette burns, and unused credits sliding down onto floors that are perpetually sticky with cheap, stale booze. It’s teaching friends how to do the perfect dragon punch motion. It’s beating that bigger kid by doing Blanka’s electric attack. It’s unlocking Akuma and then immediately losing half of your life bar within seconds. Turbo might be the definitive version of Street Fighter II, but whichever one you played, the memories will no doubt still vividly linger.
There aren’t many games to have ever captured the sense of bleak isolation as expertly as this SNES classic. As bounty hunter Samas Aran dropped into a desolate world, it’s an homage to Alien, evoking the same gnawing tension as Ridley Scott’s cinematic horror, while the brooding, synth-led soundtrack prompted further shivers.
Streets of Rage 2
Two players, two pads, too many fizzy drinks: the only way to play Sega’s bruising brawler was with a partner. It was a rival to Capcom’s Final Fight, but this game definitely had the edge, which was partly due to Yuzo Koshiro’s particularly memorable score.
Forget Gears Of War, Taito’s 1978 classic was the first cover shooter, as you attempt to fend off an extraterrestrial force. Your pulse would quicken along with the music as the aliens came closer, while blasting the flying saucer was as satisfying as a Call Of Duty headshot.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
If Super Metroid taught us to fear the unknown, Link’s epic quest made it exciting again. A top-down Hyrule rammed with secrets and surprises, it’s a delight to explore. Not least when you figure out how the light and dark worlds slot together. Unlike these days where you’re given a nudge if you stray too far, here you’re encouraged to get gloriously, hopelessly lost – and you’ll have a whale of a time doing so.
A precursor to the modern first-person shooter, Duck Hunt didn’t allow you to blast zombies, mutants or even mutant zombies. But lowering the waterfowl population was just as satisfying. Perhaps it was the bundled NES Zapper – one of the finest lightguns we’ve wielded. Or maybe it was the chance to wipe the smirk off of that dog’s face.
It’s odd to think that a game centring on finding the best way to successfully arrange a group of coloured shapes should have been at its best when played on a machine that was incapable of displaying more than four shades of greenish-grey. But, regardless, the Game Boy version of Alexei Pajitnov’s opus was simply the perfect match between game and hardware.
Super Mario Kart
While everyone has their favourite Mario Kart – from the four-player-thrills of MK64 to the weaponised mayhem of Double Dash!! – few would deny the SNES game’s claim to top spot. It’s aged beautifully – and, unlike many of its successors, every victory is hard-earned. Gaming’s finest spin-off.
A high-end car, a beautiful girl, blue skies and a long strip of road to the horizon. It’s not so much a race as a high-speed cruise, taking you on the ultimate US road trip.
For a certain generation, football rivalry wasn’t just between Fifa and Pro Evo. It was the pace and banana shots of Kick Off versus the sharp passing game of Sensible Soccer. For our money, Sensi wins: it gave a glimpse at tiki-taka way before Barca made it fashionable.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Having pretty much invented the platform game, Nintendo reinvented it with the secret-packed Super Mario Bros. 3, then repeated it with Super Mario World. The two best side-scrollers of all time, it’s a heck of a job to separate them. The sprawling ambition of SMB3 or the invention of SMW? The Frog Suit or Yoshi? The Super Leaf or the Cape Feather? We’ve plumped for SMB3, but they’re so close to gaming perfection, there’s nothing in it.