Over the past few years, retro-inspired games have become a trend. The best part about those games is that while their audiovisual component is decidedly retro, they also incorporate entertaining mechanics that make a classic experience fresh and unique. Additionally, these games rely on a feeling of nostalgia that only those people who owned an NES or a Sega Genesis back in the day will get, so they definitely aim at a very specific audience, but at the same time, they can be enjoyed by people of all ages. As someone who grew up on the 8-bit and 16-bit era, this is definitely one of my favorite trends, so I decided to compile a list of games that remind me that feeling old isn’t always that bad.
Shovel Knight is truly fantastic from an audiovisual and gameplay perspective. Not only does the action platformer look like a game from the NES era, it also feels like one as well. The game has references to classic titles such as The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Mega Man and one of its main mechanics (bouncing off enemies using a shovel) has been inspired by DuckTales. Shovel Knight is a feast for your retro senses.
Hotline Miami was a pleasant surprise. Its booming soundtrack, references to Drive, pastel-colored visuals and violent nature made it one of my favorite indie games of the past few years. But apart from those elements, something I really enjoyed about this top-down action game is that it makes you feel like you’re in the 80s, since there are VCRs, arcade machines, old CRTs, vinyl discs lying around and more.
I must admit I’m not a fan of Retro City Rampage, but this homage to classic games, movies and pop culture references is really well crafted when it comes to its audiovisual aspect. The obvious GTA-inspired gameplay has its problems, but if you want to play a game that makes fun of games and movies from the 80s, it doesn’t get better than this.
Unlike most of the games on this list, not only does Fez make use of two-dimensional visuals, but also three-dimensional ones. Main character Gomez possesses a magical hat that lets him manipulate the environments, so at almost any point in the game, Gomez can rotate the world to reveal secret paths. There are also dozens of references to classic games and the terrific glitch screens.
In FTL, you’re the commander of an spaceship who’s trying to deliver important information before the enemy catches up to you. The main goal is to micromanage your crew so that you can defend from space pirates and aliens as long as possible. But beware, one single mistake will cost you all the progress you’ve made (the game uses permanent death as one of its main mechanics.) Apart from fighting, you can get new crew members, buy improved technology and put out fires… in space.
Although clearly inspired by games from the 8-bit era, Mutant Mudds adds a new mechanic, the ability to alternate between planes. So you run, jump, collect items, defeat enemies in a 2D world and then you warp to the level’s background to the repeat the process.
Super Meat Boy is one of the most challenging platformers ever made and that also makes it one of the most satisfying ones. I’d be lying if I said I saw most of the content this game has to offer, but the levels kept me glued to the screen for hours. The game’s a clear homage to the Super Mario Bros. series, but with a darker character, antagonist and world. The game’s really fast-paced, so you better have good reflexes. Also, you’ll die often, but since the main character respawns in less than a second, you’ll want to keep playing and playing.
Who wouldn’t want to be an archaeologist and explore ancient caves? In rogue-like Spelunky, you do just that. But don’t take that task lightly, since everything in Spelunky is trying to kill you. The game has randomly generated levels, destructible areas and a variety of enemies and weapons. But underneath all the aforementioned aspects lies one of the most classic 2D platformers of the past few years.
The main character of VVVVVV is trapped in an alternate dimension and to escape, he needs to figure out how to use the gravity to his advantage. Toggling gravity on and off is maddening at first, but as you progress, you get used to it. Probably the only game on this list that will remind of Commodore 64 graphics, so that’s always a plus and the soundtrack is entirely made up of chiptunes.
When I started playing Braid, I thought this was a charming game that tried to emulate Super Mario Bros. After all, the main character looks like Mario, at the end of the first level there’s a castle with a flagpole and a small dinosaur tells the character that “the princess is in another castle.” But the time-rewinding mechanics, heartfelt story and other inviting concepts, make Braid a one-of-a-kind game.