Two decades ago, the definition of a retro game would have had a completely different meaning than what it does today. Many gamers will argue that retro arcade games are the true definition of retro gaming. There’s now a generation of video console gamers who will say the iconic releases of the late 1990s and early 2000s are now considered relics of gaming and are retro compared to the advanced gaming design and graphic sophistication we see in today’s games. However, even among this bickering and disagreeing, there are a selection of games that undeniably fit the bill as the most iconic, featuring some of the most game-changing graphics ever envisaged. We explore four of the best below:
1. The classic slot machine (1894)
Some believe that other genres of games often get overlooked, such as casino gaming, where the classic slot machine was one of the most iconic designs in gaming. Cherries, lemons and the number seven are still prominent in a number of slot game designs, so a design that has persisted for 100 years across land-based and now online casinos is unquestionably iconic. Although the first lever-operated system was extremely primitive compared to what we have today, in the late 19th century, it was one of the most creative gaming designs in the world.
Casino and slot gaming has come a long way since the original design, but retro graphics are now a significant feature in many classic games. Although other themes have taken over, mythology in Egypt, Greece and Rome has driven many of the latest designs. Book of Ra is a game that has appealed to many within the casino industry, and it highlights how graphics in the slot game industry have continued to evolve as part of market-leading game designs.
2. Tetris (1989)
Game designs don’t always reach the same stature as Tetris. It is a game that continues to evoke strong memories despite first hitting arcades over half a century ago. In today’s market, you can play Tetris via mobile apps and sample other iconic arcade games for free, but back in the 1980s, it was big business.
Tetris was such a game-changer due to its innovative graphics, which changed the world of gaming forever. With a combination of moving targets, interactive features and cascading colourful blocks, few games can rival Tetris’ iconic graphics which cement themselves in gaming history for eternity.
3. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (2002)
Iconic graphics are characteristic of every Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game; you could make a case for several Grand Theft Auto games to appear on this list. GTA 3 transported the game from a birds-eye platform to a free-to-roam map. However, few could anticipate that Rockstar Games would take the phenomenal developments of this game and churn out Vice City just a couple of years later. Taking major inspiration from Miami in the 1980s, the graphics brought in flying aircraft, nightclubs, motorbikes and a far more expansive set of character movements and building designs that blew away critics at the time.
The game’s legacy for a particular generation of gamers is immortalised forever, and Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto are arguably the most crucial console games ever released. To drive this point home further, the recent release of the GTA 6 trailer, a game that will be set in a new, revamped Vice City, has generated over 100 million views in a day. While this game might not fit the conventional mould of a retro game, it has been over 20 years since it hit our shelves, so we’d say it definitely qualifies now; sorry if that makes you feel old!
4. Donkey Kong Country (1994)
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) is a console that pioneered and cleared the way for many of the top video console games we see today. While they were eventually overtaken by PlayStation and, more recently, the XBOX, the SNES was a smash hit of its time and was one of the most pioneering consoles ever designed. The reason the home entertainment system was so innovative is because it gave games like Donkey Kong Country a foundation to show gamers just how much enjoyment and creativity there was for those designers aiming to make landmark hit games on the SNES.
It acted as a blueprint for a similar style of games, such as Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and other animal-themed games that helped companies like Sony and Nintendo propel themselves to the top of a growing, global industry and reap the rewards of putting such incredible amounts of time and resources into optimizing the gaming experience for so many people worldwide.