As the writer L.P. Hartley so memorably wrote in his novel The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. The same is very true of game designers of the past. Despite being limited by the tech of the era, the games of the 70s, 80s and 90s continue to have a very special place in the affections of gamers of the time. It’s a form of nostalgia that has been widely explored and which is, arguably, more powerful than memories of books, TV programmes and movies that were read or watched in the past.
Perhaps this is because playing a game is a generally more active and immersive experience than these more passive forms of entertainment. Whatever the precise reasons, these are ten games that retain a special place in the hearts of all retro gamers.
Proof, if it were ever needed, that simple is best. Tetris came free with every Game Boy and was not only easy to play, it was supremely satisfying too as you manipulated the pieces into place, eliminating line after line as you went. It could be argued that this was a genuine precursor to the hugely popular games of today like Candy Crush or Angry Birds in the sheer simplicity of the game play.
Long before the sophistication of the FIFA series or Pro Evo Soccer came along, there was this little gem. Almost uniquely for soccer games of the era, this provided a bird’s-eye view of the action on the pitch and allowed players to customise their chosen national or club sides. But, best of all, was the “aftertouch” feature that allowed players to create outrageous swerves on the ball, leaving goalkeepers totally bamboozled every time.
Draw 80 Poker
Created in 1978 by International Game Technology, Draw 80 Poker presented one of the very earliest opportunities to test your skill at one of the world’s most popular card games. Although a very far cry from the sophisticated types of poker online today, it did include quite an element of skill in what was, essentially, a slots-type game.
Street Fighter II Turbo
The Street Fighter series of games had already gathered a huge following before this version hit the streets back in 1994. To say it turbo-charged the franchise would be something of an understatement. With new moves, combinations of kicks and punches and the introduction of a “secret” character called Akuma, it was an immediate hit on release getting rave reviews and winning legions of new fans.
Streets of Rage II
Another big favourite for aficionados of the street brawl, this 1992 game had a surprisingly complex storyline in which the objective is to overcome the sinister and dangerous Mr X. It was also innovative in its introduction of a soundtrack created by Yuzo Koshiro which served to make the action even more exciting. Plus, when players got bored with taking on the waves of enemies, there was even a Dual mode which pitted the main characters against each other in one on one combat.
In theory, this is a game that should have pretty much zero appeal. The visuals are, at best, unsophisticated and clunky and the soundtrack is equally basic. But there’s something compelling about the quest to clear all twenty caverns before the oxygen runs out while also having to fend off enemies determined to thwart your efforts. Trivia fans will also like to know that it even made an appearance in the 2005 comedy satire Nathan Barley.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
It was a battle royale between Sega’s little hedgehog and the next game in our list to win the hearts of the world’s hand-held gamers. In this, the sequel to the very popular original, our spikey hero was given extra powers to carry out tricky manoeuvres and jumps while creating one of the very best of the two-player games of the era.
Super Mario Bros. 3
So here was Nintendo’s ultimate answer to creating a truly captivating side-scroller, and it certainly hit the spot. With the same basic premise of the battle against the antagonist Bowser and the objective to save Princess Toadstool from his evil clutches, this sequel was hailed as the greatest video game of the time, going on to sell 17 million copies worldwide.
Of course, without the 1981 game Donkey Kong, we may never have met the little Italian plumber at all. In this earlier manifestation and operating under the name Jumpman, his mission was to rescue his girlfriend Pauline from the clutches of his simian nemesis, Kong. Starting as an arcade game, it went on to spawn a huge number of variations, building a platform for Nintendo’s future success.
No rundown of classic retro games could ever be complete without a mention of Space Invaders. The mesmerising advance of the tiny creatures from outer space, combined with the ever accelerating beat made it a genuinely pulse-quickening experience. And getting 300 points for the mystery spaceship was always the icing on the cake.
Of course, there are many more great games that we could have included in the list, but these really are ten of the most outstanding ones. As to whether today’s big titles like Fortnite and GTA will have quite the same nostalgic pull in a few decades’ time, only time will tell.