There’s Never Been A Better Time To Start Loving Old Video Games
Delays, am I right? This year has had its share, and we're in what, April? It's hard to know what day it is right now, let alone what month. Anyway, with several new games sliding back down the release schedule - looking at you, Cyberpunk 2077, The Last of Us Part II, Watch Dogs Legion, and more - I've been finding myself with a lot more time to revisit old favourites, and check out games that I never had the chance to, way back when.
Which is to say: 2020 is an amazing time to dig into what we are calling retro games - although, really, what's retro and what isn't right now is a very subjective argument. Personally, I'd say that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are looking pretty retro; which in turn makes the PS2 and its peers positively ancient, an antique ready for its own 'mini' treatment. But for the sake of easy communication, when I say retro here, I mean games of the 1980s and 1990s.
Here are five ways that you, too, can enjoy - ahem - retro gaming, while so many notable AAA titles of 2020 get themselves together for their big arrivals later in the year.
Modern Remakes and Reimaginings
Is this cheating? Maybe, maybe not. But with the likes of the newly released Final Fantasy VII Remake (review), last year's Resident Evil 2 and its follow-up of just a few weeks ago (Resi 3 review here), 2018's Shadow of the Colossus and 2017's Sonic Mania, you're getting retro kicks in fantastic new clothes.
Some may complain about the abundance of remakes and remasters we've been seeing in this current console generation - but realistically, such releases are great news for anyone who missed the classics the first time around.
I've little interest in the Crash Bandicoot or Spyro collections that have come out in recent years - but I sure know a lot of people who love those games, and having them back again, for contemporary hardware, was a big deal. Onto what I did love back when, and seeing the spirit of Streets of Rage 2 surging through the sprites of the imminent (and, dare I say it, long overdue?) Streets of Rage 4 fills me with such excitement. I can't wait to dig into that when it releases on April 30.
The game might not always be the same - while switching to 8-bit visuals on the superlative 2017 remake of Wonder Boy (3): The Dragon's Trap reveals the old Master System mechanics of 1989 under the hood, the same sure can't be said of Final Fantasy VII Remake - but these remakes and reimaginings represent brilliant ways to reconnect with the past, without compromising on sound and vision.
We've just covered the really-rather-wonderful PC Engine CoreGrafx Mini on these pages - a mini-console of rare exotic allure, since the system it's a tribute to never made much of an impact in the UK and Europe, and therefore a lot of its old games are actually ready to be played for the first time. (Alongside more 'known' games, like Ghouls n' Ghosts, Splatterhouse and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.) But for a lot of readers out there, no doubt more recognisable hardware, shrunken-down replicas of consoles you had as kids, will be of more interest.
In 2019, SEGA released a mini version of its Mega Drive (Genesis), and it's a wondrous little thing, stuffed with 42 games (check out our guide to all of them) that range from the well-known - hey there, Sonic - to the somewhat more leftfield but no less adorable likes of ToeJam & Earl and Story of Thor. Its most-notable 16-bit-era rival, the Super Nintendo, is also available in plug-in-and-play micro form, and contains 21 built-in games including the newly finished and released Star Fox 2 (since added to the SNES library on the Switch Online service).
Want to go further back? The Nintendo Entertainment System, the NES, is available in a classic mini guise with all the console's essentials, pretty much - The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Super Mario Bros. 3, check, check and check. Or slightly more modern? Sony's PlayStation Classic isn't quite as much of a winner as any of the aforementioned mini-consoles, but with the likes of Metal Gear Solid, the original Final Fantasy VII and Grand Theft Auto, and Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee included, if you can find it for the right price, it's still a neat distraction for a few wet weekends.
That's sure not it for mini-consoles - you can find more information on which one's for you in our little guide, right here.
Or Maybe Something New, But Also Old, But Very New
So here's a novel thing: a new console, released in 2020, that's designed to play old games. The Evercade is a handheld system (which can be plugged into a TV, for bigger-screen play) that uses interchangeable cartridges, each one featuring a number of titles from some pretty big-name publishers like Namco, Interplay, Data East and Atari.
I've already written a fairly in-depth review of the Evercade - which you can read here - so I won't spend too many words in this piece on it. But I do want to say that it's a fascinating thing, aimed both at gamers who have a fondness for '80s and '90s delights and younger players who enjoy a history lesson or two. With support from Data East, Namco, Interplay, Technos and Atari, it's off to a good start - and it'll be a regular companion of mine, alongside my Switch, when I'm allowed to resume commuting to the office and back.
And it's not just old games that are available for it, either - newly made but retro-styled titles like Log Jammers and Creepy Brawlers are already available for it (or will be, when it launches in May), and last year's excellent Aliens-meets-Smash-TV shooter Xeno Crisis (read more on that one, here) is coming soon. The Evercade is well worth a look, if old-school games are your thing and you'd prefer them to come on physical media (that you can even blow on, if you must) rather than ROM files.
But if you're less about physical products cluttering up your home, and prefer the streamlined, streaming approach, may I please direct your attention to Antstream Arcade. This subscription service for PC, mobile, Mac and more gives you access to over 1,000 retro games, at the cost of around a tenner per month, or less with an annual deal.
Games are drawn from a host of classic home computers and consoles, including the ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga (so many Amiga greats on here) and C64, and the SEGA Mega Drive. But what's notable about Antstream is that it also carries arcade versions of a wealth of games - something the Evercade doesn't (so far) on its cartridge-contained collections, which are all home conversions. So if it's coin-op thrills you're after, this service is a good shout.
Bundles and Best-Ever Versions, On Your Console of Choice
But maybe you just want to play the games you loved 20-odd years ago on the consoles you own now, without them having the remake treatment. Thankfully, there are a whole bunch of compilations out there - on discs, game cards and available digitally - that pull together some evergreen essentials for not a great deal of dough.
The SEGA Ages range on Switch is a great place to find brilliant old SEGA (d'uh) games, now graced by an array of quality-of-life options that the originals never had, and perfect emulation from the masters of such things, M2. There's Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (with Knuckles), a brilliant (albeit streamlined versus the 32X release) version of Virtua Racing, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Phantasy Star and many more - and they're often on sale, too. So scratch a very specific retro itch at a bargain price, if you like.
Sticking with Switch, and signing up to the system's Online service gives you much, much more than just internet play on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Tetris 99. With the service, Nintendo gives you a host of NES and SNES titles, to play offline (though your Switch will need to occasionally connect to the internet, to check if you can play them). There are some huge names in here, like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Star Fox, A Link to the Past, Super Mario Kart and Super Metroid - as well as some lesser-known games that are well worth checking out, maybe for the first time, like Vice: Project Doom, Pop'n TwinBee, Brawl Brothers and Journey to Silius.
Going cross-platform, there are some awesome multi-game collections available - usually for pocket change, relatively speaking. If you want the equivalent of what Switch Online is offering for SEGA heads, the Mega Drive/Genesis Classics collection of 2018 is a great shout. It's available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Switch - and stars the likes of Streets of Rage 2, Sonic 2, Story of Thor, Golden Axe, Ristar, ToeJam & Earl and Comix Zone.
Wanna go older? The Switch has an Atari Flashback Classics collection, bringing contemporary features to 150 games including Breakout, Asteroids and Centipede. There's also SNK's 40th Anniversary Collection, which includes console and arcade releases from the famous Japanese company, from 1979 to 1990 - before it launched the NEO GEO.
For those who favour a series-specific approach, Konami has recently released collections for both Contra and Castlevania for consoles and PC, complete with bonus material, alongside an Arcade Classics set which is more focused on shooters. Collection of Mana bundles together the SNES all-timer Secret of Mana, an action RPG that's every bit as great as A Link to the Past, with the Game Boy's Final Fantasy Adventure and fellow SNES title Trials of Mana (which never previously came out in the West).
And there's a lot more out there, obviously - search for a favourite or two of your gaming past on your storefront of choice and, well, you may just be surprised. And it's not like you've much in the way of new games to play right now, is it.
Featured Image Credit: Square Enix, Konami, Namco, Capcom