Gaming has come a long way since the rudimentary graphics and simple mechanics of early video games. We’ve been transported to other worlds in stunning virtual reality and controlled using nothing more than our hands, we explored beautiful worlds in 4K resolution and fought enemies in hyper-realistic battles. Yet, there’s an undeniable charm in the pixel art, chiptune 8-bit soundtracks, and straightforward yet satisfying gameplay of retro games.
This part of the industry has seen a surge of remakes, remasters, and re-releases, but for this article, we’re diving into the world of original retro games that, even in 2023, still hold their appeal. Here are 8 retro games still worth playing in 2023!
Super Mario Bros. (1985, NES)
Let’s start with an easy answer! Here’s the thing, no matter how many Mario games with better-looking graphics and more fun game mechanics, there’s no doubt that the original Super Mario Bros. is still a heck of a fun game to play even in 2023, almost four decades since its release!
Its influence on modern platformers is undeniable. It set the standard for side-scrolling games with its great controls, intuitive gameplay, and great-level design filled with many secrets and shortcuts. The level design rewards curiosity and exploration, creating a sense of exploration that not a lot of modern games capture.
I can’t pinpoint what made the game so timeless, can it be the level-ups? Can it be just a placebo effect due to its cultural significance? Can it be that the gameplay is still challenging up to this day? We don’t know for sure, it can be a combination of both, but one thing I know for sure is I love the music! Thanks, Koji Kondo!
Whether you’re looking to revisit your childhood or understand the roots of gaming, Mario and Luigi’s quest to rescue Princess Peach is a great place to start! Grab a cartridge or fire up your Nintendo Switch to play Mario in 2023!
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998, Nintendo 64)
Regarded as one of the greatest games of all time, Ocarina of Time is the first Zelda game that introduced gamers to a 3D Hyrule! It’s certainly also one of the first good 3D games in general.
Ever since you fire up the cartridge, you’ll get a sense of adventure coming up, from the Great Deku Tree calls you to the first time you get to Hyrule Field; everything about this game feels rewarding and exciting. And I really mean it; I’ve only played OoT in 2023, and it was amazing!
If you already played newer Zelda titles and haven’t played OoT yet, then it’s even more worth playing the game as it tells arguably the most important story in the Zelda timeline. It brought the first Ganondorf into life and dealt with the timeline split, which is the most significant event in the timeline!
At the time, it was a true marvel, had an innovative targeting system, and brought environmental storytelling to a whole new level! The technological achievements and canonical significance in the Zelda timeline cemented it as one of the most unforgettable games ever!
Overall, whether you have already played it or not, it’s still worth getting a playthrough in 2023! Oh, and great news, you can also play this game on the Nintendo Switch through the Switch Online subscription!
Final Fantasy VI (1994, SNES, PlayStation)
If you’re on the lookout for a game that will grab you by the heartstrings and not let go, dust off your old SNES (or load up that emulator) and take a trip down memory lane or experience Final Fantasy VI for the first time! Even in the ray-traced everything time of 2023, this gem from ’94 still has plenty of sparks left.
So, why is this game still worth a play? Well, first off, the story is an absolute rollercoaster. It’ll take you from a steampunk-inspired world where magic is a forgotten legend. And the characters? We’re talking about a diverse cast, each with its own rich backstories, personalities, and journeys that still resonate today, all these years later.
And it’s not just about a gripping story and lovable characters! The gameplay still shines brightly. Final Fantasy VI dishes out a combat system that’s easy to pick up but will make you think twice about your strategies as you advance.
To top it off, it has that retro, pixel-art aesthetic that has come full circle from outdated to trendy. And the music? Oh, don’t get me started! Nobuo Uematsu’s score is the kind that sticks with you, the sort of tunes you’ll find yourself humming in the shower or playing in your dreams while you fight your own monsters!
So, in a world full of new releases and cutting-edge graphics, why play Final Fantasy VI in 2023? Like with all of the games mentioned so far, this game is a timeless classic, a love letter to when storytelling and character development were at the heart of gaming. Go on, give it a try. You won’t regret it. It’s available on iOS, Android, Switch, PS4, and Windows, or if you want to go old school, copies are easy to find for SNES and PS1, but GBA copies are kinda hard to find these days.
Tetris (1984, NES)
The epitome of “easy to learn, hard to master,” Tetris remains a timeless classic. Its simple yet addictive gameplay, revolving around fitting tetromino pieces to clear lines, transcends generations. Whether you’re competing for the highest score or simply zoning out, Tetris’s satisfying gameplay loop is as enjoyable today as it was nearly four decades ago.
Matter of fact, Tetris saw a growing following in recent years with the crazy Classic Tetris World Championships gaining traction and with the release of Tetris Effect and a movie about its creation!
Personally, while I find the flashy VR features and overall modernity of Tetris Effect, I’d rather still fall back to classic NES Tetris to feed my addiction!
Fire up that old NES Tetris cartridge if you’re up to a challenge! Or of course, you can just load the Classic Tetris mode in Tetris Effect and it’s basically the same!
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, PlayStation)
Here’s the thing. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night may have been kicking around for over 26 years, but that doesn’t make it any less epic today. Picture this: you’re in this crazy castle filled with more twists than a season finale of your favorite TV show. You’ve got your pick of weapons and gear, and every choice you make really counts. But that’s not all, it has a great storyline that goes with the great gameplay!
The game is downright gorgeous as well. The pixel art is like stepping into a pixelated painting, and the eerie music will have you on the edge of your seat at certain times.
Playing this game is not just for nostalgia’s sake, especially if you’re playing it for the first time. This game shaped the Metroidvania subgenre into what it is today! Trust me, Symphony of the Night is the kind of game you’ll want to tell your friends about, even in 2023!
Super Metroid (1994, SNES)
Super Metroid, despite its release in 1994, is yet another game that won’t fail to give you the retro experience! As one of the foundational titles of the Metroidvania genre, it offers a beautifully designed and intricately connected world. The satisfaction you get from defeating enemies and getting new weapons and upgrades is just as potent today as it was almost three decades ago.
The atmospheric pixel art graphics and amazing soundtrack work in perfect harmony, creating an immersive alien world that is both eerie and mesmerizing. The challenges presented, including memorable boss battles, offer a balanced mix of excitement and strategy that will test your skills without feeling overwhelmed.
Moreover, playing Super Metroid is again a form of tribute to the history of gaming; you’ll immediately see why and how this game advanced the gaming industry. And as you compare it to today’s games, it is a reminder of how far gaming has come, yet certain classics remain as enjoyable today due to their brilliant design and immersive storytelling.
Now, all that’s left to do is load up an old cartridge or play it on the Switch through Switch Online!
Doom (1993, MS-DOS)
Doom for MS-DOS is like a fine wine that’s only gotten better with time, it does require some acquired taste, but it is indeed still great in 2023! To start with, it’s the game that popularized the first-person shooter genre. Doom is an irreplaceable piece of gaming history that gives players a sense of where it all began. The game, with its breakneck pace and adrenaline-pumping action, still manages to be as engaging and intense as its modern counterparts!
Doom offers simple, raw, unfiltered fun; there’s a certain chaotic joy in blasting through hordes of demons with your trusty shotgun. The level design is quite superb, with labyrinthine corridors filled with secrets and hazards, requiring strategy and quick reflexes to navigate.
Aesthetically, Doom has a retro charm that’s hard to resist. Its pixel art graphics and MIDI music score might feel dated to some, but for others, they bring a delightful sense of nostalgia. Moreover, these qualities have given Doom a timeless quality, making it as enjoyable now as it was during its release.
In an era of often overly complex gaming experiences, Doom’s straightforward, fast-paced shoot-’em-up action offers a refreshing change of pace. It’s a testament to the fact that you don’t need state-of-the-art graphics or intricate narratives to create a compelling gaming experience. Playing Doom is like stepping into a time machine, transporting us back to a period when gameplay was king, and it’s precisely for this reason that it remains a worthwhile game to play!
Pokemon Red/Blue (1996, Gameboy)
Last but certainly not the least is Pokemon Red/Blue, which was originally released in the late 90s. These are the titles that ignited the worldwide Pokemon phenomenon that continues to thrive today. The games introduced us to the Kanto region, filled with a variety of Pokemon waiting to be discovered and captured.
What set these games apart was their emphasis on collection and strategy. Players were tasked with capturing a wide range of Pokémon species, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities, and then strategically using them in turn-based battles. The goal of becoming a Pokemon Master by catching them all, and defeating the Elite Four, provided a sense of purpose and progression that was deeply satisfying. Additionally, the ability to trade Pokemon with friends to complete the Pokedex added a communal aspect to the game, encouraging interaction among players.
Despite the limitations of the Game Boy hardware, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue delivered an adventure filled with exploration, strategy, and wonder, elements that still make it a delightful experience for gamers today. And for what it’s worth, I still prefer the Pokemon from the Gameboy/Gameboy Advance era over the Pokemon games we have today.
So, why do these games endure when technology has far surpassed their technical achievements? The answer is simple: strong gameplay mechanics, compelling narratives, and engaging designs transcend the march of time and technological progress. These games created immersive worlds and engaging experiences that still captivate players today.
Their enduring appeal testifies to the creativity and innovation of the developers who crafted these worlds. They created the blueprint for many game mechanics and genres we enjoy today. To play these games is to experience a piece of history and gain a deep appreciation for how far gaming has come.
So, what are you waiting for? Dust off your old consoles or fire up those emulators, because these classic games are absolutely worth revisiting. Are there any games you think I missed? Please do drop them in the comments below! Thanks for reading!