10 Best Retro Gaming Throwbacks, Ranked

While the cutting-edge polygons and textures of modern gaming certainly impress, there’s a charm to the look and feel of retro titles that can’t be denied. Often, developers will take a beloved classic and give it a new coat of paint to make it more appealing to a more modern audience.


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On the other hand, it’s nice to see a title that deliberately incorporates the looks and sounds of the old-school greats. It’s important to remember that good retro throwbacks aren’t just content to tug at gamers’ nostalgic heartstrings. The truly great examples are fun, no matter what era players were born in.

10 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game Isn’t Just A Licensed Cash Grab

Scott and Ramona stand in front of the game's cast.

Released to coincide with the Edgar Wright film adaption of the same name, Ubisoft’s digital downloadable title Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game could have easily been another lazy licensed cash grab. However, the company’s Montreal and Chengdu divisions managed to craft a wonderful homage to beat ’em up classics such as River City Ransom.

The game nails the old-school look and sound, thanks mainly to the talents of artist Paul Robertson and the band Anamanaguchi. While the game was de-listed after Ubisoft’s contract expired, it returned to digital stores in 2020 and received a physical release by Limited Run Games the following year.

9 Mega Man 9 Kick-Started The Retro Revival Wave

Mega Man stands in front of several of the game's robot masters.

Arguably the game that kick-started the wave of retro revivals, Mega Man 9, deviated from the previous two entries by evoking the look and sounds of the 8-bit classics that started it all. Developed by Inti Crates and produced by Keji Inafune, the game’s retro direction was inspired by the surge of classic re-releases on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service.

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Gone were the charge buster and the slide of later installments as the game focused on the pure run-and-gun gameplay of the first two games. However, the game brought one new innovation: the first ever female robot master with Splash Woman.

8 Sonic Mania Taught The Old Hog Some New Tricks

Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles from Sonic Mania

Led by Christian Whitehead and developed by PadgodaWest games, Sonic Mania was a love letter to the Blue Blur’s Genesis classics with more modern elements such as a 4K resolution and 60 blistering frames per second. The game comprises remixes of classic levels and entirely new stages that evoke the look and style of the games that put the hedgehog on the map.

All of this is bolstered by wonderful sprite animations and a phenomenal soundtrack by Tee Lopes. The result is quite possibly the best game in the Sonic series in over a decade.

7 2064: Read Only Memories Is A Vibrant Cyberpunk Adventure

The cast of 2064: Read Only Memories

2064: Read Only Memories is a graphic adventure title that tasks players with solving a series of kidnappings in the vibrant futuristic Neo-San Francisco. The game takes several visual and gameplay cues from Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher while incorporating elements from other graphic adventure titles such as Rise of the Dragon.

The presentation shines with expressive character portraits, while a subsequent release would feature voice-overs from Melissa Hutchinson and Adam Harrington. The game is also a queer-inclusive title that allows players to specify which pronouns to identify the protagonist.

6 Dusk Evokes A Period Of Shooters That Seemed Doomed

Players arrive at the town of Dusk.

Ever since franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield put a larger emphasis on realism, there’s been a demand for more fast-paced and outlandish shooters, which helped popularize the genre; evoking 90s shooters such as Doom and Quake, Dusk is a horror FPS which incorporates the low polygon count and twitch gameplay of its forefathers.

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Combat is effective with a wide variety of weapons that are satisfying to use. While the deliberately primitive visuals may be a turn-off to some, others might find that it adds to the game’s creepy atmosphere.

5 Stardew Valley Is More Open-Ended Than Harvest Moon

Stardew Valley promotional image

ConcernedApe’s Stardew Valley puts players in control of a character who’s been granted a huge plot of land in a rural village known as Pelican Town. The game wears its Harvest Moon influences on its sleeve with its farm simulation gameplay, NPC characters who can be married, and its general tranquil vibe.

However, in stark contrast to the two-year time limit from Natsume’s titles, Stardew Valley’s open-ended structure grants players much more freedom to experiment and see everything the game has to offer. This element was praised by the original creator of Harvest Moon himself, Yasuhiro Wada.

4 Shovel Knight Is Not A Tied Down By Nostalgia

Shovel Knight fights Shield Knight in shovel Knight

Yacht Club Game’s Shovel Knight is a 2D side-scrolling action game that incorporates the visuals and gameplay mechanics of 8-bit classics such as Mega Man and Duck Tales. However, unlike many retro-throwbacks too numerous to mention, it isn’t stuck in the era’s attitudes.

The game wisely eschews the lives systems of classic titles and even adopts some mechanics from more modern efforts such as Dark Souls. The final product is a fun and cathartic homage to the 8-bit classics of yesteryear with all the bells and whistles and none of the frustration.

3 A Hat In Time Is The Long Awaited Collect-A-Thon Revival

Hat Kid and Mustache Girl race for the timepiece.

Gears for Breakfast managed to do what even former members of Rare couldn’t and breathe new life into the 3D platformer genre. A Hat in Time avoids the pitfalls of Playtonic’s Yooka Laylee by retaining the charm of titles such as Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64 while jettisoning the elements that have aged poorly.

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Detractors might find its main campaign on the short side, and its incorporation of other genres in certain levels a bit jarring. However, Hat Kid’s adventure is filled to the brim with polished mechanics, charming characters, and lively locales. All of this culminates in forming the collect-a-thon revival that fans have been waiting for.

2 Axiom Verge Filled A Niche Left By The Big N

Elsenova from Axiom Verge

For literal decades, fans had been clamoring for another 2D Metroid from the Big N to no avail. Instead, the company seemed determined to destroy all the goodwill the series had built with titles such as Other M and Federation Force. However, when Nintendo dropped the morphball, indie devs came to pick it up with several Metroidvania titles.

Among those efforts, Axiom Verge comes the closest to evoking Samus’ famous missions with its space setting and Giger-esque art style. Thankfully, the game has plenty of new ideas to give it its own distinct identity.

1 Undertale’s Retro Charm Belies Its Hidden Depths

Undertale Child / Frisk / Chara with Toriel

While Undertale takes some influences from old-school RPGs such as Earthbound and the Shin Megami Tensei series, it isn’t content to be a carbon copy of those titles. The game somehow manages to take all of these seemingly disparate gameplay elements and combine them into something that feels consistent and fresh.

While its 8-bit visuals may seem overly minimalist, it becomes clear that they’re a deliberate artistic touch to catch players off guard. The story, soundtrack, and ever-changing gameplay combine to make one of the finest games of the last decade.

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