Recently I’ve been getting into my retro games, or retro style independent games that I stumble on for cheap in the PS Store. They not only give me a feeling of nostalgia, but they’re also just really decent games – good dynamics and gameplay, witty dialogue and challenging levels. More of the elements that developers had to rely on before they could fall back on flashy graphics and special effects.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the landscape of gaming these days. Modern games can be stunning, immersive and imaginative.
Then there are the beloved series of games that have spanned through the decades and kept with the times all the way. They have evolved and changed and reinvented themselves, and are still celebrated by gamers to this day. This article explores these timeless classics and their journey to new releases and modern success.
Only games which started in the 1980s or earlier are covered here. This means that some of your favourites will be missing, such as Resident Evil (1996), GTA (1997), FIFA (1993) and Tomb Raider (1996). What you will find is a number of games that you will remember from your earlier days and that you might still play today, from poker right through to Mario.
Where better place to start than everyone’s favourite cheeky little plumber hero. The original Super Mario Bros. was released on the NES in 1985 and quickly became the world’s most popular side-scroller, accredited even with rescuing the gaming industry from the 1983 crash. More than 40 million physical copies of Super Mario Bros. have been sold, making it one of the best-selling games of all time. Copies of the early originals, when kept in pristine condition, have even been sold for tens of thousands.
In the original game, Mario was tasked with rescuing Princess Toadstool from Bowser, so not much has changed in that respect, but the series has evolved in nearly every other way and has never been a franchise that sticks to one mould.
Mario Bros. 2 saw the introduction of 4 playable characters, while Mario Bros. 3 introduced themed worlds on an overmap, boss battles and those annoying half-way ship battles. Mario 64, launched with the N64, took the franchise to new dimensions (literally) with the success of the 3D open world, which has continued through to the recently released Odyssey.
The original Wolfenstein was released back in 1981. It combined action and stealth from a top-down perspective with top-down being a very common format at the time. Wolfenstein 3D (1992), by id Software, brought in a faster shoot-em up style which helped to popularise the game, as well as the shoot-em up genre.
The 2009 release of Wolfenstein ushered in a new era for the series and the first game to introduce the main character William B.J. Blazkowicz. Since then we’ve had New Order (2014), New Colossus (2017) and Youngblood (2019), all of which have been brilliant games.
Caption: Wolfenstein: Young Blood
‘Poker’ is actually the name of a family of card games, the commonality being that players are dealt cards and make bets during betting rounds. The most common and popular form of poker is Texas Hold ‘em, thought to have been created in Texas in the early 1900s and later made popular in the casinos of Las Vegas.
The first poker machines were invented in 1891, but were closer to slot machines. In the 1970s, video poker machines became popular and early versions like the ‘Poker-Matic’ were installed in nearly every casino in Vegas.
Poker is without doubt a game that changes with the times. Video poker is still popular today, but it is online poker that steals the spotlight. The first online poker games were played in the late 1990s, but really took off after 2004. Now, poker games like Blast take the most exciting elements of the game to create a fast, short-handed format, with prize money decided randomly before the game starts.
Street Fighter is arguably the original and best beat em up game even to this day. The original was first released in 1987 as an arcade machine and featured only two playable characters, both with the same limited set of moves – three punches, three kicks and three special moves.
It was Street Fighter II that really took off, and is still the best selling game of the franchise, which as a whole has sold over 43 million units worldwide as of June 2019. Street Fighter II introduced many of the key elements of this genre that we now take for granted, such as a choice of characters with their own styles and set of 30 or more unique moves, making battles more varied and exciting.
The series still has the same basic premise of beating up your opponents, but recent games such as Street Fighter V have better sound and visuals, more characters and special moves and additional gameplay options.
I have a soft spot for Final Fantasy. Admittedly, I didn’t play many of the earlies titles, the first of which was released in 1987. I joined the party for FFVII on the PlayStation, released in 1996 and still regarded as the golden title of the series. The FFVII remake is due to be released in March 2020,
Since its early days, the franchise has continued to deliver excellent RPG games to the masses. FFVIII and FFIX followed similar formats to VII, but brought entirely new plots, characters, worlds, customization and battle elements, so that nostalgic fans always felt at home but always on their toes. There are now XV games in the main series, along with a huge number of spin-offs spanning multiple genres, from action to MMO.
Caption: Cloud Strife returns in the FFVII remake, set for release in March 2020
Does it really get any better than Zelda? Throughout decades’ worth of gaming beauty, Zelda has brought awesome adventure titles to the world, from early top-down styles to the legendary and perhaps unbeatable Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64.
The original Zelda game was released in 1986 on the NES. Since then, there have been 21 other different games released, with the series as a whole selling 80 million games. It’s a timeless classic without a shadow of a doubt. What makes Zelda so special is that the recently released Breathe of the Wild is just as powerful and evocative as Ocarina.
And there you have it. From poker to Mario, Final Fantasy to Zelda – these are the games that have spanned decades and that will likely continue for decades more.