Best Retro Games of the 1980s – 2000s: Classics that Changed Gaming Forever

by | Jul 17, 2022 | Uncategorised

Do you remember the classic retro games that were released in the 1980s and 1990s? Even an old-school arcade game was often ported to home consoles, turning it into a cult classic. 

Games like Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Final Fantasy VII were some of the most popular games of their time. They paved the way for future video game favorites and series like Uncharted 2, Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto (GTA), Mass Effect (epic space game!), and so many more.

Many modern video games were inspired by the classics of the gaming world. As we see in today’s games, which employ an online service for DLC and major updates to the games, they’re highly technical and very well done.

But retro games?

Naw, they were super fun because you had to get good at it. These classic games forced you to get better, and remember the patterns. It’s just how it was. And, those who grew up in the 80s and 90s feel nostalgia anytime they relive those old-school games.

Retro gaming is still fun today, and there are ways to play these old-school classics on your computer or mobile device. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best retro games of all time.

1. Why retro games are still popular today

Many people grew up playing old school games like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. These games were simple yet fun, and they were a big part of many people’s childhoods.

Today, there is a growing nostalgia for these older games, and they are becoming popular once again. One reason is that for many adults today in their mid-30s and 40s, these games were the first game they played. 

Secondly, classic games are easy to pick up and start playing, even if you have no experience with them. They don’t require hours of commitment or a lot of prior knowledge, and they can be enjoyed in short bursts.

Additionally, older games often have a charm that newer games lack. They tend to be more creative and imaginative, and they often have a more personal touch since they were created by smaller teams. They were challenging, sometimes within reason, and you’d have to pick up on familiar or repetitive patterns for good measure. Otherwise, you’d lose.

Finally, classic games are more affordable than newer games, which is appealing to many people. These are just a few reasons, but there are many more reasons why retro games are still popular today.

2. The best classic games of the 80s and 90s

The 80s were a golden age for video games, with classics like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Space Invaders. But most of those were released on earlier consoles like ColecoVision and Atari. Here are ten classic games from the 1980s (in no particular order) that are sure to bring back memories:

  • Super Mario Bros.
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Metroid
  • Donkey Kong
  • Kid Icarus
  • Excitebike
  • Clu Clu Land
  • Gumshoe
  • Adventure Island
  • Adventures of Dino Riki

The 1990s was a golden era for video games. Classic titles like Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Sonic the Hedgehog helped to define a generation of gaming. These games were engaging, challenging, and above all else, fun. 

They also had a unique flavor that could only be found in the 90s. Today, many of these games have been re-released or updated for modern audiences, but they will always hold a special place in the hearts of gamers who grew up in the 90s. Here are ten of the classic games from that beloved decade in no particular order:

  • Super Mario World
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Star Fox
  • Street Fighter II
  • Super Metroid
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Mario Kart 64
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • Illusion of Gaia

3. How retro gaming changed the industry

When it comes to video games, there’s no question that the ’80s and ’90s were a golden era. From classics like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda to more modern hits like Sonic the Hedgehog and Street Fighter II, there was something for everyone. And while many of these games are still enjoyed today, they wouldn’t have been possible without the NES, Genesis, SNES, and other old game, classic consoles.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in 1985 and quickly became a major player in the video game market. With its innovative gameplay, catchy music, and lovable characters, it helped to popularize video gaming and bring it into the mainstream.

The Genesis followed suit in 1989, bringing with it even more impressive graphics and gameplay.

Finally, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) arrived in 1990, cementing Nintendo’s position as the king of console gaming.

These three consoles changed the gaming industry forever, and their impact is still felt today.

Thanks to their cutting-edge features and addicting gameplay, they introduced millions of people to the world of video gaming, created a generation of lifelong gamers, and produced the greatest games that inspired many of our current games today.

So next time you fire up your NES, Genesis, or SNES, take a moment to appreciate how these groundbreaking consoles shaped the gaming landscape as we know it.

4. Retro game consoles and how to play them

For those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s, retro gaming is a blast from the past. And with the advent of technology, it’s now possible to play our favorite old-school games on modern-day consoles.

Here’s a quick guide on how to get started:

Console Route:

First, you’ll need to track down a retro gaming console. You can often find them at second-hand stores, garage sales, or online retailers like eBay or GameStop. 

Once you’ve got your console, you’ll need some games to play on it. You’ll find eBay, Facebook Market Place, and even Amazon loaded with original game cartridges. 

Next, hook up your retro gaming console to your TV and start playing!

ROM Route:

If you can’t find an original console or don’t want to use original cartridges, you can download ROMs (game files) and emulators (software that lets you play ROMs on your computer or phone). There are plenty of websites where you can find both of these things. But, these have gone underground due to legality issues, so we can’t offer you direction to them. Sorry.

Handled Device Route:

But there’s more! Another option is to use gaming devices, like an off-brand device that lets you load up emulators and ROMs. You can even play classic games on popular handheld consoles like the Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch.

If you’re using an emulator, you may need to do a little bit of configuration first. But once you get everything set up, you’ll be transported back in time to your favorite 8-bit games and 16-bit classics. Happy gaming!

5. The most popular retro games of all time

This brief list includes the games from the three main consoles in the 80s and 90s: NES, SNES, and Genesis. Of course, this list is exclusive to RGN, so we may be a little biased. 

1. Super Mario Bros.: Introduced in 1985, this classic side-scrolling platform game helped to launch the Nintendo Entertainment System into global popularity. With its simple yet addicting gameplay, charming 8-bit visuals, and catchy soundtrack, Super Mario Bros. set the standard for future platform games.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Another classic from Nintendo, The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986 for the NES. Combining elements of action, adventure, and role-playing, Zelda became one of the most beloved and influential games of all time. Its direct sequel, The Adventure of Link, is often considered an unusual outlier for the series. But, it still had its own special charm.

3. Metroid: Dropping into home consoles in 1986, Metroid was a trailblazing entry in the action-adventure genre. Featuring a large, non-linear world to explore and a variety of power-ups to find, Metroid inspired a generation of open-ended exploration games known as Metroidvanias.

4. Mega Man 2: Released in 1988, Mega Man 2 quickly became one of the most popular characters in gaming. The original Mega Man featured six different Robot Masters to defeat, each with their own unique stage and abilities. The series would go on to spawn dozens of sequels and spin-offs over

5. Double Dragon 2: Presented in 1990, Double Dragon was originally an arcade game ported to the NES. It featured two brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee who must rescue Marian. It’s a classic “beat ‘em up” game with fun fighting elements.

6. Super Mario World: This early 90s classic featured everyone’s favorite Italian plumber explore Dinosaur Land. With colorful graphics and catchy tunes, it’s no wonder that this game is still beloved by gamers today.

7. Mortal Kombat: Sliding into home consoles in 1992, Mortal Kombat significantly changed the gaming scene with it’s realistic characters, hella violent bloody-gory fights, and epic fatalties. It even caused major controversy in the courts. Despite that, it also brought about the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). How about that!

8. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Another classic from the early 90s, this game transported players to the land of Hyrule where they had to save Princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf. Featuring a vast world to explore and challenging puzzles to solve, A Link to the Past is considered one of the best games ever made.

9. Donkey Kong Country: This 1994 SNES game was revolutionary for its time, thanks to its use of 3D graphics. Donkey Kong must rescue his kidnapped friend Diddy Kong from the evil King K. Rool, and players got to control both Kongs throughout the course of the game.

10. Sonic the Hedgehog: Speeding through in 1991, Sonic was the mascot for the Genesis, which gave Nintendo a run for its money when it was released. Running at high speed, jumping pits, and leggin’ it through vertical loops, along with colorful graphics and great control made this game endless fun. 

11. Contra: Created and published by Konami in 1986, this run-and-gun shooter was an amazingly fun game to play with a second player. It had unique playing perspectives for its time, such as pseudo-3D and side-scroller. It also introduced the ever-loved, ever-famous Konami code. Up, up, down, down, baby!

6. Why old-school games are still fun today

Retro games are still much fun for a number of reasons. For one, they often have simple gameplay that is easy to pick up and addictive. They also tend to be more challenging than modern games, providing a sense of satisfaction when you finally beat them. You can find a similar level of challenge in today’s games like Dark Souls, Blasphemous, and Elden Ring.

In addition, retro games often have a lot of personality, whether it’s due to their quirky graphics or catchy music. And finally, they can provide a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those who grew up playing them. 

Whether you’re looking for a quick distraction or a challenging journey, retro games are definitely worth checking out.

7. How to find classic video games online

For many people, classic video games are more than just a way to pass the time–they’re a source of nostalgia, happy memories, and a sense of childlike wonder. If you’re looking to recapture that feeling, you don’t need to dust off your old console or scour flea markets for long-lost cartridges. Instead, there are a number of websites that offer classic games that you can play directly in your web browser.

One such website is Arcade Prehacks, which offers hacked versions of popular arcade games and many fighting games. You’ll also find that many are web games that have been hacked. These versions often allow you to cheat or play with unlimited lives, making them perfect for casual gamers or those looking for a little bit of help to beat a challenging game.

For a more authentic experience, try Classic Reload, which offers faithful recreations of classic games, like Oregon Trail (my favorite when I was in kindergarten!). The site even includes information on the history of each game, providing some context for your nostalgic gaming session.

Whether you’re looking to relive your childhood or just kill some time, classic video games offer a welcome dose of fun. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can be transported back to simpler times when your biggest concern was beating the next level.

8. Playing classic video games on your PC or mobile device

Who says you need a console to play retro video games? 

These days, there are plenty of ways to enjoy classic titles on your smartphone or computer. Whether you’re an old-school gamer looking for a nostalgic fix, or a new player curious about the roots of your favorite genre, emulators make it easy to enjoy retro games without breaking the bank.

There are a few different ways to go about playing retro games on your mobile device. One option is to use an emulator, which is software that simulates the hardware of a particular gaming system.

This means you can play games designed for systems like the Nintendo 64 or Sega Genesis on your phone or tablet. Another option is to purchase re-releases of classic games that have been optimized for modern devices. For example, you can buy an Android port of the original Super Mario Bros.

Finally, some newer phones and tablets are able to run so-called “ROMs,” which are digital copies of retro games that can be downloaded from the internet.

Of course, you’re not limited to playing retro games on your mobile device. If you want the full console experience, there are several ways to play classic games on your computer as well. Once again, emulators

9. Tips for beating your favorite retro games

Anyone who’s ever played a retro video game knows that they can be pretty tough. But there are a few ways you can give yourself an edge.

First, it’s important to understand the game’s mechanics and how they work. Then, you can start looking for patterns and exploiting them to your advantage. Another useful tactic is to practice “save scumming.” This means saving your game often and reloading if you make a mistake or die. It might take a little longer, but it’s often the best way to get through a tough section.

Finally, don’t be afraid to consult a walkthrough or cheat code if you’re really stuck. Sometimes it’s just better to move on and enjoy the game.

10. History of some classic video game consoles

ColecoVision 1982: Compared to competitors like the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, ColecoVision provided gamers with a closer arcade-like experience. The original catalog had 12 games on a ROM cartridge, which included Donkey Kong, the first version. 

NES – 1985: The North American console version of the Famicom (Japanese home gaming console), came when the big video game crash took place just two years earlier. It revolutionized at-home gaming, and it was amazingly fun to play with a wide library of 678 games. 

Genesis – 1989: This would be Sega’s third console and successor to the Master System. With it’s 16-bit graphics and a sound controller, it livened up video games so much more than NES. Plus, there were over 900 games in the Genesis’ library.

Super Nintendo – 1990: Often referred to as SNES or Super NES, this was Nintendo’s 16-bit home gaming console. It introduced advanced, colorful graphics and better sound capabilities in comparison to competing consoles. Many beloved classics were born on the SNES, which had an impressive library of 717 games.

Sega Saturn – 1994: As the successor to the Sega Genesis, the Saturn offered eight processors and a dual-CPU build. The games were no longer cartridge-based, but in CD-ROM format. Even with arcade game ports and a library of 258 games, the system failed hard. 

Playstation – 1995: CD-ROM-based games, sleek look, and epic titles like FF7 and Tekken, Sony Playstation would gradually steal away the spotlight from Titan Nintendo in the gaming wars. Armed with a library of 1,335 games, it was the first console to sell 100+ million units in less than a decade. 

Nintendo 64 – 1996: Six years later, this 64-bit graphic system would succeed the SNES. Originally designed from codename Project Reality, the console could produce beautiful 3D graphics and improved functionality. Popular games like Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Bros., came from this console. Despite a much smaller library of only 393 games, it would be Nintendo’s ninth-greatest console. 

These are just a few of the systems we talk about on RGN. For my own heyday, I started with Atari and NES. The rest was uphill from there.

11. What to expect from future classic gaming releases

It’s hard to predict what sort of games will become classics in the future. Part of the reason why some games become classics is that they capture a moment in time–they tap into something that people are feeling at that particular moment and become a part of popular culture. Other games become classics because they’re just really well made, with great gameplay, graphics, and stories.

It’s hard to say which category future classics will fall into, but there are certain elements that all classic games have in common. They’re innovative, for one thing. They push boundaries and offer players something new and exciting to explore. They’re also timeless – even as technology changes, these games remain entertaining and relevant.

And finally, they’re just plain fun to play. Whether or not a game has what it takes to become a classic is impossible to say for sure, but if it ticks all of these boxes, it’s definitely got a shot.

12. How emulation makes playing retro games easy and fun

Thanks to emulators, playing retro games is easy and fun. Emulators are software that mimics the hardware of an older system on a modern computer. 

This means that you can play games designed for an NES on your PC, for example. The great thing about emulators is that they preserve the game in its original state.

This means that you can experience the game exactly as it was intended, without any graphical or audio enhancements. In addition, emulators often come with a host of additional features, such as the ability to save your game at any point, rewind gameplay, and even use cheat codes. As a result, emulators have made it possible to experience classic games in a whole new way.

You don’t need a powerhouse PC to play emulators. They can be played on mobile phones, but the experience isn’t just as good on a PC with a USB controller. Even your basic laptop will run emulators fine, but for a great experience, we have a short list of laptops and PC builds that are perfect for emulation.

NES, SNES, Genesis, Atari, etc.: Acer Nitro 5 AN515 Gaming Laptop

N64, Dreamcast, GameCube: Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i 15.6 HD Laptop

**Playstation, Wii: Gigabyte G5 GD Nvidia GeForce RTX3050 Gaming Laptop

**You can now play PlayStation games on PC via PS Now. 

These are just a few recommendations we think are great for retro gaming. You’ll want a system that supports emulation and is able to run the graphics and sound at the best level possible. For even more recommendations retro gaming, visit our list of the top-rated retro gaming laptops. 

13. The challenges of developing classic retro-style video games

Indie game developers who create retro-style video games often face a number of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is obtaining the rights to use classic game characters and assets. For example, obtaining the rights to use Super Mario Bros. characters in a new game can be exceedingly difficult and expensive.

In addition, many classic games are beloved by fans and critics alike, which can make it hard for an Indie developer to create a retro-style game that lives up to expectations. Another challenge faced by retro game developers is finding new ways to breathe life into well-worn gameplay mechanics.

For example, many gamers have played countless platformers featuring running and jumping gameplay, so an Indie developer might have trouble creating a new platformer that feels fresh and unique.

Finally, Indie developers face stiff competition from big-budget studios who also create retro-style games. For example, Nintendo has released a number of highly successful retro-style games in recent years, such as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

These games have set a high bar for quality, making it difficult for Indie developers to compete. Despite these challenges, many Indie developers continue to create excellent retro-style video games that are enjoyed by gamers everywhere.

14. Playing classic video games with friends and family

There’s just something about playing retro video games that brings people together. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor, or the fact that retro games are just more fun to play in a group setting. Whatever the reason, playing retro games with friends or family is a great way to spend some quality time together.

Not only will you get to bond over your shared love of gaming, but you’ll also get to relive some of your favorite childhood memories. And who knows, you might even discover a new favorite game in the process!

So next time you’re looking for a fun activity to do with your loved ones, why not break out the old console and dust off those classic titles? You’re sure to have a blast.

15. The best classic video game soundtracks

The classic console era was a golden age for video game music. From the 8-bit bleeps and bloops of the NES to the 16-bit symphonies of the SNES and Genesis, retro game soundtracks are filled with unforgettable tunes. Here are 10 of the best:

1. Super Mario Bros. – The original Super Mario Bros. soundtrack is one of the most iconic in gaming history. From the title theme to the underground music, every tune is instantly recognizable.

2. Castlevania 2 – Castlevania features some of the most atmospheric and chilling music in any video game. The creepy melodies perfectly complement the game’s gothic setting.

3. Mega Man 2 – Mega Man 2 is widely considered to be one of the best games in the series, and its soundtrack is just as good. From fast-paced action tracks to more mellow melodies, there’s something for everyone.

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is home to some of the franchise’s most memorable tunes, including the overworld theme and Hyrule Castle music.

5. Chrono Trigger – The main theme of Chrono Trigger has a robust, familiar sound that speaks of adventure. With the orchestral arrangement and strong overtones, it’s a memorable theme that gets the blood pumping for more. 

6. Super Mario Bros. 3 – With the chill sound of the Grassland (overworld theme) to the beats of the Bowser Battle, this soundtrack enhanced the gameplay and was fun to jam to. 

7. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – When you heard that exciting opening theme, you knew it was Sonic. The iconic music for each level remained a classic favorite for Genesis fans everywhere.

8. Street Fighter II – A blood-pumping sound straight out of the 80s, Guile’s theme on Steet Fighter 2 fits not only the character, but could literally go with every successful achievement in everyday life. 

9. Contra – Hearing the opening short tune that ends with an 8-bit explosion instantly takes you back to being a kid and playing with your friend, or cousin, or sibling. Then, sliding right into the Area 1: Jungle music sets the game in full 2D, side-scrolling action.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time – Of course, the TMNT theme song takes the cake for any Ninja Turtles game. You can’t have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without it. Redone plenty of times, the theme for TMNT 4 is more upbeat and arcade-driven. 

11. Super Metroid – It’s the Title Theme that does it for me on Super Metroid. It’s space-y, mysterious, and everything Metroid. But, Brinstar the Jungle Floor and the Spore Spawn boss theme remain the most epic. 

12. Final Fantasy VI – Save the best for last, right? Nobuo Uematsu poured his heart and soul into the OST for this game, and it shows. From the main title screen, to Terra’s Theme, to Dancing Mad, all the music in FF6 is just a masterpiece. 

Each of these classic video games has an incredible soundtrack that will take you back to simpler times. 

Whether you’re looking for some classic game music to relax or want to relive your childhood, these are some of the best soundtracks around. What’s your favorite classic video game soundtrack?

16. The classic video game characters we all know and love

Mario and Luigi are two of the most iconic video game characters of all time. First appearing in the classic 1985 game “Super Mario Bros.”, they have since appeared in over 200 games and are beloved by gamers of all ages.

Samus Aran is another classic character, first appearing in the 1986 game “Metroid”. One of the most popular games in the series is “Super Metroid”, released in 1994.

Simon Belmont is a well-known character from the “Castlevania” series, which began in 1986.

Link is the main character of the “Legend of Zelda” series, which started in 1986 with the release of “The Legend of Zelda”.

Mega Man is a robot that first appeared in 1987’s “Mega Man”, and has since appeared in over 50 games.

And these are just a handful of the popular characters that most 80s and 80s kiddos grew up with. These classic characters have been entertaining gamers for decades and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

17. What classic gaming means to different people

For some people, retro gaming is all about nostalgia. They grew up playing classic games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, and they want to relive those experiences. For others, retro gaming is more about the challenge. They enjoy the simplicity of older games, and the lack of hand-holding that was common in many games from that era.

And then there are those who see retro gaming as a way to appreciate the history of the medium. They love to play old games to see how they have influenced the development of modern games.

Regardless of why someone enjoys retro gaming, there is no denying that it has become a popular hobby in recent years. Thanks to the rise of digital platforms like Steam and GOG, it has never been easier to access classic games. And with new retro-inspired titles being released all the time, there is always something new to discover for fans of this type of gaming.

18. How classic video games have stood the test of time

Video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong and Pac-Man. But even as graphics and gameplay have become more sophisticated, there’s still something to be said for the classics.

Games like Mario and Donkey Kong may not look as impressive as the latest first-person shooters, but they’re still a lot of fun to play. And thanks to emulators and re-releases, it’s easy to enjoy these classic games on modern devices.

What’s more, many of these old-school games have been remixed or updated for a new generation of players. So whether you’re a seasoned gamer or just getting started, there’s plenty to enjoy from the golden age of gaming.

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