There's a retro-themed party in my pocket
Wow, to think that these games used to cost as much as current-gen games do now. You bought them in boxes and had to play them for months because you were only able to acquire a couple of games a year. But look at them now, all fitting in your pocket, taking up a few megabytes instead of occupying precious shelf-space. The wonders of modern technology
Now, just to clarify, for 'retro', we're counting anything that was originally released over a decade ago. And before you wonder why the list is so Sega-heavy, remember that Nintendo games aren't legally available on iOS because they're all on Nintendo's console-based Virtual Console service instead. So, Nintendo sadly set aside for the moment, lets take a look at the best and the worst of retro on iPhone.
First the good...
The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
What it was like back then: A revolution in adventure games. Full of humour, wit and charm, Secret of Monkey Island also had some of the best graphics ever seen on home computers. It truly felt like playing a cartoon, which was a big deal at the time. LucasArts and Tim Schafer at their finest.
On iOS? Blimmin' brilliant. Firstly, the entire original game is present with a spanking new touch interface. But secondly, there's an entirely re-drawn version with a more modern art style, just in case old graphics put you off. Best of all, and fantastic for fans of novelty, you can switch between modern and classic Monkey Island whenever you like, continuing at the same point in the game. Fantastic. A bona fide classic game given a genuinely superb iOS port.
Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast, 2000)
What it was like back then: Ridiculous. Crazy Taxi ran on the Naomi arcade board then made a sensational leap onto console as one of Dreamcasts finest games. It ran at 60fps, featured music by The Offspring and featured a load of licensed, real-world locations to which you had to ferry vicars, pregnant women and punk rockers. It was awesome.
On iOS? Even more awesome. On iPhone 5, it runs at 60fps in full widescreen, still features The Offspring on the soundtrack and comes with everything the arcade game had--all the shortcuts, secret passengers and Crazy Box challenges. Oh, but the licensed shops are gone, replaced with lookalikes. When everything else is spot-on, it really doesnt matter. This is brilliant.
Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)
What it was like back then: Sonic the Hedgehog was THE game that kickstarted the 16-bit era, selling more Mega Drives than any glove-wearing hedgehog could waggle his finger at. Silky smooth, beautifully colourful and breathtakingly fast when it got up to speed, this was premium-grade gaming.
On iOS? Better than ever. Recently updated with Christian Whiteheads new retro engine, the iOS port even smooths out some of the originals few rough edges, like the rotation effect in the special stages. There are even Tails and Knuckles to unlock and play as, which is pretty odd as the screenshot above will show. The remakes producer, Stephen Yee, told us that Sonic Team were very surprised to hear the intention to alter the game, and they wanted to review the remakes progress regularly. We say whoever insisted on the quality level clearly won. This is perfection.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
What it was like back then: A fine sequel, expanding on the promise of the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater while still delivering a relatively authentic skateboarding simulation. There were still crazy jumps, but everything still felt grounded in reality compared to THPS3.
On iOS? Never mind the game's PlayStation roots, this is essentially a high-res version of the Dreamcast game, only with improved draw distances and frame rate. In fact, this is clearly the best version of the game from a technical standpoint. The touch controls are even serviceable, which is surprising given the complexity of control inputs needed to do well in the game. The level design still shines--give us 60 seconds to ace the School II level in THPS2 on an iPhone and we'll be perfectly content.
Colin McRae Rally 2.0 (2000)
What it was like back then: Back in 2000, PlayStation was being superseded by the next-generation, but that didnt mean Colin McRae Rally couldnt still shine on 32-bit tech. This sequel to the superb first offering was realistic, slidey and--above all--fun. Its biggest triumph was its physics engine that allowed the car not only to behave differently over various surfaces, but also to go into proper barrel-rolls if you got a jump wrong.
On iOS? CM2.0 has been reworked for iOS and renamed simply 'Colin McRae Rally'. You still get the same tracks and car roster, but you also get upgraded 3D models and vastly sharper textures. The handling is solid enough to work with simple left/right control input, although there's tilt control in there too if you want to wave your phone around like a steering wheel. As a result, more than a decade after its first release, Colin McRae Rally 2.0 is still relevant... Even if we do keep crashing into trees.
Sonic CD (1993)
What it was like back then: A solid game let down by being on hardware that nobody bought. In truth, it had frame-rate issues too. Add in blurry graphics from the coaxial cables that sent most TV pictures to CRT TVs at the time and you were left with a superb game that was terminally hampered by its platform. Still, nice time travel mechanic and figure-8 feet animation.
On iOS? Gorgeous. Again, it's Christian Whitehead's Retro Engine that made this all possible, eschewing emulated ROMS in favour of natively running the game in an infinitely superior fashion. It's full-screen on iPhone 5, never drops a frame and sounds like a holiday. In a dream. In heaven. This may be the second Sonic game on this list, but Whitehead's Retro Engine is so good, everything it touches appears to be turning into gold.
What it was like back then: Opening the 128-bit generation with an incredible display of graphical fidelity, Soul Calibur was a revolution in fighting games. With thousands of moves, many triggered by combinations of buttons, and the 8-way run feature, the game allowed players to really make use of the 3D space within the arena. Arguably the Dreamcast's best-looking fighter despite releasing so early, few 3D games can boast animation as impressive as Soul Calibur's, even today.
On iOS? Surprisingly competent, but lacking in a few areas. Firstly, the game hasn't been updated to include iPhone 5 screen support. The game also misses the single-player mission mode from the Dreamcast version big time. The single movement stick has to incorporate d-pad and 8-way run functionality into one interface, and you need multi-touch (two fingers) to execute throws. But despite all that, it's a breathtaking showcase for mobile gaming. Especially on a retina display, where it just looks too good to be true, especially at 60fps.
Sid Meier's Pirates (1987)
What it was like back then: Admittedly, not quite the same game. The version on iOS is a port of the 2004 remake, which added 3D visuals to the top-down Commodore 64 original. It was instantly loved for its loot-gathering, ship sinking (we refuse to say 'swash-buckling) gameplay and represents a decent challenge too, if you progress your career quickly enough.
On iOS? Seems to work better than ever. The load times are nice and fast thanks to the flash storage, the touch screen interface is much more suited to its PC origins than the PSP version, and the game itself still feels fresh, even if it does make us yearn for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.