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.
And now the bad...
Jet Set Radio (2000)
What it was like back then: Jet Set Radio was a breath of fresh air, providing cel-shaded cartoon visuals, free-roaming city areas to explore (and tag with your own custom graffiti) and perhaps the coolest soundtrack in any game ever. The controls weren't perfect, but pretty much everything else was.
On iOS? Heartbreaking. The visuals look sharper than ever, the soundtrack is still superb and the frame-rate is impressively high given the detail of the game worlds. It's a great conversion of the Dreamcast game. Except for one thing... the controls are abysmal. There's a reason joypads were designed with buttons in the first place. Touch screen input just doesn't work for some games. This is one of them. Play it on Vita instead, where the controls are way better and there's a second stick for the camera. It's way better than the original... unlike this, which is not.
Pole Position (1982)
What it was like back then: Revolutionary. The game featured unprecedented realism, allowing you to grasp a wheel in your hands and drive a car 'into' the screen. The smoothly-scaled sprites and chase cam enabled a 3D effect the likes of which had never been seen before. Explosive crashes, progressive steering, loads of cars on-track... this was the future.
On iOS? Very much 'the past'. Admittedly, this was among the first wave of iOS games, but as deluxe ports go, it's terrible. It's just so ugly! Why can't we have the original graphics? Games looked like ^^^this^^^ for about 5 minutes when Flash games became popular on the internet. Yet this costs actual money? You even have to steer by tilting the phone... which doesn't change the horizon's tilt, so you're effectively steering the car by making it fall down a hill. Awful. And we want our money back.
ZX Spectrum (1982)
What it was like back then: Only the finest home computer money could buy. Sure, Commodore 64 swiftly surpassed its graphical capabilities, but Speccy holds a special place in many gamers' hearts... or at least it does in the UK. Few US gamers will even have heard of it. But that's where iPhone comes in!
On iOS? There are several Spectrum emulators around, even in entirely legal ways and on non-jailbroken iPhones. Our pick of these would be ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection, which comes with several decent games including Chuckie Egg, Turbo Esprit (pictured) and--oh yes--Grand National. With pixelly horses, which we fall off at the first hurdle. To be honest, the experience is pretty awful, but at least it's faithfully awful. Sadly, Elite doesn't include the likes of Booty and Nigel Mansell's Grand Prix. If it did that, you wouldn't see us any more--we'd be on our phones all day.
Streets of Rage II (1992)
What it was like back then: Streets of Rage II sorted out all of the originals very few shortcomings. The biggest improvement was in the graphics--not only the size of the sprites, but the quality of the drawing and animations. The game had an arcade feel while offering compelling, scrolling beat-em-up gameplay, complete with a broader selection of fighting moves at your disposal, all the while accompanied by one of the finest soundtracks in gaming.
On iOS? That soundtrack has been slaughtered. Someone, somewhere decided that the best way to show off Yuzo Koshiros masterpiece of composition and arrangement was to turn up its volume so loud the audio distorts horribly. So what if the gameplay remains as playable as ever? It sounds disgraceful. A timeless classic butchered for iOS and without good reason. All the other Mega Drive games sound fine. Grrrr
Wolfenstein 3D (1991)
What it was like back then: A trailblazer, certainly. Pretty much forgotten once Doom came along, but Wolfenstein was doing FPS action before Doom so deserves some sort of prize. Shoot Nazis in corridors with funny ceilings and keep telling yourself there's no such thing as stairs.
On iOS? Still no such thing as stairs (that's authenticity for you), but also no such thing as fun. The biggest problem is the control scheme, which somehow links turning sensitivity with movement speed. So it's either too jerky or too slow. Add in the fact that the iPhone's display is so crisp and the frame-rate so high, your imagination can no longer fill in the gaps. You can see exactly what you're looking at: awful 3D graphics. Yes, this is a port that's actually worse because it looks too good. Go figure...
But what do you think?
Yes, we know. We left your favourite retro game off the list and now you feel outraged. But that's OK, we probably just forgot. Tell us about it in the comments and let other people experience its brilliance too.