Everyone has that game they remember playing as a kid that just holds a special place in their heart. Maybe it reminds you of co-op sessions with family of friends. Or perhaps it’s just one of the first things that started you on the road to be a gamer. Trouble is, going back can often be a disappointment. Some things age badly, some are just impossible to play unless you want to download DOSbox and remember how pre-Windows PCs worked. So here’s a list of a few games that perfectly recreate old classics, often unashamedly so. Many of these started off as personal fan projects by developers who wanted to recreate the thing they loved. If one person has good memories, so will others, and often these little hobby projects become full releases...
What it replaces: Harvest Moon
Platforms: Switch, PS4, PC, Xbox One
What’s it like: By developer Eric Barone’s own admission Stardew Valley was made to replace farming sim Harvest Moon. And it was clearly something other people cared about, as what started as a small fan project grew into a full release - learning and growing from feedback and community interaction. It should feel like work - watering plants, collecting crops, eggs, wool and more, but somehow it never becomes a chore. There’s something wonderfully meditative about its routines and crafting as you create produce to sell. There’s an undulating structure to it with seasons affecting what crops you can grow and many layers to what needs to be done when. It’s also a sprawling world to explore with missions, hidden areas, secrets that players share through numerous ‘wait, what?’ conversations about void chickens, and special places full of that thing you need.
What it replaces: Quake (or any 90s FPS)
Platforms: Switch, PS4, PC
What’s it like: Fast. Oh God, so fast. Strafe is a game where you don’t want to stop moving for even a split second, and the floors feel like oiled ice. It takes a few goes to get into its relentless shooting and explosive gore but when you do there’s very definitely ‘a zone’. The speed and lack of room for errors means entire levels can fly by in blur of twitchy nerves and skin-of-your-teeth escapes. It also perfectly recreates the low poly look of those 90s era PC shooters, with enemies that look like angry origami and levels that look like cardboard printouts. Quake is obviously the closest comparison, but if you had a thing for any FPS games around that time, this nails the speed, ruthlessness and chunky, bloody bits of the time.
What it replaces: Castlevania/Metroid
Platforms: PC out now, Switch Q1 2018
What’s it like: It seems like the ‘metrodvania’ term gets thrown around a lot so it's clearly a style of game that people really love. Hollow Knight might look a little bit on the cute side but it’s nailed the exploration and ability gating of the genre. There’s a strange monster filled castle to wander and certain areas can only be accessed with new abilities, meaning you have to constantly explore, upgrade and then explore some more. The cartoony art style hides a challenge, both from environmental hazards and a range of enemies to work out and defeat (over a 140 in total, and there are 30 bosses). A ‘charm’ system’ makes things a little easier, letting you tune and buff your abilities but, like the classic source material, it all comes down to your skills with what you’re given.
What it replaces: Road Rash
Platforms: PC out now, PS4/Xbox One Q1! 2018
What’s it like: Road Rash is one of those lost games that gets talked about so much that even people who never played it kind of want a new one. Road Redemption is basically that new version - people on motorbikes leathering each other with bats and pipes. Like more than a few games on this list Road Redemption was openly pitched as a spiritual sequel to Road Rage and has you leading a motorbike gang on a crime spree. There are races, obviously, but also robberies, assassinations, and just plane ol’ killing people while on bikes. You can also make your criminal career wheelie good with a four player split screen option and upgrades to hone your riding and fighting skills (combat includes counters and grabs for example), so there’s more depth than Road Rage’s basic button mashing.
What it replaces: Maniac Mansion/Day of the Tentacle/Monkey Island series
Platforms: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
What’s it like: While many of the titles here are made by fans aiming to fill the gap left in their lives by a much loved game from the past, this is actually made by the original creators. Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick are behind the original Maniac Mansion, and Thimbleweed Park grew out of their desire to revisit that genre. Unsurprisingly this is a perfect recreation of the source material, from the art style right down to the list of words at the bottom of the screen used to interact with objects. While this point and click puzzler feels like it might initially be a little more serious - with FBI agents investigating a murder - things soon get just as silly as the the Maniac and Monkey games with clowns, ghosts, men in pigeon suits and an ending that’s really worth reaching.
Empires of the Undergrowth
What it replaces: Sim Ant
What’s it like: There’s just something really cool about the idea of controlling an ant colony. The original Sim Ant might be very, very old but it still gets a mention from time to time as a forgotten classic. Empires is perfectly placed to take its spot, developing those core ideas of controlling ants, fighting other insects and obviously, above all, protecting the queen, and giving it a swish 3D overhaul. Mechanically, this is very satisfying, as you control resources and expansions to build nurseries full of workers and soldiers and then take on the outside world. There’s a good mix here too, with set missions built around an insect narrative and a more free roaming element - an ant nest you can continually return to in order to expand and develop it with the resources you earn.
Legend of Grimrock
What it replaces: Dungeon Master
Platforms: PC, iOS
What’s it like: At five years old Legend of Grimrock might nearly be old enough for its own spiritual sequel but it’s worth mentioning because it’s still the best example of what it does. Many [old man voice] MANY years ago games pretended to do 3D by moving you around square by square and showing you a picture of what was in that square. You’d usually fight a skeleton, collect some loot and move on. It was basically a video game version of dungeons and dragons. Grimrock recreates that really beautifully, still using the grid by grid movement but with lovely (horrible) 3D monsters to slaughter and strategise over. It’s a much more tactical take on something like Skyrim’s dungeon crawling as you arrange party members, spells and attacks turn by turn.
Retro City Rampage
What it replaces: old, top down GTA
Platforms: Switch, PS4, iOS, PC
What’s it like: Again, this has been around a while but if you want the cartoony chaos of top down GTA this nails it like nothing else. It’s a perfect fit for Switch as well, with a raft of driving and shooting missions in a pixelated open-world city just like Rockstar used to make. It’s been updated and maintained from platform to platform since release, so while it’s a few years old it still feels fresh. Retro City Rampage is also super self-aware with references to numerous classic games like Zelda, Duck Hunt, Mega Man, Metal Gear and more. And, finally, it’s a perfectly balanced mix of what you think you remember from the past, and more contemporary elements like controls, checkpointing, story, and so on - creating a rose tinted way to relive the glory days.