8 retro games that are awesome on iOS... and 5 that aren't

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.

And if you're looking for more, check out The best handheld conversions of all time and our list of The best iPhone games.

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine, Traxion.gg, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.