All those years young...
Despite what you may have heard, old games aren't crap. In fact, some of them are quite the opposite. The kind of games you could take home to meet your parents, who would later remark at how dashing they were, even with that streak of grey in their perfectly-styled, cartridge-black hair. And you only have to look at our list of the 100 best games of all time to see that no fewer than four of our top 10 are more than 10 years old (which will be our cut-off point for 'retro' in this article, for argument's sake).
But there's a problem. Modern technology isn't kind to old games. Fuzzy RF connections make playing old consoles on modern TVs a harrowing experience. Modern technology highlights their flaws. Modern technology has pointed out the weird spit stuff at the edges of their mouths and that their shoes are made from mammoth hide. Sure, you can try getting together the right kit like an HD upscaler to help, but the simple fact remains that old games look their best when they're reworked to be the best they can on modern consoles. And that's what we're here to celebrate: the best modern retro conversions money can buy. Get Ready!
The Secret of Monkey Island
Sometimes, developers think it's wise to change a game's art style when re-releasing it. That's only going to annoy long-term fans, unless it turns out to be exactly how they imagined the first game to look in the first place. Well, The Secret of Monkey Island fixes that problem by letting you switch between the two at any moment.
And who can resist doing exactly that, all the time? You can even play a sort of 'spot the difference', as long as you don't just keep saying "well, that one's made of huge pixels and that one isn't". You'll be there a long time if you do. There's also a completely re-recorded soundtrack, made with real instruments (yes, wow!). As for the game itself, Monkey Island is still the funny, charming, lovable point-and-click adventure masterpiece it always was, only now in HD and sat on your dashboard.
Nintendo had the best of intentions when it decided to port a selection of NES games to 3DS, complete with stereoscopic 3D visuals. Turns out it took so much work to convert the games, Nintendo decided it would be just as much effort to make new games instead, so stopped making the conversions. But at least we got this sensational port of Kid Icarus. The handheld world (and humanity's collective awareness of the existence of eggplants) is better for its existence.
But why? Well, it's ultra-hardcore, pixel-perfect platforming action straight from the '80s. That finely honed 2D gameplay never looked or felt this good. There are new backgrounds with variable levels of depth, a full save system instead of the original NES game's passwords, and tweaks to the game's physics. That last one preserves the acceleration effect of the original if you want a more authentic experience, or affords new, super-tight control for those who crave precision. You did good, kid. You did good.
Daytona received no fewer than three separate home conversions before Xbox 360 and PS3 finally did it right. Everything is just as you remember it from the mid-'90s, which is actually nothing like the original actually looks if you play it now in standard definition. 1995's finest chunky 3D car models look superb through HDMI, and the blue sky and green grass are outrageously bold viewed on a decent modern TV. New games are scared of colours like this.
But there are more options and modes to play with that don't appear in the arcade game, including an endurance mode that sees you actively seeking to preserve your tyres, as you'll start struggling for traction unless you pit in. There's also online play, although you'd have to arrange with someone these days as the servers are almost certainly empty. Best of all (disclaimer: may be the opposite) is a karaoke mode so you can sing along with 'Let's Go Away'. All together now: Daytonaaaaaaaaa!
The original Half-Life is rightly held up as a watershed moment for narrative-driven first-person games, but it first came out in 1998. In case you didn't know, that's the same year that dinosaurs became extinct. So to say 3D visuals have 'moved on a bit' is like saying iPhones are a bit better than two cups and a bit of string. Suffice to say, trying to suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy Half-Life now requires a lot of determination.
Or rather a lot of determination to fix it. A group of fans decided to remake Half-Life in its entirety using Valve's Source engine the one that powers Half-Life 2. Models, textures the lot. The result is so impressive, Valve gave it their official support and the majority is already available to download (for free) on Steam. The remaining portion's release remains TBA. Even so, the existing part is exactly how it should be and you should play it.
Nevermind all the online issues for a minute (I know, they're unforgivable), let's focus on the great conversion of Halo 2 for Xbox One, as part of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The original Halo had already been given an anniversary edition that rejigged the visuals and added online play, but Halo 2's facelift is a major reason for buying the new collection on its own.
It's so solid. Everything looks like it's actually there and would provide tangible resistance if you could somehow prod it through the TV screen. But, best of all, despite a major cosmetic overhaul, it plays exactly like the original. Nothing's been changed - something that's proven with a toggle button that switches between the old visuals and new in real-time, just like Monkey Island. Of course, Halo 2 was already excellent. Play on the original graphics setting now, however, and you'll be struck by how Spartan everything looks. Which is also an incredible pun. What's that? I'm fired? OK, it's a fair cop.
Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty
The wonderful thing about Oddworld: New & Tasty is that it's not a 1:1 recreation of the original game, it's a 1:1 recreation of what you remember the original game being like. Why? Because it doesn't look like that anymore. The pre-rendered graphics may have aged better than most PSone titles, but they're no substitute for a powerhouse console actually drawing these detailed environments in real-time.
And the power of new-gen (it's been on PS4 for a while but it's hitting Xbox One, too) means it all looks so beautifully effortless. All the expression in Abe's face, all the animated production lines it's blissfully slick. And the game is still absolutely lovely, in its own slightly icky way. Follow me. OK. Parp.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed
What happened to gung-ho 2D side-scrollers? They were everywhere in the arcades of the 1980s. Maybe everyone forgot to take them out of the arcades when they got closed down. Ah well, as long as we have remakes this good, it's no great loss.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed is one of the best last-gen PSN/XBLA games you can buy. Amazing, considering it's a pretty straight port of a game from 1987. Why is it so good? Graphical enhancements, control improvements, a new final level and countless other small adjustments that make the experience amazing. Is his arm his wife in this one? It's hard to tell.
The Sonic CD you can buy on the App Store isn't the same Sonic CD that appeared on Mega CD/Sega CD back in 1992. It's a remake. It started life as a proof-of-concept by Christian Whitehead, running on his Retro Engine, and was so impressive that Sega hired him to make an official port that found its way to Android, Xbox 360 and PS3, too. It's brilliantly authentic, yet demonstrably better than the Mega CD original in every way.
The frame-rate has been smoothed out and is so consistent, it would probably run at 60fps if you loaded it on a toaster. The original, famous Japanese/English soundtrack is now available in all territories, but the US version is in there too if that's what makes you happy. There's retina display support for iOS and widescreen as standard, plus the all-new ability to play as Tails, once you finish the game once as Sonic. It's the best handheld Sonic game ever made and it was never even meant to be on handheld. Funny how things work out, isn't it?
M2 is the team responsible for all of Sega's 3D classics on 3DS, and 3D OutRun represents the pinnacle of its work. You get a pixel-perfect recreation of the 1986 coin-op (except for the unlicensed Ferrari sprite, which has been tweaked), only better. First-off, it now supports widescreen, meaning you can see things you never would have seen in the original. There are two new music tracks that run on the original MIDI sounds from the arcade board. Fully emulated, too. Selectable Old/New and Japanese/International hardware configurations. Oh, and a daft new credits sequence.
But there's much more going on under the surface. The arcade original ran at 30 frames per second, which was always astonishingly smooth as these massive sprites were scaled effortlessly (some say 'rampantly') all over the screen. 3D OutRun runs at 60fps, which will leave your face melted like Jack Black's after that guitar solo in School of Rock. Sixty. Frames. Per. Second. Oh and in 3D too? The original game's sprites were all calculated in 3D space anyway so of course the effect is gorgeous. This is how you do it. Needless to say, you have to buy it right now.