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Best retro games of all time

Super Mario World, our number one best retro games
(Image credit: Nintendo)

We’re confident that our ranking of the best retro games we’ve included here remain worthy of your time and still hold up well today. Video games have come a long way since the early days of Computer Space and Pong in the Seventies and they’ve evolved in all sorts of directions and cover a wide range of genres. It’s an impossible task to narrow all those games down into a single defining list, but we've done our best. In fact, many of these games are actually available to play on contemporary systems, whether as part of a compilation, an online service or in the form of a brand-new remaster, so we’ve also pointed out where these classics are available to buy.

And in case you’re wondering what we consider as the cutoff point for the best retro games? We’re including anything up to and including the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. Some of the following games set new standards for others to follow, some of them were critically acclaimed on their initial release, but all of them remain brilliant fun to play. So let’s get on with it.

The best retro games of all time

25. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Konami)

Released on: PlayStation
Released in: 1997

 Konami’s macabre masterpiece was spawned during an era when gamers were obsessed with cutting-edge 3D technology. Rather than bow to public pressure, director Toru Hagihara and the rest of his team (which included future Castlevania series lead, Koji Igarashi) doggedly pursued the same side-on formula that had served the series so well during its 8 and 16-bit days. The difference here was that rather than simply exploring linear levels the player (as Alucard) was dropped into a looming non-linear castle that held myriad secrets within its huge inverted walls. It proved such a success that many later handheld Castlevanias followed the same format and it helped popularise the term Metroidvania.

24. OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast

Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Sumo Digital)

Released on: PSP, PC, PS2, Xbox
Released in: 2006

We could have added countless great racing games to this list but Sumo Digital’s riotously colorful arcade racer is the one we keep returning to. Essentially a retooled update of OutRun 2 SP, which was itself an expansion for the 2003 smash hit OutRun 2, Sumo’s port is tremendous no matter what system you play it on. In addition to perfectly capturing the 30 stages from both games, Coast 2 Coast delivers its titular main mode which offers an insane amount of challenges that range from outrunning rival racers to drifting as stylishly as possible. It’s not only one of the greatest arcade racers around, but also highlights how a game can evolve to overtake its equally prestigious progenitor. Come on Sega, bring it back for current consoles.

23. Shenmue

Shenmue, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: SEGA)

Released on: Dreamcast
Released in: 1999

While its sequel arguably offers more fighting, more arcade fun and more forklift truck driving, it’s the original Shenmue that initially highlighted the sheer raw power of Sega’s final console. After continually steering Sega through the tumultuous seas of the arcade industry, Yu Suzuki zeroed in on the Dreamcast to realise his ambition for what would be (for its time at least) a game of stunning realism that felt a world away from the many arcade-themed games that had dominated Sega’s console. Its unique persistent world felt so extraordinary that a legion of fans fell in love with it, leading to the resurrection of the franchise two decades later.

Buy Shenmue 1/2 Remastered now for: PS4 / Xbox One

22. Elite

Elite, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Frontier)

Released on: Various
Released in: 1984

Yes it’s crustier than a week-old slice of bread, but Elite still has the power to impress thanks to its satisfying combat, deep layers of strategy and the sheer scope of its gigantic universe. Coded by David Braben and Ian Bell and inspired by a whole host of media (from Battlestar Galactica to Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey) Elite offered an astonishing universe of possibilities as you guided your Cobra Mark III around a world that was constantly brimming with adventure. The Elite franchise lives on and Brayburn remains at the helm, but there’s something about the original game’s procedurally generated worlds that make us still itch to explore them.

21. The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey island, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: LucasArts)

Originally released on: Various
Released in: 1990

Point-and-click adventures were a tremendously huge deal during the Eighties and Nineties and it was a genre where Lucasfilm reigned supreme. Monkey Island remains perhaps the finest game in the company’s illustrious point-and-click canon due to its razor-sharp wit, utterly engaging characters and challenging puzzles. Designed by Ron Gilbert, David Grossman and Tim Schafer, the trio’s focus on slick one-liners, an authentic game world - partly inspired by Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean ride - and a strong narrative has given the game a timeless quality that still makes it a joy to play today.

Buy it now on Steam

20. R-Type

R-Type, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Irem)

Originally released on: Arcade
Released in: 1987

The shoot-’em-up genre is almost as old as gaming itself and this particular gem first blasted off in 1987 and remains just as relevant today thanks to a contemporary release in the form of R-Type Dimensions EX. Irem’s shooter has everything you want from the genre including satisfying power-ups, challenging attack waves and some truly exceptional bosses which are as difficult to take down as they are freakishly weird to look at. Sure it’s difficult but it’s never unfair, while its gigantic mothership on stage 3 has been copied by countless other games. A true timeless classic.

Buy it now digitally on iOS, Switch, PS4, Steam, and Xbox One

19. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

GTA Vice City, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Originally released on: PC, PS2, Xbox
Released in:
2002

Yes GTA 3 was first out of the gates and yes, San Andreas took the franchise in exciting new directions, but neither game is as cool as Vice City. The adventures of Tommy Vercetti’s rise to power may lean heavily on a glut of classic movies, but it also works thanks to its entertaining mission structure, over-the-top violence and its complete and utter commitment to capturing the nostalgia of the Eighties, from the game’s neon-drenched cover to the heavily licensed soundtrack, which features everything from Kim Wild’s Kids In America to Toto’s Africa. And then of course there’s the excellent Hollywood voice cast featuring such heavyweights as Dennis Hopper, Burt Reynolds and Ray Liotta as the game’s lead.

18. Streets Of Rage 2

Streets of Rage 2, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: SEGA)

Originally released on: Mega Drive
Released in: 1992

If we were including contemporary brawlers here Streets Of Rage 4 could well clinch the crown, but as we’re purely focusing on the good old days of gaming it’s Sega’s excellent sequel which walks away with the prize. Everything about Streets Of Rage 2 was bigger and better than its prequel, from the greatly enhanced visuals to Yuzo Koshiro’s thumping soundtrack (which occasionally cleverly riffs off his work in the original game) to its surprisingly deep combat mechanics. Two new fighters, Skate and Max were introduced, and joined regulars Blaze and Axel as they kicked and punched their way through the grimy streets in their pursuit of Mr X.

Play it now on Xbox One, Switch, PS4, and Steam via SEGA Mega Drive Classics

17. Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Valve)

Originally released on: PC
Released in: 2004

Valve’s Half-Life may have set the template for atmospheric story-led first-person shooters, but it’s magnificent sequel pushed the genre’s boundaries even further. Fuelled by some astonishing setpieces, the beauty of Half-Life’s sequel is how it constantly finds new ways to allow you to interact with its huge game world and make the most of its many satisfying weapons. And then of course there’s Half-Life 2’s gravity gun, a weapon not only designed to showcase the sheer power of PCs at the time, but also the clever creativity of the game’s developers. Like OutRun 2006, it’s another classic example of a sequel bettering its acclaimed predecessor in every possible way.

Play it now on Steam (opens in new tab)or Xbox via The Orange Box

16. GoldenEye 007

GoldenEye 007, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Rare)

Released on: N64
Released in: 1997

While the framerate of Rare’s game is certainly showing its age now (particularly during multiplayer sessions) its sterling level design and solid mission structure have lost none of their impact. While console shooters and film licenses certainly existed before GoldenEye came along, few featured so much panache and self assuredness. GoldenEye’s dynamic mission structure, where new objectives were introduced as you upped the difficulty, felt refreshingly new at the time, while its painstaking attention to detail offered an incredibly authentic representation of the movie it was based on. What a pity that it’s now in such a legal quagmire, we’re never likely to officially get to play it on modern systems.

15. Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: SEGA)

Originally released on: Mega Drive
Released in: 1991

Sega’s blue blur may be celebrating his 30th birthday, but his debut game certainly isn’t showing its age, being just as entertaining to play today as it was in 1991. Designed to compete against the platforming supremacy of Nintendo’s Super Mario series, Yuji Naka’s game may have focused on speed over exploration, but it still offered plenty of opportunity to explore the colourful zones that Sonic sped through. Powered by some hypnotic looking visuals and a catchy soundtrack by Dreams Come True’s Masato Nakamura, Sonic The Hedgehog immediately created an icon out of its main character and helped establish Sega’s Mega Drive as the coolest console to own.

Play it now on Xbox One, Switch, PS4, and PC via SEGA Mega Drive Classics

14. Final Fantasy 7

Final Fantasy 7

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Originally released on: PlayStation
Released in: 1997

Few Japanese RPGs have been as impactful to the genre as Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII. Sure, it riffs heavily on cyberpunk and features countless genre tropes like an amnesia-stricken hero and lengthy bouts of grinding, but it also offers a strong story, a gaggle of likeable characters and one of the most terrifying villains to appear within the genre. Fans may have baulked at Squaresoft for jumping the good ship Nintendo and siding with Sony’s PlayStation, but the decision proved sound as Sony’s CD-ROM-based console offered new ways of telling Squaresoft’s dramatic tale in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible on a cartridge-based format.

Play the Final Fantasy 7 Remake now on Switch, PS4, Steam, Xbox One, and PS5

Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Originally released on: SNES
Released in:
1991

Link’s original SNES outing remains the best 2D game in the series and it’s telling that it took Nintendo 22 years to create a spiritual successor to it in the form of A Link Between Worlds. A Link To The Past introduced many firsts to the Zelda series, including a unique parallel world and also created a template that Nintendo and others followed for many years to come. It retains the sense of adventure Shigeru Miyamoto first explored with his original NES game, but builds on it beautifully with exciting new weapons, terrific boss fights and plenty of secrets to uncover in the huge overworld. It’s quite simply one of the best 2D adventures you’re ever likely to play.

Play it now via Nintendo Switch Online for Switch

12. Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Konami)

Originally released on: PlayStation
Released in:
1998

Few game directors are as ambitious and film-orientated as Hideo Kojima and Metal Gear Solid immediately stood out on a console that had more than its fair share of film-like games. While this was far from Snake’s first mission, the power of Sony’s console and solid voice acting from David Hayter brought the character to life in a way that simply wasn’t possible during his 8-bit escapades. For all its excellent cinematic pacing, challenging stealth sections and wonderfully cheesy exposition, it’s the many inventive Kojima flourishes that help Metal Gear Solid stand out as perhaps the finest game in the series.

11. Shadow Of The Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus, a remake of one of the best retro games of all time

(Image credit: Bluepoint Games)

Originally released on: PS2
Released in:
2005

If you listen carefully you can almost hear your PS2 strain and creak as it struggles to run Fumito Ueda’s fiercely ambitious game. At its heart Shadow Of The Colossus is nothing more than a boss rush, with your protagonist Wander searching the bleakly beautiful Forbidden Land in the hope of resurrecting a young maiden called Mono. Aided by his trusty horse Argo, Wander must solve light puzzles and simple platforming to reach the resting places of the powerful beasts that hold the key to unlocking Mono’s return. Often gigantic in scale, each colossus you face becomes a puzzle in its own right as you work out the best way to navigate its often huge form in order to seek out its weak points. A truly magnificent game boosted by an incredible score and a surprisingly deep message. Little wonder it's been remade twice by Bluepoint Games.

Play the remaster now on PS4

10. Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart, one of our best retro games of all time

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Originally released on: SNES
Released in: 1992

In 1992 Nintendo’s versatile plumber proved he was just as adept behind a wheel as he was jumping on the shells of Koopas. Originally planned as a two-player sequel to F-Zero the brains at Nintendo had a rethink several months in and soon put Mario and his mates in the game, helping to popularise a whole new sub-genre - kart racing - in the process. Super Mario Kart takes the intense racing and clever track design of F-Zero and adds that all-important multiplayer mode as well as a deliciously hellish Battle Mode and Time Trials that had us missing all manner of important appointments. Nintendo created such a successful formula that it’s been ripped off ever since.

Play it now via Nintendo Switch Online for Switch

9. Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo: Combat Evolved, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Bungie)

Originally released on: Xbox
Released in: 2001

While GoldenEye 007 laid the groundwork for console first-person shooters, it was Bungie that elevated the genre to a whole new level, creating a series of excellent mechanics that are still widely adopted today. Bungie were already well versed in the genre thanks to its Mac hits Marathon and Durandal, but a move to Microsoft allowed it to flex its creative muscles and in the process it created a multiplayer experience and solo campaign that was without peer. Constricting the player to two weapons may seem like a crutch, but it opens Halo’s strategy massively, while the challenging AI of Halo’s enemies, satisfying pace, dynamic open areas and vehicular-based combat helped create a template that many followed but few bettered.

Play it now on Xbox One and Xbox Series X via Halo: The Master Chief Collection

8. Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior

Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Capcom)

Originally released on: Arcade
Released in: 1991 

Capcom’s original Street Fighter didn’t exactly set the arcade world alight, but its sequel managed to do everything right and became such a success that it changed the one-on-one fighting genre forever. The World Warriors of the title were a range of exotic fighters from a burly Russian wrestler to a green-skinned beastman and each characters’ range of special moves and fighting styles were just as varied as their blood types. The game became such a success for Capcom that it had to cannibalise its own arcade boards, while its combo-based brawling and stylish special moves created a potent formula that every competing developer tried to copy.

Play it now on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and PC via Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

7. Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Originally released on: N64
Released in:
1996

One of the most astonishing aspects of Mario’s first 3D outing was just how right it managed to get everything. While you’d be occasionally scuppered by an erratic camera, the sheer control you had over Mario himself was tremendous, while each painting he jumped into delivered a world that was as varied as it was inventive. Realizing that a traditional Mario adventure wouldn’t work in a 3D setting, Nintendo instead crafted a variety of entertaining playgrounds for Mario to explore, filling them with all manner of engaging missions, from racing turtles to navigating a deadly toxic maze.

6. Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Eidos)

Originally released on: Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC
Released in:: 1996

Lara Croft may not have been the first female character to ever star in a videogame, but she arguably remains the most important. It wasn’t just the gaming world that was obsessed with the posh aristocrat however, and she quickly became one of the few videogame characters to transcend the media that had spawned her. Tomb Raider wasn’t just about Lara though (as important to gaming as she was) as the Toby Gard-helmed game was a cracking adventure in its own right, allowing you to explore dangerous animal-filled tombs that offered a staggering sense of scale that many feel the series has never bettered.

Play it now on Steam (opens in new tab)

5. Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Capcom)

Originally released on: GameCube
Released in: 2005

 Capcom's masterful fourth installment of its acclaimed horror series brought back fan-favourite Leon S Kennedy and reinvented the third-person action game in the process. The origins of Gears Of War, Uncharted and countless other titles can be found in Resi 4’s DNA, while its distinctive European setting, dynamic focus on Quick Time Events and complete lack of zombies highlighted that Capcom was prepared to push forwards in a bold new direction for its popular franchise. Its success has led to it being reissued countless times in the years since and now it's available on VR.

Play it now on Steam (opens in new tab)

4. Tetris

Tetris

(Image credit: Atari)

Originally released on: Various
Released in: 1984

Alexey Pajitnov’s cerebral puzzler may have started off its life on a Russian computer (the Electronika 60 in case you were wondering) but it’s since gone on to find global acclaim on all manner of systems, from the humble Spectrum to Nintendo’s Switch. While Tetris has appeared in many forms over the years, its core concept of neatly lining up distinctive Tetrominos to form lines that will then disappear has never changed meaning anyone young or old can understand it and immediately get playing. Pajitnov’s dream was to use a computer to make people happy and based on Tetris’ global sales (over 100,000 paid downloads on mobile phones alone) he definitely succeeded in that goal.

3. DOOM

Doom, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Originally released on: Various
Released in:
1993

Once upon a time an FPS wasn’t called a first-person shooter - it was simply referred to as a Doom clone. The seismic impact of id Software’s game reverberated around the world, ushering in a new genre and proving that PCs were a viable gaming platform. Wolfenstein 3D may have laid the groundwork, but Doom monumentally refined it, delivering intense action, slick level design and an excellent range of weapons that still hold up today. It’s become such an iconic game that talented coders have managed to make it run on all manner of things, from a hacked pregnancy test to a Peloton exercise bike.

Play the 2016 remake now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Originally released on: N64
Released in: 1998

If A Link To The Past set the standard for 2D adventures, then Ocarina was its 3D counterpart. Perfectly structured with exciting cutscenes that pushed the engaging story forward while showing off the power of Nintendo’s new 3D console, Ocarina’s greatest triumph is arguably its solid realistic world which feels lived in and full of character. Few will forget stepping out onto Hyrule Field for the first time, the promise of adventure almost tangible and fewer still will forget Ocarina’s strong story, satisfying combat mechanics and memorable boss fights. It’s a game filled with sublime moments and like Super Mario 64, it proved just how well traditional 2D games could translate to exciting new 3D worlds. 

1. Super Mario World

Super Mario World, one of our best retro games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Originally released on: SNES
Released in: 1990

Can a game ever be perfect? We’re not sure, but it’s truly hard to find any fault with the fourth main game in the Super Mario series. A launch game for Nintendo’s new 16-bit console, Super Mario World took the template of previous games in the series and pushed it to breaking point, delivering tightly designed levels that were bristling with imagination and ingenuity. It introduced players to Yoshi, allowed Mario to take to the skies with a new cape power-up and was filled with all manner of hidden secrets that begged you to explore every last nook and cranny. It’s a masterpiece in 2D game design and it proved such a hard act to follow that we’ve never played a better 2D platformer since.

Available via Nintendo Switch Online for Switch

Darran is so old that he used to play retro games when they were simply called games. A relic from the Seventies, he’s been professionally writing about retro gaming since 2003 and has been helming Retro Gamer since its resurrection in 2005, making him one of the UK’s longest-running editors of a games magazine. A keen board gamer, nature photographer and lover of movies, Darran’s writing credits include GamesTM, Play, SciFi-Now, Official Xbox Magazine, SFX, XBM, Cube, Total DVD, World Of Animals and numerous others. You’ll find him online discussing everything from bird photography to the latest 4K Arrow releases, as well as the ever-increasing prices of retro games.