Best retro video games from the 1980s through early 2000s

Remember when “retro” gaming referred to classic arcade like pinball machines, Pac-Man and Space Invaders

Now if you shop for “retro” gaming, you won’t find the stand-up video arcade machines that kids once spent hours feeding quarters into. While you can find these gems (usually for hefty prices if they’re legitimate restored systems), they’re no longer considered the gold standard of “retro” gaming.

Enter the original (non-PC) home gaming systems: Nintendo and Atari.

That’s right, ‘80s and ‘90s kids. The gaming systems of your childhood are officially “retro.” 

Gasp! Yep, you’re getting old.

But really, we think it’s pretty cool that these gaming systems are making such a comeback. While we love modern gaming systems — they’re so realistic these days — nothing beats a game of Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong

Here are some of our favorite classic video games that are still worth playing today:

Ms. Pac-Man (Atari 2600)

Ms. Pac-Man was released on the Atari 2600 in 1982 and is a follow-up to the beloved classic Pac-Man arcade game. But what sets Ms. Pac-Man apart is the fact that she was the first female lead in a video game; plus, Ms. Pac-Man was the first in the series not made by Namco.

Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Super Mario Bros. is probably the most well-known retro game of all time. As many say, it’s “the game that started it all.” The original Super Mario Bros. came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. It’s the first in the Mario series that has the Super Mario Bros. storyline of rescuing Princess Toadstool, the first to include enemies like the little mushroom guys (Goombas) and the first to introduce power-ups. The game is also known for helping rescue the industry after the video game crash of 1983.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo)

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super Nintendo) that came out in 1992. Depending on who you talk to, A Link to the Past is arguably the best game on the Super Nintendo system (and one of the best video games of all time).

It’s the third in the Zelda series, but it’s meant to take place in a time period before the original games were set. You play as the character Link and try to save the Kingdom of Hyrule. To do so, you must defeat the demon king Ganon and rescue the descendants of the Seven Sages. 

This game is beloved for many reasons, but notably it was Nintendo’s switch back to the top-down view and it introduced players to The Dark World. And while it’s an “adventure” game, you also get to solve a ton of puzzles and explore hidden treasures and challenges along the way.

 

Perfect Dark (Nintendo 64)

The Nintendo 64 console has a load of memorable games — and yes, the entire Mario series on the Nintendo 64 and the Zelda series were pretty on point — but outside of the Mario and Zelda universes, the Rare games take the cake.

Perfect Dark is the successor to the Rare’s James Bond game GoldenEye 007 (released 1997). Whereas in GoldenEye you play as James Bond, Perfect Dark puts you in the perspective of a new character — secret agent Joanna Dark, whose mission is to stop an extraterrestrial conspiracy. This first person shooter game was released in 2000, and Rare managed to add a ton of new features that weren’t present in the James Bond game.

Donkey Kong (Nintendo Game Boy)

Who remembers getting their first Game Boy? There was something magical about suddenly being able to take your favorite video games wherever you go, which might be one reason the Nintendo Game Boy version of Donkey Kong tends to be the favorite. 

But even without the portable aspect, this game is a true masterpiece. Released in 1994, the game begins just like the 1981 Donkey Kong — but once you pass the first four levels, you unlock a whole new world with 100 complete stages. Like much of the Donkey Kong games, you play as Mario — with the goal of rescuing his friend Pauline from Kong. 

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

This fighting game contains all of your favorite characters — from the Mario world to Zelda to Pokemon. The third in the Super Smash Bros. series, the Wii version also introduced new characters to the game, including Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake. 

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