12 retro games that turn your smartphone into an old-school arcade
Or a classic console. Or Windows 95.
Even as modern video games grow ever-more advanced, many of us miss the classics that we enjoyed as kids. Although most companies have stopped manufacturing the things these titles require—such as specific consoles, arcade machines, and CD-ROMs—you can still indulge some iconic nostalgia with a modern setup. In particular, smartphones have more than enough processing power to run many of these titles—or at least their app incarnations.
That means you can now indulge in console classics like Super Mario, computer basics like RollerCoaster Tycoon, and arcade staples like Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Here are our favorite retro games for your smartphone.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog Classic
Few titles scream “retro classic” like Sonic the Hedgehog. This app emulates the 1991 game, the very first one in the series, now remastered for Android and iOS. Your aim, as the titular prickly mammal, is to blitz your way through the colorful levels at high speeds, collecting as many rings as you can. Also check out the newly added Time Attack mode, which lets you race against the clock to beat any of the levels in the shortest time possible.
Tetris still stands as one of the most enduring video games of all time—on any platform. The modern mobile version is a joy to play, whether you stick with the original block-building engine or try one of the alternative modes, which offer bonuses and extra challenges. You can also keep track of your scores over time. This adaptation refines the original graphics: It might not have exactly the same appearance as the Tetris you remember, but it looks fantastic on phones or tablets.
3. RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic
RollerCoaster Tycoon has a lot of special features, including superbly detailed isometric graphics, the depth of gameplay, and the challenge of developing the best strategies to run your theme park. But of course, the true appeal remains the crazy roller-coaster designs you get to build. Now you can fire this one up on your phone or tablet—the mobile version keeps many (but not all) of the same elements that made the 1999 original so addictive.
4. Crazy Taxi Classic
Before Grand Theft Auto, there was Crazy Taxi. The classic first appeared in arcades and then on consoles, where its heady mix of high-speed driving action, attention-grabbing visuals, and booming music proved instantly appealing. The app follows the same formula: Deliver your passengers in the quickest time while pulling in as many crazy stunt bonuses as you can. To add some variety, you can delve into an assortment of mini games. And yes, it includes the original soundtrack by Bad Religion and The Offspring.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
More than 14 years has passed since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas first burst onto console screens, which makes it a retro game in our book. For its app incarnation, the manufacturers returned protagonist Carl Johnson to his home city of Los Santos. It remains one of the best in the series, with a bigger map and more engaging story than its predecessors. For the first time in a GTA game, you can also swim and climb. This option will draw you in and take hours to fully complete.
6. Mega Man
Platformers don’t come much more classic than Mega Man, which first appeared on the NES in 1987. You play the titular humanoid robot, tasked with fighting through six levels of obstacles and enemies—each one culminating in a boss match with the opportunity to pick up a new attack mode—to reach the grand finale. The gameplay is as fun and absorbing as it was back in the 1980s.
7. Space Invaders
While its graphics might not hold up to modern blockbuster games, Space Invaders keeps drawing players back with that retro charm—as well as addictive, timeless gameplay. Developer Taito has managed to almost exactly reproduce the original arcade experience for mobile, even down to the joystick and buttons that appear at the bottom of the screen. As ever, the game lasts for as long as you can keep firing.
8. Prince of Persia: Escape
Before it inspired a number of sequels, as well as a movie, Prince of Persia was a popular game for the Apple II, featuring groundbreaking graphics for its time (1989). This app isn’t an exact port, but it does serve as an official mobile adaptation. It brings a lot of the same gameplay, visual touches, and overall feel. As the eponymous prince, you get to dodge spikes, jump gaps, defeat enemies, and escape from various dungeons.
9. Super Monkey Ball: Sakura
Who knew the concept of rolling monkeys could end up being so addictive? The classic video game series makes the leap to smartphones with Super Monkey Ball: Sakura. It boasts more than 100 beautifully-rendered levels for you to tilt and steer your way through. As always, the more bananas you pick up along the way, the better. Once you’ve completed all six worlds, you can master the four extra mini games.
When people mention retro gaming, the title that most often comes to mind might be Pac-Man. On a smartphone, it remains as addictive and fun to play as the original arcade staple was back in 1980. You know what to do: Eat the dots and the fruit while avoiding the ghosts, and keep up as the pace increases. This version includes the original graphics and music for an experience that’s as authentic as possible.
11. Virtua Tennis
If you grew up around the early 2000s, then you’ve probably played Sega’s Virtua Tennis at some point, whether you experienced it on an arcade cabinet or a home console. With these apps, that same engaging gameplay moves to phones and tablets, giving you the opportunity to smash, lob, and volley your way to victory. You can game through a variety of modes, including multiplayer, with 50 different players to beat and 18 stadiums to try.
12. Super Mario Run
Super Mario Run isn’t an exact port of any specific Super Mario Bros. game, but it is the best way to enjoy some classic side-scrolling action on your mobile device. Just like the very first title, released in 1985 for the NES, you have to steer Mario and other characters through a series of worlds, collecting coins and mushrooms and defeating enemies along the way. However, the controls have been simplified for a mobile interface.