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Starting Your Collection: The 10 Best Retro Games

One of the hardest things for a new entrant into retro gaming to do is decide which games they want to play first. There are literally thousands and thousands of classic games that have been released over the decades; figuring out which ones are worth your time is a maddening job.

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Still, I thought that I would get you started by suggesting a few of what I consider to be the best classic games that everyone should try. I have no system or genre preference here – each of these games is simply brilliant in its own right.

10. Pong (Atari 2600)

This is the game that started gaming as a thing in the home. The first home consoles were all just variations on Pong, but if you want to play the purest version today it will be the Atari 2600 version, in my opinion. The original hardwired machines like the Magnavox Odyssey are basically impossible to get, but you can still play the Atari version on an original console or as a very accurate emulation. Pong looks simple, but the rudimentary physics of the ball and paddle give it surprising depth.

9. DOOM (DOS – PC)

Today first-person shooting games are one of the biggest and most popular genres, and DOOM is almost single-handedly responsible for it. It’s not the first FPS by far, but this was the game that defines the 90s shooter and it’s a blood-pumping visceral experience even today. DOOM is a cultural and gaming icon that everyone must play, so it’s a good thing that it’s also a damn good game. The title has been ported to just about every console of that era and beyond, but you should really play it on a PC, which is where the definitive version of the game lives.

8. Soulcalibur (Dreamcast)

The competition for best beat ‘em up is a tough one; if we look at the franchise as a whole the prize is more likely to go to a Street Fighter or Tekken title. Still, Soulcalibur for the Dreamcast is an iconic game and probably the first to not only bring the arcade experience to home consoles, but also to improve on it in many ways – a big change from the watered-down arcade games we got on older generation consoles. This is still a tight, unique, and compelling fighter. You simply can’t call yourself a fighting game fan if you’ve never played it.

7. Tomb Raider (PS1)

Lara Croft is still an ultra-famous virtual celebrity and the Tomb Raider franchise is still going strong to this very day. This was the game that started it all. Meant as a bit of a riff on Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider did a lot of new things, not the least of which was having a strong female lead. Her inflated chest may be a bit insulting now, but back in the 90s it was a big deal. It doesn’t really hold up as a fun experience anymore, mostly due to the controls, but you have to play it at least once.

6. Metal Slug (NEO GEO)

The NEO GEO was the premium supercomputer console of its time. This console was all about detailed, fluid 2D graphics and animation, not wasting time on the clunky 3D graphics of the day. Unfortunately, only rich kids got to have one, while the rest of us had to blow quarters at the arcade to experience it.

Metal Slug is probably the most iconic game on NEO GEO, and these days there are plenty of ways to play it. It still looks great and it’s a blast to play. Just make sure you have a friend or two to play with you.

5. Pokemon Red and Blue (GameBoy)

The Pokemon craze has never really died down and these were the games that started it all. The only real difference between the versions is what Pokemon are available to catch, forcing you to trade with a friend in order to complete your Pokedex. The best way to play this game is without a doubt on a 2DS or 3DS system. You can still trade with other players wirelessly (the original GameBoy needed a link cable) and for the first time Generation I can be transferred into newer games, making the first games relevant again. It helps that Gen I Pokemon games also happen to be game design masterpieces and a heck of a lot of fun.

4. The Legend of Zelda (NES)

This game is the one that launched one of the most famous franchises in video game history. The Legend of Zelda has global brand recognition and I doubt there’s a gamer out there who won’t recognize the main character Link or the catchy theme tune. Ironically, many of the things that the series became known for were not present in the first game and there certainly isn’t any real story to speak of, but all the core elements that make Zelda, well, Zelda are present and correct.

This game is punishingly difficult and never holds you hand, but the adventure and discovery is still as potent as ever. Try to stay away from walkthroughs as far as possible.

Is this objectively the best Zelda game? Probably not. That prize has to go to A Link to the Past and possibly Ocarina of Time. It is, however, a great game in its own right and is so historically significant that you have to play it at least once, if only for the street cred. You can still buy the cartridges, some even practically new, if you are willing to part with a fortune. But virtually all Nintendo consoles can play an emulated version of this game for cheap.

3. Sonic CD (SEGA CD)

The Sega CD attachment for the Genesis never really got off the ground, being killed rather quickly by the Saturn and Playstation, but it was there long enough to get a few great games. Sonic CD is probably the most famous one; it’s not just one of the best Sega CD games, but one of the best Sonic games period. Sonic CD has been ported to a lot of systems, so there is no need to track down a Sega CD (which costs a fortune) just for it. Still, if you care about the best Sega has to offer, Sonic CD is surely one which you must play, however you can.

2.Planescape Torment (PC-Windows)

It’s hard to believe that Planescape Torment is almost 20 years old, but it’s the truth. Widely considered to be the best-written computer role-playing game of all time, Torment has a strong following to this day, with a sequel on the works and many updates. The game is simple to buy and even easier to get running on a modern computer. The competition for RPG masterpiece on the PC is tough, but Torment easily slays them all and is yet to be topped.

1.Dragon Quest & Final Fantasy (NES)

I’m cheating a bit by lumping two games together here, but between Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy the modern Japanese role-playing game was invented. Every modern JRPG can trace its DNA back to these two games. Playing the original versions is a little rough and rather punishing, but it can be done. Both games have received extensive updates, ports, and re-releases that have refined them over time. Either way, you need to play a version of each of these at least once. The cultural impact of these games can’t really be overstated.

Start Your Engines

Obviously each Top 10 list you read is going to have very different choices and there is no one list that will work for everyone. Still, I think that this list is a great starting point and covers a broad number of systems and some truly amazing games. If you are a modern gamer, these are all a great place to start your retro journey.