Mobile Retro Gamer

Over the last few years interest in retro gaming has steadily increased, and with the release of smaller retro hardware from the likes Nintendo and SEGA, and soon to be Atari, it shows no signs of slowing down. However, you don’t need emulation or an expensive re-make to enjoy the games of the past, the mobile platform is stepping up to the plate.

Modern gaming is becoming evermore advanced, and to some extent so are mobile games. While there’s always room in the mobile gaming market for tower defence, and idle genres, mobile game developers are looking to utilise to the ever-increasing performance of devices to bring us state of the art gaming.

This is indeed a good thing. We love gaming, we always have, and since we’re now rapidly approaching a certain age milestone where the number of candles on the cake represent a fire hazard, it’s nice to see that not all mobile gaming is centred around intense graphical splendour or five-minute idle games. Instead, we’re enjoying reliving our misspent youth with a selection of retro released titles on the mobile platform.

Going Retro

There are of course plenty of options available for someone who wants to play retro titles on their mobile devices. You can opt for an emulator for your home computer, console or arcade machine of choice, and from there appropriate a ROM of your favourite game and load it up. Sadly, though, that option does come with a few caveats. For one, most of the ROM titles are illegal, in the meaning that the original rights holder, developer or publisher, hasn’t given permission for the game to be released. And secondly, not all emulation is a perfect representation of the game and the hardware it was originally designed for.

One other option remains, though: remakes. While the retro gaming purist would balk at the thought of a remake, most of us enjoy the fact that one of our much-loved titles of the past have had something of a facelift and lovingly re-produced for the modern mobile platform. But do they really provide you with the same sense of nostalgic awe that the original title offers?

Rose-Tinted

In truth, many of us do tend to look at the history of gaming through some heavily rose-tinted lenses. While we agree that games from the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, SEGA Mega Drive and NES were amazing, looking back, and in all honesty, some of them haven’t aged well. Despite the fact the glaring colour clash may cause more optical pain now than it did forty years ago, a retro title isn’t just about the game; it’s a mixed bag of emotions: saving up pocket money to buy the game (or play on the arcades at the weekend), getting the game home and loading it up, only having a handful of games and putting in hours of play (most games didn’t allow saving back then, kids) to complete it, being told by your parents to stop playing games and play outside… the list goes on.

That is something that’s missing when it comes to a remake. Although the graphics and sound are updated, there’s more levels, or something new and exciting has been added, it’s missing that vital ingredient that brings back the memories, the sounds and the smells of the early days of gaming.

Having said that, though, modern retro remakes on the mobile platform have proved to be just as popular as their originals. And in developing a modern version of an older game, there’s a good chance that new, younger gamers will become interested and possibly seek out the original.

In truth, we like most retro remakes on the mobile platform. Some are well devised, and add something extra to the original. But there are some that are poorly executed, and really not worth the effort. A good remake, in our opinion, captures the spirit of the original while building something more on top of the existing formula that simply wasn’t possible on the hardware available at the time, but at the same time, adds to the game but doesn’t break the feel of the original.

The ones we love

To that end, here’s a collection of some of the retro remakes for Android and iOS that we think hit the mark. Cleverly adapted for a modern platform, but while still offering that spark of nostalgia that we get from playing the original.

NetHack – The open source ASCII Roguelike title that appeared in the late eighties is alive and well with a more appealing and colourful set of maps. It’s free, and even has USB controller options for those who dislike on-screen controls.

1942 Mobile – This classic top-down shooter features the original jagged pixel-based graphics and maps, along with different modes and a global high score table.

Blazing Star – SNK’s Neo Geo, fast-paced side scroller, Blazing Star, is considered as one of the best shooters to have ever graced the screen. Not only does this remake look amazing, but it plays perfectly and keeps the feel of its original.

R-Type – And in addition to the aforementioned shooter, the greatest side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up ever, R-Type is available to play on your mobile device. This is another excellent remake that captures the look and feel of the original perfectly.

Simon the Sorcerer – Adventure Soft’s Simon the Sorcerer from 1993 is a wonderful point and click graphical adventure that we spent many hours playing back in the old DOS and Amiga days. This, the 25th Anniversary Edition, offers improved controls for mobile, new animations and much more.

The ones we don’t love

On top of the retro remakes we do love, there are inevitably going to be some that we don’t much like. While these are still decent games, they lose the feel of the original, or don’t add anything to the formula other than it being on a new platform.

Mega Man 2 – Sluggish, frame skipping, and no optimised controls, Mega Man 2 is a poor remake of a beloved franchise, and one that really isn’t worth the asking price.

Double Dragon Trilogy – The Double Dragon games are one of the most loved arcade beat-‘em-ups titles ever, however, the transition to mobile leaves a lot to be desired. With poor controls, even when opting for external controllers, and choppy graphics, it’s not one we enjoyed re-playing.

Space Invaders – Possibly the most recognised arcade games of all time, Space Invaders is very close to our hearts when it comes to retro gaming. The mobile version, while looking great and still adhering to the feel of the original, just doesn’t seem to float our boat. The use of an arcade surround is unnecessary, we fell, and the price is somewhat high for what you get.

GTA 3 – Grand Theft Auto 3. There’s not much we can say about this game that hasn’t already been said many times over. Sadly, though, the mobile version lacks the ‘feel’ of the original, with problematic glitches, poor control and random crashes, it’s one to avoid if you can.

Crazy Taxi Classic – Another wonderful game from the past that doesn’t seem to catch the feel of the original when played on the mobile platform. Crazy Taxi was one of our favourite games, but the mobile version lacks the essential stuff to make it a great remake. Choppy graphics, and frequent crashes mar this otherwise decent game.

David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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