I spent most of my childhood fixated on free dress-up games and Animal Crossing so, now, when I play something someone older than me swears is the best game ever, I feel like I’ve already missed out on its magic. It can be hard to swallow outdated plot points and vintage polygons when modern gaming tries to spoil us with emotional, intelligent writing and ray tracing.
But I haven’t written retro games off. I can’t, not when subscriptions like Nintendo Switch Online and other emulators are making them tremendously easy to play. So I’ve been playing them, enjoying some, and laughing at the bullet bra boobs in others. Still, having a beaded bracelet’s worth of options taught me that there are plenty of older games that hold up, even without the happy memories of gathering around the family hearth with your Game Boy. I put together a list of some good ones you can play, especially if you’ve never played older video games before.
Depending on who you ask, Capcom’s first Resident Evil is either the best of the bunch or, like Kotaku staff writer Zack Zwiezen says in his ranking, the most “clunky and rough.” I think its polarizing status, even in its current form—the game has changed with every re-release—makes it neutral ground for new players to form their own opinions about this legendary survival-horror series.
The 2015 edition of the remake, which made the game compatible with the PS4 and Xbox One (and now their next-gen counterparts), also made the game’s traditional, cumbersome ”tank” controls optional, and players accustomed to freer, faster game movement might appreciate the ability to select modern controls instead.
I like the pace tank controls force you into, though, and the fixed camera angles that complement them, filling stuck hallways with eager anticipation. Regardless of how you play, though, Resident Evil is still scary and still haunting, with its candlelit mansion and filmy, body-lined hallways providing a perfect pregame to the upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake.
Originally released: March 22, 1996 for PlayStation
How to play (original): On PSX, SAT, Windows, or NDS
Action role-playing game Fable II is no longer the prettiest medieval fantasy you could wander into. Its grasses and stones look like marled yarn and demonstrate its age, but the flexible silliness of its gameplay—you can decorate your land, teach your dog tricks and heal it, get yourself involved in a brainless marriage and pick up an STI—deserves your time.
This is a game to go into blindly, so its tons of ridiculous details turn into surprising delights. Its uniqueness is poetic sometimes, too, like when your body morphs to match the cleanliness of your soul: Good-aligned actions make your character look sunkissed, for example, while corrupt actions cause twisted horns to sprout from their head. Stephen Fry is in it, too.
Originally released: October 21, 2008 for Xbox 360
How to play: Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows; free through Game Pass
Zelda games are known for their storybook-like lore and multiple, confusing timelines, but I don’t think you need to be familiar with any of it to pick one up for the first time. I played Majora’s Mask for the first time last year, without even having played its predecessor The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, yet. I loved it.
It has undeniable style, with its 2000s-era, stocky graphics making oversized, floppy flowers and characters’ tiny, gummy bear bodies unreal and supernatural, like your Switch turning into a forest filled with sprites.
The gameplay also still feels novel and creative in 2023. As in Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask has Link playing spectral songs on his Ocarina to perform magical feats, like fast-forwarding through time or causing rain to fall. Majora’s Mask emphasizes time-bending, though, leading to satisfyingly complicated puzzles and decisions you’ll be forced to make in split-seconds. Even if you haven’t played its predecessor, I think you’ll find this exhilarating.
Overall, the game’s happily muddy mix of music, nature, and epic quests makes you feel a little bit blissful, like a grasshopper in the sun.
Originally released: April 27, 2000 for Nintendo 64
Mario Party entices me most with its graphics, cute and blocky character models that look like they were formed with chocolate molds during a power outage. To my 2023 eyes, they look amusingly stiff while the games’ highly emotive soundtrack propels between triumphant and pessimistic. It’s a nice thing to scream about while you and up to four friends roll dice and wade slowly through minigames, all in the simple pursuit of yellow stars and bragging rights.
Originally released: December 18, 1998 for Nintendo 64
How to play: Nintendo 64 or on Switch through the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack (download the N64 addition)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—this year’s remaster of GameCube space adventure Metroid Prime is a smooth, vibrant reinvigoration of what many video game fans will tell you is the best game.
Claims like this usually leave me feeling a little sour, since, most of the time, I was very much a baby while everyone was feeling enraptured by the game 20 years ago. But Metroid Prime Remastered takes its source material off its pedestal and brings it to newcomers’ level by enhancing it smartly and faithfully.
Ultimately, new players receive a high-quality opportunity to play Metroid Prime for the first time, and a rare chance to play an old game and experience what feels like its intended sense of wonder.
Originally released: November 18, 2002 for GameCube
How to play (original): GameCube, Wii, Wii U (BC)
How to play (Remastered): Switch
What are some old games you didn’t play until you were an adult? Which ones do you think held up best? Hit me with your best recs.