The Best Retro Video Games You’ve Never Heard Of

by Modis on August 9, 2017

Retro Video Game Console controllerAmidst the continued push towards flashier graphics, hyper-realism, and now virtual reality, it’s easy to lose sight of what made some of the earliest video games such a blast. Everyone remembers the big gaming hits of the 80s—from Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong to Metroid and Contra—but what about those amazing hidden gems that might have slipped by under the radar?

With retro video games making another big comeback, it’s a great time to delve back into the past to unearth your next gaming grab. Here are five excellent but lesser-known retro games that are absolutely worth revisiting.

Joust (1982 – Arcade / Atari / NES)

If the thought of ostrich-riding knights dueling it out in the skies above a pit of deadly lava sounds weirdly thrilling, then Joust is a must-play video game to add to your list. This quirky and frenetic game hinges on a mix of twitch-heavy maneuvering, vertical positioning on the battlefield, and a bit of luck to deliver its fast-paced fun. Flapping your bird mount’s tiny wings briefly sends you airborne to gain some altitude over your foes, while running on the ground builds momentum. Of course, slamming into other combatants is deadly unless you manage to hit them from above or a slightly higher position. All of this makes for intense matches that send you dodging and striking across the screen.

Phantasy Star (1988 – SEGA Master System)

The 8-bit era was a great period of evolution for RPGs, and the way Phantasy Star injected a heaping dose of sci-fi fantasy into the classic genre set it apart as something truly special. With a sprawling world map to explore, the game’s interesting locales send your party of adventurers crawling through faux 3D dungeons and battling creatures in first-person turn-based combat. Notably, the unique sci-fi theme opened the door to introducing technology and laser weapons to a style of game previously reserved for traditional swords and sorcery motifs.

BurgerTime (1982 – Arcade / NES)

It’s a wacky war between breakfast food and lunchtime grub in BurgerTime—one of the silliest takes on running a fast food joint we’ve ever seen. Assembling burgers requires climbing massive scaffolding and stomping your way across giant buns, lettuce and meat patties to send them cascading below into neatly arranged stacks along the base of the screen. Meanwhile, you’re chased by an angry army of eggs and sausages. The only way to stop these baddies is to hit them with a dose of seasoning and send your burger fixing toppling down on them. Yeah, it’s a super weird video game… and a ton of fun.

Air Fortress (1987 – NES)

At a quick glance, Air Fortress may look like a standard side-scrolling space shooter, but surviving beyond the initial “approach” phase of each base lets you land and explore the fortress on foot. This mash-up of space shooter and interior exploration is a tasty combo, especially as the complexity of each base and its defenses grows more dangerous and elaborate. Defeating the boss in each fortress is a tense battle to begin with, but the timed mad dash back through the entire maze-like structure to escape before it erupts remains a big selling point for this secret classic.

ActRaiser (1990 – SNES)

Rebuilding your might as a fallen deity is a captivating exercise that balances action packed sword brawling and careful realm building in ActRaiser. Carving out monstrous foes and flinging spells in the 2D brawling stages scratches a certain itch, to be sure, but the depth that comes from helping the citizens of the land and gradually expanding your realm is what makes this unique game stick for the long-haul. ActRaiser‘s fresh spin on the God game genre holds up surprisingly well even several decades after it its debut.

Have other favorite cult classics or forgotten gems to recommend? Share your retro video game picks in the comments section below!

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