It’s tough not being able to get out of the house and being forced to practice self-isolation. Many of us are not working, instead we’re patiently waiting to be given the go ahead to head back to work. While many of us have found projects, films, TV shows and video games to distract ourselves with, it doesn’t necessarily help the underlying anxiety of not knowing what the next day is going to bring or how long we will be out of work.
I have countered that anxiety by playing old video games. The nostalgia brings back memories from when I was younger and makes me feel good about myself and the world. It makes me realize that in the long run, things are going to be okay.
Below I have compiled a list of my top 20 retro games to help to distract you with some delightful nostalgia while you self-isolate. I have chosen genres that are mostly adventure games, so you can invest plenty of time revisiting these childhood memories. And if they weren’t during your childhood, you can revisit these masterpieces for the first time.
Nothing quite captures the depth of isolation and being alone better than the graphic adventure puzzle game, Myst. You may be wondering why I would suggest playing an isolating game while in self-isolation. Behind all of the unnerving silence of worlds without the sound of humanity clamoring in the background, are stories about worlds and civilization. Myst contains brilliant puzzles that really gets the player to think and challenge themselves on how they explore each world. All of these worlds were connected through portals in books, some of which had people trapped in them. At the time of its release, it was a stunning game to play. As the player finds the true ending and the mystery of the missing man who founded these islands, they also discover there is a whole world out there to explore. It’s beautiful, thought-provoking and healthy problem solving for the human mind.
19. Gex: Enter the Gecko
While I recommend playing any of the Gex games, Gex 2: Enter the Gecko is my favorite of the series. Like many games at the time, Gex 2 was inspired directly by Super Mario 64. Instead of jumping into painting, Gex would jump into TV channels and play the associated themed level such as Toon TV or Scream TV, playing respectively on cartoon and horror tropes. This is a trend that continued into Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko. Unlike Super Mario 64, this game offers a lot of comedy. It parodies both gaming and TV genre of that time, brilliantly sewing the two sources together into a fun experience. It’s too bad Gex has fallen under the radar, because he was way cooler than the Geico gecko.
18. Kirby’s Adventure
Kirby’s Adventure was such a big exciting game that changed the entire landscape for the future of the franchise. It was the direct sequel to the very fun (but very short) Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy. Kirby stepped his chops and joined the big kids table by coming to the Nintendo Entertainment System. There are seven worlds in this game with multiple levels. It was also the first game of the franchise to have a save feature and the introduced Kirby’s iconic superpower to copy his enemies abilities. There have been many ports and remakes of this game. It’s fantastic, fun, and really brings the player to the roots of the entire Kirby franchise.
17. Resident Evil: Code Veronica
With the release of the Resident Evil 3 remake in our hands, the question on everyone’s mind has been “What about Resident Evil: Code Veronica?” While Capcom has said they don’t plan remaking what would be the next entry in the series, I don’t believe them. Until that happens, you can replay the original game. Unlike the titles previous to it, Resident Evil: Code Veronica had update the graphics and gameplay to be far more crisp and easier to control. Playing as Claire Redfield, this game was a direct sequel to the events of Resident Evil 2 in which she sets off to find her missing brother, Chris. The game was massive and originally came on two discs before it was re-released on future consoles. It was probably the wackiest story of all the Resident Evil games with the incestuous villains Alexia and Alfred Ashford. Most importantly, it had the return of Albert Wesker.
Startropics collected a small fanbase during it’s initial release in 1990. In recent years, it has become far more mainstream among players due to the popularity of the internet and the NES Classic. This game is a really fun. The player navigates the main character, Mike Jones, through a series of islands that each have its own Zelda-styled dungeon for exploration. The power ups are fun, like a yo-yo being used in a fantastical kind of way. The best way to describe the overall tone of the game is Earthbound meets Legend of Zelda on a tropical island. And if you really enjoy playing Startropics, you can load up Startropics II: Zoda’s Revenge.
15. Beyond Good & Evil
This game was first pitched to be as “The Legend of Zelda of Playstation.” Well, it’s absolutely not that, but I’m glad I was introduced to this game because it really is stunning. There just is not a single adventure out there with this kind of gameplay, where it crosses stealth and action elements while chronicling different alien species with Jade’s camera. The plot has a lot of political depth to it and was probably one of the last games to build that ’90s aesthetic of science fiction. There are also a bunch of anthropomorphic animals walking around as alien species, and it’s just the right level of weird of that time. I am probably going to replay this next for my retro gaming Twitch channel, because it’s just the kind of game I need right now in self-isolation.
14. Super Mario World
I wouldn’t point ya’ll toward retro adventure games to play without making a Super Mario Bros. recommendation! Super Mario World was the first game since the original trilogy of Mario games on the NES to really expand on that 2D platformer. Similar to Super Mario Bros. 3, this game featured various different worlds on a map with unique levels. This was also the first Super Mario Bros. title to offer a save feature as the game was quite lengthy and contained several hidden levels. Most importantly, this was Yoshi’s debut to the Super Mario Bros. universe! To be completely honestly, Super Mario World has always felt like a glorified Super Mario Bros. 3 if it had no limits, and that is absolutely okay. Grab a cape, hop on Yoshi, and go kick some Koopa butt!
13. Tomb Raider
Have you played the original Tomb Raider? If you haven’t, I recommend it because this is where Lara’s first adventure started and it’s a long one! I personally like playing Tomb Raider on the PC because I can have full range of the keyboard to do all of her back flips off ledges. This game was produced during a time where Lara didn’t have auto-grip for ledges and there was literally a button to control that. This game is challenging in a lot of ways that modern day gaming is not, but it’s also very rewarding when the player completes a level. This was also one of the very first titles to feature a female protagonist in a one-player game. Lara Croft has always been my hero, so it’s always satisfying to go back to her roots.
12. Donkey Kong Country 2
The original Donkey Kong Country games are a trilogy that is not to be messed with, especially Donkey Kong Country 2. While there have been numerous attempted sequels at attempting to bring back the atmosphere, gameplay, sound and music, none have quite captured what was so special about these games. Between a pair of monkeys who use cartwheels and hair-twirling as a form of an attack while riding other animals across pirate ships, this game presents endless fun. There are multiple worlds all with extremely unique levels. My favorite ones were on the roller coasters in the defunct theme parks, and the jungle swamps with music that sounded like Phil Collins serenading us. I also highly recommend Dixie Kong’s sequel in the third Donkey Kong Country game.
11. Sonic Adventure
Sonic Adventure has become one of those games players and fans either love or hate. What I really love about this game is that it was Sonic’s first venture into the 3D world from the 2D platform. Yes the control scheme was a little wonky and the dubbing didn’t match up with anyone’s lip movements, but it was a much smoother transition than when Mario made the leap to 3D platforming on the Nintendo 64. Considering Sonic Adventure was released in 1998, the graphics are truly beautiful for it’s time. I also still think that this game not only did the most interesting concepts with physics for a Sonic the Hedgehog title, but it also had the best running animation for the blue blur. This game also introduced the idea of playing through different characters perspectives in story mode, revisiting the same levels as Sonic with their own spin. With the exception of Sonic Generations, Sonic Adventure really is the only Sonic title that nailed how to translate Sonic levels into a 3D environment. Plus, this game as a killer soundtrack.
10. Final Fantasy VIII
Everyone is all pumped about the release of the re-make of fan-favorite Final Fantasy VII, but where is the love for Final Fantasy VIII? I remember first seeing a preview for this game via the gorgeous opening while hanging out in a local Babbage’s game store. I was blown away with the graphics because I had never seen a game with that quality of graphics. As soon as I could save up some precious pennies, I bought the game for my PC. At the time I thought the entire was beautiful, even in its polygon form. It had moved away from the cartoon-like characters of FFVII and created a completely serious gaming atmosphere. The concept of the game was similar to Harry Potter or X-Men where a bunch of students were training with superpowers and magic to go fight in a war. The whole game itself is one magical war story, complete with a bunch of ridiculous time travel. The end of this game is still a tear jerker. If you can get through the game’s complicated leveling up system (and even more complicated trading card side game), then I highly recommend hopping on Final Fantasy VIII when you finish playing the hot new remake of FFVII. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll remake this game.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
I was very tempted to recommend the original The Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but when it comes down to the perfect retro Zelda title, it’s absolutely The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. This game expanded the world of Hyrule from the NES to the SNES. It was a massive game for its time, with so many secrets hidden in the depths of the land. This game was so popular that it got a direct sequel nearly 20 years later, A Link Between Worlds. Back in the day when this game was released, there was nothing to help guide you through this game. You simple had to explore. And then when the player finished one world of the game, it flipped the player over into the Dark World version of the map. I spent countless hours exploring every nook and cranny of Hyrule, and I can hear the theme echoing through my head just writing this article. This will probably always be the best top down Zelda title.
8. Katamari Damacy
I can’t believe it’s been 18 years since the release of the original Katamari Damacy. I wouldn’t call this an adventure game by any means, but it sure is fun as hell. The concept of the game is so simple: roll up as many objects as possible into a giant ball. It is oddly satisfying. Plus the soundtrack is amazing. I love jamming out to this while rolling stuff up into a ball, each with its own satisfying wacky sound. This was during a time where video games were getting crazy and experimental. The characters are over-the-top fantastical and the colors are a total trip. Plus the King of Cosmos spits rainbows at the player. I go back and play this game pretty regularly start to finish. If you want something that is truly fun and stress-relieving during a such a time of distress, Katamari Damacy is where it’s at.
7. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the most famous Castlevania title. It took the gameplay of the previous games and built an elaborate 2D platformer that was a full on exploration of Dracula’s castle, similar to games like Metroid (hence coining the term “Metroidvania”). Unlike previous games, the player isn’t controlling a whip-wielding Belmont vampire slayer. Instead the protagonist is Dracula’s son, Alucard, who slashes his way through hoardes of monsters and ghost while absorbing their powers along the way. This game is truly beautiful and has an amazing soundtrack. If you are really in it for the long haul, halfway through the game the whole castle flips upside down and you have to explore the whole map again.
6. Pokemon Red/Blue
Ah. The origin of Pokemon. Who knew that this little black and white game with absolutely no battle animation would take off and become one of Nintendo’s leading franchises. It’s at the point where Pokemon has become one of the biggest franchises in the world. Everything about this game brings back memories. If you haven’t played these games, shame on you. This is where it all started! Pick Charmander, Squirtle or Bulbasaur and start your Pokemon journey! (I always choose Charmander) While the mechanics of this game are incredibly slow — especially walking (until you get a bike) – the game is incredibly charming. If you want a game that’s going to both make you feel good and kill hours and hours of time grinding Pokemon to level, then this is the perfect game for you right now.
5. Super Mario RPG
The only RPG I have ever completed in my life is Super Mario RPG. I never could quite beat the end boss of Final Fantasy VIII. I am not surprised that Super Mario was the way to getting me to finish one of these games, because it’s long. But it was also the first Super Mario title to feature such a lengthy story for these character who previously had nearly no dialogue at all. It was also the first game where we could play as both Princess Peach and Bowser in the same game; and let’s not my personal hero, Geno. There have been several Mario RPGs since this one premiered on the SNES, but none of them quite hit the nail on the head like Square Enix did back when they were called Squaresoft. Every character in this game is interesting with over-the-top personalities. The battle systems were very clean and efficient. I could spend hours in this turn-based battle system bopping around to the happy tunes. This game is a classic, and also sort of a dark and serious tale for Super Mario.
4. Super Metroid
Whenever someone asks me for a recommendation for the SNES, I always say Super Metroid. This game really expanded on the concepts that the original Metroid had set up for the NES. There is a degree of story-telling here that just didn’t happen on much other 2D platformers, where the player has to draw conclusions about what happened based on the remnants of broken space stations and the planet Zebes. The player guides Samus Aran through a full exploration of the planet through maze-like tunnels and caverns. Nobody knows what happened. We have only context clues to tell us the story. The controls of this game are beautifully done. I seriously got hooked on playing this game in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. Samus couldn’t sleep either. We had a planet to explore and some Metroids to take down.
3. Kingdom Hearts
You wouldn’t think Kingdom Hearts would count as a nostalgic game, but it was originally released in 2002, which is 18 years ago. Can you believe that? It’s been 18 whole years since Sora was slashing around his keyblade like it was a sword and visiting Disney classic worlds like Aladdin and the The Little Mermaid. As a Disney fanatic who enjoy video games, I am obsessed with this series. Sora literally takes to every Disney film and allows the player to explore it completely. I am in the middle of playing this game again right now. It is exactly the escape we need during a time of distress and uncertainty. There is nothing I love more than a solid Disney film, but being able to play it is an even better experience.
With Banjo-Kazooie playable in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, there is no better time to revisit this dynamic duo’s original adventure. Banjo-Kazooie took everything Super Mario 64 tried do, and did it better: controls, camera angles, and graphics. The music was catchy, the characters were dynamically fun, and every single noise in the game was full of comical intent. Banjo-Kazooie faced off with a witch who wanted to straight up be sexy by climbing through her lair and jumping from world to world by finishing puzzles which would turn into magical paintings. It’s really too bad there was only one proper sequel to this fantastic game, and a shorter adventure of the Game Boy Advance. Banjo-Kazooie holds a very dear place in my heart as one of my favorite games.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
My number one pick for retro games to play in self-isolation is my favorite video game of all time -– The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I religiously play this game every single year since it first debuted on the Nintendo 64 in 1998. This was the first Zelda game to venture into the world of 3D platforming, and honestly the first fantasy exploration game that worked on that type of model. This game was beautiful for it’s time and honestly is still gorgeous to revisit in its later years. Every piece of Hyrule was meticulously designed. The story was riveting, giving purpose to Link, Zelda and Gannondorf’s endless journey. This game not only brings nostalgic feelings to me, but it also makes me feel like I am truly on adventure. Games like Breath of the Wild were far too big for me when came to a Legend of Zelda title, and that’s saying something considering how much I love playing Skyrim. This will always be my go-to adventure game, and I really feel that you will find that this is the game you need right now when you are yearning to get out and explore the world.
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