Top 10 Classic Video Games [Best Recommendations]

For the last 35 years, the gaming industry has been on a non-stop rampage. Thanks to Nintendo reviving the industry, more companies came out of the woodworks from the dawn of the 90s. Since the rise of Nintendo and many other companies during that time period, a good number of games and franchises have stood the test of time to be called classics. So what are some of our best recommended classics? Read our list to find out!

10. Ys: The Vanished Omens

  • Platform: Multiplatform
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Dates: October 15, 1988

While it was released on many platforms in its native Japan, it was exclusive in the West through the Sega Master System. Though the game has only been a cult hit, it is considered a big name in its native Japan. What makes the original Ys distinct from other J-RPGs of its time is its more direct combat system where both Adol, the main character, and an enemy can take damage. This was known as bumping, and depending on the angle (such as from behind) you can hit an enemy, as you can take lesser or no damage at all. In a way, think of it as jousting. In addition to its rare style of game play, Ys on the Master System was a great example of how good the graphics and sound effects were on that respective console. When interacting with locals, the game pans to a painting like picture of that character and the graphics do a great job of rendering them. The music is very intense and eerie, perfectly capturing its atmosphere for a different kind of RPG experience that is still distinct to this day.

9. Zelda no Densetsu: Kamigami no Triforce (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past)

  • Platform: Super Nintendo
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Dates: November 21, 1991 (Japan), April 13, 1992 (US)

While Zelda for the last 20 years has excellently been presented in 3D form (and we’re not going to get into its convoluted timeline), many gamers who have stuck with the series since its beginnings truly remember its roots as an overhead action RPG during its Nintendo and Super Nintendo days. While it is different in terms of presentation, it introduced numerous elements that are still in use to this very day such as finding the Master Sword, and exploring alternate worlds/dimensions. The first Legend of Zelda was more open with its exploration and you could tackle the dungeons in any order you want. But with A Link to the Past, it had something more organized and linear for players (especially newer ones) to follow, and its successors would also take a page from this.

While the first game on the NES included a physical map which you could lose over the years, A Link to the Past allows you to pause the game to review where you are on its digital map. While the world isn’t as big as presented in Breath of the Wild, for its time, A Link to the Past was pretty huge and there was so much to explore. Even if you’ve played some of the more recent titles, if you try out Link to the Past, you’ll not only get a taste of something old school, but you’ll re-discover many elements that are familiar for you to still enjoy.

8. Hoshi no Kirby 2 (Kirby’s Dream Land 2)

  • Platform: Game Boy
  • Publisher: HAL Laboratory
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Dates: Mar 21, 1995 (Japan), May 1, 1995 (US)

While the Kirby character became popular through its breakout original Nintendo releases, he actually made his debut on the Game Boy, and its sequel can be considered one of its best installments. Though handheld technology has significantly progressed the past 20 years, when you play it on the Super Game Boy, it does add unique features for its time such as special custom color schemes, and some additional sound effects.

What makes Kirby’s Dream Land 2 special to this day is that it allows you to play as 3 additional characters (a hamster, owl, and fish) as his allies to save DreamLand. Since the Game Boy technology was very limiting with what you could do in absorbing the abilities of enemies, the 3 new allies were a creative way of making up for it. The hamster can travel fast on the ground, the owl can fly, and the fish makes water levels easier to control. In addition, they express Kirby’s absorbing powers in their own distinct ways. With Kirby who can use the umbrella like a sword, the owl can use it as a downwards drill attack. The fact that you can get 4 characters with their own expressions of a certain ability adds fun ways of overcoming a particular enemy’s or stage’s challenges, which isn’t something you see in many games these days.

7. Tetris

  • Platform: Multiplatform
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Bullet Proof Software
  • Release Dates: June 14, 1989

While Tetris made its start as a PC game in Soviet Russia, it was ultimately popularized on the Game Boy and helped popularize it. Considering that it wasn’t a game that was organized like your typical platform or RPG, you could play it anytime and/or anywhere. In the days before mobile phone technology, if you wanted to wait for your date by the foundation or at the food court of your local mall and had some time to kill, you could just whip your Game Boy out of your pocket and play some Tetris.

As the true OG of puzzle games, Tetris is just one of those experiences that is easy to pick up and hard to master. As you start the game, it starts off slow for players to understand without the need of a tutorial, and as you get used to it, its difficulty and speed picks up bit by bit. The game could go for a few seconds, minutes, or forever depending on how the player organizes the blocks. It is challenging both as a one player game and as multiplayer. Considering the nature of the game, it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. A toddler can play as well as the first President Bush, who got a Game Boy and a copy of Tetris as a gift from the world’s greatest Tetris player, Steve Wozniak, who was also one of Apple’s co-founders.

6. Bare Knuckle (Streets of Rage)

  • Platform: Genesis
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Dates: August 2, 1991

While there have been other classic beat ‘em ups such as Final Fight, Double Dragon, and the Kunio-kun games, Streets of Rage took the genre to a new level of creativity. While other beat ‘em ups had the typical your girlfriend has been kidnapped and you have to save her, Streets of Rage instead uses a dystopian city where three detectives get together to fight and end the corruption. Beyond its story, what also helps make Streets of Rage stand out is its unique level design. While the city is obviously dangerous, the game excellently showcases its entertainment districts with its neon light signs to show that it is still fun to come out at night.

What also makes the first game unique in this trilogy (with a fourth game recently announced!) is its final boss fight. When you play two players, it creates one hell of a paradox. When you meet Mr. Big, he allows you to join him in his take over of the city. If both players refuse his offer, then you fight him and save the city! If both players agree, then they have to go back a couple of levels. If one agrees and another refuses, then both players must face each other to the death! If the player who agrees wins, then he takes over the city! If the player who refuses wins, then you save the city! But if there is one thing that has kept this game alive for the last 25 years is certainly its upbeat club soundtracks provided by one of the greatest game composers of all time, Yuzo Koshiro.

5. Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III)

  • Platform: Super Nintendo
  • Publisher: SquareSoft
  • Developer: SquareSoft
  • Release Dates: April 2, 1994 (Japan), October 20, 1994 (US)

If any game can be considered the pinnacle of old school Japanese RPGs, it would certainly have to be Final Fantasy VI, or Final Fantasy III outside of Japan. Final Fantasy VI has everything you could ask for out of any JRPG whether it would be new or old. It has an excellent story, a solid cast of characters, an easy to learn combat system, a vast world, a beautiful soundtrack, and a villain you truly want to defeat. For those that are new to Final Fantasy, despite being labeled as the sixth game, you don’t need to play any other Final Fantasy game to enjoy this one.

With its large cast of characters, each one of them has their own unique ability that you need to nurture in order to save the world and help your party. In one instance, you may need Celes’ Rune abilities to absorb magic from the enemy and use physical attacks to defeat them. In another, your entire party may need to know water related magic attacks in order to defeat a fire monster. Or in another instance, you’ll find yourself using Celes to disguise herself as an opera singer, so you have to memorize the lyrics to a beautiful song (while the sound effects may come across as silly for non-retro gamers). As you play the game, you get to know a large majority of the cast and why they are fighting. They are all relatable and truly carry the story without the need of a solidified main character. As for Kefka, the main villain, you’re going to get a kick out of his maniacal laugh.

4. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior

  • Platform: Arcade/Super Nintendo
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Dates: March 1991

If there is any game that truly paved way for fighting games as they are today, it would most certainly have to be Street Fighter II. While it is a sequel and fighting games already existed upon its release, Street Fighter II took it to a creative level that it needed to make it evolve. As opposed to playing as one character based on choosing either the player 1 or player 2 side, Street Fighter II was the first to allow players to pick their own fighter, each with their own unique style and set of moves. You could play as a karate black belt, a wrestler, a wild beast, a sumo, and a kung fu fighting machine. It created replay value due to this feature alone.

In addition, it re-introduced the concepts of life bars, time limits, excellent graphics, adrenaline pumping music, and other kinds of sound/voice effects. Then Capcom further improved its product by allowing players to have custom colored costumes, play as the four bosses, implement new moves for certain characters (such as Chun-Li’s fireball), and eventually have super combos. While Street Fighter is now at its fifth release, without Street Fighter II, we probably wouldn’t have King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, or Tekken, which is why this game is not only just a classic, but the pinnacle of the modern day fighting game.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

  • Platform: Arcade/Super Nintendo
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release Dates: 1991

Though the Turtles franchise has gone through numerous incarnations since its debut, much of its hardcore fan base will always identify it with its 1987 animated series and the multimedia hit it has become. If there is one thing that the old Ninja Turtles cartoon series has more than its recent counterparts, it has a superior library of games. While Ninja Turtles had the original arcade game, Turtles in Time is a huge improvement in both the graphics and sound department. Considering the nature of the show, the 4-player arcade beat ‘em up was an excellent way for fans to experience as a video game. When you take into account how each Turtles uses a different set of weapons, the beat ‘em up proved that it’s the perfect format considering how they love to balance characters between speed, power, and agility.

In addition to facing the standard foot soldiers, the Turtles also have to face Rocksteady, Bebop, Leatherhead, Krang, and The Shredder as they must bring the Statue of Liberty back to Staten Island. The arcade is still a classic, but its Super Nintendo release will always be remembered for taking advantage of the console’s mode 7 graphics chip. If in the event a player grabbed a foot soldier, they could throw them towards the screen and they would scale up in size. In fact, there is one level exclusive to the SNES release where you face the Shredder (who is presented in a 3rd person behind perspective as he is operate a mech), and you must throw the enemies towards the Shredder in order to hit him. So if you want to remember the Ninja Turtles at their best, Turtles in Time is certainly it. Its graphics perfectly captured the series with its quirky soundtrack, a balanced combat system, and enough challenge where you can have fun with up to three of your siblings, relatives, or friends.

2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

  • Platform: Genesis
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega
  • Release Dates: Nov 21, 1992 (Japan), Nov 24, 1992 (US)

As a sequel, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 made the improvements that its predecessor needed despite being an excellently received hit. It still maintains its unique level designs and fantastic soundtrack that compliments the environments, however Sonic 2 introduced the concept of live 2-player platform games. While 2-player platform games existed, they were turn based, but with two characters on the screen at once, you got true 2-player co-op. In addition to Sonic, the game introduces Tails, his sidekick. He may not be as fast as Sonic, but his tails allows him to fly and he can carry Sonic to places he can’t reach. For its time, it was really unique and fresh.

As for its bonus levels where you have to once again collect the Chaos Emeralds, they are presented in 3D along with Sonic and Tails, which was something that was mind-blowing during the early days of 16-bit. In the first game, collecting all the Chaos Emeralds was just a bonus but for Sonic 2 (in addition to collecting 100 rings), he can become Super Sonic, where he turns yellow and temporarily invincible. Many Dragon Ball Z fans can easily see this as a homage to Super Saiyans. The fact that Sonic 2 improves not only its predecessor, but platform games as a whole, is why it is still respected as an undying classic.

1. Super Mario Bros.

  • Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Dates: September 13, 1985 (Japan), October 18, 1985 (US)

Just like how ET for the Atari was the hammer that drove the final nail in the coffin for the game industry back in 1983, Super Mario Bros was the Phoenix Down that brought it back to life. Though the Mario character already made his debut in Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros solidified Mario as Nintendo’s mascot. Everyone who grew up in the eighties and got a Nintendo can easily identify Mario for numerous reasons. Those reasons include its then distinguishing graphics, level design, sound effects, and its oddly addicting soundtrack. While games today can use real instruments, 8-bit was very creative with music, which is something that is lost today.

The moment you start the game, you just learn as you go along. The way Mario is positioned on the left side of the screen, you can instantly pick up how you just have to move him right. If you hit the goomba the moment the screen scrolls right and lose a life, you got to start over, but at least you know it exists and how to avoid it. Even when you progress, you will face new challenges, some harder than others. Then when you get to the first castle and defeat Bowser, you then learn you’re on a quest to find a princess. It may be a long journey but if you were lucky and could find a hidden warp, you could beat the game in no time!

Thanks to the success of this game, Mario got a whole list of spin-off games on both the original NES, and its succeeding consoles. Some include Dr. Mario, Mario Golf, and Mario Tennis. Then the original Super Mario Bros formula was expanded in its sequels from Super Mario Bros 3 to Odyssey. Beyond its sequels, it got new sets of spin-offs such as Mario Kart and Mario Party. If Super Mario Bros wasn’t a success, not only we wouldn’t get all of these spin-offs and sequels, gaming today would probably be as dead as disco.

Final Thoughts

Last, we would like to make some very honorable mentions to Chrono Trigger, Doom, Pong, Virtua Fighter, and Double Dragon. As we stated, classic gaming as a whole represents a time when games were a bit simpler. While the Angry Video Game Nerd enjoys screaming how older games are difficult with every explicitive you can think of (plus more), today, almost every damn game needs to have a tutorial, or you can’t progress without going through it, and some people can agree they aren’t necessary (whatever happened to reading the instruction manual?). With the games from the eighties and nineties, the design of the game pretty much guided you as you played. The fact that you could learn as you go along as what helps contribute to why classic gaming stills holds up. So what are some of of your personal favorite classics? Please leave your list in the comments!

the-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-game-700x394 Top 10 Classic Video Games [Best Recommendations]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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