The Best Retro Games of 2017

Retro 2017

As much as we love to dwell on the classic games for our older systems, there are also some fresh games making their way onto the modern gaming scene that appeal to our retro sensibilities.

The Racketboy community submitted their nominations for the best games that have a classic style that were released in 2017. Two-dimensional gameplay is the primary concern and sprite artwork is a plus, but not required. We balanced the ranking on average critic scores (thanks, Metacritic) with the overall retro vibe of the gameplay, art style, and genre.

For each game featured, we run down the platforms it’s available on and also mention if it has a physical game option (especially important to us retro geeks that are skeptical of longevity of online services). We also share a good video link to give an idea of the game, an excerpt and link to one of the most helpful online reviews of the game. At the bottom of the guide, you’ll find some honorable mentions that may have come out earlier than this year, but had some notable ports or releases this year. We hope you find this useful and feel free to mention any of your personal favorites from this year whether they are listed or not.

BTW, we used to do voting for this back in 2010 (and additional links to years before that), but its nice to jump back into this habit but with more screens and reviews to share.

Cuphead

XB1, Windows
Physical Copy? No   (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

“Cuphead cultivated a fandom around its art style, an homage to 1930s cartoons from Disney and Fleischer Studios. Brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, along with animator Jake Clark, meshed the hand-drawn art with the run-and-gun genre popularized by pixelated games like Mega Man. The result is a throwback on a throwback, an ode to the good old days of games and animation alike…

The game isn’t designed for true gamers to race through with nothing but raw skill and unearned confidence. If anything, the boss fights punish pride, filling stages with minions, projectiles and traps.

Where Cuphead scolds speed, it rewards a careful and thoughtful method. Anytime the challenge feels too great, a solution can typically be found by inhaling, exhaling and carefully considering all possible solutions before diving back into the fight.”

Chris Plante / Polygon

Sonic Mania

XB1, PS4, Switch, Windows
Physical Copy? No   (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

Sonic Mania Screenshot

“At its core Sonic Mania is partly a love-letter to the ‘original’ games, a remix but also a new experience. For a decent chunk of the game (particularly ‘Act 1’ in familiar zones) you’re playing levels from the originals that have nevertheless been revamped with additional routes and fun new bosses and twists. These go right for the player’s sense of nostalgia, but due to the excellence of the source material also serve as delicious 16-bit platforming to those that haven’t played the originals. Mania isn’t simply a greatest hits collection, nor should its appeal be limited to 30-something gamers that lack the speedy reflexes of the past…

From new areas, imaginative second acts and some delightful boss encounters, the development team has poured a lot of passion and talent into the project. The occasional bug and a couple of brief and cheap areas deprive it of Sonic-style perfection, but it’s pretty darn close.”

Thomas Whitehead / NintendoLife

Stardew Valley

XB1, PS4, Switch, Windows, MacOS, Linux
Physical Copy? YES (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

“While Harvest Moon is a clear inspiration for much of Stardew Valley, the Animal Crossing influence is noticeable as well. Like in the Nintendo series, you’ll spend time delivering gifts to villagers on their birthdays, attending holiday festivals, donating items to a museum’s collection, catching fish, and upgrading your house. Those pursuits are still satisfying, but Stardew Valley makes them feel like just a small handful of the activities that you can choose to do. With full systems for farming, combat, cooking, crafting, relationships, and more, it feels like a far more substantial experience. On top of that, a seemingly endless amount of little joys can be found everywhere. I even love activities as simple as clearing farmland at night before I go to bed, watching a cooking show in the morning to learn new recipes, and riding my horse around town to deliver meals that I cooked for my neighbors…

I went from never hearing about this game to absolutely falling in love with it almost instantly. Even after all the time I’ve already put into the game, I can’t help but get excited when I think about what my character will be doing in the next in-game year, or the one after that… Some might look at this and say it’s just a farming game, or that it borrows liberally from Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, Terraria, and Rune Factory.”

Dan Ryckert / GiantBomb

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

XB1, PS4, Switch, Windows, MacOS, Linux
Physical Copy? Yes (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

“Remaking a beloved classic forces developers to grapple with their own pixellated version of the Ship of Theseus paradox: How heavily can a game be altered while remaining fundamentally the same work? What parts should be altered? To what degree should those modifications be allowed to reshape the underlying work?

LizardCube’s new remake of SEGA Master System metroidvania Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is one of the rare instances in which the developers were able to sidestep this question altogether right at the outset. This remake began as a programming exercise for an enthusiastic fan (Omar Cornut) who wanted to dissect the tech behind the game and rebuild it for new systems. Rather than taking broad liberties with this new rendition of The Dragon’s Trap, Cornut prioritized fidelity first and foremost. This is a remake in the most literal sense: Not a reimagining, but rather a genuine recreation of the 8-bit work from the ground up…

Original developers Westone put together one of the most advanced and interesting action RPGs of the ’80s, one that could stand toe-to-toe with hits such as Zelda II and would go on to exert some very obvious influence on the likes of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Shantae and Little Samson. Its problem was one of obscurity. Wonder Boy III appeared on multiple systems back in the day, but they were all the least popular platforms of each category: Master System, TurboGrafx–16, Game Gear. Hopefully the fact that this visually stunning (and still quite entertaining!) remake is showing up on the most popular platforms of the era — PlayStation and Steam, as well as being one of the first notable releases for Switch — will allow this 8-bit masterpiece to finally receive the acclaim it’s due.”

Jeremy Parish / Retronauts

Metroid: Samus Returns

Nintendo 3DS
Physical Copy? Yes (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

“Developed by MercurySteam (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow), the game that results is generally faithful to Metroid’s basic structure, but also takes a number creative liberties. You’re still hunting Metroids, but you have many more abilities, and the areas are much, much bigger. It also puts even more emphasis on combat, with far more elaborate enemy encounters and boss battles.

While it has plenty in common with its source material, MercurySteam clearly has their own vision for this remake: one that borrows heavily from Super Metroid. Their take on Metroid II leans heavily toward action, but still incorporates plenty of the complex traversal puzzles that the series is known for. And it works wonderfully.”

Kat Bailey / USGamer

Nex Machina

PS4, Windows
Physical Copy? Yes (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

“When a top-down shooter like Nex Machina comes along, I’m reminded that even in this age of procedural open worlds and emergent storytelling, you don’t need a lot of buzzwords to have a good time. Its five stages of simple, fast, sometimes frantic bot-blasting can be daunting to the unprepared. But when I got a good run going, the responsive controls and exciting, sci-fi graphics made my frustrations with its sometimes nasty death penalty worth it…

Despite the frustrations its upgrade system often caused me, I had a good time navigating Nex Machina’s array of twin-stick shooter challenges. The appealing art, energetic soundtrack, and pixel-perfect gamepad controls made me own every failure and look forward to whatever might come next… Nex Machina is not for the faint of heart, but a recipe to delight those looking for an attractive, arcadey challenge to overcome.”

TJ Hafer / IGN

Blaster Master Zero

Switch, 3DS
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“It’s not a completely like-for-like remake though. The visuals have been jazzed up, modern trimmings like a map and save points have been added, and difficulty has been balanced across the game. And by balanced, we don’t just mean easier. That’s certainly the case for certain areas, but others have been increased in difficulty where necessary to bring it in line with the rest of the game…

The balance between modern and retro is perfect here. You’ll never get frustrated but you can ignore any of the extra stuff that makes the experience easier. The map’s hidden away in a menu, for example, so if you’d prefer to explore the old fashioned way – go for it.”

Glex Fox / Pocket Gamer

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment

XB1, PS4, Switch, Wii U, 3DS, PS3, Vita, Windows, MacOS, Linux
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“Not that Specter of Torment needs to tap into that nostalgia to be a good game. It has an illustrious pedigree as the first standalone expansion of the much-lauded Shovel Knight. I dabbled with Shovel Knight, but never could quite get into it. Specter of Torment had a lot more appeal to me because of the way the player character, Specter Knight, controlled. Specter Knight feels much more like a Strider Hiryu than a Simon Belmont, and I feel the game is all the better for it….

For those who yearn for the days of platforming yore, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is a dream come true. Some will be turned off by its lack of scope, especially when it seems like every major title that comes out is filled with lore and unbound exploration. However, sometimes it’s just great to spend some time with a game that just has tight, precise gameplay that doesn’t require you to deal with endless mechanics and crafting to get enjoyment. Specter of Torment is that game, a modernized version of the platforming games that we loved and loved to hate from childhood.”

Jason Faulkner / Shacknews

ByeBye BoxBoy!

Nintendo 3DS
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“It’s a game that hearkens back to the NES days, albeit with a bit of HAL Laboratory’s more modern flourishes. There are no lengthy tutorials or cutscenes loaded with expositional dialog, just pure puzzle-platforming goodness. The puzzles range from simple stuff like throwing a block into a hole, to the more complex, involving using every tool in your arsenal to get through. On the whole, they’re not very challenging and make for a good game to relax with. The crowns you can collect in each stage through efficient completion add to the challenge, but ultimately they’re not all that daunting themselves.”

Steve Bowling / NintendoLife

 Super Hydora

XB1, PS4, Vita, Windows
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“Following in the footsteps of 80s and 90s genre big names like Gradius, R-Type, and Darius, independent Spanish developer Locomalito knows what it’s like to design a 2D shooter. I realise there’s a bit of caution exercised against western shoot ‘em ups made outside of Japan, but in this case any trepidation is unwarranted. From its freeware origins back in 2010 as Hydorah, it’s instantly discernable that Super Hydorah is a labour of love. Coupled with retro visuals and a killer soundtrack from Gryzor87, Super Hydorah has that delightful sense of style that sucked me in immediately…

Super Hydorah understands why these games work and exploits that for the entirety of its running length. It then goes onto feature nearly two dozen stages, a number that surpasses the genre standard by a sizable margin, and blows them out of the water with the dynamic duo of quality and quantity. Yes, this game’s “weaker” levels surpass many 2D shooters that only have five or six levels…

Besides sheer girth, Super Hydorah presents some concepts that the world of shoot ‘em ups would be wise to embrace on a broader scale. For instance, the game has penalties for bombing civilian homes or otherwise compromising the lives of the innocent. In addition to providing an extra layer of challenge and forcing the player to adapt to tight scenarios, it subverts the presupposition that 2D shooters are about annihilating everything you can see and touch. It’s logical that so many games have you hold down the fire button given the arcade and score-heavy origin of these games, but so rarely do players of this subgenre have to genuinely question their actions beyond practical strategy.”

Clark A / Digitally Downloaded

Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

Switch, Windows
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“What Blossom Tales does best can be found in the dungeons themselves. The very first one is incredibly easy to reintroduce the basic mechanics. The subsequent dungeon trials prove that Castle Pixel is designing for veterans who want to be challenged. Even the second dungeon is sprawling, with multiple paths that must be explored, and puzzles that force the player to make use of every basic talent in rapid succession. This is before additional skills are even found, stretching the player’s reasoning and skills…

The decision as to whether or not Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King should be checked out boils down to the answer of a single question: does the potential buyer desire a new Zelda of the old school style? If the answer is yes, then this game is a must buy.”

Jason Bohn / Hardcore Gamer

Mighty Gunvolt Burst

Switch
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“Imagine for a moment that the infamous Mighty No.9 had met fans’ high expectations instead of having tons of game-breaking bugs and lag issues. Now take that visualization of success and meld it with #ShovelKnight’s 8-bit-inspired graphics, the fundamental mechanics of the Mega Man series, and the item customization options found in the average sandbox game like Terraria….

This is the game that Mighty No.9 should have been. It has the classic approach of an 8-bit Mega Man with more action and more reasons to keep playing beyond the first pass. You might as well call it Mega Man 11, because that’s what it feels like.”

Michael Haynes / @gamerfyMike

Super Mario Run

iOS, Android
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“Super Mario Run is thankfully miles away from being the simplified disaster that many nay-sayers had feared; in fact, what’s striking about this mobile release is how similar it is to traditional Mario titles in terms of gameplay and challenge. Despite having limited control over Mario there’s still a strong focus on skill, especially if you want to grab all of those pink, purple and black coins. The brevity of the experience is an issue however – an average player should be able to finish an initial no-frills World Tour run in around an hour – and as a result Super Mario Run’s social element becomes its long-term focus. Challenging pals via the elegant in-game friends system is addictive, and the Toad Rally mode – which underpins the kingdom-building meta game – is sure to soak up plenty of play time.”

Damien McFerran / NintendoLife

The Mummy Demastered

XB1, PS4, Switch, Windows
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“Yet it’s only now, more than a decade after “Metroidvania” entered the mainstream gaming lexicon, that someone has finally created the first game to truly embrace the full scope of the word: WayForward’s The Mummy Demastered…

The Mummy Demastered in many ways feels like a game unstuck in time. As an adaptation of a major Hollywood film for PC and consoles (rather than a quick free-to-play cash-in on mobile devices), The Mummy Demastered belongs to a vanishing breed. On top of that, it has an unapologetically old-school feel to it, with pixel-based sprite graphics and two-dimensional gameplay. It has the look of an indie game rather than a tie-in to a major studio film with budget of more than $100 million — but all of that works in its favor.”

Jeremy Parish / Polygon

Ruiner

XB1, PS4, Windows
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“With so many twin-stick shooters on the market, they often tend to blend together. Ruiner stands at the top of the field, thanks in large part to its ultra-cool presentation. The visuals and sounds are amazingly slick for an indie game, the sci-fi story and setting evoke the best cyberpunk stories like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, and the gameplay has more depth than your average shooter. If you can handle some serious challenge (and a whole lot of the color red), Ruiner certainly won’t ruin your day.”

Paul Acevedo / Windows Central

Matterfall

PS4
Physical Copy? YES (eBay / Amazon)
Video Sample

“It’s a bullet-hell twin-stick shooter, and the screen is almost always covered in fiery projectiles, but to mitigate that threat (at least a little), you’re equipped with an offensive dash. Dubbed a “strike,” it’s good for more than just quick traversal: it disappears bullets and briefly makes enemies slightly more docile, and quicker to beat. It gives you just the right amount of momentum, and has the slightest cooldown, so it’s something that needs to be carefully and strategically timed, instead of mashed with reckless abandon…

It’ll take just a few short hours to blast through everything Matterfall has to offer, and it ends just as it starts to get really good. There’s a good challenge to be had though, especially on higher difficulty levels.”

Geoffrey Tim / Critical Hit

Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue

Windows
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“Developed by a crew led by Japanese indie Krobon, SMT: Synchronicity Prologue is a short-ish Metroidvania with cute sprites, a decent amount of story to chew through and a lot of cleverly used spirits, monsters and other weirdos from the series adeptly adapted from RPG format to platformer enemies.

You can grab the game here (scroll down, it’s the big blue button), and thanks to a lovely fellow called Brent, you can enjoy it in English by following the instructions on Twitter here. There are some things still untranslated and there may be more to come later, but it’s playable enough as-is.”

Dominic Tarason / RockPaperShotgun

Hollow Knight

Switch, Windows, MacOS, Linux
Physical Copy? No
Video Sample

“The beautiful world of Hollow Knight elevates it to great heights. Every location is dripping with lore, telling stories of the tragic downfall of the world around you. With gorgeous hand-drawn environments, a fantastic soundtrack, and a cast of vibrant characters, Hollownest was a delight to explore from beginning to end. The gameplay is nothing innovative, but the journey is amazing all the same.”

Miles Baxter / The Nerd Stash

Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition

PS4, Windows
Physical Copy? Yes
Video Sample

“While the game’s novelty might has worn off for most new gamers, if you were a fan of FMV games in the 90s this is totally for you. Night Trap has a cult following for a reason, its because it has a charming, cheesy story and with this release it plays better than ever. Screaming Villain really did think of almost everything, the game even includes menu overlays from all past releases. With all the quality to life improvements added to the title, its hard not to recommend to fans of the old FMV games that have been looking for an excuse to replay this classic. Would I recommend this game to everyone? Probably not. Its a very niche group of people that would enjoy this release.”

George / Segabits

Other Noteworthy 2017 Additions

Axiom Verge

  • 2017 Notes: Received a Switch Port this Year
  • XB1, PS3, PS4, Switch, Vita, 3DS, Wii U, Windows, MacOS, Linux
  • Physical Copy? YES   (eBay / Amazon)
  • Video Sample

Owlboy

  • 2017 Notes: Late 2016 Release
  • PS4, Switch, Windows, MacOS, Linux
  • Physical Copy? N
  • Video Sample

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero

  • 2017 Notes: Physical & Switch Release This Year
  • XB1, PS4, Wii U, Vita, Switch, Windows
  • Physical Copy? YES  (eBay / Amazon)
  • Video Sample

Puyo Puyo Tetris

  • 2017 Notes: North American Release
  • XB1, PS4, Switch, Vita, 3DS, PS3, WiiU
  • Physical Copy? YES   (eBay / Amazon)
  • Video Sample

Raiden V

  • 2017 Notes: Came to North America on the PS4
  • XB1, PS4, Windows
  • Physical Copy? YES   (eBay / Amazon)
  • Video Sample

I Am Setsuna

  • 2017 Notes: Switch Port Arrived
  • Switch PS4, Vita, Windows
  • Physical Copy? YES   (eBay / Amazon)
  • Video Sample

Ghost Blade HD

  • 2017 Notes: Originally on the Dreamcast as a late release, but HD version came to the PS4 and PC.
  • PS4, Windows
  • Physical Copy? YES   (eBay / Amazon)
  • Video Sample

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4 Comments

Secret Admirer says:

Great list, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of that SMT game. I’mma gonna play it.

I was actually triggered at first by the title and was going down the pedantic route of trying to suggest it should be called “retro-inspired” instead of just retro. But I actually bothered to google the definition of the word, and everywhere I looked the word is being defined as something that’s derivative or inspired by past sensibilities, thus “retro-inspired” is kind of an oxymoron. All this time I thought “retro” just meant something from the past or older.

I just bothered to type this because I’m assuming more people will probably think the same.

racketboy says:

ha thanks! Yeah, that’s always a nice thing to clarify. I used to be fuzzy on the term as well. Because of that, the name “Retrogaming with Racketboy” isn’t the most correct name, but alliteration helps 🙂

But we typically cover more “classic” gaming and less “retro”.

AngrySquirrel34 says:

Great idea! Good thinking to include the “physical release” field for each game on the list, it gives me a lot to look forward to in 2018. Now I’m going to track down copies of Nex Machina and Matterfall.

gazza8 says:

Great article, thanks to screenshots and quotations that give a short overview… and tease us 🙂

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