For many, 2016 was about the emerging virtual reality market, the Pokémon Go phenomenon, and triple-A blockbusters like Overwatch and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. But it was also an exciting year for fans of older games.
Retro gamers used to be a small crowd, but as connoisseurs of digital entertainment get older, more people are willing to spend money on products that hearken back to the pixelated and blocky days of gaming past. Below are some of the releases, products, and announcements that defined retro gaming in 2016.
NES Classic Edition
This is the big one. The NES Classic will likely change retro gaming forever. Nintendo has tried to capitalize on its huge backlog of games before, mostly with the underwhelming Virtual Console digital stores for its Wii, Wii U, and 3DS consoles. The NES Classic Edition, however, was fantastic. The mini console itself is a cool collectible, and its comes with 30 built-in games that you can easily play on an HD TV. This device has become a hot, hard-to-find item for the holidays, making us believe we’ll see more like it in the future.
Retro Sinclair ZX Spectrum
The ZX Spectrum computer was a popular gaming device in the early ’80s, and now the brand is coming back. The Retro Sinclair ZX Spectrum is a handheld device with 1000 licensed games built inside it and a full-color LCD display. The system reached its crowdfunding goal in March and will release in February next year.
Crash Bandicoot’s return
We’ve missed crash. The goofy Australian marsupial was Sony’s mascot back in the original PlayStation days, but his star faded once he went multiplatform with a series of underwhelming games. Now Crash is on his way back. It started this year with an appearance in Skylander: Imaginators, plus Sony announced and later showed off a remastered collection of the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy.
One of the year’s most beautiful games features the kinds of pixels retro fans crave. Owlboy is a Metroidvania, a type of 2D game that promotes exploration and platforming. While it’s not an old game itself, its retro sensibilities come from classics like Super Metroid, Kid Icarus, and Super Mario Bros. 3. If you love 2D games, this is a must-play in 2016.
Final Fantasy IX on iOS and Steam
For years, you could only play the best Final Fantasy on a Sony system. That finally changed this year with Square Enix releasing the classic role-playing game from 2000 for PC via Steam and mobile on iOS and Android. Now everyone can enjoy Vivi’s surprisingly deep character arc.
Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow on 3DS
Forgot about Pokémon Go and those fancy Sun and Moon games. For retro lovers, the digital release of the original Red, Blue, and Yellow versions was the best thing to happen with Pokémon this year. Even after 30 years of improvements and additions, that first generation is still a magical experience. Now we can play them without hauling out our old Game Boys.
New effort to preserve retro games
Frank Cifaldi, a former editor at sites like 1UP and Gamasutra, knows something about preserving old games. Last year, he directed the Mega Man Legacy Collection, which gave players a way to experience faithful ports of the original Mega Man games from the Nintendo Entertainment System on newer consoles like PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and 3DS. This year, he started the The Video Game History Foundation, an organization “dedicated to cataloging, digitizing, and preserving the history of the video game industry and the culture it spawned.” Hopefully its efforts will ensure that generations in the future can also feel the joy spamming Metal Blades at Bubbleman in Mega Man 2.