Retro games are timeless. There’s nothing like the quaint charm of beautiful pixelised graphics and instant playability of games from the 80’s and 90’s. Fortunately for players feeling nostalgic, they still make arcade-style games like they used to, just often not by AAA publishers. The best titles to emerge in recent years have come from indies--just look at smash hits Stardew Valley, Hotline Miami, Shovel Knight, and Dead Cells.
And there’s more to discover if you’re looking for proper arcade-style games. Here is a list of the best retro-inspired indie titles you may have missed from 2019.
Release Date: July 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Windows
Blazing Chrome’s Steam page lists it as having a “genuine arcade feel”, and that couldn’t be more true. The game is a fantastic celebration of run ‘n gun greats like Contra, Midnight Resistance, and Metal Slug. It’s fast and challenging, there are a lot of explosions and impressive gun fights, and the 16-bit characters and environments bring back the grit of 80’s cyberpunk games in their full glory--complete with an android rocking a mohawk. Best of all? You can dive into Blazing Chrome’s post-apocalyptic chaos with a buddy through local co-op.
Release Date: September 2019
Noita bills itself as a “2D action roguelike where everything is physically simulated”. Basically this means that players are given near limitless ways to twist the game world to their benefit. The environment is your biggest weapon, and it packs quite a punch. Using a wide array of spells, you can collapse the ceiling of a cave to make a bridge or strategically start fires to wipe out an entire screen of enemies.
However, this power isn’t without recoil. Be a little too careless with flames and you can find yourself burning. With so much freedom there’s a lot of replayability to the game as you figure out the most creative way to advance or kill enemies.
Release Date: June 2019
Platforms: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows
From a team led by Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi comes Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. You fight as Miriam, a girl on a quest to cure her curse through collecting shards. The game has all the traits of a classic Metroidvania game that fans of the genre and the original Castlevania series are sure to love: huge maps, plenty of exploration, a long list of items, and a longer list of enemies. The lore isn’t quite as rich as you'd expect in a game called Castlevania’s “spiritual successor”, but still manages to satisfy if you’re looking for retro-like, gothic horror games.
Release Date: April 2019
Platforms: Switch, Windows, Mac
Katana Zero is a slasher game awash in the brilliant neon typical of retro-themed, neo noir games. The game puts you in control of katana-wielding Subject Zero. What can a sword do against bullet-blasting enemies, you may ask?
Plenty, especially if you have time-bending powers. Similar to Celeste, repetition and careful plotting are central to Katana Zero. Everything, including you, also dies with one hit. You learn, or you die, but finally pulling off a flawless run is immensely satisfying, true to the MO of old arcade games.
Release Date: April 2019
Platforms: Switch, PS4, Windows, Mac, Linux
Forager mixes rogue-like mechanics with a little more of the open world exploration that made other pixelised titles like Stardew Valley and Minecraft a hit with millions of players. The game packs a lot into a cute, 2D package: dungeon raids, an extensive crafting system, party play with NPCs. There are 64 skills in total, so aside from building your own base to your liking the game also lets you adapt to virtually any playstyle you want.
Release Date: November 2019
Platforms: Windows, Linux
Eight Dragons delivers the classic 80’s and 90’s arcade experience in one of the purest ways we’ve seen--the screen even flickers, just like old arcade cabinets of yore. That said the game has a surprising amount of content, with Story Mode putting players down different paths based on the character they’ve chosen, and a wide selection of weapons. But those looking for a straightforward action game need not fret. There are no cutscenes to stop you from dishing out wave after wave of serious ass-kicking. There’s only one hit button, so you can keep mashing until your thumbs give out.
Release Date: October 2019
Platforms: Switch, XBox One, Windows, Mac
Good multiplayer is at the core of many hit arcade games. Killer Queen Black takes that mechanic and gives it a competitive, frantic twist: you can play with up to 7 people, either online or locally. Defend against 4 buddies and work with the other 3 to protect your hive. There are three ways to win a match, and different units with unique abilities, so strategy is crucial if you don’t want opponents sneaking a win past your team amidst all the chaos.
Release Date: May 2019
Platform: Switch, Windows
Clad in monochrome and with cute albeit simple pixel-style graphics, Gato Roboto looks like a game that hopped out of an old NES or Game Boy cartridge. But don’t let the adorable art fool you. Kiki, the game’s feline protagonist, fights through a fairly challenging world, especially when she hops outside of her Samus-esque mech suit. Which she does regularly, as the game forces you to traverse some areas that are only accessible in your fragile yet nimble cat self.
Release Date: August 2019
Platforms: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac
Sparklite is a charming rogue-lite top-down adventure game. In it you control Ada, who flies a gunship and goes down on runs through the game world to save Geodia from villains gutting the world for precious Sparklite. The game has your typical roguelike mechanics, such as procedurally generated levels (which the game has a nifty explanation for) and farming in-game currency for upgrades. The graphics and combat make it feel like early Zelda titles on the SNES and Game Boy, so it’s a nice treat for fans of the franchise.
Release Date: January 2018
Platforms: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux
Ok so Celeste was released in 2018 but it’s such a brilliant retro style indie game we just had to include it in this list.
At first glance Celeste looks like any hit retro platformer. But this beautiful 2D game is anything but unoriginal. For one thing, there’s no combat. You can only jump and dash. Your sole goal is to get Madeline to the peak of the titular Celeste, a mountain made out of things just to kill you.
The difficulty can be punishingly brutal, but the game embraces failure like a mentor and the controls are super slick and responsive. If you die it’s because you’re not good enough and the game compels you to keep trying just one more time. There’s no level you can’t conquer with enough practice and patience. The story message is also one of heart: don’t give up no matter how much anxiety, spikes, and balls of fire life throws at you.