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The Best Mobile Ports of Retro Games Are Totally Radical

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Video games have a preservation problem. On average, (legally) playing a good version, or even any version, of an old video game is much harder than watching an old movie or reading an old book, especially if it’s a forgotten old game. Part of this is shameful publisher disinterest in their own history but another part of the problem is technological. Games are locked to specific hardware that ages and becomes tougher to emulate.

Unlike video game consoles, mobile operative systems like iOS and Android manage to maintain a decent amount of backward compatibility even as the hardware evolves. Sure we’ve lost some apps during the jump from 32 to 64-bit, but in general you can play a lot of games on your iPhone today that first launched nearly ten years ago. That combined with the sheer size of the mobile user base makes mobile a great home for classic games. Some publishers have even experimented with entire retro game subscription services on mobile.

The touch-only controls of mobile devices don’t always get along with classic games that rely on fast and precise button presses. But developers have gotten better at shaping their retro ports for the platform. Or you could just grab a Gamevice. So if you’re feeling nostalgic, these are the most radical mobile ports of retro games.

Sonic CD

The Sega CD add-on was a tumorous failure that signaled the beginning of the end of the Sega Genesis and Sega hardware as a whole. But it did give us an excellent Sonic the Hedgehog 2D sidescroller in the form of Sonic CD. For this faithful mobile port the game essentially had to be rebuilt, but the team that did so, led by Christian Whitehead, used that knowledge to eventually develop the incredible Sonic Mania.

Chrono Trigger

Aside from The World Ends With You, Square Enix’s mobile ports haven’t had a great reputation. Whether it’s needlessly high prices, smeared new graphics replacing elegant pixels, sloppy touch overlay controls, or spelling errors, they just seem lazy. Fortunately, Chrono Trigger is so good it doesn’t really matter. A game developed by JRPG titans Square and Enix before they had merged, this SNES masterpiece was once pretty rare, getting limited ports on the DS and PlayStation, before landing on mobile.

Grand Theft Auto III

Who doesn’t know what Grand Theft Auto is? You know about it. I know about it. Old people are scared of it. Kids covet it. Daniel Radcliffe acts in bad movies about it. Rockstar’s open-world ode to crime changed video games forever, specifically in this third entry. This is where the series made its Ocarina of Time-esque leap from top-down 2D to full 3D, making the mayhem that much more mainstream and immersive. GTA, a series enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people, is perfect for mobile devices owned by hundreds of millions of people.

Mega Man X

Mega Man X’s focus on tight platforming and accurate shooting may make it seem like a strange fit for mobile. And yeah you may die even more here than you did back on the SNES. But the exaggerated cartoon art style and clearly communicated level rules make the game much more fair on mobile than you might be willing to admit. It wasn’t that the controls were bad, you just weren’t paying attention. Play this classic and weep for Mega Man’s current state.

Doom

Doom didn’t invent the first-person shooter, but iD Software’s romp through Hell did establish just how fun it could be to shoot bullets at demons through your own eyes. An early flashpoint for the violence in games controversy, I remember covertly playing Doom on school PCs while the MIDI music teacher wasn’t looking. Part of what makes Doom 2016 so astonishing is how well it modernizes the feel of the first Doom, but don’t sleep on the original, now available on mobile.

Grim Fandango

Adventure games just aren’t my thing. They have some of the best, funniest writing in video games as well as some of the most fascinating worlds that aren’t reliant on base violence. But too often the puzzles are too obtuse. However, some are classics, including LucasArts’ Aztec afterlife noir adventure Grim Fandango. The relaxed cerebral pace of adventure games works great on mobile, and this mobile port features remastered visuals that won’t look like grainy mush on your HD screens.

NBA Jam

The version of NBA Jam on mobile isn’t the original arcade sports masterpiece from Midway. Instead, it’s the EA remake from a few years ago. But that version totally still captures what makes NBA Jam arguably the best sports game ever made. From flaming balls to big heads to playable presidents, NBA Jam even lets a non-sports fan like me revel in the high-flying fun of professional basketball.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Ask people what first comes to mind when they think of “retro games” and chances are you’ll be hearing a lot of Pac-Man. It’s no Ms. Pac-Man, but Pac-Man Championship Edition DX proves that even after all these years there’s value in refining the Pac-Man formula, or just adding sick neon colors and thumping beats to it. Play it on mobile for portable Pac attacks.

1.

Chrono Trigger is a JRPG masterpiece from Square and Enix before they even merged.

2.

Doom didn’t invent the FPS, but it did establish how great the genre could be.

3.

The relaxed cerebral pace of hilarious adventure games like Grim Fandango are perfect for mobile.

4.

Grand Theft Auto III’s open-world ode to crime changed video games forever.

5.

Play Mega Man X on mobile and weep over Mega Man’s current fate.

6.

NBA Jam might be the greatest sports game ever made.

7.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX proves there’s still value in refining the Pac-Man formula after all these years.

8.

The team behind the mobile port of Sonic CD later used that knowledge to develop to stellar Sonic Mania.

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