iOS--Giving Retro Gaming a Burst of Life on the iPhone and iPad

Now that all the kids of the 80's and 90's are all growed up, there's a sort of "neu-retro" revival in gaming. Of course, it's been going on for years, especially in the PC scene--but lately, the library of retro (and retro-inspired) games has exploded on the App Store. I couldn't be happier.

Whether you love or hate the App Store, its power to bring unknown indie developers to the forefront in a matter of days is undeniable. Many of these indie developers crave and love retro influences, and many people who are gaming on the iOS platform do too--and that ecosystem has really injected some Miracle-Gro into the scene.

I'd like to highlight some of my favorite titles for iPhone/iPad that are either retro remakes or retro inspired. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

The Incident

The Incident isn't really a retro remake, but it's certainly inspired by the pixellated graphics of days past. In particular, this title's visual style reminds me of the SCUMM games from LucasArts, e.g., Monkey Island and the like. 

The Incident, in short, brings an infinitely replayable, slick, and beautiful breath of fresh air to the "climb as high as you can" genre. Inexplicably, various (often humorous) items are falling from the sky, leaving you to avoid and climb them to reach the top of each level. There's a story mode as well as an infinite mode, and the music is pretty sweet, too. Lots of care and love went into this game, and it shows.

The Incident is $1.99 on the App Store and is a universal app.

Monkey Labour

This is definitely a shout-out to the days of yore, even before the NES revolutionized console gaming--before Game Boy brought excellent portable gaming to the masses. Remember those old LCD games, housed in their colorful plastic exteriors--featuring repetitive but somehow irresistible gameplay? Monkey Labour by Dawn of Play is a whole new game built in that visual style.

What impresses me most about Monkey Labour is not the tight, responsive gameplay, but rather the impeccable attention to detail. The whole game is "crafted" in 3D, complete with an instruction manual and battery door. You can even see the empty cells in the LCD screen as if it were a real toy.

Monkey Labour is currently $.99 on the App Store, and is a universal app.

Atari's Greatest Hits

Rather than something completely new, Atari's Greatest Hits is merely a fancy, pre-packaged emulator that allows you to buy Atari games as in-app purchases. There's a wide selection, and you can have them all for $14.99--or purchase smaller game "packs" for $.99 each. Many of the games, to put it bluntly, are pretty crappy, so I'd recommend picking up only the ones you like.

The app isn't without its faults. For example, navigating through the game library is fairly cumbersome, with a focus on fashion over function. Most annoyingly, the control schemes such as joystick placement are not really configurable and are often difficult to use.

However, it offers enough nostalgia to be totally worth it. Each game comes with a scan of the original manual and is a faithful reproduction of the original. For the original Lunar Lander alone (one of my favorites) this is a worthwhile trip down memory lane.

Atari's Greatest Hits is free on the App Store and is a universal app.

Karate Champ

If you remember Karate Champ, and you didn't know this app existed, prepare to get excited--as this is a completely faithful reproduction of the original. Unlike the Atari app, the control scheme in this app works beautifully, and there's no doubt in my mind you'll be throwing punches and delivering roundhouse kicks with the same precision you did when it was in the arcade. 

Karate Champ is currently $1.99 on the App Store for the iPhone version (which also works on the iPad) or $2.99 for the scaled up XL version.

Air Supply - 1bit Run

Air Supply brings a new style of game (run infinitely to the right) and injects it with a distinctive retro style. The gameplay is simple, like most games of the genre--jump over gaps, avoid and shoot enemies, and collect air to survive.

However, the awesome chiptune music, monotone color, and various unlockables make this a retro inspired game not to miss. One of my favorites on this list.

Air Supply - 1bit Run is $.99 on the App Store.


This game is exceptionally creative, fun to play, and another game crafted with great attention to detail. Essentially, Forget-Me-Not is a cross between a roguelike RPG and Pac-Man. Levels are randomly generated, and the goal is to guide your avatar through the hallways, collecting all the niblets, grabbing the key, and heading to the exit.

However, there's lots of genius gameplay elements at work here. There are various enemies that will plod about in attempts to thwart your key-snatching efforts--many of which can quickly kill you if backed into a corner. You can shoot enemies (as your avatar is constantly shooting) but they can also shoot you. You can even kill yourself if you allow your bullets to wrap around the screen.

Overall, for retro lovers or for new gamers, if there's any game on this list you have to grab--it's this one.

Forget-Me-Not is $1.99 on the App Store and is a universal app.



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