Nostalgia is a powerful thing. If you grew up playing a certain game, chances are you could return to it years later and feel like you’re right back where you started — young, marveling at the immense joy the game gives you or what were visual spectacles for their time. The thing about nostalgia, though, is while it’s deeply personal, one can produce a list of games that are sure to drum up that warming sensation in so many players. Just as we’ve done with this list of the best nostalgic games.
Whether you want to revisit your favorites of the past or see what all the buzz was about, these games are just oozing with grade-A nostalgia.
Developer: Atari Games Publisher: Midway Games Release year: 1985 Original platform(s): Arcade
It’s less of a novel idea today, but once upon a time, paper routes were a source of income for the young entrepreneur. Much like in the oft-ported arcade game, being a paperboy involved cycling down the street, tossing rolled papers at residences while evading runaway lawnmowers, rabid dogs, cannon balls, and the Grim Reaper. Ah, the good ‘ole days.
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment Release year: 1996 Original platform(s): PC
Back when instruction manuals were massive and featured pages upon pages of lore, Blizzard was a respected company that slowly trickled out celebrated titles like Diablo. Unlike its successors, the original Diablo was a slow-paced, dark, and moody experience that rewarded patience and strategy. Playing through Diablo will introduce you to the first Cow Level and add some context to the series’ oddest weapon—Wirt’s Leg.
We’ve seen Lara Croft go through many iterations, but we’ll always have an affinity for Tomb Raider 2. This sequel built upon the foundation laid out in the original, most importantly Croft Manor. Granted, the manor isn’t meant to be a significant part of the experience (save for the game’s conclusion), but we spent many hours flipping around the expanded space and locking Lara’s butler, Winston, in the freezer. Hey, he had it coming.
17. Goldeneye 007
Developer: Rare Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 1997 Original platform(s): N64
While Goldeneye 007 offers a thrilling campaign based on the film of the same name, it’s the multiplayer that really hits that nostalgic soft spot. The four-player split-screen shootout was always pure chaos, with every player rushing around to find the coveted one-shot Golden Gun to dominate the map with. Despite the wonkiness of the N64 controller, it was a riot of a good time that hasn’t quite been replicated in the same manner.
16. The Sims
Developer: Maxis Publisher: Electronic Arts Release year: 2000 Original platform(s): PC
Whether you wanted to care for a family or trap simulated people in swimming pools, The Sims was a great way to pass the time back in 2000. It was something to tinker with after school before having to do your homework. Of course, it was inevitable that we’d lose track of time, forget to fulfill any of our responsibilities, and ultimately get in trouble. But it’s okay. We’d pass the punishment on to the real culprit by removing all doors of our Sims’ house and selling their refrigerator.
Developer: id Software Publisher: id Software Release year: 1993 Original platform(s): PC
You simply can’t talk about video game nostalgia without Doom coming up. It may not have been the first FPS title, but it was the one that paved the way for the genre. Even across its many ports and sequels, we’re still hit with the warming pangs of nostalgia when that first level loads and the iconic Doom soundtrack kicks in. And considering it’s one of the industry’s most-ported games, we assume others feel the same way about this classic hellish shooter.
14. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar Games Release year: 2002 Original platform(s): PS2
Grand Theft Auto III was a significant shift for the series, which started as a top-down action title. First debuting on the PS2, Vice City elevated things even more with a very vocal protagonist and an aesthetic that remains the series’ best. Set in a fictional version of 1980s Miami, the titular city is brimming with neon lights, classic rides, and plenty of vibrant suits and Hawaiian shirts. Players loved Vice City so much that it’s been the subject of many mods to tide us over until an inevitable return.
13. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release year: 1995
Original platform(s): PC
Warcraft: Orcs and Humans set the stage for a series that would later become the most successful MMORPG, but its mechanical limitations make it a little difficult to return to years later. Warcraft II, on the other hand, is still relatively easy to pick up and play today. If you can find a workable version. Naval battles, improved gameplay, and larger army sizes all culminated in a game worthy of our nostalgia.
12. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Developer: Sega Technical Institute Publisher: Sega Release year: 1992 Original platform(s): Sega Genesis
How do you improve upon one of Sega Genesis’ breakout hits? You add a secondary character and a hilarious multiplayer experience. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 also has some of the franchise’s most memorable zones (Casino Night, anyone?), and the inclusion of Miles “Tails” Prower as a playable character allowed a second player to jump in. However, the focus remained on Sonic, and it was immediately evident that Tails was merely a way to appease younger siblings while giving their elders the ability to torture and tease them.
11. Final Fantasy VII
Developer: Square Enix Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Release year: 1997 Original platform(s): PS1
Sure, now when Final Fantasy VII is mentioned, your first thought is perhaps the revered remake. But let’s not forget where Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and Barret got their start. The PSOne classic has the distinction of being the first 3D Final Fantasy, and it will forever remain an iconic entry in the ongoing series. Picking it up today may transport you right back to 1997 when everyone was first introduced to Sephiroth, first felt the loss of Aerith, and first spent countless hours at the Gold Saucer.
10. Super Mario 64
Developer: Nintendo EAD Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 1996 Original platform(s): N64
Scroll through TikTok, and you’re bound to find someone live-streaming Super Mario 64. Do you know why players still return to this 1996 hit? Because it was a stroke of brilliance, despite a slightly frustrating control scheme, that’s sure to give off hints of nostalgia, even if the game wasn’t part of your childhood. It just has that look and feel, especially as an early Super Mario game.
9. The Legend of Zelda
Developer: Nintendo R&D4 Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 1987 Original platform(s): NES
There’s a lot of nostalgia to be had in returning to the NES library. The Legend of Zelda is a far cry from the 3D open-world adventures of today, and we’re quite okay with that. The top-down simplicity of the NES adventure is still fun to return to, despite being an antiquated experience. It’s impossible not to get transported to our youth the first time we see “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”
Developer: Nintendo R&D1 Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 1987 Original platform(s): NES
Metroid is another series that has evolved quite a bit from its earliest iteration. And despite how off-putting the visual differences may be between today’s Metroid games and the original, we’re still happy to return to the moderate simplicity of the NES title. Like so many of Nintendo’s early titles, the distinct soundtrack and sound effects are nostalgia-inducing. If you grew up guiding Samus through the alien world of Zebes, there’s no avoiding a trip down memory lane once that upbeat synthesized track starts.
7. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Release year: 1991 Original platform(s): Arcade
There are a lot of fighting games that may leave us feeling nostalgic, but none are as effective as Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Its 1987 predecessor may have launched the series, but it’s the sequel that elevated it to the franchise we know and love today. The larger roster of unique fighters, special moves, and combo system made it clear that the sequel was not just going to be a cheap improvement over the original. And all of that culminated in a game that we love to return to, even 30 years later.
6. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Release year: 1997 Original platform(s): PS1
The original Crash Bandicoot was a PlayStation favorite. Its sequel just did a few things better while retaining what made us enjoy our introduction to Crash and company. More interesting level design, reduced difficulty, and more interesting bosses made Cortex Strikes Back an easy game to fall in love with. As much as we enjoy the first and third entries, it’s the second one we’ll return to when we need our occasional dose of Naughty Dog’s anthropomorphic bandicoot.
5. Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow
Developer: Game Freak Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 1998 Original platform(s): Game Boy
There is an extensive library of Pokémon games that could definitely leave you feeling nostalgic. From the GameCube’s Pokémon Colosseum to the N64’s Pokémon Stadium, our childhood was rife with games pushing us to catch ‘em all. But if we’re feeling really nostalgic, we’re going to go where the series started — Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow. They may not be as much fun to play as later Pokémon titles, but the original trio is always worth a replay. The question is, do you go with Pikachu, Charmander, or Squirtle?
4. Super Smash Bros. Melee
Developer: HAL Laboratory Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 2001 Original platform(s): GameCube
Super Smash Bros. is a modern fighting spectacle, but it’s very difficult to let go of the feeling we get when we remember playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee wasn’t the first in the series, but it defined the path it ultimately took. Boosting the roster from Super Smash Bros. 12 to a cool 25 added quite a bit of variety, and the overall improvement to mechanics made it leagues better to play. There was nothing quite like gathering with four friends, booting up Melee, and cracking up until the wee hours of the morning.
3. Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Developer: Nintendo EAD Publisher: Nintendo Release year: 2003 Original platform(s): GameCube
Everyone always jokes that Monopoly ruins friendships. We’d argue that it’s the dastardly blue shell of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. This GameCube racer embodied everything that was right about gaming in the early 2000s. It was all about getting together with friends, sitting side-by-side on the couch, and absolutely loathing each other by the end of the evening. Double Dash! had the distinction of supporting 16-player matches over LAN, adding to the chaos as two players manned one kart. Later Mario Kart games were undeniably fun, but Double Dash! remains the pinnacle of the series.,
Developer: Valve Publisher: Sierra Studios Release year: 1998 Original platform(s): PC
Wake up, Mr. Freeman. We may never have received the satisfying conclusion to Gordan Freeman’s interdimensional exploits, but it’s hard to complain when we can go back and enjoy playing through a game as nostalgia-inducing as Half-Life. There are so many things from the original Half-Life that stay with you, from that introductory tram ride to recognizable audio cues. Sure, we’d love a Half-Life 3. But we’re also just as content sinking Black Mesa into madness over and over again for that satisfying dose of nostalgia.
1. Halo: Combat Evolved
Developer: Bungie Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Release year: 2001 Original platform(s): PC, Xbox
Regardless of your views on modern Halo games, the original was a genre-defining entry. And every time we go back to play through Master Chief’s original adventure, we’re reminded why. So much falls into place to create a memorable experience, from Chief’s arrival on Halo to the first signs of the Flood. That it’s such an easy game to boot up and jump into makes it even better. Later entries may refine the mechanics and improve other elements, but Combat Evolved will always be on our playlist when we want to go back to a simpler time.
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