I am not going to go ahead and say I have any nostalgia for the ’80s as a part of my past, primarily because I wasn’t born yet. I do, however, have a deep passion for almost everything the time period stood for. Power ballads, awful hair, hilariously dumb movies and synth heavy music. Now, while a lot of people would argue that this interest is just a pretentious, hipster mentality of loving a generation you weren’t part of, I would argue that surely every generation should embrace past time periods and dive into a rich, long running amount of media and content that may be more suited to their interests. Call this pandering or obsessive, but I’d rather watch Robocop any day then Avatar. With that rant out of the way, let me share with you my top five retro throwback video games.
While you could argue that Shadow Warrior isn’t necessarily set in the 1980s, it’s certainly inspired by it. This 2012 FPS showed up on the scene with a bang, reinvigorating the Shadow Warrior franchise and bringing back a much beloved style of fast, violent old school FPS. The game essentially plays as a cheesy 80s action movie, complete with one liners, snarky sidekicks and rock ballads. Following our protagonist, Lo Wang (hehe) you become wrapped up in an ancient demon feud after you deliver a cursed sword to warlord, Zilla. Traveling between earth and the spirit realm, you must reform the ancient blade and free yourself from the devilish trickster following you around. The game starts off as a bombastic romp through power ballad central as you shoot and dice your way through hoards of demons, but towards the third act the game takes an unexpected turn. I am not going to spoil anything, but you may be surprised at how sad this game gets towards the finale. I adored Shadow Warrior and everything it represented for the future of FPS titles, an adoration proven by how shortly after we got Wolfenstein: The New Order attempting the same old school feel and another DOOM that’s releasing next year. With a sequel for Shadow Warrior currently in development, now is a better time than any to jump into this hilariously dumb and over the top FPS.
Oh Awesomenauts, how many hours have I lost to you? This little gem comes to us from Romino Games, also responsible for the Swords & Soldiers series. Romino didn’t hit gold until their venture into the MOBA market, with the launch of this, their ’80s Saturday morning cartoon inspired MOBA for PC and later consoles. Set in 3587, armies of heroes are locked into battles of conflict that seem to go on forever. With this never ending conflict, the Awesomenauts are formed, a group of elite ’80s cartoon stereotypes. Every character is a lovingly crafted iconic hero, from a French stealth based chameleon to a western cyberpunk sheriff, and the game never loses its wacky tone and brilliant visual style. With a deep combat system based on item improvements, a 2-D platformer based map layout and a successful 5 hero DLC pack, the game has everything going for it, especially the insanely catchy soundtrack, courtesy of Sonic Picnic. Considering the game launched in 2012 and is still being updated with new characters, has a lively player base and no signs of stopping soon, Awesomenauts is a perfect entry level MOBA that oozes ’80s style.
Double Dragon Neon
Not only a love letter to the ’80s, but a love letter to a game franchise and genre that has all but vanished from the industry. I am of course talking about the classic scrolling beat-em-up, a style of game that seemed to all but disappear alongside the end of the early ’90s. Double Dragon Neon is an homage to these earlier titles as developers, Wayforward, took everything we loved of the franchise and set it to eleven. A tough difficulty level, mind bending tunes, a neon pallet and a hilarious story, complete with one of the funniest villains I have seen in a while. The plot is a simple one, much like the original; Marian is kidnapped and it is up to Billy and Jimmy Lee to save her from the clutches of a Skeletor-like baddie, Skullmageddon. There’s a chance you didn’t pick up Double Dragon Neon, due to a famously horrendous IGN review, but if you missed out on this love letter to mixtapes, high fives, air guitars and radical set pieces, then I would urge you to pick it up. With references from Bill and Ted to Little Shop of Horrors, Double Dragon Neon is a fun, humorous and sincere step down memory lane and one of the best beat-em-ups in recent memory.
If Double Dragon Neon was the closest thing to a lovingly crafted homage to the ’80s, then Hotline Miami is the exact opposite. Hotline Miami is the closest thing you will get on this list to a straight up period piece, complete with a chilling story that questions violence in media, capitalism and how far a person can push themselves before they turn into a monster. There’s no question as to why Hotline Miami got as popular and critically beloved as it was, the game just had so much going for it that wasn’t explored in the indie scene as of yet. It felt underground, dark and punk rock, a subversion of regular gameplay mechanics that are designed to make the player feel like violence is just part of the story. Hotline Miami doesn’t relish in a delightful glee as you mow down hoards of enemies, in fact it judges you for doing so, with the masked entities proving as an internal monologue to the player character’s mental state, before the game takes a 180 turn into mindfuck land. Bloody, visceral, intense and pretentious are all words that have been used to describe Hotline Miami, but for me the main thing I took away from it is how well it uses its time period. The little details from how the characters dress to the hazy LA palm trees present in the loading screens; everything feels authentically like both a love letter and a deconstruction of what we have come to love about the period. If you have never played Hotline Miami or its sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, I would urge you to immediately . Get it for 2 euros on a steam sale and play it with good headphones – you won’t regret it.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
What, I’m shallow, alright? Yes I know I just went through a whole speech about how some games can use a time period to their advantage to tell an interesting and unique story, but really, how could I not put Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon at the top of this list? From the toxic ashes of a fictitious second Vietnam war, we follow our hero, Rex Power Colt, on his journey to stop the evil warlord, Colonel Sloan. This game came from the brain of Dean Evans, after he gained complete creative control for a DLC for the base game of Far Cry 3. I remember reading an article where he talked of how the project came together, where he got his ideas and how he somehow tricked Ubisoft into allowing a madman like him to create a stupid, hilarious and joyfully weird and wonderful call back to the time period he loved.
Through reading up on him and his work, you get the idea that he and his team are why Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon comes off as a sincere homage to the period, rather than a forced cash-in. The game plays almost exactly like Far Cry 3, allowing you to hunt animals, shoot down bad guys, climb lookouts to expand your area and take over camps. The major difference was the inclusion of the Blood Dragons, which actually change up how you go about taking over camps, as they become huge players in taking out enemies. With Ubisoft clearly not interested in revisiting this story, with the announcement of Far Cry Primal, I am fairly happy that Blood Dragon will remain as a quirky, short and above all fun expansion that gleefully celebrates everything we love about the 1980s.
Are you a fan of these retro throwbacks? Let us know in the comments.