Decades ago, video games cut their teeth in the cramped darkness of arcades around the world. While the gaming industry may have started with computers and proprietary tech, and later come into its own on the home console market, the arcade era was where it truly established its footing in our popular consciousness. Many of the tropes, aesthetic ideas, and early genre conventions that would carry over to the home console market that now dominates the industry were established within those challenging, fun-first, coin-fed game cabinets of yesteryear.
The games of today have grown immensely in their potential for complex interactive experiences. Be it in terms of story, graphics, or mechanics, modern gaming now provides such a variety never even thought possible back during the height of arcade cabinets and cartridge-only games. That relatively newfound complexity owes itself to everything that came before, and there is a lot to look forward to in what comes next.
As far as video gaming has come, sometimes the pursuit of fun requires and relaxation requires a step back. In terms of pure play, there are times when the most fun you can have is to settle in and revisit those gaming experiences of decades prior. For many, the arcade-style approach to game design philosophies was a more straightforward, classic experience. That approach, once the core of the medium, is still as viable today as it was in the ’80s and ’90s. Realized with modern technology and techniques, however, the cabinet and cartridge age can be realized far more vibrantly than ever before.
While the new can be exciting, there’s a reason the classics became classic in the first place. With that in mind, we’ve looked into those games that marry modern tech with old-school techniques, from dance games to anime influence and yes, even Ninja Turtles. If you are looking for a guide to some of the best arcade-style video games you can play right now, on the Switch, PlayStation, and more, look no further.
With the recent spate of games looking to evoke the arcade-style play of yesteryear, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge burst onto the scene as if it were some long-lost sequel to the Konami TMNT games of yore. Not skipping a beat, Shredder’s Revenge channels both stylistic and gameplay decisions from the classic arcade Turtles games, bridging a gap between the ’90s and now as if no time had passed at all.
While its foundation is so heavily built from past titles in the arcade brawler subgenre, Shredder’s Revenge is not afraid to take advantage of modern technology and design philosophies to deliver that indulgent retro gameplay with more finesse than ever before. Gone are the days of unintentionally flickering Nintendo screens and weird slowdowns as you battle and brawl your way through New York, this revitalized take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles delivers an impressively smooth, effervescent gaming experience. It capitalizes on what made these games so exciting and addictive in the first place, without the hindering technical debt of days gone by.
The campaign mode is sadly going to be far too short for some, a holdover from the structural designs of old arcade cabinet gaming. While the moment-to-moment gameplay is a great deal of fun, having a campaign as short as this in a modern game will certainly end up rubbing some players the wrong way. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a game brimming with retro confidence, and it embraces that past design with its entire being.
Pixel art graphics realized with modern technology
Story and Arcade modes for extended play
One to six player simultaneous multiplayer
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Android, Xbox One, iOS, Linux, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft Windows
Release Date : June 16, 2022
Mode: Single player and Multiplayer
Easily accessible mechanics allow pick up and play gameplay
Heavily nostalgic gameplay and presentation for those seeking retro experiences
Expressive presentation brings the characters and action to life
Addictive gameplay loop increases possible replayability
Limited unlockables and replayability
Simplicity and ease of play can be detrimental to overall challenge
Extremely short overall playtime in the Story Mode
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teenage mutant ninja turtles: shredder’s revenge
Guilty Gear Strive came about as an attempt to restructure and redesign many aspects of the beloved Guilty Gear fighting game series. Strive more than succeeded in this regard, and at the same time flung open the franchise’s doors to entirely new players. The now classic 1v1 fighting game franchise saw a wild boost in interest from the outset with Strive, as even its early hype machine and beta saw an upsurge of potential players eager to play.
As ever, Arc System Works has created a game as stunningly gorgeous to look at as it is buttery smooth to play. The character models and animations are 3D, yet almost effortlessly channel the specific flair of old-school, 2D anime. Strive is balanced well and aims to deliver a well-rounded, perfectly solid experience for its fans. Each character moves with a pizazz and a finesse all their own, as inimitable tunes blast behind them. Just about every aspect of Guilty Gear Strive‘s presentation is immaculate.
Down to the execution of the net code, something vital to a fighting game’s longevity in the online space, Strive is assembled with so much care and forethought. According to many players and critics alike, Strive‘s net code is some of the best in the business, ensuring a healthy environment to play in for years to come.
There may be quibbles about how the game’s story is presented, and players should always get into fighting games knowing they’ll likely need to pay extra for more characters down the line, but at the end of the day Guilty Gear Strive is simply the best in the business.
New characters and retooled classic fighters
Anime-style cutscenes and presentation
New OST full of original music
Newly rebalanced approach to fighting game difficulty and onboarding
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and S, Microsoft Windows
Publishers: Arc System Works, Bandai Namco, Sega
Release Date : June 2021
Mode: Single-Player, Multiplayer
Extremely well-balanced characters and mechanics
Fight systems have been streamlined for easier starting challenge
The increased ease of access does not come as a detriment to overall challenge
Strives’ presentation is impeccable, both in terms of audio/visuals and in terms of performance
DLC heavy game means players should double check regions and have extra cash ready
Story-mode presentation is oddly disconnected from the overall game
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One of the older entries on this list, the Geometry Wars games are such a singular experience of pure, gamey fun. Packed with arcade classic elements such as simple, wire-framed, geometric graphics, an ever-rising score system, and just plain bonkers action gameplay, Geometry Wars is a game series that puts fun first and never looks back.
The Wars games have appeared on various systems, from the Nintendo DS to X-Box 30 Arcade, PC, and beyond. While not necessarily a throwback to the pre-2000s arcade games of yore, Geometry Wars is so built upon the design ethos of those earlier play experiences that it’s hard not to think about it when considering modern arcade-style games.
From the outset, these games have been fun and visually appealing, but as the franchise has carried on to various systems, the gameplay has slowly but surely accrued more and more interesting small design updates, and more dynamic graphical quirks.
If you are looking for a hectic game that looks as wildly fun as it feels to play then Geometry Wars is such a perfect choice, however, there are some warnings ahead of going in. It’s far from a narrative-heavy, mechanically complex AAA title. What it does, it does well, but what that well-executed gameplay loop is, is a unique embodiment of the style and design philosophies of arcade gaming. Some versions contain higher-quality visuals and sound compression than others, but at the end of the day, the core gameplay loop is beautifully executed on.
Revamped cooperative play
More robust gameplay options and mechanics than previous entries
Expanded variety in level and enemy types
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3,
Publishers: Activision, Aspyr
Release Date : November 25, 2014
Mode: Single-Player, Multiplayer
Improved gameplay in terms of both performance and presentation
Uniquely retro/modern gameplay and graphical style
Fun, fast, hectic gameplay is as classic and addictive as it comes
Being an older release means multiplayer requires friends to join, rather than online matchmaking
Some version contain lower quality sound & graphics options
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This list is stuffed with great modern takes on the once ubiquitous, side-scrolling beat ‘em up brawlers of arcade halls long past. This style of game is classic for many reasons, not the least of which is how immediately accessible and intuitive the objectives are. Left-to-right scrolling and simple mechanical actions that hide a level of depth in their possible combinations provide the basis of the old-school beat ‘em up brawlers, and how each game builds from there is what makes every one its own unique experience and what makes them special.
Streets of Rage is one of the classic names in this subgenre, so Streets of Rage 4 comes with a lot of weight behind its existence. Thankfully, the fourth entry in the series stands up to the quality of previous entries, modernizing their formula and look for both younger players unfamiliar with the franchise, and lapsed fans of old coming back for more.
One of the first new aspects players will notice when booting up Streets of Rage 4 is the absolutely lovely hand-drawn animation of each character model. Character visuals pop with an appealing sense of style that emulates the visuals of past titles, without being shackled to the graphical possibilities of those older systems and arcade cabinets. The gameplay is as fun as ever but moves with a smoothness and technical ease not available in decades prior. The addition of 2-4 player multiplayer makes Streets of Rage 4 a fabulous game for group play, though if you are looking to play with more than one friend you will need to play couch co-op, as the online functionality is disappointingly limited.
Three distinct gameplay modes (Story, Arcade, Battle)
2-4 player cooperative play
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One, Linux, macOS, Android, iOS
Publishers: Dotemu, Playdigious
Release Date : April 30, 2020
Mode: Single-Player, Multiplayer
Gorgeously executed animations give Streets of Rage 4 a unique feel
Selection of great playable characters with even more retro classics ready to unlock
One of the best modern takes on sidescrolling beat ‘em ups
4-player multiplayer is limited to couch co-op, with only 2 players available online
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Mortal Kombat may be infamous for its ridiculous violence, a marquee appeal to edgy 90s teens the world over, but what makes the series so long-lasting and beloved is the robustness of its actual gameplay.
Mortal Kombat 11, the latest release in the long-running franchise’s history, comes about as one of the most robust, well-realized entries available to modern audiences. It’s visceral, it’s ridiculous, and it is as fun to play as ever before. Packed with options to customize experience, many of which were not possible at the outset of the series, 11 stakes itself as a versatile take on the AAA 1v1 fighting game genre. This breadth of options extends to the classic elements as well. Many fighting games have lived and died by their character rosters, and Mortal Kombat 11 provides such a fabulous set of options that is can be hard to deny its appeal (even to detractors of the hyper-violent presentation).
Every character is packed with personality that shines through each of their elements. The model design, animations, move sets, and character writing/acting bring each to life in a way that transcends their roles as different mechanical options to face off against friends, strangers, and computer AIs.
For those players that find the realistically depicted, cartoonishly choreographed violence appealing, 11 delivers a ridiculous suite of bespoke animations for various injuries and character death scenes. However, for the players that are on the more squeamish end? Well, for them Mortal Kombat 11 represents one of the most uncomfortable entries in the series thus far.
Includes the base game and various DLC
Features the entire character roster, including bonus characters
Multiple story modes and various other gameplay options
Franchise: Mortal Kombat
Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Multiplayer: Local Multiplayer, Online Multiplayer
Summary: Mortal Kombat 11 is the eleventh mainline entry in the Mortal Kombat franchise. It occurs shortly after the events of Mortal Kobmat X. Raiden, now corrupted by Shinnok’s amulet, has decided that the only way to protect Earthrealm is to destroy all of its opposition. Seeing how the events have played out, both the keeper of time and mother of Shinnok decides to rewrite history – but this time to erase Raiden and the other Elder Gods from existence altogether. With a time paradox occurring, present-day heroes must align with their past selves to stop Kronika’s plan and stop themselves from disappearing from history.
Robust set of options make this an endlessly replayable Mortal Kombat experience
Huge character roster offers variety from the start
Classic Mortal Kombat gameplay refined with modern design & tech
DLC is region locked, so check your copy and console!
The gory schtick of MK will continue to appeal to some and turn others away
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The developers at WayForward have proven themselves to be masters of expressive sidescroller design. From the quirky, cartoon vibes of their much loved action-platformer Shantae, to the puzzle-heavy worlds of Mighty Switch Force!, WayForward’s knack for pleasantly fun games, brimming with personality has been on full display in recent years.
Enter River City Girls, and it’s recently released, much lauded sequel. Spinning off from the long-running Kunio-kun games, typically localized as River City in the west, Girls takes the muscular macho boys who previously helmed the series and tosses them into the rolls of the damsels in distress. With the previous protagonists kidnapped, it falls to their girlfriends to stage a violent rescue over the course of six sidescrolling beat ‘em up brawler levels. River City Girls evokes the chaotic action of the best ’80s and ’90s brawlers with ease, feeling as at home on modern consoles as it might have on an early 90s arcade cabinet.
What sets River City Girls apart from its predecessors is the immense character of the project. Retro-evocative pixel art combines seamlessly with WayForward’s cartoony style to create a game that looks as good as it feels to play. Every character sprite and action animation is rendered with such a loving amount of detail and expressiveness that it ends up difficult to not be charmed by the whole thing.
There are minor quirks in the design that feel like ghosts of the long-forgotten arcade halls of yore, and if you are a sidescrolling brawler detractor then this likely won’t be the game to flip-turn your opinions, but for those curious enough to give it a shot, River City Girls is nothing but a treat to play.
Modernized take on classic beat ‘em up gameplay
Continues the legacy of River City Ransom
Retro-evocative soundtrack and graphics
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Amazon Luna, PlayStation 5
Publishers: Wayforward Technologies, Arc System Works, H2 Interactive, Limited Run Games
Release Date : September 5, 2019
Mode: Single-player, Multiplayer
Rating: Everyone 10+
Well-executed, classic beat-‘em-up gameplay with modern polish
Appealing art-style full of character and visual flair
Cameos and references to previous entries in the series for longtime fans
Context sensitive button commands can cause inadvertent story progression
Won’t change the mind of anyone not into classic beat ‘em up games
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I have already gushed about Sayonara Wild Hearts in my writings, but hey, nothing is stopping me from doing it again.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is an experience that can only be had in the form of a video game. Yes, it’s a dazzling multimedia dreamscape adventure, full of evocative music, wildly interesting visuals, and an effective narrative. All of these aspects are lovely in their own rights, but combined around the central pillar that is Wild Hearts‘ moment-to-moment gameplay? Well, then everything just coalesces into a wonderfully unique, singular experience.
It’s a short runtime for a game, only a few hours long, but what it does with that seemingly truncated story mode is something special. Each level taps into a new song and a new gameplay gimmick or mechanic, keeping that rapidly-paced narrative feeling fresh and well. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game that relishes the joy of playing video games, focused on creating an overall experience more than it is a traditional, Hollywood-emulating narrative adventure like the AAA games many of us are more commonly exposed to.
It plays as an extended, interactive music video, a Pink Floyd’s The Wall movie if it were an artistically vibrant arcade game (and far less darkly heady in its themes and imagery). The interplay of music, brilliant art direction, and constantly shifting gameplay make this an experience well-worth diving into. Some might bristle at the only several-hour game-length, but for those willing to give it a shot, they will be in for a treat of a game that I couldn’t recommend more.
Combination of various gameplay styles and genres
Exclusive OST operates as a standalone pop album
Plays like an interactive music video/movie
Dreamy & expressive presentation
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publishers: Annapuna Interactive, iam8bit
Release Date : September 19, 2019
Rating: Everyone 10+
Sayonara’s OST is a joy to listen to
Progression leads to a variety of gameplay styles, mechanics, and genres
Dripping with style
Fun, arcade-style gameplay give way to an interesting narrative
Wildly short story/main game mode can be a turnoff to some
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Cuphead is stunning to look at is about as unoriginal a statement as Cuphead is challenging.
Among the most unique takes on the classic side-scrolling shooter ever created, Cuphead is a game that revels in its influences. What immediately sets it apart is the art and graphical design, evocative of jazz-age rubber hose cartoons and the bonkers physicality of squash & stretch emphasized animations. It doesn’t just emulate this style, but fully embodies it with some of the most brilliantly executed, smoothly animated characters ever seen in 2D gaming. The soundtrack also calls back to the cartoons of the early 1900s. Jazzy, upbeat tunes blast behind you as you navigate bullet hell segments that can challenge even veterans of this beloved, absurd subgenre.
The style is a major aspect, sure, but that never comes at a detriment to the actual substance of the game. Packed with unique assets, each one brought to life with wonderful art and animations, then armed to the teeth with deadly game mechanics to challenge the players, Cuphead never pulls its punches.
Even with the at times frustrating difficulty spikes during some boss fights and levels, Cuphead‘s impossible levels of charm and smart design keep players interested long enough to oftentimes actually help them through the heavy challenges that await. It is jam-packed with clever design that meshes seamlessly with the wonderfully unique presentation to deliver a gaming experience wholly its own.
Old-school run n’ gun sidescroller gameplay
DLC expansion pack included
2-player local co-op
Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc.
Genre: Shooter, Platformer
Multiplayer: Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc.
Summary: After making a deal with the Devil, Cuphead and his brother Mugman embark on a journey to repay what Cupman owes. Players must fight through various stages of enemies, as well as bosses, in this notoriously difficult platformer full of beautiful artwork inspired by the golden age of American animation,
How Long To Beat: 10-24 hours
Unique jazz-age music and animations give Cuphead immense character
Gameplay loop is fun, but extremely challenging
Clever game mechanics keep players on their toes
Stands as one of the all-time great sidescrollers
Instances of extreme difficulty could turn some players away
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Like its direct competitor, Beat Saber, Synth Riders is an arcade-style music and rhythm game that uses VR headsets and motion controllers to send players down chaotic tracks of falling notes (as with most rhythm games) and tasks them with physically striking them to “play” each note. Arcade games and music games have been intertwined since long before games like Dance Dance Revolution, though that might be the most quintessential example in most peoples’ minds.
Synth Riders follows in the footsteps of note-falling games such as Guitar Hero, and Rock Band, but puts the player’s point-of-view right where the notes would usually be falling toward.
Riders‘ presentation pulses with a vaporwave aesthetic that just drips neon pseudo-80, cyberpunk-styled colors. The breathless, physically-engaging gameplay meshes well with the presentation to make it impossibly fun to jump around alone or with friends, swinging your arms to try and “catch” the notes as they go flying on by.
Packed with personalization options and a great variety of selectable music tracks, Synth Riders stands as a fantastic entry into this style of games, but this subgenre comes with some inherent drawbacks. Games that rely on a full VR experience are great fun, providing experiences not found elsewhere, but between the physicality required, and the money investment there can be some concerns regarding accessibility. On top of that starter cost, the fact that the DLC for new songs and levels is region-locked means that players should be aware of the region they are purchasing for before snagging a copy.
Movement and pose matching gameplay
Exercise and play all at once
Platforms: Playstation 4, Oculus Quest, Microsoft Windows
Publishers: Kluge Interactive
Release Date : June 21, 2018
Great selection of music tracks
Personalization options help Synth Riders stand out
Fun and decently easy to learn VR gameplay
Being a fully VR experience will hamper accessibility for some players
Unnecessarily region-locked DLC means research is required before purchase
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Ubisoft’s Just Dance franchise has been going on for years now, and for the most part, each iteration of the series has been an expansion of previous entries. For most players out there, picking up the latest entry will be their go-to purchase for this fantastic party game experience. However, as the newest entry in the franchise heavily focuses on a streaming service approach to its music library, some players may be better served by the Just Dance versions just preceding the 2023 release.
Brimming with an immense library of music, and designed to serve as a fantastic party game both in terms of gameplay itself and user interface accessibility, Just Dance 2022 is a complete package for those players seeking a more classic, direct way to purchase and experience their music games. There are some caveats, in terms of its, at times, poorly executed movement controls that can’t match up to the old days of DDR gamepads and Wii-mote accuracy, and as with characters in fighting games be prepared to shell out money for DLC in order to properly expand your music roster.
But, at the end of the day, if you want a fun, accessible music game to play with friends and family that has a direct, arcade-y feel and a large library of music to dance to, the second-to-latest Just Dance entry is a more than fabulous option.
Single and co-op play for solo or party gaming
Kids Mode for increased family and youth appeal
Large library of songs and choreographies
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S,
Release Date : November 4, 2021
Mode: Single and multiplayer
Huge library of music
Exercise naturally through gameplay
Perfect for party gaming
A great deal of the extra content is locked behind DLC and subscription services
Motion controls can feel quite limited
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With all the great strides that have come about thanks to new technology and modern design philosophies, video games have become so much more than the consumers, and even the developers, of previous decades ever thought they could be. Though these modern experiences often try to emulate the cinematic roller coaster rides of film and television, the core component of video games as a medium remains, as ever, interactivity and fun inherent to this form of media.
For the Fun of It All
With a medium built on the emotional interactions of play, there are many new layers that have built up over the years, but the base foundation that all those experiences are constructed from is composed of those classic gaming experiences.
Every game today traces its lineage back to those original experiences, that singular exploration of the joy of play that defined the industry’s beginnings.
Now we don’t want for options, but at the end of the day, gaming is a leisure activity. The joy of arcade-style gaming is a return to the heart of things. A fun afternoon, controller in hand, with friends or family nearby to share in the challenge and the adventure.
The games chosen for this list all embody that primordial game design philosophy of “fun at the core,” but utilize the creative and technical prowess of today to execute them with a finesse not possible at the medium’s inception. Untethered from both the computer limitations and the design caveat of forced excess difficulty (a practice in place to gobble coins in the arcades), today’s renditions of arcade-classic gameplay are able to express themselves and explore new experiences, and we are all the better for it.