10 best retro games (and where to buy them)

Retro games players and collectors love classic games and here are the best game picks for the most popular retro systems.

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The best retro games in Australia

How did we pick this list?

Video gaming has been around as a concept for many decades now, but it's only recently that the idea of the "retro" gamer has taken hold. Perhaps it's a function of the kids of the '70s and '80s who grew up with arcades and the first consoles coming of age and having nostalgic pangs. Perhaps it's the timeless appeal of the classic games. Perhaps it's the realisation that with a collectible market comes the possibility of earning a dollar or two back from the arcades if your collection includes some hyper-valuable rarities.

Actually, it's all of these factors combined that make up the retro gaming universe as its stands. But where do you start? We've carefully curated the libraries of the most popular retro gaming systems to come up with our list of the best retro games for each platform.

Read more detail on our methodology below.

Best Atari 2600 game: Pitfall II

Pros

  • Deep platform challenge
  • Getting every treasure and getting out alive is a serious challenge

Cons

  • Those damned bats are annoying
  • There's only so much animation that the Atari 2600 can really handle

Price (RRP): $25-$100+

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Why we chose it

Atari's 2600 doesn't have as wide and passionate a community as, say, Nintendo does, but there's still some games for its early but influential console system that stand up beautifully today. While arcade conversions such as Ms. PacMan or originals such as HERO are still great, Pitfall II is the game we'd pick as the very best on the system. It's an essentially "open world" game with a unique points-for-lives mechanic that encourages replayability, along with a very wide array of challenges to meet. The original is generally held up as the first proper "platform" game, but the sequel is in every way better.


Best Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game: Super Mario Bros. 3

Pros

  • Creative play style that still stands up after all these years
  • Plenty of secrets to uncover for new players

Cons

  • Nintendo's endlessly re-released SMB3 for… everything
  • Full mint boxed copies are pretty pricey these days

Price (RRP): $40+

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Why we chose it

Really, could it be any other title than Super Mario Bros. 3? Nintendo took years of software development and knowledge of the Famicom's inner workings, threw in its most famous game designer at the peak of his creative powers and unleashed a game on the world that's essentially platform gaming perfection.
Sure, Nintendo's diluted the pool over the years by re-releasing Super Mario Bros. 3 on just about every platform it's produced since then bar the Virtual Boy, but that's just a sign of how influential and special Super Mario Bros. 3 is.

If you're brand new to the NES or Famicom, Super Mario Bros. 3 is absolutely the first game you should play, although it will rather spoil you for the rest of the NES's vast catalogue.

See the best NES games for different genres.


Best SNES game: Super Metroid

Pros

  • A deep, satisfying world to explore
  • Fantastic ambient music and effects

Cons

  • Super Metroid's been re-released for lots of Nintendo machines since
  • Boxed copies are very expensive

Price (RRP): $100+

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Why we chose it

The SNES took out our award as the best retro console for a reason, and that reason is pretty simple. It has a huge library of classic games with just so many titles to play whether you're playing for nostalgia, collecting for value or poring over the many highly desirable games that never made it out of Japan back in the day. Picking just one as the "best" feels like picking your favourite child – never easy.

It's Super Metroid, though, because it's still the best 2D Metroid game, the emerging seed of the whole "Metroidvania" genre and a damned fine and fun game in its own right. Really, you should pick up and buy every title in our Best SNES games list whether you're playing or collecting, but if you're going to start somewhere, slip into Samus Aran's shoes first.

See the best SNES games for different genres.


Best Nintendo Game Boy Advance game: Advance Wars

Pros

  • War is hell...ishly fun
  • Multiplayer works well even on just one GBA

Cons

  • Some AI battles can drag on into wars of attrition
  • Best multiplayer needs 2 GBAs, two copies of the game and a link cable

Price (RRP): $40-$100+

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Why we chose it

This was far from an easy pick to make, because the Game Boy Advance library really is stuffed full of some truly excellent and highly playable games. Still, we had to pick one, and in Advance Wars you'll find a game that can be picked up and played for just a few minutes – a vital part of any mobile game system title that you might just have a few minutes to play while you wait for a bus – with an astonishing level of depth and challenge in single player.

Add in multiple players, either over a link cable or by swapping your GBA from player to player, and heated battles can simply eat away the time, providing exceptional value for money. It's been a long while since there was a fresh Advance Wars game, Nintendo. It's not hard to suspect that the reason why is that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems employees are still too busy enjoying this highly original and fun game.

See the best Game Boy Advance games for different genres.


Best PlayStation 1 game: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

Pros

  • One part sports, one part arcade challenge equals near gaming perfection
  • Amazing, timeless soundtrack

Cons

  • Angular polygon visuals haven't aged the best
  • Some trick solutions are very obscure

Price (RRP): $20-$40+

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Why we chose it

Activision kicked off its skating game franchise with the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, but it's the sequel where it knocked off the rough edges while retaining that iconic '90s sense of style, a thumping soundtrack and a whole lot of timed challenges that stand up so well that it saw a re-release last year in the remastered Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2. Tony Hawk himself may well be meme-worthy, but it's in large part thanks to this iconic and still excellent game.

See the best PlayStation 1 games for different genres.


Best Nintendo 64 game overall: WWF No Mercy/Virtual Pro Wrestling 2

Pros

  • Classic roster of wrestlers from the Attitude era to play as
  • Deep character creation and branching storylines

Cons

  • Early PAL carts have a terrible save bug that wipes your progress randomly, and no blood
  • Chris Benoit is on the roster

Price (RRP): $50-$100+

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Why we chose it

Mario 64 redefined platform games for the 3D age, Ocarina did likewise for role playing games and GoldenEye was absolutely foundational for console first person shooters to come for decades afterwards.

However, we'll give the crown to WWF No Mercy (and its Japanese equivalent, Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 – grab both if you can run both western and Japanese N64 games) because while we've seen better FPS, RPG and platform games since, there's very little that challenges No Mercy specifically as being the best of its type, even decades after its release.

See the best N64 games for different genres.


Best PlayStation 2 game: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Pros

  • It's Miami Vice meets dark satire, with plenty of action along the way
  • The soundtrack is worth listening to by itself, irrespective of the game

Cons

  • Rockstar's weapon aiming is still a little janky
  • Tommy Vercitti can't swim, because he can't

Price (RRP): $10-$20

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Why we chose it

If there's one contribution to gaming that the PS2 brought us that's had more impact than any other, it's open world sandbox games epitomised by the Grand Theft Auto series. Of the three titles that saw release on the PS2, it's the middle child, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City that stands up the best with a compact city design that avoids the bloat of the larger San Andreas map, while adding a lot of detail not found in Grand Theft Auto 3. Combine that with a smart satirical take on the '80s crime excesses and a sweet soundtrack, and you've got a game that's both of its time and wonderfully timeless.

See the best PlayStation 2 games for different genres.


Best Nintendo GameCube game: The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Pros

  • Adorable visual design
  • An RPG about being on a boat shouldn't be this good

Cons

  • Get used to looking at those waves animate – you'll see a lot of them
  • The Wii U remaster does look better in HD

Price (RRP): $70-$150+

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Why we chose it

The GameCube library, like the console itself, isn't extensive, and picking the best of the best rather feels like picking your favourite child. We could have picked anything in this list and entirely justified it, because the very best GameCube games remain timeless classics. Wind Waker takes the prize because it presents Nintendo taking its existing gaming IP and making something that's both familiar – Zelda, Link, and all that good stuff – and flipping it around into a new and engaging world that adds to the Zelda lore while remaining a top-notch RPG in its own right.

Seriously, though, if you're looking into GameCube gaming, buy everything on this list. You won't regret it.

See the best Nintendo GameCube games for different genres.


Best Nintendo Wii game: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Pros

  • Lots of creative challenge within its 3D game world
  • Tight controls that work well within the Wii's limitations

Cons

  • Super Mario Galaxy has a better narrative
  • Some levels can be frustrating

Price (RRP): $20-$50+

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Why we chose it

Mario is like Nintendo's not-at-all-secret weapon. You know for a given Nintendo console that there will be Mario games, and most of them will be pretty good at worst. Super Mario Galaxy 2 goes beyond that, delivering some of the best 3D Mario action ever written into code. If you've never played it, the Wii remains the one place you can play it – its predecessor is on the Switch Mario 35th collection but Mario Galaxy 2 isn't – and even if you played it back in the day, it's a title that's well worth a revisit.

See the best Wii games for different genres.


Best Sony PlayStation 3 game overall: Red Dead Redemption

Pros

  • The best western movies in a single game
  • Not just action, but a slowly unfolding narrative that keeps you hooked

Cons

  • Can be glitchy – which is sometimes ridiculously funny, other times annoying
  • Shoutouts on horseback are very hard to manage

Price (RRP): $10-$30+

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Why we chose it

The beauty of buying for a "newer" retro gaming system right now is that most of the best games are highly affordable. Frankly, if you've got a PS3 you should add everything in our best PS3 games list to your collection, and the reality there is that if you had to do so, with a little canny auction hunting you could score them all for less than the price of a single new PS5 game.

Still, if we must pick a single must-have title for the PS3, it has to be Red Dead Redemption. There's simply nothing like that first time you take to horseback down a dusty desert trail, turn a corner and see your first sunrise, realising the epic Western adventure that awaits you. Red Dead Redemption took the bare bones of the more action-oriented Red Dead Revolver and refined them in the best possible way, making for a game that could simply be graphically updated for modern consoles today that would still stand up as an exceptional gaming experience.

What I'm saying here is simple: Buy a copy. Do it now.

See the best PlayStation 3 games for different genres.


Methodology

10
Brands considered
500+
Games compared
10
Best games chosen
  • Our picks are based on price, game ratings, availability and user and professional reviews.
  • The writer has 30+ years of game collecting and curating experience.
  • The products on this list are chosen by our editorial team and are not selected based on commercial relationships.

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