The Year In Old Games, 2018

Punch-Out!!
Screenshot: Nintendo (MobyGames)
Year In ReviewYear In ReviewWe look back at the highs, lows, surprises, and standouts in and around video games this year.

Whether you want to play your classic games on the Switch, the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, a half-sized wooden arcade cabinet, a tiny PlayStation, or a Genesis controller plugged into your TV, 2018 had you covered.

It’s time once again for a look back at the year in New Old Games. While the majority of classic games never get officially rereleased, every year a few more are given a new lease on life. Maybe they’ve been spruced up with added features. Maybe they’re straightforward reprints. But they’re all old, and that’s good enough for me.

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I, personally, had a pretty great 2018 when it comes to old video games, because I got to launch a new retro show here on Kotaku called Complete In Box. We looked at games from around the world, from weird versions of Street Fighter II to a $30,000 NES game to three different editions of Secret of Mana. If you’re reading this, maybe you want to watch some of these!

Obligatory plug out of the way, let’s revisit what 2018 had in store for us classic game nerds.

Jill of the Jungle.

PC

Last year, Good Old Games brought back Epic Games’ Jazz Jackrabbit; this year it went even further back into the Epic catalog for Jill of the Jungle, the company’s second game. Jill was created by CEO Tim Sweeney back when he was still living with his parents. (Still waiting for the HD remake of ZZT.)

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While the first two Monkey Island games have been available (albeit in imperfect “Special Edition” format) for years now, Curse Of and Escape From Monkey Island only got official rereleases in 2018, on GOG and Steam. Curse is much better than Escape, FYI. LucasArts’ Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine also came back this year; too bad it’s a meh early-3D action game and not an awesome point-and-click like Fate of Atlantis. Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer also returned from the Disney vaults, now in upscaled HD.

Curse of Monkey Island.
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This year GOG became home to a whole slew of early PC games that haven’t been officially seen for a few presidential administrations. Highlights: the original Bard’s Tale trilogy, Spellcasting 101 and its sequels, The Humans, Eric the Unready, Simon the Sorcerer, Drakkhen, and FMV noir game The Dame Was Loaded.

Xbox Backward Compatibility

Microsoft spent the year continuing to add older, backward compatible games to Xbox One. It’s difficult to even pick out highlights, because there are just so many, but here are a few: all three Crysises, GTA: San Andreas, the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow trilogy, the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, the 2008 Prince of Persia, Dragon Age II… there were a lot, with a few more hitting every week.

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Panzer Dragoon Orta.

Backward compatible games from the original Xbox didn’t show up on such a regular cadence—they were dropped in two big batches in April. There was some notable stuff in there, however, like Panzer Dragoon Orta, Blinx, Breakdown, Jade Empire, and Morrowind. Those games all played in higher resolutions on the Xbox One and even higher on the Xbox One X. And now you can play them with Hyperkin’s new “Duke” controller, too.

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Virtual Console?!

RIP Virtual Console, 2006-2018. Gone are the days of Nintendo releasing individual classic game ROMs for digital purchase on its consoles. Nintendo disappointed many an old-game liker this year with the announcement that Virtual Console was not coming to Switch, although it should be clear now that this is all in service of some kind of grander plan for its old games. Nintendo actually did squeak out just one more game under the Virtual Console banner at the beginning of this year: Pokemon Crystal for 3DS. And that’ll be all she wrote for Nintendo’s old old games service, making way for its new old games service...

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Switch Online

The first step towards putting Nintendo’s old games on Switch hit in September: a library of 8-bit NES games that is now available for Switch Online members. Those games now feature online play as well as some special save files, like one that lets you start The Legend of Zelda with a bunch of items and cash, or a Metroid save that jumps you right to the fight with Ridley, presumably to celebrate the character’s debut in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

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Ninja Gaiden on Switch Online.

Most of those games were ones that we’d seen rereleased ad nauseum over the past couple of decades, although it was cool that the early cute-’em-up Twinbee was finally, officially released outside Japan. Hopefully Switch Online’s subscription format means that Nintendo will be able to put more obscure games on the service—and that games from other consoles, like SNES and N64, arrive sooner rather than later.

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PlayStation Network

Hey, remember when Sony was going to release upgraded PlayStation 2 games on PlayStation 4? Well, not much happened on that front this year. SNK released a pair of King of Fighters games, and that was it.

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Yep.

Curated Collections

Dollar for dollar, the best way to build a library of new-old games on a current console is to buy a collection. So it was nice to see so many of these released in 2018. Especially on Switch! Sega belatedly brought its Sega Genesis Classics package to Nintendo’s platform this month, after releasing it on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One back in May. The emulation might not be as good as Virtual Console on the Wii, but at 30 bucks for 50 games, it’s hard to complain too much.

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Atari Flashback for Switch.

In case you prefer retro games of an older vintage, Atari is still putting out its Flashback collections on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and just dropped Volume 3, which has a lot of arcade and Atari 5200 games. The Switch just got one big Atari Flashback collection that has 150 (!) games. Capcom dropped an unexpected collection this year on PS4, Xbone, Switch, and Steam—the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle, which pulls together its classic walk-to-the-right-and-punch-stuff arcade games like Final Fight, King of Dragons, etc. And then of course there’s Digital Eclipse (run by longtime friends of mine), which had a variety of compilations this year—Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection for multiple platforms, the Switch version of Mega Man Legacy Collection, and most recently the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on Switch.

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Standalone Systems

The success of Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic mini-consoles seems to have caused an explosion of all-in-one retro gaming systems this year. Chief among those was Sony’s PlayStation Classic, which was eagerly anticipated on announcement but landed with a thud when it turned out the game list was missing a lot of classics and the emulation wasn’t up to par.

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PlayStation Classic wasn’t the only such product in 2018. I walked into a Walmart on Black Friday and found this:

Photo: Chris Kohler (Kotaku)
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Look at all that! Tiny arcade cabinets, Genesis-shaped controllers stuffed with Namco games, ersatz Game Boys. You could even buy half-sized arcade cabinets in that Walmart, little four-foot-tall replicas of Street Fighter II Champion Edition and others. I feel like we’re close to hitting Peak Tiny Console.

Arcade Archives, Sega Ages… Johnny Turbo?

Virtual Console may be dead, but the business model of releasing individual old games for premium prices is alive and well on Nintendo Switch. Even though Sega released its bargain-priced 50-pack of Genesis classics for that system, it’s also doing its Sega Ages line of finely-tuned individual classics with bonus content and modes. So far, it’s released Sonic The Hedgehog, Lightening Force, and most recently Phantasy Star. The latter includes numerous quality-of-life enhancements such as an auto-mapping feature for its first-person, 8-bit, 3D dungeons.

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Phantasy Star for Switch. Look at that sweet sweet map.

There was also a line of Switch releases called Johnny Turbo’s Arcade, a line of games named (for some reason) after the erstwhile U.S. mascot for the TurboGrafx-16 console. Sadly, they’re not TurboGrafx-16 games, but they are arcade games of some renown, such as Bad Dudes and Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja.

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Last but certainly not least, Hamster continued to crank out games in its Arcade Archives series at a lightning-fast pace, including but not limited to never-before-rereleased Nintendo arcade games. It was great to finally get the original arcade Donkey Kong and Punch-Out!! on the Switch—and even better, Sky Skipper, a Nintendo arcade game that previously only existed as a prototype.

Sky Skipper.
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On the non-Nintendo side of things, Hamster continued to release Neo Geo games and other arcade games at the rate of two or three a month for Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, although for some unexplained reason the PS4's American store rarely got updated with new Arcade Archives releases. There were far too many to list, but Double Dragon II just came out for Switch and I’m seriously considering parting with $7.99 and picking it up.

Original Media

Releasing classic games on cartridges that function on the actual hardware isn’t very common yet, but it definitely ramped up in 2018. Following on its release of Street Fighter II for the Super NES last year, this year the merch maker and occasional game publisher IAm8Bit put out Mega Man 2 for NES and Mega Man X for SNES. The publisher Retro-Bit did similar collectors-edition versions of an NES game called Holy Diver and a SNES cartridge with the games Super R-Type and R-Type III.

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I Am 8 Bit’s Mega Man X.

There was also a cartridge release of Return of Double Dragon, the improved Japanese version of the SNES game originally released here as Super Double Dragon.(Hilariously, the developer of that one apparently forgot to account for the Super NES’ security chip, so the cartridge doesn’t work on actual SNES systems, only later ones like the Super NT.)

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HD Remasters

One reason publishers might be reluctant to release straightforward ports of their old PlayStation 2, GameCube, or Xbox games might be because those early 3D games have proved excellent fodder for that popular gambit known as the “HD remaster.” Port the code, spruce up the textures and resolution, maybe add some quality-of-life enhancements to the gameplay, and you’ve got a game that you can actually put on a disc and sell for… well, probably not a full $60, but maybe $30 or $40.

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Shenmue I & II HD.

For example: Sega’s Shenmue I & II made their triumphant return on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam, as did Capcom’s Devil May Cry HD collection. More firmly in the “total remake” category are Activision’s Spyro trilogy and Sony’s fantastic new Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 4. Katamari Reroll rolled onto Switch at the end of this year, and while Nintendo didn’t put the original Luigi’s Mansion on Switch where everyone wanted it, at least it’s on 3DS.

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Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did. Let me know what other classic rereleases hit in 2018 that you’ve rediscovered, or are playing for the first time.

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About the author

Chris Kohler

Features Editor, Kotaku. Japanese curry aficionado. Author of the books Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life and Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books.