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Games With A Strong Focus On Retro-style Gameplay - A Nostalgic Journey

Explore the world of gaming nostalgia with 'Games with a strong focus on retro-style gameplay.' Dive into pixel art, chiptune music, and timeless mechanics that bridge the gap between classic and modern gaming experiences.

Author:Maxwell Canvas
Reviewer:Al Dente & Tony Soprano
Oct 04, 202314.6K Shares195.3K Views
The world of video gaming has come a long way since its inception, evolving from pixelated graphics and simplistic mechanics to immersive 3D environments and complex gameplay. However, amidst all the technological advancements and high-definition graphics, there remains a special place for games that pay homage to the past. These are the games with a strong focus on retro-style gameplay, offering a nostalgic journey back to the golden era of gaming.
Have a look at the some of the popular games with a strong focus on retro-style gameplay:

Shovel Knight

In the world of modern video games, it's not often that you come across a title that genuinely transports you back to the golden age of gaming, but "Shovel Knight" manages to do just that. Developed by Yacht Club Games and released in 2014, this indie gem is a love letter to classic platformers, embodying the very essence of retro-style gameplay.
From the moment you start "Shovel Knight," you're greeted with a visual style that harks back to the 8-bit era of gaming. The pixelated graphics, vivid colors, and charming character designs are reminiscent of classics like "Mega Man" and "DuckTales." The world of "Shovel Knight" is a vibrant, fantastical realm filled with knights, wizards, and memorable bosses.
The protagonist, Shovel Knight himself, is a valiant knight armed with a shovel. This seemingly unconventional choice of weaponry not only adds humor to the game but also serves as a testament to the developers' creativity in embracing the whimsical nature of retro gaming.
One of the defining features of classic platformers is their epic boss battles, and "Shovel Knight" doesn't disappoint in this regard. Each of the Order of No Quarter knights presents a unique challenge, requiring players to learn their attack patterns and come up with strategies to defeat them. These boss fights are a testament to the game's design, paying homage to the challenging yet rewarding encounters of the past.
While "Shovel Knight" unapologetically embraces retro aesthetics and gameplay, it's not confined to the past. The game incorporates modern design elements that enhance the overall experience. For example, it features a world map reminiscent of "Super Mario Bros. 3," allowing players to choose their path and revisit levels for additional challenges and rewards.
Furthermore, the game's story and characters are more nuanced than what you'd find in a typical retro title. It explores themes of friendship, loss, and redemption, providing depth beyond the pixelated surface.
Shovel Knight gameplay
Shovel Knight gameplay


"Celeste," developed by Maddy Makes Games and released in 2018, is a testament to the versatility of retro-style gameplay. While it pays homage to classics like "Super Meat Boy," it seamlessly integrates contemporary storytelling into the retro package.
At its core, "Celeste" is a challenging platformer that requires precision, reflexes, and patience. Players take control of Madeline, a young woman determined to climb Celeste Mountain. The levels are filled with intricate platforming challenges, from precision jumps to screen-filling hazards.
The gameplay of "Celeste" feels retro in its difficulty. Each screen presents a unique obstacle course that demands multiple attempts to conquer. Like classic games of the past, it encourages players to learn from their mistakesand steadily improve their skills.
What sets "Celeste" apart from traditional retro games is its deep and emotionally resonant narrative. Madeline's journey up Celeste Mountain is not just a physical ascent but a metaphorical one. She grapples with her inner demons and anxiety throughout the game.
The game's storytelling is subtle yet impactful. Through brief interactions with other characters and inner monologues, players uncover Madeline's struggles and motivations. This juxtaposition of challenging gameplay and a touching narrative creates a harmonious blend of retro-style difficulty and modern storytelling.
Celeste cover
Celeste cover

The Messenger

"The Messenger," developed by Sabotage Studio and released in 2018, offers a unique take on retro-style gameplay. It begins as a classic 8-bit action-platformer in the vein of "Ninja Gaiden" but soon evolves into a time-traveling adventure that seamlessly shifts between retro and modern styles.
In "The Messenger," you play as a young ninja tasked with delivering a crucial message to save his clan. The game's initial stages embrace the pixelated landscapes, challenging platforming, and tight controls of classic action-platformers. It feels like a loving tribute to the NES era.
However, "The Messenger" is anything but predictable. As the story unfolds, players find themselves transitioning to a 16-bit world with enhanced visuals and gameplay mechanics. This evolution is a delightful surprise, showcasing the game's innovation within the realm of retro-style gameplay.
The Messenger cover
The Messenger cover

Stardew Valley

"Stardew Valley," developed by ConcernedApe and released in 2016, is a modern masterpiece that encapsulates the essence of retro-style gameplay while offering players an idyllic escape to the countryside.
At its core, "Stardew Valley" is a farming simulator reminiscent of classics like "Harvest Moon." Players inherit a run-down farm and must restore it to its former glory by planting crops, raising animals, and expanding their homestead. The gameplay is inherently retro in its simplicity; you wake up each morning, tend to your chores, interact with the town's inhabitants, and explore the surrounding wilderness.
This simplicity is where the charm of "Stardew Valley" lies. The game encourages players to immerse themselves in the calming routine of rural life, an experience that harks back to the relaxing nature of early farming simulators.
Visually, "Stardew Valley" embraces the pixel art style that was prevalent in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. The characters and environments are adorned with detailed pixelated sprites, evoking a strong sense of nostalgia for gamers who grew up with classic consoles. The game's color palette is vibrant and inviting, making the world of Pelican Town a joy to explore.
Stardew Valley gameplay
Stardew Valley gameplay


"Cuphead," developed by Studio MDHR and released in 2017, is a love letter to the animation and musicof the 1930s. It takes retro-style gameplay to new heights with its stunning visuals and challenging run-and-gun gameplay.
"Cuphead" stands out immediately with its hand-drawn, cel-animated visuals that replicate the style of 1930s cartoons. Every frame is a work of art, and the game's characters and bosses are brimming with personality. The dedication to this retro aesthetic is evident in every detail, from the character designs to the expressive animations.
The game's world is a surreal blend of whimsy and darkness, reminiscent of classic cartoons like "Steamboat Willie" and "Betty Boop." The developers even employed traditional animation techniques to create the game's captivating visual style.
Beneath the striking visuals lies gameplay inspired by classic run-and-gun titles like "Contra" and "Mega Man." "Cuphead" challenges players with a series of boss battles, each more formidable than the last. The game doesn't hold back, requiring precise timing, pattern recognition, and quick reflexes.
This level of difficulty harks back to a time when games were designed to be challenging, requiring players to learn from their mistakes and persevere. "Cuphead" fully embraces this ethos, delivering a rewarding experience for those who can conquer its formidable foes.
Cuphead cover
Cuphead cover

Katana ZERO

"Katana ZERO," developed by Askiisoft and released in 2019, is a neo-noir action-platformer that marries retro-style gameplay with a gripping narrative and a unique time-manipulation mechanic.
Set in a dystopian future reminiscent of the cyberpunk era, "Katana ZERO" oozes style and atmosphere. The pixel art visuals convey a sense of grit and mystery, transporting players to a world of neon-soaked streets and shadowy conspiracies. The game's retro aesthetics extend to its character designs, blending elements of samurai culture and classic noir.
"Katana ZERO" introduces a time-manipulation mechanic that sets it apart from traditional retro-style gameplay. The protagonist, a samurai assassin, has the ability to slow down time, allowing for precise planning of combat encounters. This mechanic adds depth to the gameplay, as players must strategize their moves, deflect bullets, and dispatch enemies with well-timed slashes of the katana.
The game's challenging combat sequences are reminiscent of classic action-platformers, but the time-manipulation element injects a modern twist. It forces players to think on their feet while maintaining the methodical approach that retro gaming often demands.
Katana ZERO gameplay
Katana ZERO gameplay


"Undertale," created by Toby Fox and released in 2015, is a remarkable indie game that captures the essence of retro-style gameplay while subverting expectations and emphasizing player choice and morality.
"Undertale" embraces pixel art, a hallmark of retro gaming, but it infuses it with its own distinctive style. The game features endearing characters and environments, blending cute and quirky designs with moments of eerie darkness. This visual combination pays homage to classics like "EarthBound" while carving its own path.
Combat in "Undertale" is a fusion of retro and modern gameplay. It employs a turn-based system reminiscent of classic RPGs, but with a twist, enemies attack by sending waves of projectiles in a bullet hell fashion. This dynamic combat style keeps players engaged and on their toes, combining the strategy of retro RPGs with modern reflex-driven challenges.
One of the game's most innovative features is the option to spare enemies rather than defeat them. This choice introduces an element of morality that strongly influences the story's direction. Players can choose to befriend, pacify, or confront the game's many quirky characters, leading to a variety of different endings and outcomes. This emphasis on choice is a contemporary twist on retro gaming's linear narratives.
Undertale gameplay
Undertale gameplay

Axiom Verge

Developed solely by Tom Happ and released in 2015, "Axiom Verge" is a Metroidvania-style game that pays homage to classics like "Metroid" and "Castlevania" while offering a fresh and immersive experience.
"Axiom Verge" adopts a pixel art style reminiscent of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras but incorporates intricate and detailed designs. The game transports players to a mysterious and surreal world filled with biomechanical landscapes and bizarre creatures. The retro sci-fi aesthetic blends seamlessly with the game's exploration-driven gameplay.
At its core, "Axiom Verge" is a true Metroidvania experience, emphasizing exploration, backtracking, and the gradual acquisition of new abilities. Players traverse a sprawling world filled with secrets and hidden paths, gradually uncovering the mysteries of the game's universe.
The game's weapons and tools pay homage to classic retro titles, with a variety of unique and bizarre weapons at the player's disposal. The sense of isolation and discovery mirrors the atmospheric charm of retro games, immersing players in a captivating and enigmatic world.
Axiom Verge cover
Axiom Verge cover

Hyper Light Drifter

"Hyper Light Drifter," developed by Heart Machine and released in 2016, is an action-adventure game that marries retro aesthetics with fast-paced combat and a hauntingly beautiful world.
"Hyper Light Drifter" stands out for its meticulously crafted pixel art, evoking the melancholic beauty of classic titles like "The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past." The game's post-apocalyptic world is both vibrant and desolate, immersing players in a world that's both nostalgic and unique.
The gameplay of "Hyper Light Drifter" blends fast-paced combat with exploration and puzzle-solving. Players control the Drifter, a silent protagonist armed with an energy sword and various firearms. The combat is challenging and demands precise timing and strategy, reminiscent of classic action games like "The Legend of Zelda" and "Secret of Mana."
One of the game's unique aspects is its narrative approach. "Hyper Light Drifter" eschews traditional storytelling in favor of environmental storytelling and visual cues. Players must piece together the game's cryptic narrative through exploration and observation, adding an element of mystery and player interpretation that's a hallmark of modern gaming.
Hyper Light Drifter gameplay
Hyper Light Drifter gameplay


Developed by Moppin and released in 2015, "Downwell" is a unique blend of retro aesthetics and fast-paced action. The game offers players a vertical descent into a procedurally generated well filled with perilous obstacles and quirky enemies.
"Downwell" embraces a minimalist pixel art style reminiscent of classic Game Boy titles. The limited color palette and straightforward character design evoke a sense of nostalgia while maintaining a modern flair. The game's visual simplicity allows for smooth gameplay and adds to its accessibility.
While traditional platformers move horizontally, "Downwell" flips the formula on its head, offering a vertical descent through a series of well-designed levels. Players control the protagonist, a young man equipped with gunboots, which serve as both weapons and means of locomotion. The game's verticality encourages players to think on their feet, carefully managing their ammunition and avoiding hazards.
"Downwell" incorporates roguelike elements, ensuring that each descent into the well is a unique experience. Levels are procedurally generated, meaning players encounter different layouts, enemies, and power-ups with each playthrough. Death sends players back to the surface, where they can spend collected gems on permanent upgrades, adding a layer of progression to the retro-inspired gameplay.
Downwell cover
Downwell cover

Frequently Asked Questions

What Defines Retro-style Gameplay In Video Games?

Retro-style gameplay in video games is characterized by its simplicity, often featuring pixelated graphics, chiptune music, and straightforward mechanics reminiscent of gaming's early days.

What Are Some Best Retro-style Gameplay Games?

Some popular games that embrace retro-style gameplay include "Shovel Knight," "Celeste," "The Messenger," "Stardew Valley," and "Hollow Knight."

How Has Retro-style Gameplay Evolved Over The Years?

Retro-style gameplay has evolved by incorporating modern design elements, innovative storytelling, and genre fusion while maintaining the nostalgic appeal of classic gaming.

What Are Some Games With A Strong Focus On Retro Style Gameplay Ios?

  • Brick Game.
  • Snake Xenzia.
  • Tetris.
  • Trap Adventure.
  • SEGA Streets of Rage.

What Is The Appeal Of Retro-style Gameplay In Modern Gaming?

The appeal of retro-style gameplay lies in its ability to evoke nostalgia among players while offering accessible and often challenging gameplay experiences.

Can Retro-style Gameplay Be Found In Various Game Genres?

Yes, retro-style gameplay can be applied to a wide range of game genres, including platformers, action-adventure, farming simulators, and exploration games.

What Are Some Modern Retro-style Games?

  • Project Warlock.
  • Sonic Mania.
  • Axiom Verge.
  • Owlboy.
  • Golf Story.
  • Cave Story.
  • Celeste.

What Are Some Indie Games With Retro Aesthetics?

  • Cuphead.
  • Celeste.
  • Downwell.
  • Katana ZERO.
  • The Messenger.
  • Spelunky..
  • Fez.
  • Super Meat Boy.

What Are Some Games With A Strong Focus On Retro Style Gameplay Ps4?

  • Retro City Rampage DX.
  • Furi.
  • Lone Survivor.
  • The Mummy Demastered.
  • Wulverblade.


In the ever-evolving landscape of video games, retro-style gameplay continues to find its place. The games with a strong focus on retro-style gameplay capture the essence of a bygone era while demonstrating the adaptability and creativity of modern game developers.
Whether it's through pixel art, chiptune music, or simple mechanics, retro-style gameplay offers a timeless appeal, reminding us of the joy and nostalgia that gaming has brought us over the years. As we move forward, these games serve as a bridge between generations, allowing players old and new to appreciate the enduring magic of video games.
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