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The absolute best retro gaming releases so far in 2015

by Ron Duwell | June 13, 2015June 13, 2015 1:00 pm PDT

It’s already June, meaning half the year is over. It also means it’s as good a time as ever to stop and look back on a little progress. By that, of course, I mean progress of making sure that the past is keeping up with the present and retro games are being made more available to modern day audiences.

Who do you think are you talking to? What else would I mean?

I have yet to play a game that has absolutely floored me released in 2015. Sony has referred to the year as a “harvesting” year, meaning the cream of the crop are being pushed back and only a few solid titles are making their way onto our shiny new consoles.

I’ve got no problem with that. I have a backlog that extends back 30 years into the past, and PlayStation Network, GOG, Steam and Virtual Console have done a commendable job making sure that I always have a few classic favorites in rotation. Nothing wrong with playing old games.

With that in mind, these are the best retro games you can snag up that were released over the first six months of 2015. Our cutoff point for “retro” will be anything from the PlayStation 2 generation for consoles and back and anything from the PSP/Nintendo DS era back for handhelds.

The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are still viable consoles these days, and until they die off, they aren’t quite “retro” yet. The PSP also has had enough time to settle and cement its legacy to, so it’s fair game … meaning …

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PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

Well, we did say that the PSP is now officially retro, didn’t we? Square Enix was holding out on giving us this Final Fantasy spin on the Monster Hunter formula for several years, but fan pressure eventually convinced them that putting it on the American market was a good idea. It just did so as an HD release on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Smart move, too. The reception toward the title has been pretty warm, and the added bonus of the Final Fantasy XV demo scored Square Enix quite a few extra clams beyond what a mere PSP release a few years earlier could have granted.

Some would say, and I agree, that this should have been a PS Vita release. The HD consoles aren’t really the place for the core principals powering this game, like drop-in-and-out multiplayer, brief stints of co-op, and ridiculously goofy cutscenes, and the PSP graphics have aged well enough to not really require the resolution boost they got. In fact, I like them better than the HD results.

On the flip side, I’m just happy it exists in English, and I am hoping that Final Fantasy Type-0 HD‘s success will kick Square Enix into gear when it comes to giving a few other games similar treatment. For example, making Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII available digitally or recognizing that Dragon Quest VII has a fan base in the West that really, really wants to be free from region-locking and the language barrier.

PlayStation Network

The Misadventures of Tron Bonne

I don’t think it should come as a shock to anyone what my favorite retro release of 2015 have been. I waited (not so) patiently for The Misadventures of Tron Bonne during the Mega Man Legends trademark fiasco, and Capcom finally obliged. No longer is this hidden gem available only to those willing to drop $200 on it, and no longer is the gorgeous anime-inspired universe of Mega Man Legends limited to just physical CDs.

I was hoping this spinoff release would satiate my desire to play the actual Mega Man Legends games, but blasting through it is actually feeding into that desire. Remapping the controls to modern standards on the Vita and PS TV makes The Misadventures of Tron Bonne more playable than ever, and I only wish the same for its two main line siblings. Capcom has insisted that it will never happen, but we never thought we’d be seeing this lost gem pop up either.

Far and away the best and most exciting retro-release of 2015.

Mega Man 8

And just for fun, Capcom capped off an incredible month of “Mega May” with another lost PlayStation gem, Mega Man 8. I was unsure if this game would hold up after so many years since it never really found an audience back in the day or tossed out an extra hook to make it memorable, but I was wrong. Mega Man 8 is a blast, and the original PlayStation’s hardware has gone horribly under-appreciated over the years for the magic it worked on the classic Mega Man formula.

The cutscenes too are just as awful as we all remember, but enough time has passed to make them charming, a reminder of a more innocent age. I’ll take bad voice acting over some of the sterile performances we see these days, that’s for sure.

It’s no masterpiece like Mega Man 2, Mega Man X, or Mega Man X4, but it deserves another chance to rank higher among the series echelon. For too long has this been just a footnote in the series’ grand picture, and the PSN has delivered this game’s second coming. Thanks for a wonderful May, Capcom.

Gradius V

And you thought PSOne Classics were becoming few and far between. We’ve seen barely a peep from the PlayStation 2 library! However, in that brief and wonderful instance where we got a solid game to play, we were delivered a title that is literally out of this world.

Gradius V is one of the greatest SHMUPS of all time, perfectly capturing the intense action and stunning visuals of the games that came before it but not at the sacrifice of the franchise’s evolution. The series has never looked better and never played better, and the stakes are also there for plenty of replay value as well. The more you play, the longer your runs can potentially last.

Gradius V is an understated masterpiece on the PlayStation 2, and it is a shining beacon of what once was the towering presence of Konami in the video game industry. Those days are long gone, but at least developer Treasure is still around. Check it out.

Umihara Kawase

I’ve ranted and raved about this title over and over again, so don’t expect me to stop here. TNN’s relatively unknown cult-classic Umihara Kawase is one of the greatest 2D platformers ever constructed by human hands, and it finally has gotten a long-overdue release in the West 21 years after it debuted on the Super Famicom in Japan.

A Japanese high schoolgirl sets out on a surreal quest through hordes of fish and Japanese folklore creatures, and nothing she carries can protect her. Instead, she makes due with a pink backpack and a fishing line. This fishing lure acts as a grappling hook, giving her the propulsion she needs to swing to platforms beyond her jumping range or to latch onto to conveyor belts that drag her safely to an exit.

The pink backpack? A Ghostbuster trap that stores an infinite number of creepy monsters.

This retro classic comes as a bonus for when you pick up its sequel once removed, Sayonara UmiharaKawase +, on the PS Vita for $19.99. I’ve said it a million times and once more won’t bother anyone. That price is worth the entry for the Super Famicom original, so think of the sequel as the bonus title and mentally concentrate on the original. It will make the slightly steep price easier to swallow.

Armored Core

From Software is best known for Dark Souls and Bloodborne these days, but believe it or not, there was a time when the former C-level Japanese developer had another hit franchise on its hands. They didn’t just show up out of the blue and change the video game industry, you know. They cut their teeth on a decade of genuinely bad games before finally striking it big.

Armored Core is not one of those bad games, not in the least. It is the best matching of arcade action and mech-robot construction you’ll ever get your hands on. Its missions are fun and accessible to the casual crowd, but upkeeping your robot and managing weight, fuel, and weaponry is also just as important, providing that extra layer of depth sought after by the hard-core.

Later installments would focus more on this niche audience, but the early days of the franchise are still enjoyable for all, especially the first outing. Be sure to play it on the Vita or PS TV. Remapping the controls to modern standards makes it one of the best third-person shooters of its era.

Nintendo 3DS

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

I’m sorry. Did I say that The Misadventures of Tron Bonne was the most exciting retro-release of 2015? Legend of Zelda fans might have a problem with a statement like that. To be fair though, the Mega Man Legends games and the Nintendo 64 Legend of Zelda games enjoy a healthy rivalry thanks to Mega Man Legends “doing it first” but Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask (arguably) “doing it better.”

I fall on the Mega Man Legends side of things obviously, thanks to me joining the exodus to the PlayStation way back in those days, but I’ve never actually played Majora’s Mask. It’s on my list of games to play before the summer is out, and Nintendo has granted me a wonderful opportunity to do so with this remake we’ve been begging for years.

Everyone is still talking about it, and it is still one of the best received releases of the year.

Majora’s Mask’s structure sounds like a natural fit for a handheld game, meaning this could be the definitive release now that the game has finally come home to where it belongs.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker

This is a Nintendo 3DS remake of a Nintendo DS game, barely registering it as a retro release, but I’ll allow it. The devil Survivor games often fly under the radar as the least appreciated sub-series in Atlus’ demon themed RPG franchise Shin Megami Tensei, but this remake is remarkable enough to get people talking and noticing.

If you like Persona or the main Shin Megami Tensei games, this one takes all of its ideas about demon fusing and elemental weaknesses and crams them into a strategy RPG ala Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s a similar style of game, just played on an overhead chess board rather than randomly generated dungeons or from first-person viewpoint.

No Social Links or dating simulation either.

Unlike the previous game’s 3DS remake though, which was just a bare-bones port, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker overdrives the original’s graphics, increases the content twofold, and adds a meaty endgame scenario to keep the party going for a few more hours, making it far more worth the price of admission even for double dippers. A remastered director’s cut done right.

Wii U eShop

Super Mario 64

Nintendo didn’t need to look very far for the perfect poster game to jump start the Wii U Virtual Console’s Nintendo 64 support. I mean, Super Mario 64. Why not?

This iconic game already launched an entire console on its own and is still one of the greatest video games of all time, now comfortably controlled with a Wii U-pad. OK, the GameCube controller is still your best option, of course, but who can say no to romping around with 3D Mario once again?

The giant Chain Chomp in Bom-omb Battlefield still scares me.

Its levels might feel small by today’s standards. Its controls might feel blocky. But seriously, very few games exist where it is more just fun to jump around and see what you can discover. Play this one with the kids and see if they are blown away the same way we were.

Paper Mario

For as great as Mario’s 3D debut on the Nintendo 64 was, there still exists a contingency of people who would hold this gem up as the defining Mario experience of its generation. I wouldn’t go that far, but Paper Mario is still an excellent RPG that actually feels like a Mario game, meaning it doesn’t have that awkward Square Enix aftertaste like Legend of the Seven Stars does.

I happen to like that aftertaste mind you.

This game is beloved for its sense of humor and genuinely original take on the Mario universe. Although future Paper Mario games would eventually be overshadowed by the Mario & Luigi franchise, this one still holds its ground as one of the best Mario games to feature HP and Exp. Points.

Mega Man Zero 2

Again, back with the Mega Man titles. Capcom really went all out in May, and the best offering it had for the Nintendo faithful was this Game Boy Advance action game. Of course, those who took my advice and bought it when it released last month are probably still cowering in pain and shame for the butt whuppin’ this game has given them

Mega Man Zero 2 is a tough grunt to push around, and it will have its way with you if you let your guard down. Those who stick with it will feel a sense of accomplishment that few games deliver anymore, and they will experience one of the darker Mega Man tales set to the brightest and friendliest of art styles.

This is the best of the Mega Man Zero games, but 1 & 3 are also available. All we are waiting on from Capcom is Mega Man Zero 4.

Mega Man Battle Network 2

Again, Mega Man! Nintendo tossing the Wii U Virtual Console a little Game Boy Advance support opened up a generation of Mega Man titles that fans might have overlooked or simply ignored at the time. With so few options nowadays though, maybe backward is the best direction to look.

Mega Man Battle Network crams everything that is great about the Blue Bomber into an RPG made palatable for the Pokemon crowd. Light on story, bright on graphics, annoying adolescent characters, but there is so much hidden depth to the combat that it will satisfy gamers of all demographics. Whether they are looking for a casual romp through this anime inspired game or some seriously nitty-gritty combat, Mega Man Battle Network delivers the goods.

I’ll refer you to Mega Man Battle Network 2 because it was released in 2015 and it is the only one I have dedicated serious time to in the franchise. Both versions of Battle Network 3 and both versions of Battle Network 4 were also released in May, and the original was given to us last year.

Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament

Klonoa

It might make me a little sad, but this could be the last release we ever see of Bandai Namco’s beloved Klonoa franchise. Unless the Japanese publisher gets its act together and releases the PlayStation 2 game on PSN, all of the English releases have been accounted for on modern consoles and the producer says he is done.

Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2002 in Japan, a full three years before the American release in 2005, and the dated look clearly shows. This was an early GBA game released just way too late in the States to catch on. I mean, the Nintendo DS was already out by this point, and this game was modeled after a WonderSwan game!

Not only that, but it was a sequel to a 2D attempt at recreating a beloved 2.5D platforming PlayStation franchise, something that the GBA simply couldn’t do. Its predecessor made due with the limitations by turning Klonoa into a puzzle platformer, and this one follows suit but struggles with finding a voice of its own. Klonoa as a character has enough charm to makeup for that lack of originality though.

Buy at least one of these games, and you’ll understand what I mean. Preferably Door to Phantomile on PSN, but you can’t go wrong with either game on Virtual Console. You just might not get the right context as to why its fun.

Steam, GOG, Amazon, GMG, PC, you know the drill

PCs are confusing because you have to take in account different retailers releasing their own versions with different benefits. For example, GOG released a handful of LucasArts classics like TIE Fighter, Dark Forces 2, Knights of the Old Republic 2, Outlaws, and all the SCUMM games this year, but they’ve been available on Steam since forever ago. GOG also received a lot of press for scoring these, but still, they were already available though other modern PC means. Are they 2015 releases? Maybe, I dunno?

What counts as 2015 on PC, and what doesn’t?

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim

Well, I can definitely point you in this direction as it is a new game no matter where you look. Nihon Falcom’s seminal Ys franchise got a long overdue release this year after its sixth game, Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, was finally localized for the PC.

For the longest time, fans had to deal with only the PlayStation 2 version, which is universally considered to be worse than the fabled PC one. Thanks to the efforts of XSEED, both GOG and Steam users now have a chance to play this misunderstood chapter in the way that the creators originally intended for it to be enjoyed.

Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim, and the entire franchise for that matter, are comparable to The Legend of Zelda, but they put a much heavier focus on combat rather than exploration and puzzles. Nihon Falcom also blares ridiculous Japanese synth soundtracks as opposed to the majesty of Nintendo’s glorious melodies.

I wouldn’t say it was up to speed with The Legend of Zelda, but judging by how the last few releases in that series have gone, maybe Ys isn’t as far behind as we believed.

iOS and Android

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

I don’t have too much love for the mobile market these days, but I never pass up a chance to write about Dragon Quest. In all honesty, this is one of the better ports that Square Enix has done for smartphones, and thankfully it’s for one of the best games in the franchise.

Dragon Quest V is the sentimental favorite of many fans. It tells a beautiful story of a man’s life as he tours the world as a kid, escapes from slavery as an adult, finds the love of three women, has children with matching hair color, and eventually saves the world. For many, in Japan at least back in the early 90s, it was their first experience diving into such a heartfelt tale and falling in love with digital women.

Seriously, the blonde our hero can end up with still has a huge fan base to this day!

The smartphone port is faithful to the Nintendo DS version, and it doesn’t skimp on controls or content either. You can still collect monsters, find love, and do everything that this legendary title offers on traditional platforms.

I’d go so far as to say it looks quite good in “tate mode,” or vertically if you don’t speak Japanese. If you pick up one Dragon Quest game for iOS or Android, I think this would be the place to aim your attention. If not to enjoy one of the best JRPGs of all time, at least to show Square Enix that there is a lot of love to go around for Dragon Quest in the West.

Just hope and pray that it is compatible with the next version of Android.

Cycomatix

Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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