Take a break. Now. Whether you want to be descending into a pixelated Hades or help Link save Princess Peach (and yes, you read that correctly), these three games bring that retro-style to your online distractions – all while offering a twist not seen in gaming’s golden age. Even better, all you need to play is your browser.
Articles outlining free games worth checking out are a dime a dozen, and I’m only writing one now because of how much I love the three games in question. All were obviously a labour of love for those involved, and all of them took me multiple sittings to beat. Look elsewhere for a quick diversion – these games will take you a while, unless you’re far more skilled than I (likely).
But if you’re looking for a distraction – and you’re reading this article, so you probably are – this list will successfully eat up hours of your time.
Don’t Look Back
It shouldn’t work. Atari-era graphics attempting to re-tell the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, with a modern twist. It totally does work, though – and is strangely beautiful.
Don’t Look Back is a 2009 release from Terry Cavanagh of VVVVVV fame, so you know you can expect frustration – and to be rewarded for it. The game, which you can play free on the web, is short – but you might not be able to tell. If you’ll like me, you’ll give up multiple times only to finally finish months later.
I guess you could call the game a side-scroller, but it’s mostly about moving from screen to screen. Expect to die a lot – many of these screens require an exact series of movements. Death only resets the screen you’re on, though, meaning you can keep at it until you get the movements just right. You can play Don’t Look Back online right now, or download the Windows and Mac version of the game if you prefer.
ROM Check Fail
The gibberish you saw when your old video game cartridge wasn’t quite working – remember that? Imagine if that nonsense, through some miracle, was playable – and that somehow in the process characters, enemies and backdrops from a bunch of your favorite games kind of…combined. Into a playable game.
That’s about as close to a premise as the 2008 game ROM Check Fail gets – and it’s all that’s necessary. The many possible combinations of playable characters, stages and enemies gives you a WarioWare-like effect: you need to figure out your new context instantly, then act on it to either kill your enemies or simply survive.
It’s simple, sure, but it’s addictive. Something about switching from Mario to PacMan to Link and back, without control, will leave you coming back until you beat it. It’s part side-scroller, part asteroids and so much more – and kind of impossible to describe.
Until recently a downloadable title, it’s found a lot of new traffic lately because of a web version, giving it a second chance to spread around the Internet. Go ahead and play ROM Check Fail at Farbs.org, or download the Linux and Windows versions.
Super Mario Crossover
It’s probably still the most famous video game of all time: the original Super Mario Bros. But the game that launched Nintendo into console dominance – and arguably revived the entire video game industry – is far from the only nostalgic game out there.
Super Mario Crossover, which has been developed since 2010, acknowledges this in the weirdest way possible: by allowing you to play Super Mario Bros as a variety of classic video game characters. Link, Megaman, Simon from Castlevania and much, much more.
Oh, and this game? It’s got a new version coming out, and it’s crazy ambitious. I mean, watch this:
Read more about Super Mario Crossover, if you’re interested, but a lot’s changed since that article so there’s plenty to explore.
Oh, and if you like the idea of inserting new concepts into classic Mario games, check out Mari0, which puts the gun from Portal into Mario’s hands. Seriously. It’s just awesome.
This one isn’t a web game – you’ll need to download it – but it’s free for Mac, Windows and Linux game users and it’s totally worth the effort. There’s even multiplayer support.
I love every game outlined here, but I want to know which games you love. Do you have a favorite retro-style web game? Please: point it out in the comments below, because if there’s one thing I need it’s more high-quality distractions. Okay, sure, I don’t need them, but I’m open to suggestion. And I’m sure there’s more great games out there.