You Can Play These Retro Games in Your BrowserReading Time: 4 minutes
Go back in time with these classic and classically-styled browser games.
When I was a kid way back in the ’80s, vintage video games were new. Stuff like Super Mario Bros., Tetris on the Game Boy, and Final Fantasy III had pixel art and chiptunes, but they weren’t yet retro games; we just called them video games.
What we didn’t have was access to the internet, and an endless pool of talented game designers releasing fun, cute, and genuinely well-designed games for free on platforms like Itch.io that you can play right in your web browser.
With platforms and tools like Unity, PICO-8, and GB Studio, it’s never been easier for people to make their own games, and so many of these tools specifically push designers towards the classic look, feel, and gameplay of the ’80s and early ’90s. With that in mind, I’ve gathered together some of my favorite browser-compatible games with major vintage vibes (and thrown a couple of stone cold classics in the mix too).
Created by designer Johan Peitz for the PICO-8, the virtual game console that gave home to the original version of Maddy Thorson and Noel Berry’s Celeste, this ethereal platformer features straightforward exploration wrapped up in a Metroidvania-like structure that can be explored and completed in under an hour. After your spaceship mysteriously crashes, you must explore an alien planet in search of eight spirits and a way home. With charming pixel art, a killer soundtrack by Vav, and all the maze-like level design and ability upgrades you expect from a Metroidvania, this one’s sure to keep you busy plumbing the planet’s secrets.
What better way to kill some time than with a revolutionary classic right in your web browser? Creator Jordan Mechner’s career has spanned decades, and his influence on gaming history is undeinable. Prince of Persia, which has spawned many sequels and reboots since its original release in October 1989, remains a satisfying platformer thanks to its remarkably fluid rotoscoped animation, maze-like level designs, and brisk two hour playtime. A landmark in every sense.
Known for its delightful vibes, intense difficulty, and perfect platforming, Cuphead is a modern classic. Cuphead: Game & Watch Edition merges that appeal with another retro classic: Nintendo’s original Game & Watch handhelds. ‘As Game & Watch lovers, we wanted to mix these universes together and do our best to achieve a good result,’ explained creators Simon Delavenne and at0mium. This fan game combines the original’s signature style with new gameplay and suitably old school graphics. A worthy tribute, and a great way to kill a few minutes while your files upload.
Do you love Dead Cells, Hades, and Spelunky? They all lead back here: Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman’s 1980 classic action RPG Rogue. With its distinctive graphics, deceptively deep gameplay, and genre-defining ideas, Rogue launched generations of games structured around the act of trying, dying, and doing it all again. It’ll test you in ways a lot of modern games won’t, but just as players 40+ years ago discovered, there are few games in the history of the medium that beg for ‘just one more run’ quite so effectively.
A brand new Game Boy Color game? In 2023? Published by McDonald’s? …I’ll take it. In celebration of Grimace’s milestone (?) 52nd birthday, the Big Mac king teamed up with Brooklyn-based game studio Krool Toys to create an impressively authentic platformer that feels like it was ripped out of the 1990s. In Grimace’s Birthday, you play as the titular big, purple, um… thing? as he dons his helmet, picks up his skateboard, and kickflips his way left-to-right through a handful of platforming levels. It’s surprisingly fun, especially considering it’s a marketing gimmick. And the kicker? You can actually play the game on an original Game Boy Color if you have a flash cart like an EverDrive. Pretty neat.
Like Ascent, Fáyer & Pato’s Kitsu is designed for the PICO-8, and features similarly low-resolution graphics. Unlike Ascent, though, Kitsu is bursting with color, mixing turn-based exploration with match-three puzzling for a unique blend of gameplay that gives the experience more legs than most browser games. Dubbed ‘a very short story about saying goodbye,’ Kitsu is a delightful blend of pixel art, hummable melodies, clever puzzle design, and the cutest playable fox this side of Tunic.
A cute-as-a-button horror game with gorgeous art, Blackout resurrects the classic point & click adventure gameplay of The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion with a spooky vibe. Dodge corpses, creeping vines, and black cats as you guide the young witch Marilyn deeper and deeper into a mysterious (and haunted?) mansion. With a basic inventory system, devious puzzles, Halloween-ish music, and a fun story, it’s a pleasurable way to get lost.
Like Grimace’s Birthday, Cookies Baker is a modern Game Boy game playable on original hardware, or right in your browser. Created with GB Studio, an incredible open source software for creating Game Boy games, it mixes one cup Cooking Mama, one cup Stardew Valley, and one tablespoon of Animal Crossing and bakes it into a hyper charming game about saving your town’s winter festival, one cookie at a time.
Did you know you can play Minecraft right in your browser? Isn’t the future amazing? If you’re the one person out there who hasn’t played Minecraft yet, this version, based on classic original builds of the legendary game, places you in a procedurally-generated world made from pixelated blocks, and allows you to build to your heart’s content. Is the browser version missing features and quality of life improvements from later builds of the game? Sure! But, it’s still Minecraft, right there in your Google Chrome tab. And, really, who needs Ray Tracing in their Minecraft, anyway?
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