7 classic games you can still play on your smartphone

As smartphones increase in power, capacity and performance, gamers can play increasingly innovative, cutting-edge games while on the go. But sometimes, we want to step back in time and immerse ourselves in the nostalgia of the classic games that historically gave us so much joy.

Developers have reworked several timeless classics for the small screen, transforming our smartphones into portable versions of arcade machines and classic consoles, such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), SEGA Genesis and Nintendo64 (N64).

Why play classic games?

The latest high-tech, beautifully visual smartphone games are immersive and enjoyable. But there’s something special about playing classic, decades-old games that often come armed with gripping storylines and gameplay that’s easy to pick up, but difficult to master. They may look simplistic and blocky or feel a bit clunky at times, but that only adds to their sentimental charm.

Classic games fit broadly into the following genres:

  • Adventure
  • Arcade
  • Beat ’em Up
  • First-Person Shooter
  • Platform
  • Racing
  • Role-Playing Games (RPGs)
  • Simulation
  • Sports

Play these classic games on your smartphone

We reviewed several classic games available to smartphone gamers and selected the seven we think stand out in terms of playability, enjoyment and downright nostalgia levels.

Mario Kart

What is it?: Mario Kart is arguably the greatest video game Nintendo ever developed. This go-kart-style racing game was originally a Super Mario series spinoff. The first edition of Super Mario Kart launched on the SNES in 1992. Players choose a character and kart, then race against human or AI-powered opponents, collecting power-ups along the way that enable them to gain speed boosts or attack rivals.

Mario Kart Tour brings the excitement of the franchise’s 13 previous editions to smartphones. All the classic characters and racetracks are present, with bonus challenge courses putting a twist on traditional races. It takes users on a global tour with courses inspired by real-world cities and classic Mario Kart characters getting relevant makeovers. To start and play the game, users must have a Nintendo account and internet connectivity.

Category: Racing

Devices: iOS and Android 

Price: Free

For players of: Crash Team Racing, Diddy Kong Racing and Speed Punks

Pac-Man

What is it?: It’s an arcade game that became a pop-culture legend in which the player controls the iconic pixellated character Pac-Man. Japanese developer, Namco, first released the maze-based game in 1980. The aim is to eat all the power pellets within an enclosed maze while avoiding four ghosts. Pac-Man scores bonus points when he eats a ghost. 

The smartphone version offers pixel-perfect memories of the original, which looks, sounds and feels just as you remember. It also includes new mazes and challenges, along with daily challenges, weekly tournaments and daily rewards that unlock new content.

Category: Arcade 

Device: iOS and Android

Price: Free

For players of: Amazing Escape: Mouse Maze, Amidroid and PacMaze

RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic

What is it?: Players design, build and manage their theme parks in this simulation game. Plenty of new versions of RollerCoaster Tycoon are available on multiple platforms, but the original is a true classic. Scottish programmer Chris Sawyer created it with assistance from experts in the real-world theme park industry, Hasbro Interactive released the game in 1999.

The smartphone version combines the best features from the first two games in the series and challenges users to construct the most outrageous rides possible. The graphics may not rival those of its predecessors, but the original game is still arguably the best in the franchise.

Category: Simulation

Device: iOS and Android

Price: $5.99

For players of: Sim City, Theme Hospital and Theme Park

Sonic The Hedgehog Classic

What is it?: Look up retro games in the dictionary, and it could simply state Sonic The Hedgehog. Originally created for SEGA Genesis, the game involves the adventures of Sonic, the main character. Players lead the loveable hedgehog on a quest to defeat Dr. Robotnik, an evil scientist who has imprisoned animals and stolen the powerful Chaos Emeralds. They collect rings to maintain Sonic’s health and jump, spin and attack to avoid or remove hazards along the way.

The smartphone version of Sonic The Hedgehog emulates the original. The user takes control of the prickly mammal to complete levels and collect rings as quickly as possible. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Classic is available on all mobile devices.

Category: Platform

Devices: iOS and Android

Price: Free; $2 upgrade removes ads

For players of: Rayman, Super Mario and Toad Strikes Back

Space Invaders

What is it?: Space Invaders epitomizes the modern gamer’s continued obsession with classic gaming. Its graphics may lag well behind modern alternatives, but its addictive charm keeps you coming back for more. The original shooting game took the world by storm back in 1978 and inspired developers of not only future shoot ‘em up games but across all gaming genres. 

The key to Space Invaders’ success, as with most retro games, was its simplicity, pitting users against waves of pixellated alien forces with the simple task of taking them all out with laser beams. The smartphone version’s developer, Taito, has even added the original Atari buttons and joystick controls, in addition to touch and drag and tilt controls. 

Category: Arcade

Devices: iOS and Android

Price: $5

For players of: Crossfire 2, Galaxoid and Titan Attacks!

Streets of Rage Classic

What is it?: It’s a side-scrolling arcade game in which heroes must beat up villains to rescue the streets from an evil crime syndicate. Sega developed the game for the Sega Genesis, Master System and Game Gear in 1991. Two sequels followed in the next three years, and Streets of Rage 4 is scheduled for release in 2020.

The smartphone version enables users to return to the streets and relive old memories. Armed with knives, bottles and drainpipes, the player fights their way through thuggish neighborhoods as one of three characters, Adam, Axel or Blaze.

Category: Arcade, Beat ’em Up

Devices: iOS and Android

Price: Free; ad-free version available with in-app purchases

For players of: Double Dragon, Fist Puncher and Mother Russia Bleeds

Tetris

What is it?: This simple block-building, line-completing game may not provide the thrills and excitement of others on the list, but its sheer simplicity fuels its enduring popularity. It first rose to prominence on the Game Boy and has since become the second best-selling video game of all time with 170 million downloads, second only to Minecraft.

The smartphone version offers new game modes (Marathon, Explorers and Galaxy), in addition to the classic Tetris format. It also keeps track of users’ stats and enables them to compare their performance to other players around the world on its leaderboard.

Category: Arcade

Devices: iOS and Android

Price: Free; $2 upgrade removes ads

For players of: Anode, Dr. Mario and Lumines 

The takeaway

There are several classic games available to satisfy the nostalgic urges of smartphone gamers. From the addictive simplicity of arcade classics like Pac-Man and Tetris, to more involved, intense games like RollerCoaster Tycoon and Sonic The Hedgehog, there’s a retro game to suit every gaming preference. Furthermore, in addition to the top titles listed above, classic games collections like Sega Forever and emulator apps, available to download in the App Store and on Google Play, provide even more options.

Rob Latham

Rob Latham is a writer focused on technology, music, entertainment and sports. He is particularly passionate about the role that technology plays in improving peoples’ lives and helping businesses to work more effectively. He’s written marketing content for global B2B technology brands and start-ups, founded his own music blog and is a regular contributor to soccer publications. His professional background is in content marketing, public relations and journalism, and he has a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism.