I never had the chance to thoroughly explore the first experiments in games. I was born in ‘87, and I’m not sure I ever went to an arcade as a child. And today, arcades are too expensive to enjoy. I remember playing Atari some, and a few older PC titles, but I really didn’t start gaming until the NES. I missed out on at least one generation of video games, so it’s a blessing to be able to explore the wide array of retro titles available on Antstream.
Antstream is a retro cloud gaming service. The free version is ad-supported, or you can subscribe for a standard monthly fee. It’s available on phones, browsers, Android TV, and Nvidia Shield. As of now, there are 1208 games available. That’s too many for most people to play. I’ve tried quite a few now, though, and here are 10 I unreservedly recommend.
It’s unfairly easy to classify all retro games as outdated, broken, or unplayable. But then you remember Chip’s Challenge. That’s an exception. And oh, so is Rampage. And Joust is pretty damn brilliant. So there are a few classics, anyone would admit. But exploring Antstream, I learned that there are so many more than I’d ever realized, and the design of them is as immaculate as anything made today.
My criteria for a Hidden Gem is simple: I must have never even heard of the game, let alone played it.
- Arcade | ’88
U.S. Championship V’Ball remains a solid play 33 years after its debut. The game has such tight design. The map and sprites are perfectly sized, the controls are clean, the play is perfectly paced, and the challenge is just right.
- Mega Drive | ’93
Cannon Fodder is innovative and clever, and its design is efficient. One button moves to the pointer; the other shoots. Players can split their forces into squads to divide and conquer. Cannon Fodder plays fairly, has satisfying shooting, and is also gorgeous. It reminds me of a more recent masterpiece called Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde.
- Arcade | ’92
Of every football/soccer game currently available on Antstream Arcade, Football Champ is the best. Every video game considers the details of the camera: framing, distance, and focus. Even first-person shooters have a field of view. Well, Football Champ has a perfect camera. The sprites are readable and contrast well against the field and across teams. You’re never lost. And the game feels so good to play, in part because the animation is exceptional.
- Arcade | ‘90
Crossed Swords has astounding impact. Each blow hits hard and each strike feels sharp. The swordplay has such excellent aural/visual feedback, it’s almost kinetic. And the combat couldn’t be more elegant or responsive. Hold up to block high strikes. Hold down to block low. Strafe to dodge. And attack. All the while, gorgeous backgrounds pan by, remarkable in how effectively they give life to the world and communicate progress on your journey.
- Commodore 64 | ‘85
Law of the West kept me enthralled with its small town mysteries and freedom of expression. The over-the-holster perspective is brilliant. Players embody the sheriff by seeing only his arm, his hand, and his revolver. Players can talk down the situation, if they like, but they can draw their gun at any time. The sheriff’s face being out of frame allows players to role-play as the character more intimately than if they were given an impression of his personality. Players are given four dialogue options at a time that range in tone and intent. The NPCs react predictably to your words. And they should, I feel, because your statements have more weight when they land the way you intended.
- Arcade | ’90
Dark Seal is a very enjoyable co-op dungeon crawler. It’s like an isometric take on The King of Dragons and Golden Axe. Each of the four characters has a different attack that complements the others. Boss fights are frequent, and the challenge is fair, I’d say. Though one of the great parts of Antstream is free continues. Let’s be honest: I wouldn’t have completed even the first level without continues. They make the game much more enjoyable for me. Dark Seal had a sequel released the following year called Wizard Fire. I find it to be interior to the original though. But it’s on Antstream too! So try it for yourself if you’d like.
- Arcade | ’93
Shadow Force is a fantastic beat ’em up. The levels are interesting and the animations smooth. It’s beacon feature is that players can possess or copy enemies, playing as them. The ability offers a lot of variety beyond other beat ’em ups, but even the core of the game is excellent.
- Mega Drive | ’96
Canon: Legend of the New Gods is a tactical turn based strategy game. It’s an enjoyable genre and fun to experience the early(ish) contributions. Canon is the game I’m most likely to finish on Antstream. The strategy is simple but satisfying, and the characters are entertainingly dramatic.
- Mega Drive | ’96
Brave Battle Saga is a very attractive and simple JRPG. Early in the story, the hero is framed for murder and exiled. It’s a captivating opening, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes. Bonus points for having visible enemies on the map. Random battles are insufferable.
- Mega Drive | ’97
Most shmups are sci-fi themed and have players fly space ships. They’re fairly uninteresting. But Sol Divide has a fascinating mythical eastern setting, and it’s so much more enjoyable for the creativity. It also has a story, which is both interesting itself and rare for the genre. This game is difficult to play with touch controls, however, because the special requires simultaneously pressing two buttons, and, in my experience, it’s impossible. You’ll want to play with a controller or keyboard. It’s probably my favorite shmup I’ve had the pleasure of playing, behind Jamestown.