Five Games That Improved by Including Other Retro Games

Modern games can do more than show us what's new; they can also reintroduce us to the classics.

I wanted Yakuza 0 mostly because it included Out Run. I have Sega’s seminal 80s racing game on my 3DS, but the idea of playing it on my PS4 was too irresistible. It took me a while to actually find the in-game Sega Hi-Tech arcade that contained a playable Out Run machine; in fact, I hadn’t realized that all the arcades contained a unique game, rather than there being a single large arcade that contained everything. But in the hours of play leading up to finally playing Out Run I’d become smitten with Yakuza 0 and its eccentricities, its side quests and combat, and the way its devilish sense of humor never clashed with its otherwise fairly serious plot.

I love games that feature other classic games inside of them. Here are some of my favorite examples.

Yakuza 0/Shenmue 2: Sega’s best arcade games

Shenmue 2 is the game that first introduced me to Out Run, which has gone on to be one of my favorite racing/driving games of all time. Space Harrier, Hang-On, and Afterburner also featured, but Out Run was the one I was really drawn to. When I got rid of my Xbox Shenmue 2 went into storage, and I didn’t get to play Out Run again properly until the 3DS release.

Three of the games in Shenmue 2 reappear in Yakuza 0: it features Space Harrier, OutRun, Hang-On, and Fantasy Zone, although so far I’ve only found the first two in Yakuza. In both Shenmue and Yakuza, these games are playable via arcade cabinets that you encounter in bars and arcades throughout the game world. There are more display options in the games now than there were back in Shenmue, and some side-stories even tie into playing these games (right now I’m making friends with an arcade attendant who can’t match up to my admittedly not-very-good Out Run high scores). This time I’m finding myself getting more into Space Harrier than I ever have before – it feels like a great Star Fox precursor, and I love its energy. I appreciate that Sega’s newer games have helped me to form an appreciation for their older ones, because they had a real knack for making arcade classics. 

Ridge Racer: Galaxian

This one’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s still worth reflecting back on.

In November 2015, Namco Bandai’s patent on loading screen games -- covering any game played during a loading screen that is unrelated to the primary game -- expired. Prior to this, any company that wanted to include an interactive loading screen had to either find ways to dispute the definition of what a ‘game’ was, or simply had to pay Namco Bandai some money. This long-held patent can be traced back to the original Ridge Racer, which offered up a playable section of arcade classic Galaxian while the track loaded.

You only got a few seconds to play Galaxian -- enough time to take down 14 enemies -- but people loved it. As a PlayStation launch title, Ridge Racer was able to use its loading screen to illustrate just how far games had come -- the past wasn’t being forgotten, but the old games we all used to love had been surpassed, and were now frivolities to be enjoyed while we waited for the main event to load. Now, of course, it would be great to see Namco Bandai come full circle and cram Ridge Racer into a PS4 game so that we have something to play while it installs…

Animal Crossing (GameCube): numerous NES games

Nintendo has not, historically, been super generous with their back catalogue. The Virtual Console isn’t updated as often as it could be, retro collections are rare (remember when they re-released Super Mario All-Stars on the Wii as a disc release?), and the NES Mini, great though it is, is all but impossible to actually buy.

The most coveted items were the NESes, each one of which contained an actual NES game. There were 15 of them things to collect: Balloon Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Clu Clu Land D, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong Jr. Math (by far the worst one, and also the first I ever found), ExciteBike, Golf, Pinball, Punch-Out!!, Soccer, Tennis, and Wario's Woods were all packed onto the disc. Some of them were far harder to get than others, and two extra games, Mario Bros and Ice Climbers, could only be unlocked using the GBA e-card reader along with the link cable, two devices that very few people actually owned.

At a certain point, Animal Crossing started to feel like a really arcane way of unlocking and playing NES classics as much as it felt like a game unto itself. All future iterations of the series would scrap these items, forcing us to focus instead of sweating over turnip values and getting angry that the Fortune Teller isn’t there and that Gracie’s instructions for what she needs you to wear are vague, meaning that you can never unlock the biggest department store, dammit.

Hey I heard you like games so I put a game in your game so you can game while you game.

Donkey Kong 64: Donkey Kong and Jetpac

Donkey Kong 64, a game so overloaded with collectables that you can barely move without completing a minor objective, has an endgame that is very typical of late-90s Rare. To get to the final boss battle you need to not only play, but actually become pretty good at, two retro classics.

Jetpac isn’t too difficult, but completing all four levels of Donkey Kong on one life is something most people just outright cannot do. Donkey Kong was designed to be hard, to keep you pumping the coins in, and many players are only really familiar with the first level. Donkey Kong 64 was already a massive game; making you finish an entire extra game just to reach the end was asking a bit much, as great as the original Donkey Kong is.

This is brutal stuff, because old-skool Rare’s development teams were bastards. Remember the way Jet Force Gemini stopped midway through and demanded that you go back and save every single Ewok-lite to finish the game? But still, having a full playable arcade version of Donkey Kong was a big deal at the time, because it wasn’t a game that was easily accessible anywhere else.

Call of Duty: Black Ops: Zork

The Black Ops games are the most ridiculous in the Call of Duty series, a trio of games that go so far off the rails plot-wise that by the third game, several levels are set inside metaphors. There’s also a feeling throughout the series that Treyarch are taking things just a little less seriously than the other CoD developers, as exhibited by all the bonus modes and missions they cram in. In the first Black Ops, for instance, it’s possible to get up from the chair you’re sitting at while viewing the game’s opening menu and wander around, jump onto a nearby computer, and play the old 1979 text adventure Zork.

The fun twist here, of course, is that Call of Duty is immensely popular on console, and Zork is very much a PC game. Typing out commands with a controller on a digital keyboard is a bit of an ordeal, and the whole concept of a text adventure that demands hyper-specific commands hasn’t really aged well. It’s still perhaps preferable to that weird, shitty torture sequence in the main campaign where you fill a guy’s mouth with glass and then punch him in the face, though.