5 of the best 8-bit games on Evercade
A little while back, we looked at the best 16-bit games on Evercade. Different “eras” of gaming — particularly when we were still measuring things in “bits” — have quite a distinct feel to them, and thus you’ll often find that 8-bit games feel different to 16-bit games, and in turn 32-bit games have something completely different to offer, too. So today we’re going to take a look at the best 8-bit games on Evercade.
By “8-bit games” in this instance, we’ll be looking specifically at games that were released for 8-bit consoles back when those were current. 8-bit console games produced by modern developers and 8-bit home computer titles are both worth considering completely independently, so we’ll save those for another day. And as always, this represents just some of the many great 8-bit retro games available for Evercade — if you’ve got your own picks, why not share them with us via Twitter, Facebook or Discord?
So let’s get started!
Hailing from Namco Museum Collection 1, the epic Star Luster is an excellent space sim that packs an admirable amount of depth considering its original host hardware. First released in Japan in 1985, the Evercade release of Star Luster marked the first time this game came west in an official capacity.
Riffing somewhat off Atari’s 1979 home computer classic Star Raiders, which in turn took heavy cues from the text-based Star Trek games that were born on mainframe computers, Star Luster tasks you with saving a region of the galaxy from invasion. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to warp from sector to sector, battling enemy squadrons. You’ll need to be strategic, though, as the enemy fleets are advancing on your starbases and planets while you fight, so it’s important to prioritise your targets effectively if you want to maximise your score at the end of the game.
Star Luster features three ways to play: the Training mission is a simple, short game; the Command mission is a full-scale game; and the Adventure mode is a harder variant of the Command mission that has a secret “true ending” you can accomplish if you know what to do.
Star Luster unfolds as part of Namco’s shared “UGSF” narrative universe, and was followed up by a 32-bit sequel called Star Ixiom in 1999. That one did come west, but only to Europe, curiously.
River City Ransom
First released in 1989 as the third entry in Technos Japan’s “Kunio-kun” series that began with Renegade, River City Ransom underwent heavy localisation when it was brought to the United States in 1990. This was at least partly down to the fact that in the early ’90s, Japanese popular media hadn’t achieved anywhere near the same international cultural penetration that it has done today. As such, the game’s story and characters were heavily “westernised” to, in theory, make the whole thing more palatable to English speakers. It’s this version you’ll find on Technos Collection 1.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter all that much, because regardless of the names that appear on screen in the game, River City Ransom is a cracking brawler with some fun light RPG elements, allowing you to power up your character as you fight your way through the game. It’s also an early implementation of an “open world”, allowing you to freely move around the entire game map right from the outset — though you may find some areas are somewhat “power gated” by tough foes that require you to beef up your stats a bit before progressing.
River City Ransom’s influence is still felt strongly today. Many modern takes on the beat ’em up incorporate the persistent progression elements introduced in this game, and the official follow-ups in the River City Girls series bridge the gap between the original Japanese Kunio-kun series, the western localisation to River City, and even its stablemates in the Double Dragon series.
An underappreciated gem from the Oliver Twins Collection cartridge, Firehawk is a strategic helicopter shoot ’em up that fans of the classic “Strike” series will likely get along well with. Across a series of missions, you’ll fly across open plan maps, destroying targets and rescuing stranded paratroopers along the way.
Most of the action unfolds from a top-down perspective, but takeoffs, landings and rescuing the stranded soldiers gives a more “cinematic” view of the action. During the rescue sequences, you’ll have to keep your wits about you and pick off incoming enemies, as the onslaught doesn’t stop just because you’ve lowered your rope ladder!
Blasting buildings and enemy forces rewards you with power-ups, which can replenish your ammunition and other supplies as well as upgrading your weaponry. And if you want the best scores, you’ll want to aim for total destruction, as this will net you a nice bonus at mission’s end!
Another underappreciated gem, this time from Codemasters Collection 1. Bee 52 is an unconventional shoot ’em up that shares some design DNA with the arcade classic Defender. As the eponymous insect, your job is to harvest pollen from the flowers in a series of gardens and take it back to your hive to turn it into honey.
There’s a strong element of risk versus reward in Bee 52, as it’s possible for our hero to harvest multiple flowers’ worth of pollen at the same time — but taking a single hit from an enemy will cause him to lose it all! This means he’ll have to go further afield to track down replacement pollen, because flowers that he’s already harvested won’t open up again until all the flowers in the garden have been seen to.
The challenge in Bee 52 comes from learning how to deal with the various enemies. Each of them have a clear audible cue to let you know they’re coming, and some have to be dealt with in ways other than just shooting them repeatedly. Watch out for power-ups that will help Bee 52 on his quest, and do your best to keep that honey flowing!
Originally released in 1988, Blaster Master is one of Sunsoft’s most famous games, making it an obvious inclusion in Sunsoft Collection 1. It actually began its life in Japan under a completely different name and narrative setup (and with much cooler box art, which you can see in the header!), but like River City Ransom, the localisation became well-known worldwide. Recent reboots of the series on modern platforms have blended together elements of the Japanese original, the western localisation and even the 1990 novelisation in Scholastic’s “Worlds of Power” series of video game adaptations.
Blaster Master is an influential game in that it’s one of several late ’80s games that helped to define what we know today as open-structure exploratory platformers. While there’s an obvious “correct” path through the game, the way in which you gradually earn new abilities as you progress makes things feel a lot more interesting and freeform than simply taking a linear path to the end. Plus you have the freedom to go back and investigate earlier areas with those new abilities, perhaps finding some interesting and helpful hidden items along the way.
Blaster Master is also noteworthy for its blend of gameplay styles. Rather than unfolding exclusively from a side-on platformer perspective, significant chunks of the game unfold as top-down action adventure segments. While games spanning multiple genres like this is commonplace today, it was still relatively unusual to see this sort of thing in the 8-bit era, meaning that despite its age Blaster Master still holds up very well.
With over 260 games available