These cute virtual cartridges prove 'retro' is more than an aesthetic


Quietly I believe there is a special place in hell for anyone who sees 'pixel art' or 'vintage' aesthetics and confidently declares it is 'retro'. Pixel art is just a style that can be applied to all kinds of things, sometimes to evoke an intentional nostalgic effect, sometimes not.

To me, there's a feeling about old arcade games: The weirdness, the mystery, the fact you might stumble into death several times before you even know what you're supposed to do. That feeling of intimate congress with a machine that doesn't want to hold your hand isn't something you can imitate through visuals alone—and what's more, nostalgic emblems for their own sake can be embarrassing, even grotesque.

Luckily there's this lovely little collection of virtual cartridges, made by Farfin for various game jam competitions. Each one is just a single executable, a tiny little Flash game that evokes the simplicity and opacity of the mysterious arcade games of my youth. They're just difficult enough to be engaging, and each one is full of fun surprises.

Aliens on a School Day is my favorite. It's all about controlled descent, as you play a little girl hiding underground from aliens, trying to hit checkpoints along the way. Legacy Bird is an Atari-style action game of consecutive screens, where you angle yourself against enemies in a conventional sense—but level up by meeting and falling in love with other birds on the way. "Do you love this girl?" it asks. When you say yes, the game then wants to know if you love the baby who has suddenly fallen from the sky. At ladders: "Do you love to climb?"


Most of them, like Zolita Mansion, feel genuinely like lost Nintendo games, and playing them is like speaking a langage you haven't used in a while. Others feel just a little 'off', like Gunz & Sedanzz, where you're an office drone collecting fuel for your panicked, murderous vehicular rampage. And These Are Your Friends sees you cast as an enormous, lovely woman, flicking monsters away from the tiny pals on your dress.

The whole suite is good fun and free to download, so get each cartridge and keep them handy to try in bites.