When I was a kid, all we had to entertain ourselves with were 8-bit computers. None of your new fangled on-the-line multi-gamer consoles. Handheld game systems only had blurry black and white screens, but we were thankful for them! Oh yes.

We still had to use our imagination to see shapes in the piles of house bricks that we called pixels, but we didn’t complain. We could build entire worlds out of those colorless 2D platforms, and we were never bored. Never!

So, anyway, I look down at my iPhone ere three decades hence, and what do I see? Big blocky pixels, green-hued monochrome screens, scanlines that look like a farmer’s field and single button controls. But this isn’t technological stagnation, of course. It’s a raging river of retro regression from iPhone mini-game compendium Recess Riot [Free].

Just like its predecessor Super Mega Worm [Free / $1.99 / $0.99], Recess Riot uses a retro styling to great effect. Twenty years ago the graphics would have been superb, and now they’re so kitsch they’re cool; hitting that nostalgic sweet spot with impressive accuracy.

The game is retro in every respect, and not just its visuals. The mini-games keep the complexity level to an absolute minimum, resembling the early titles we enjoyed on the likes of the Atari 2600 or Odyssey 2. This isn’t a criticism, of course; merely a nostalgic anchor point of what you can expect to see in Recess Riot.

It’s not all neo-80s reproduction, though. The splash screen screams 16-bit console, with a large, brash, jagged and fiery logo, and a prerequisite jab of the start button to kick things off. From there you’re straight into the first game in the roster, jumping. And it’s not just a clever name.

Your pixilated protagonist is required to jump the skipping rope while two buddies twirl it from the sides of the screen. It doesn’t sound very exciting in description, admittedly, but the charm that oozes from the big blocky graphics, spoof scanlines and deliberately jolting animation makes it quite an unexpected delight. As you improve, the skipping increases in speed, and the rope even begins to move at a fluctuating rate the longer you can keep your rhythm.

Coins are thrown into the ring, which you can either grab by jumping or by edging left and right. In this respect you need extra caution, as the closer you get to the handles, the harder it is to clear the rope. Double-tapping the jump button performs -- as you might expect in good nostalgic style -- a double jump, allowing you to recover from poor timing by dallying in the air a little while longer. Should your heart rate climb too high, however, you’re likely to collapse into a wheezing mess and lose the round anyway, so it’s only for emergency measures.

The coins you catch are used to unlock subsequent levels, which ramp up the difficulty more quickly and allow you to earn higher and more impressive scores, much like “Game B” on Nintendo’s classic Game & Watch devices.

Coins aren’t the only objects being hurled around the place, and the “B” button is also brought into play to perform a duck or a hit, depending on the circumstances. When a football or basketball is hurtling towards you, extra coins are scored by manually deflecting it, rather than simply avoiding it. But you’ve also got shuriken and mines to avoid, which can’t be batted away with a punch or a kick, so fast feet are your friend when the hardware starts raining down.

After jumping you’re on to dodging, which will remind all you old people out there of the bouncing ball bonus stage in 1987’s awesome fighter IK+. Here the emphasis is taken off the jumps and onto running left and right. All manner of balls, coins and skull-crushing items are thrown into the screen for you to dodge, leap over, kick, punch or get killed by.

Again, this doesn’t sound especially engaging when put into words, but it’s as good as any 30-second twitch game that the iPhone is renowned for. The levels increase again, and you’re given new environments for the novice, medium and expert levels (though they all play much the same).

By now you should have a pocket full of coins, which can be spent on customizing your character in terms of clothing, shoes (for faster running), hair, hats and the whole roster of personal shenanigans. Any money that’s left over can be used to unlock levels within the stages and thereby ramp up the heat while playing.

For those, like myself, who yearn for the bygone days of golden oldies gaming, the collection of graphical skins is perhaps where your money is best spent. Developer Deceased Pixel further demonstrates its retro styling expertise with some superb tweaks to the game’s visuals that allow you to view Recess Riot through rose-tinted LCDs. It doesn’t change the actual action, but it’s impossible not to raise a dry smile when you see the game as it would have been on the Game Boy, Virtual boy, C64, Master System or even on a bulbous old CRT telly.

All in all, this is a great compendium with lashings more style than any of its closest rivals. But there’s a snag: these are the only two games included, and two games do not a compendium make. There’s a placeholder for a third mini-game, but as yet the digital cupboard is bare.

Which is a crying shame, as Recess Riot is off to such a great start. Those two mini-games – as entertaining as they are – do not have shoulders broad enough to carry the overall concept. With a good half dozen games to play, this would have completed the whirlwind tour of Memory Lane with a delicious homage to the likes of Track & Field or Daley Thompson's Decathlon, but the anemic roster kills Recess Riot’s momentum far too quickly.

More, damn it!

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Adams Immersive

    iCade-ready, as retro fun should be!

  • ducksFANjason

    Bring more games and it's an insta-buy for me!

    • http://graffitiwriter.co.uk/ Spanner

      Amen ba-rutha!

  • JJE

    The graphics aren't retro they're just 2600 bad. Playing it doesn't make you ironic cool.

    • abodi

      Clearly you've never played a 2600 if you think they look alike.

    • DCver3

      Actually the graphics are on par with the sega game gear.

    • DCver3

      No I'm sorry...I should have said the Atari Lynx...that what the graphics look like.

      • JJE

        Yea ill give you that.
        And my 2600 is upstairs with about 30 carts
        Cause I'm the original OFAP

  • Firetruck94

    Shurikens and mines? I'm glad I don't go to this school...

Recess Riot Reviewed by Spanner Spencer on . Rating: 3.5