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8 Classic Game Genres Ready to Explore Again

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Read Time: 8 min

Previously, we looked at rare and underused modern game genres, like parkour games and Lemmings-likes. This time, we'll take a look at some classic genres that were once popular, but are now rare to see.

Each of these genres offers a niche rich with possibilities for developers to find and create something interesting and engaging. This is true especially for indie developers, who are not bound by massive budgets and the accompanying need to reach a certain audience size.

Flight Sims

  • Microsoft Flight Simulator
  • Take on Helicopters
  • Pilotwings 64

Most people would think of Microsoft Flight Simulator as the classic flight sim, with its fairly linear gameplay. But there are a lot more ways to create a game centred around operating an aircraft, with a secondary focus on doing things in the game world.

Take On Helicopters

Classic flight sims simulated huge worlds, but today creating sufficient level of detail proves a challenge. However, a huge world is not strictly necessary; Pilotwings 64 simulates an island to fly hang-gliders and small aircraft around, and that was in 1996! Imagine what you could do with today's technology focused on a small scale. Employing procedural generation would also be a possibility.

Take On Helicopters

There are many ways to create interesting challenges within these confines. Stunt flying is a good task. Transporting cargo can be easily integrated with management aspects. Search and rescue could be exciting if well executed, as could disaster evacuation.

There are already aspects of flight sim control in many action games, such as Battlefield 2, Tie Fighter and Armed Assault, where control of an aircraft is complex and not easy to master. In Battlefield 2 (and the later titles), being a helicopter pilot and shuttling people to the front lines is a valid and fun playstyle, which has its own challenges.

Action Flight Sims

  • Tom Clancy's HAWX
  • Sky Rogue
  • War Thunder

Sky Rogue and HAWX are the latest examples of this genre in its classic form, with the AAA-game HAWX 2 already five years old. War Thunder is a rare free-to-play take on aerial battles.

Sky Rogue

Sky Rogue shows beautifully how the genre can be explored. You can choose between several markedly different planes, and scenarios include fighting against stationary targets, other aircraft, and massive airships, the latter of which often include sub-targets, such as turrets.

Weapons also offer a lot of ways to make your gameplay feel good. In addition to simple weapons, you could also include multi-stage missiles, lasers, or any kind of contraption you can think of.

Sky Rogue

Multiplayer games in this genre can be very engaging, especially locally.

These games don't have to feature aircraft, necessarily. Submarine games could utilize the same control scheme, and offer a different environment. Space fighting games are possible too. Anything goes!

Space Tactics

  • Homeworld
  • Star Wolves

I try to avoid the term "real time strategy" for space games, because the prominent examples is Star Trek Armada. In that game, space is treated as a flat world, and thus very similar to regular, earth-bound RTS games.

Star Wolves

The rare space tactics game makes use of the third dimension for manoeuvring—and suddenly a lot of new options and choices open up.

Battles involving three dimensions take on different characteristics,  as you have to think about being attacked from above or below. This works well with directional shields, as seen in Flotilla and Star Trek Online.

Star Wolves

Another fun element is that of the mothership, or the "aircraft carrier in space". Your mothership is your mobile base, and can take a lot more damage than a regular ship. It can also launch and repair fighters, the latter being very resource-intensive during battles.

In Star Wolves tactics often include how to split up your ships. If you send in the mothership first, it can take the brunt of enemy fire while providing cover. If it is damaged and you are attacked from every side, you need to provide cover for it while it retreats, or you will lose your mission.

Rail Shooters

  • Rambo - The Game
  • Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles

The latest prominent rail-shooter was the disappointing Rambo - The Video Game. The mechanic itself appears in a similar form throughout many games, but works somewhat differently in each. The "on-rails section" concept shows up often and can be combined with many types of action games, like in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Rambo - The Video Game

The genre usually presents you with a static, non-moving view, into which targets move. Once all have been destroyed, the view moves around and switches to a new perspective.

Rambo - The Video Game

Additional challenges can be incorporated by letting the player target specific hotspots of enemies or shooting thrown projectiles. There is also a lot of potential for environmental triggers, like shooting pipes full of steam. Pick-ups and power-ups can be implemented by getting the player to shoot the items in question.

Theme Park Managers

  • Theme Park
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon
  • Parkitect

It really is a shame that few theme park games exist, because they are a blast.

A theme park manager can be described as similar to a city builder (which also seem to have become somewhat rare recently). You create attractions, hire staff to keep your park running, place food stands, and try to keep your enterprise afloat.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3

Guests visit your park, and each has unique characteristics and preferences. Some prefer smooth, simple rides, while others only go for white-knuckle thrill rides. They also want food and souvenirs, so you need to place these in strategic locations. Don't forget toilets, or everyone will become unhappy very quickly.

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3

Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Park also allow you to design your own rollercoasters and train-tracks. In Zoo Tycoon you create your own animal habitats, and fit them with the right plants and props. There are lots of possibilities to explore, like water parks, dinosaur parks, or period carnivals.

Pinball Games

  • 3-D Ultra Pinball
  • Momonga - Pinball Adventures

There are more ways of implementing pinball games than a boring, rectangular pinball table. Momonga - Pinball Adventures, which I had the pleasure of working on, is a wonderful example. It is more of an action adventure, where movement through the levels is achieved via pinball flippers. In the environments you can bounce around, activating switches and unlocking new passages, and you must destroy certain elements to continue.

The hero of the game is a Japanese flying squirrel who can roll into a ball, and who interacts with other characters. Variety is also added with flying sections.

Momonga - Pinball Adventures

Sierra's 3-D Ultra Pinball also has a nice approach, as it took the table concept to extremes. The "table" is not locked to the rectangular dimensions of its real-life counterpart, but stretches to fill the entire screen. Level are set in castles, jungles and amusement Parks, and feature challenges and targets that would not be possible in a physical pinball game.

Momonga - Pinball Adventures

Another fun way Sierra extended the tables was with special ball statuses: multiball spawned dozens more, radically changing the feel of the game for a few moments. Similar things can be achieved by duplicating balls, or possibly giving them "health", and not having them take damage in certain regions of the level.

Tactical Shooters

  • Rainbow Six
  • Takedown: Red Sabre

While many modern first-person shooters try to appear more "tactical", they are mostly still run-and-gun affairs, with occasional cover-sticking.

Unlike other first-person shooters, tactical shooters focus first on planning and movement. Instead of running and gunning into situations, the games are structured around careful movement. Firefights are deadly and over quickly, and should be approached carefully.

Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield

Earlier Rainbow Six titles even including planning phases, where you would plan out, in a 2D map, how each team is supposed to move through the environment. Later titles streamlined that approach and let the players decide directly within the game how to proceed.

In that way it becomes about solving the "puzzle" of the level. How do I clear that room? Throw in a flashbang grenade while I simultaneously order the other team to move in from the other side? Let's give it a try.

Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield

The games feature unique characters with strengths in different areas, such as sneaking or accuracy. They can be outfitted with different weapons and other gear, often including camouflage. Most importantly, when they die, they stay dead. Over time you grow attached to your people, and losses actually hurt.

Real-Time Tactics

  • Commandos
  • Robin Hood
  • Desperados

In real-time tactics games you control a handful of people with special skills. This often involves sneaking and staying out of sight.

In Commandos you command a group of operatives during WWII. The Green Beret can climb any wall and distract enemies with noise-makers; the Diver can swim underwater, and also throw knives; other archetypes fill other possible roles.

Robin Hood

The gravely underrated Robin Hood offers similar characters: the titular hero can shoot exceptionally well with a bow, while Little John can take out several enemies at once in close combat. Between missions you visit your secret hideout in Sherwood Forest, where you can assign tasks to followers you recruited during your missions, like training skills or crafting ammunition to use during operations.

Robin Hood

Having the skills be unique to each character and be meaningfully different is an important part to the puzzles that the scenarios present. Level itself can be sprawling affairs (similar to MGS V: Ground Zeroes' "open world stealth"), allowing the players plenty of approaches.


There are a lot of genres that are ripe for exploration, currently unused and proven by former successes. Utilizing them well could give developers a leg up, especially indies. And even within those genres there are loads of unique angles and variants ripe for exploring.

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