Hooray for the weekends, or the summer holidays, right? A time when kids were kings and arcades were our palaces. There was no better feeling than stacking your quarters (or 20 pence pieces in the UK) atop your favorite machine, before losing yourself in a land of make believe for a few hours. Yep, we love arcade games here at Horror Geek Life, and we’re sure all of you do too.
In fact, to celebrate all things arcade, we’ve compiled our list of the 25 Most Important Retro Arcade Video Games of All Time. How many of them do you remember playing?
25. Guitar Freaks (Konami, 1998)
Guitar Freaks might seem like an odd choice for the 25 most important retro arcade video games of all time, but there’s no denying its importance to the ‘plastic band’ craze that still persists to this very day. Without Guitar Freaks, we may never have experienced that post-pub ritual of playing along to Metallica badly in our living rooms on Guitar Hero. So for that, Konami, we salute you.
24. Out Run (Sega, 1986)
Hold on to your hats, folks, it’s time to experience life as a Ferrari race driver, in the first-ever sit-down deluxe driving cabinet, Sega’s hugely influential Out Run.
Selling a whopping 20,000 cabinets in its first year, Out Run was the best-selling game of the year and paved the way for a whole host of other sit-down simulator style cabinets, including motorcycles, jet skis and the tour Jeep from Jurassic Park.
23. 1942 (Capcom, 1984)
For years, gamers had spent their days blasting aliens in outer space, so Capcom stirred things up a bit by relocating the classic vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up from the solar system to World War II, and it was a masterstroke.
Players have to traverse the treacherous Pacific Ocean, avoiding battleships and dog fighters in a bid to blast the shit out of the entire Japanese air fleet. The game remains one of Capcom’s crowning achievements and set the company on the track to becoming one of the top developers in the Golden age of arcade gaming.
22. Frogger (Konami, 1981)
Frogger may not have been the most influential video game in the arcade, but it was (and is) one of the most addictive. It is also the game with the dubious distinction of having the most possible ways for your character to die, including being run over, drowning in the river, and being eaten by an alligator. Sounds like a typical Saturday night in my town if you ask me.
21. Operation Wolf (Taito, 1987)
No kid could resist the arcade cabinet with its very own Uzi attached. Sadly this Rambo-inspired shooter was usually already occupied by bigger boys, so I had to settle for the home console version.
20. Tapper (Bally Midway, 1983)
Congratulations have to go out to Tapper developer, Marvin Glass and Associates, who successfully made a game about serving alcohol that was just as addictive as the booze itself. Retro arcade video games have never been so alcoholic!
19. Time Crisis 2 (Namco, 1997)
When Time Crisis 2 appeared, it seemed like just another arcade gun game, until players began to realize that its use of a pedal to allow players to duck for cover was an absolute game changer. You also looked bad ass playing it, and always scored with chicks straight after. Honest.
18. Double Dragon (Technōs Japan, 1987)
Double Dragon is the most famous side-scrolling beat ‘em up in the arcade. It was also a tale of betrayal, neatly wrapped up to look like the greatest co-op buddy game. We all learned some valuable lessons after playing this one, I’ll tell you!
17. Pong (Atari, 1972)
Pong pretty much speaks for itself, so we’ll let it.
16. Tekken (Bandai Namco, 1994)
Tekken stripped away the flashy dramatics of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat and focused instead on hand to hand combat and unfathomable and intense combos. Tekken was also the game that made my sister realize she was way better at this type of game than I was, as she handed me my ass time and again. I never fully recovered from this shame.
15. X-Men (Konami, 1992)
It would be difficult to argue that any games developer was more influential in the arcades than Konami. After releasing game changers like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1989, and The Simpsons in 1991, it would go on to release the first ever 6-player co-op game with 1992’s X-Men adaptation, which took the 4-player innovation of TMNT and mixed it with the shit-hot animation of The Simpsons to create one of the best looking games in arcade history.
14. Joust (Williams Electronics, 1982)
Joust wasn’t the first two-player game at the arcades, but it certainly helped popularise the concept, and in turn, changed the face of competitive arcade video gaming. It is prominently featured in the book (and upcoming film) Ready Player One and helped raise awareness of the highly underrated sport of Ostrich jousting. That’s a real thing, right?
13. The House of the Dead 2 (Sega, 1998)
More intense and gory than the original, House of the Dead 2 was the rail shooter gamers had cried out for, especially as zombies were big money again after the success of Resident Evil. The game also made eerie brain eating groans while it was in idle mode too, which scared the hell out of a whole generation of kids too young to play.
12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami, 1989)
This is one of the Holy Grails of retro arcade video games collecting. Not only was Konami’s 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stack freakin’ awesome to play, it was also the first in this genre to use a 4-player mode, allowing you and 3 friends to team up as the 4 titular Turtles to battle the evil forces of Shredder and The Foot Clan. Unless of course you didn’t have 3 friends to play with, and instead had to rely on your dad smashing the shit out of the buttons in an attempt to help you win. Or was that just me?
11. WWF WrestleFest (Technōs Japan, 1991)
Growing up, I was a huge fan of wrestling, so I would always gravitate towards WWF WrestleFest when I entered an arcade. It was brightly colored, had some top talents involved (Big Boss Man, Ultimate Warrior, Demolition), and was one of the toughest games out there to master.
Compared to the modern era of video games, WWF WrestleFest may not be as advanced, but it blows every other WWF/WWE video game out of the water. I also developed some pretty tasty looking 24-inch pythons from the vigorous joystick action too, brother!
10. Asteroids (Atari, 1979)
After the success of Space Invaders, Atari wanted their very own lunar-themed shooter, so tasked Lyle Rains and Ed Logg with the task of creating one. The result was Asteroids, which sold over 70,000 cabinets in its first run and went one better than Space Invaders by adding a multi-directional firing function that even your dad could get on board with.
9. Space Invaders (Taito, 1978)
Galaxian may have done it better, but Space Invaders was the original alien invasion shooter. Developed by Tomohiro Nishikado in 1978, the game was actually inspired by Star Wars, which is clearly visible in the gameplay.
All joking aside, Space Invaders is up there as one of the quintessential pre-Golden age video games that never ages, is loved by all, and will never go out of fashion.
8. Rampage (Bally Midway, 1986)
Bally Midways’ 1986 action smash up is a classic no matter how you slice it. Players took on the role of either George the gorilla, Lizzie the lizard, or Ralph the werewolf, a triumvirate of giant monsters who compete to smash the shit out of a bunch of American cities. It wasn’t as common in European arcades, so finding it was a real treat. Rampage is soon to be a movie starring The Rock, which is quite fitting considering the need to lay the smack down in the video game.
7. Dragon’s Lair (Cinematronics, 1983)
Dragon’s Lair was way ahead of its time when it came to its visuals. Animated like a Disney movie, and utilizing Laserdisc technology, it looks better than a lot of modern era video games. Unfortunately, it was clunky, all style over substance, and incredibly hard to master. There’s no denying how important it was to a whole generation of kids though, or how much fun it could be if you were that one guy who knew how to play it well.
6. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)
There simply wasn’t a more influential fighting game – either in the arcades or on console – than Street Fighter 2, and if you disagree we have a spinning bird kick with your name on it!
5. Pac-Man (Namco, 1980)
“Did you know that the original name for Pac-Man was Puck-Man? You’d think it was because he looks like a hockey puck but it actually comes from the Japanese phrase ‘Paku-Paku,’ which means to flap one’s mouth open and closed. They changed it because they thought Puck-Man would be too easy to vandalize, you know like people could just scratch off the P and turn it into an F or whatever.”
You hopefully recognized that quote as being from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. We can’t think of any better way to describe this absolute legend of an arcade game, so we didn’t even try.
4. Gauntlet (Atari, 1985)
Gauntlet was not only one of the most important games in the arcade, it was also one of the most influential video games ever. Appealing largely to the Dungeons & Dragons crowd, before becoming the darling of the gaming masses, Gauntlet featured a ridiculous amount of levels and mazes that seemed to go on forever.
3. The Simpsons (Konami, 1991)
Two years after the 4-player phenomenon of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came Konami’s equally awesome adaptation of The Simpsons. As good as TMNT had been, The Simpsons was the game everyone flocked to in the early 1990’s and is a rare gem that still turns up in the odd arcade now and then.
2. Ms. Pac-Man (Midway, 1981)
Pac-Man is one of the most recognizable characters in the history of video gaming. In fact, I bet your grandma could name him in a line-up, and she’s probably never played his game. But as much as everyone loves the world-famous little puck, it was his wife/sister/niece/weekend alter-ego? that offered gamers a more challenging arcade experience.
1. Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981)
No list of the all-time greatest arcade video games would be complete without Shigeru Miyamoto’s innovative platformer/puzzle game. Released in 1981 by Nintendo, it not only introduced the world to Super Mario – by way of ‘Jump Man’ – but also changed the face of arcade gaming forever, with its huge gameplay overhaul. More recently, Donkey Kong has been responsible for the increased interest in competitive video gaming and inspired the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
Love Retro Games?