A coin slot for an old arcade game.

August 23, 2018 10 min to read

The Top 10 Classic Arcade Games

Category : Blog

The Top 10 Classic Arcade Games

Video games got their start in the 1950s but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s when its popularity began to soar. In the 1970s video game arcades became the place for kids to hang out and play their favorite games.

Then in the 1980s, the first generation of home consoles emerged. Suddenly, it was affordable for every kid to play their own video games at home.

A lot has changed since the early beginnings of video games, but the old classics are still around. To help you take a nostalgic trip back in time, here are our top 10 classic arcade games.

1. Dance Dance Revolution

Dance Dance Revolution is amongst the few classic arcade games that are actually credited with helping to bring back life into arcades. By the time it came to the United States from Japan in 1999, arcades were becoming rather unpopular.

The graphics and audio that a home console provided were now surpassing the arcade experience. There was no reason to pay money at an arcade if you could get the exact same experience in the comfort of your own home.

All that changed, at least for a little while when this game came out.

Dance Dance Revolution is a rhythm-based game that keeps players practicing to reach perfection. The songs are often unknown to players, which keeps people on their toes.

The goal is to keep time with the music by stepping on the corresponding arrows. If the player is successful they receive a letter grade and a numerical score.

If a player fails to step in time their life bar decreases and the steps become hidden for a period of time. If the player can’t improve, the game ends and the player is out.

However, the popularity of Dance Dance Revolution waned for a bit. The company failed to sell upgrade kits in North America. Arcades were forced to either keep a game that badly needed an upgrade or they had to buy a brand new machine.

Recently, the game has been making a bit of a comeback. In the meanwhile, because of the popularity of Dance Dance Revolution, other classic arcade games like “Just Dance,” “Amplitude,” and even “Guitar Hero” came out.

Mario Bros. Arcade cabinet

2. Mario Brothers and Super Mario Brothers

Mario Brothers was created in 1983 by two guys who worked on the development of Donkey Kong. Unfortunately, there happened to be a video game crash that same year.

Cut to today and these two plucky plumbers from New York are featured in over 100 games.image of mario bros arcade game screen and control sticks

That’s because in 1985 Super Mario Brothers was introduced. It became the best selling video game of all time.

This game features 24 levels, far larger than what Donkey Kong or even the original Mario Brothers had. There are powerups and Mario can even grow bigger with a mushroom. He can also shoot fireballs with a flower.

Mario was also the first character not to die by falling in a game. It also featured left-to-right side scrolling which still defines many platformers today.

Lastly, Mario has become so popular and so well known that his likeness has become the face of his parent company, Nintendo.

TRON arcade cabinet signage

3. Tron

Tron is one of the most interesting of all classic arcade games because it became a movie before it became an arcade game. In fact, the movie Tron is about a computer hacker played by Jeff Bridges who is abducted into the digital world.

image of TRON arcade cabinet control stick and buttonsOnce trapped, he’s forced to become an unwilling participant in gladiatorial games. His only chance to escape is with the help of a security program.

There are four distinct games on each level. Lightcycles, GridBugs, Tanks, and the MPC Cone. Before the player can proceed to the next level, all four games must be completed.

There are 12 levels, most of which are named after programming languages.

In 1983, Tron was followed by Discs of Tron. It was not as successful. While several other licensed Tron games were released for use in home systems, they weren’t based on either the movie nor the original arcade game.

While unusual for classic arcade games, Tron was also never ported to any contemporary systems. But in 2008, the game was released for Xbox Live Arcade, which was ported by Digital Eclipse and branded by Disney Interactive.

Two years later, the movie sequel, “Tron: Legacy” was released showing that enthusiasm for both the game and the movie hasn’t died down over the years.

4. Space Invaders

Space Invaders came on the scene in 1978. It instantly made waves in the industry.

Space Invaders is rated among the top of classic arcade games because it was one of the first shooting games. The goal is to defeat the aliens by shooting at them with a laser cannon. Doing so will earn the player points.

Created in Japan by Taito, its creator Nishikado drew on inspiration from popular movies such as, “The War of the Worlds,” “Star Wars,” and “Breakout”. As a result, this game became one of the forerunners of modern video gaming.

Space Invaders also helped expand the video gaming industry from a novelty to an industry that quickly went global. This is partly because, to achieve his goals, Nishikado had to invent new hardware and development tools.

Similar to other classic arcade games listed here, it’s been an inspiration for other video games, re-released on many platforms, and has even led to sequels. In fact, the 1980 Atari 2600 version was so popular it quadrupled the system’s sales.

The pixelated alien enemy has actually become a pop culture icon. It’s often used as an allegory representing video games as a whole.

Pac-Man arcade marquee sign

5. Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man

Pac-Man is one of those classic arcade games that was marketed ingeniously. It wasn’t just a game, there were t-shirts, toys, cartoons, a board game, and novelty songs. Millions have been made from merchandising alone.

Pac-Man even made appearances in other video games. A lot of money has been made by the creation of that hungry little yellow circle that eats white dots while being chased by ghosts.

Part of its popularity rose out of the fact that it’s extremely easy to understand how to play the game. Another part of the popularity of Pac-Man is that it was one of the first games to move away from simple geometric shapes or abstract vehicles.

While simplistic in style, Pac-Man vaguely resembled ourselves. It was the first of the classic arcade games like it.

But while the game and graphics were simple, the game itself is incredibly difficult to master.

Pac-Man was released in 1980. It immediately became popular. As a result, two years later, a new version called Ms. Pac-Man was created. The purpose was to get more females to start playing these classic arcade games.

Ms. Pac-Man was an instantaneous success. This updated version moved an impressive 125,000 arcade cabinets. By 1987 it had grossed $1.2 million in quarters.

Both games are considered to be amongst the most influential classic arcade games of all time.

6. Pong

Pong might be the most simplistic of all the classic arcade games. It’s also one of the first classic arcade games ever created.

Pong literally features what looks like a tennis ball going back and forth on the screen with two paddles provided to whack the ball.

When an opponent misses the ball, the other player is awarded a point. The first player to win 10 points wins the game.

You can play Pong against the computer or against a human opponent. It was released in 1972 by Atari and was their first commercially successful game. The first version sold 150,000 units.

In 1975 Atari released a home version of the game. Pong was actually created as a training exercise for one of Atari’s employees. After it was finished, a few extra details like adding basic sound effects and changing the ball’s return angle were added to make the game more interesting.

The first Pong arcade game was installed in a local bar. It became so successful that instead of licensing it to other companies, Atari got a line of credit and started an assembly line. By 1973 they were shipping these classic arcade games all across the country and even internationally.

7. Q*bert

Q*bert was released in 1982 and was instantly well received in arcades and among critics. It was gaming company Gottlieb’s most successful video game.

Since being released it has been ported to numerous platforms. Q*bert’s likeness has also been seen in sequels and merchandising like toys, lunch boxes, and even an animated television show.

Q*bert is a fuzzy orange being known for his “swearing,” which is created by a sound chip producing incoherent phrases. A speech balloon of nonsensical characters also appears when Q*bert collides with an enemy.

While it was developed by Gottlieb, that company was owned by Columbia Pictures at that time. As a result, Columbia owns the rights. Columbia was then acquired by Sony Pictures Entertainment in 1989.

Sony has since featured Q*bert in the Disney computer-animated film, “Wreck-It Ralph” and in a live-action film “Pixels” which was released in 2015.

8. Frogger

Frogger is one of those classic arcade games perfectly made for those chasing high scores. While it appears to be a simple game of an adorable little frog trying to make its way across traffic and floating logs to get to a lily pad.

But Frogger is among the most deceptively simple of all classic arcade games. It demands perfection from its players. One false move and that poor frog dies by drowning or being flattened by a giant semi-trailer.

Since it’s beginnings in 1981 there have been remakes, HD remasters, and sequels. The game even became part of an episode of Seinfeld where George has to get the arcade game itself across a busy New York City street.

9. Gauntlet

As far as classic arcade games go, Gauntlet is one of the best for playing with other people.

Released in 1985, it was inspired by another classic game, Dungeons and Dragons. It was originally created by Atari in an effort to earn more money during a time when arcades were in decline.

With four players, you could earn four times as much. Also with a drop-in/drop-out design, if someone died, they could immediately rejoin or someone new could start playing.

There is also a great assortment of bad guys to defeat. Gauntlet has sorcerers, thieves, demons, lobbers, grunts, and even ghosts all trying to destroy the players.

With no downtime and four players, the quarters just kept coming as there was no real end to the game. This is partly because Gauntlet recycles the levels by flipping them horizontally and vertically once the players have run through them all.

Image of control stick for Donkey Kong arcade cabinet

10. No Classic Arcade Games List is Complete Without Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong Arcade cabinetThere are several reasons why Donkey Kong will be on every list of classic arcade games. One reason is that it’s extremely difficult to play. Even today people still battle over who reigns supreme with the highest score.

Donkey Kong also is responsible for launching the careers from two different classic arcade games: Donkey Kong and Mario (from Mario Brothers). But even though Mario ended up as the face of Nintendo, Donkey Kong hasn’t suffered much.

The game itself is considered one of the first ever platforming video games. It’s a genre that defined video games in the late 80s and early 90s.

Even to this day, Donkey Kong has been such a part of pop culture that his rolling barrels, super hammer, and pink-colored steal beams are instantly recognizable.

It’s a fun game and players enjoy rescuing Mario’s poor girlfriend from the gorilla’s clutches.

Find the Best Games

With so many games out there, it’s often hard to look past all the bells and whistles to find out if a game is worth your time.

Whether it’s finding the best DC Comic coin pusher or wanting to know if the Despicable Me Jelly Arcade game that’s now featured at Dave and Buster’s is worth your time, look no further.

We’re dedicated to helping you discover the best in video gaming. Keep coming back to see what we’re reviewing next.

Leave a comment