45+ Old-School Arcade Games That Make Us Feel Incredibly Nostalgic
The younger generation is quite blessed when it comes to video games. In this era, there are intricate video games that feature high-quality graphics, customizable characters, and amazing lore. There are even virtual reality games these days that can offer you an ultra-realistic gaming experience!
However, as amazing as the new ones are, people who grew up in the 80s and 90s could never forget the joy of classic arcade games. They were nowhere as intricate or high in graphics as the ones from the present, but we strongly believe that old is gold. In this case, arcade games are vintage gems.
Do not look down on these oldies because of how simple they were. They are the predecessor to today’s new technologies. Thus, we have compiled 45 old-school arcade games that we feel you should know about. After all, how can you appreciate the new if you do not experience the old?
Oh, sweet ol’ Pac-Man. So simple, yet so enjoyable. Even if you have never seen an arcade machine in your life, chances are you still heard the name Pac-Man. This well-known game was released all the way back in the 1980s in Shibuya, Tokyo.
The game is simple. You are in a maze and you just have to eat the fruit and make sure you aren’t caught by the ghosts. The original demographic for the game was young girls. But, it ended up being a hit among all ages and genders.
Who in the 21st century had not yet heard of the name “Mario Bros.”? Originally, the game was a spinoff of 1981’s Donkey Kong. However, due to its popularity, the plumber brothers received their own game, and now it’s a franchise worth $38 billion.
Mario Bros. had a simple concept. The brothers had to defeat the monsters by pushing them off the high platforms. The game also gained mass popularity in American arcades in the ’80s, and you can still experience the vintage game on the modern Nintendo switch.
Ever seen a millennial casually using the term ‘fatality’ whenever a finishing blow is delivered? Well, 1992s Mortal Kombat popularized that. This US-created game gained popularity due to its unabashed display of violence and gore in the game- something that most companies shied away from previously.
The original 1992 arcade version of the game was played with joysticks and five buttons. The goal is to use special moves to deliver a gruesome fatality on the enemy. The franchise has come a long way since its birth three decades ago. Right now, they have several sequels as well as multiple movies.
Asteriods was US’s attempt at outranking Space Invaders. And you know what? They succeeded. Atari released the game in the November of 1979, which was during the golden age of arcade games. Within the next year, it dethroned Space Invaders as the top game in the US and was the highest-grossing game of 1980.
The player is given a triangular ship, which is used to knock down all the saucers and drifting asteroids in the vicinity. The game becomes increasingly difficult, as even when a big asteroid is destroyed, it crumbles into smaller chunks. The small pieces move faster, and they are harder to blast away.
This is yet another space-themed game from the early ’80s. The developer Eugene Jarvis was inspired by both Space Invaders and Asteroids. Since it was more complicated than its peers, the game was slow to gain fame. However, it’s still one of the highest grossing games of all time.
The shooter ship of the game can move both horizontally and vertically. Players must shoot down all the moving enemies. The opponents can also drop bombs on you, so the player needs to be extra careful. It was notoriously hard to play. People could barely last ten seconds in the first round.
Galaga was a 1981 sequel of Galaxian (1979), another hit game from Japan. However, Galaga had improved features compared to its predecessor, thus, the game soon usurped the prequel. The game is considered one of the classics of the golden age of arcade games. It can still be played on Xbox.
The player is required to defeat the Galaga army with a starship. While attacking the ships, the player must dodge enemy ships and bombs. The enemy can actually abduct the ship as well. When that happens, the player has one less life.
Street Fighter II
Here’s yet another sequel that usurped its predecessor. It had far better features, many more playable characters, and a unique combat style. Have you heard “Chun li” by Nicki Minaj? Chun li is actually a character from this game. She was the first playable female character in the fighting games genre.
Street Fighter II made history by being the first game to feature combo attacks. The game consists of three rounds. To win, the player must fight the opponent in close combat and defeat them at least twice. It became the highest-selling game since the golden age. The franchise even owns several hit movies.
The 1981 game is perceived as one of the greatest games of all time. By 2005, they sold 20 million copies worldwide. One of the biggest reasons behind their success is how the game can be catered to all sorts of demographic. It ranked 12th in Japan the same year it was released.
The game is simple. The goal is to safely lead all the frogs to their homes on the top of the screen. There are several obstacles placed in the way, like heavy traffic and alligators disguised as logs. If all the frogs are annihilated before reaching their homes, the player loses the round.
Atari released the game in 1985, and it is credited to be one of the first games in the dungeon crawl genre that featured a multiplayer option. It also gained both critical and commercial success in the USA and Japan.
The players are placed in a maze setting where they must look for the exit, which will lead them to the next level. They are tasked to get through all the enemies and obstacles, utilizing a hack and slash style of gameplay.
If you think the OG Pac-Man is too bland for you, give Ms. Pac-Man a try. Honestly, it’s almost the same thing, except the yellow blob has a red bow on its head. The game was released two years after the original Pac-Man. It was praised for having a female protagonist.
This particular version is recommended for those who find the OG Pac-Man to be too dull. Unlike the original, the sequel features solid colored walls, which makes it more eye-catching. It offers an easier gaming experience for the amateur player; as well as for those who have sight complications.
Dig Dug is a strategy-based game released in 1982. The developer of the game was assisted by none other than the creator of Galaga. The kawaii characters were adored by everyone. It ranked as the second highest-grossing arcade game in Japan the same year it was released.
The player has to lead Dig Dug, the adorable protagonist, and defeat the pookas and the Fygars. Dig Dug could defeat enemies by bursting htem with air pumps or crush them with rocks. Once the opponents are cleared from the maze, dig dug can move on to the next round.
Despite being named 1942, the vertically scrolling shooter game was released in 1984. The universe is set in the pacific theater during World War II (1942). The game is loosely inspired by the historical events of the Battle of Midway and was a commercial success in Japan and America.
The player navigates a fighter plane named the “Super Ace,” with which they must shoot down all the enemy planes, as well as avoid being fired down by the opponents. The game’s target market was the west. That’s why, despite being developed by Japan, the player’s aircrafts are American.
Centipede was released in 1981 and is recognized as one of the first arcade games that were a hit among women. The game is also credited to be one of the most commercially successful games of the golden age. Did you know that the vintage game almost had a movie adaptation in 2016?
The player has to maneuver a bug blaster, which is placed at the bottom of the screen. There is a humongous centipede at the top of the screen that the player attempts to kill with their blaster. While the game isn’t too complicated, it takes a few tries to get used to it.
We all know the Star Wars film franchise, but did you know they released an 1983 arcade version? This game was another contender for one of the greatest games during the golden age, particularly with its use of 3D color vector graphics.
The gamer plays as the protagonist of the franchise, Luke Skywalker, as he navigates an X-Wing fighter. Lives are tracked as the aircraft’s six shields, which are lost when enemy projectiles hit them. The goal is not to lose all six shields within the allocated time. If Luke survives, they will win the battle.
Contra was released in 1987 and was originally meant to be a coin-operated arcade game. However, Nintendo later released a home version that could be enjoyed from computers. Contra gained global success, and ranked among the top four arcade games of 1987.
The game offers multiple player perspectives, with both single-player and multiplayer options. The two protagonists, Bill and Lance, must shoot down enemies and avoid getting killed in order to reach the next level. The arcade edition had seven levels for players to venture through.
Joust was a two-player action game from 1982. It had a slow but massive popularity boom in 1983, due to its smooth execution. It ranked among the thirteen highest-grossing arcade games of 1983. The game did have a sequel, but the original version is more beloved by arcade lovers.
The protagonist is a knight on top of a comical flying ostrich, and in the two-player option, there is also a knight on a flying stork. The goal is to defeat the enemy and turn them into eggs. However, the transformed eggs must be collected in time as they might change back into an enemy.
Pole Position is undoubtedly the greatest racing game from the golden age. It was an instant hit when it was released in 1982. In fact, it was credited as the highest-grossing game of 1982 in Japan, as well as being the most coveted coin arcade game worldwide during 1983.
The game is fairly simple. The player maneuvers a formula one race car. The goal is to safely reach the finish line within the designated time. The player is required to avoid hitting other obstacles and going off road. The player wins the level if they finish four rounds.
Spy Hunter from 1983 drew heavy inspiration from the James Bond franchise. It was a commercial success in America. In fact, it consistently ranked in the top five games from 1985 to 1986. The game falls under the “vehicular combat” genre.
The gamer plays as a spy as he rides a heavily armed “Interceptor” car. The player must attack and defend against external forces, such as helicopters and other cars, that will try to destroy the spy car. The player must destroy the other forces to win.
Rampage is the perfect game for destruction lovers. Released in 1986, the arcade game easily earned commercial success. It’s a triple player game where the players maneuver the role of humans who turned into monster apes. Each ape also has its own unique characteristics.
The three monster apes must destroy the city to win the game. If the players take too much damage, they’ll lose health and turn back to humans. Conversely, they can recover their health by eating. It’s a simple concept, but that’s part of the appeal.
Ghosts’ n Goblins
The Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise, known as Makaimura in Japan, still thrives despite starting all the way back in 1985. It started off as an arcade game but slowly made its way to all other sorts of platforms. To this day, the franchise has successfully sold over 4.2 million units.
It’s a side-scrolling platform game where the player gets to play the protagonist, knight Arthur. The quest is to save princess Prin-Prin from the clutches of the demon king. To finish the quest, Arthur must defeat all sorts of enemies before facing the final boss.
Paperboy from 1985 was a joint collaboration between Atari and Midway. Immediately after its release, the game ranked as the fifth most popular game in Japan for the month. It started off in the arcade, but it slowly diversified to other devices.
The player is the protagonist whose job is to deliver his newspaper to all the suburban homes that subscribe to him. Just because of pettiness, paperboy is also tasked to vandalize the properties of homes of whom didn’t subscribe to him.
Tempest was truly a game ahead of its time. Released by Atari in 1981, the game initially intimidated arcade goers who were more used to simpler games. Tempest was the first game to feature the skillset system. Basically, the level difficulty varies depending on how much the player scored in the previous round.
Tempest is a game of survival. The player blasts off the enemies and scores as much as possible. Initially, the game was supposed to be the sequel to Space Invaders, but it was too unique to be a sequel. So, it was released as an original game.
Released in 1982, BurgerTime is the perfect game for foodies. It was also ranked as the 11th highest grossing game of 1982 and later diversified into home versions. The game grabbed attention due to its quirky, adorable nature, and its level design was compared to that of Donkey Kong.
The protagonist, chef Peter Pepper, is tasked to gather all the ingredients for a burger. The ingredients are tiered into levels, and Peter has to drop them below and stack them into a burger. However, Peter must evade evil ingredients that try to get in the way.
Tron is based on the Disney movie of the same name…released in the same year. Those who watched the movie will probably find the game easier to navigate as it is heavily designed according to the movie’s events. It was fairly well received as Electronic Games magazine dubbed it the “game of the year” in 1982.
The player maneuvers the protagonist, Tron, through the four subsections of the game, all of which are derived from the movie, along with the weapons, vehicles, and characters. The timer-based sub-games are I/O Tower, MCP Cone, Light Cycles and Battle Tanks.
OutRun is still considered one of the most influential games of all time. It became the highest-grossing arcade game worldwide only within a year of its release. After releasing the home computer version, it sold millions of units. Moreover, the game is even credited for repopularizing arcade culture in the mid-’80s.
It’s a 3D driving game where the player maneuvers a Ferrari. The game is timer based, which means the player must finish the lap before the timer runs out. The game had five destinations, which differed according to the difficulty level.
Berzerk is a 1980 shooting game. It was highly praised to this day as it is still considered one of the greatest games of all time. Besides being celebrated, it’s also notorious for causing the first video game related death as a player had a heart attack while playing it.
The maze shooting game can be both single and multiplayer. The player is required to shoot down all the robots in the maze, but they can be defeated when they are shot at by the robot or touched by the villain, evil Otto.
Universal released Mr. Do! in 1982 after being inspired by the hit arcade game Dig Dug. The game also created history by releasing a conversion kit for the first time. It was a commercial success in both Japan and North America. Mr. Do! also remained the best selling conversion kit for two years straight in America.
The game is set in a maze of cherries. Mr. Do, the clown protagonist, is tasked to dig and collect as many cherries as possible. But he must also avoid being caught by the creeps. If he gets caught, he will lose his life.
Smash TV is basically a video game version of The Hunger Games from the early ’90s. It was fairly well received and was dubbed the most innovative game of 1990. Smash TV also diversified later by releasing home versions of their arcade games.
Just like the concept of The Hunger Games, Smash TV is set in a dystopian society where people have to fight for survival. Their struggle is broadcast for all to see! It’s a kill or be killed setting, and the player wins when they finish slaughtering every living soul in the arena.
1993’s Daytona USA is not only considered one of the greatest arcade games of all time, it’s also the highest-grossing arcade game of all time in the US. The game is still highly regarded for its graphics and designs that were way ahead of its time.
The player drives a hornet car that is placed behind all the other 39 computer controlled cars. The task is to finish the race in time while passing all other cars and not crashing into them. The game is segmented into three difficulty levels.
Breakout is perhaps one of the oldest arcade games in this list. Old is gold and this gem from the mid-’70s is still considered as one of the greatest. It was a worldwide commercial success that ranked third in the highest-grossing list.
The player is given a ball and a paddle to smash down the layers of bricks placed overhead. Each player is given three turns. If the player fails to catch the ball, they lose a turn. The bricks give you points based on which color they are.
Bubble Bubble has such a sweet premise that it will probably give you diabetes. The target market for this game were young girls and couples who visited the arcade together. Despite being made in the mid-’80s, it’s still praised for its graphics, characters and soundtrack.
In this dual player game, Bobby’s and Bubby’s girlfriends get abducted by the evil Baron Von Blubba. The antagonist also transforms the two protagonists into dragons. The players will help Bobby and Bubby defeat enemies by trapping them in bubbles.
Namco created Galaxian to rival Space Invaders, the most celebrated arcade game of the late ’70s. The game was inspired from the events of Star Wars, and it was also one of the first games to use RGB color graphics.
The player maneuvers a “Galaxip” in order to protect the Earth from an alien invasion. In the game, the player’s ship is faced with enemy aliens who shoot bombs at the protagonist. Furthermore, the Galaxip needs to shoot the aliens down to win the game.
Which one of us do not recognize the strong, spinach-loving sailor from our childhood comics and cartoons? Well, did you know Nintendo made an arcade game based on it in 1982? It was fairly well received by the arcade lovers.
In the game, Popeye is required to gather the items left by Olive Oyl. His nemesis, Bluto, and the sea hag will serve as a roadblock as they try to stop the protagonist. Additionally, Popeye can get a power boost of invisibility by eating a can of spinach.
We are sure that everyone is aware of the iconic show The Simpsons. It was so popular that Konami cashed in and made an arcade game back in the early ’90s. It was a commercially successful venture as they ranked in the top three arcade games in the US.
The player can each choose one character from The Simpson cast, each of whom has a unique fighting style. The goal is to rescue Maggie who had been kidnapped by Smithers. To do that they must defeat the incoming enemies.
It’s not too surprising that the well-known franchise had an arcade game based on it. This particular one game from 1992 was based on the 1989 cartoon series. They also diversified their range by releasing a home version, though it was discontinued in 2013.
The gamer gets to play the six main cast of the cartoon show. The goal is to stop the villain Magneto from causing a rampage and destroying the world. To do that, they must also fight all of Magneto’s minions.
The 1980 Japanese game’s release was a commercial hit as the game hit sixth place as the highest-grossing game of 1980, right below Pac-Man and Galaxian. However, it was widely acclaimed that Rally-X had better quality than that of Pac-Man.
The player drives a Formula One racecar through a maze; the mission is to gather as many yellow flags as possible. On the way, they will face resistance from other cars who try to sabotage them by crashing into them.
This block breaker game was published in 1986 and was quite well received, as the game remained in the number one spot for six months straight. It’s also Taito’s most profitable arcade game. Arkanoid became the highest grossing game in Japan within a year of release.
In the game, the player controls a ball which recoils from being hit at the bricks placed overhead. But the player must make sure the ball doesn’t leave the boundary. Fun fact: the movie Tron served as an inspiration for the game design.
Ikari Warriors was released in Japan by SNK back in the ’80s. It falls under the run-and-gun shooter genre. Originally it was supposed to be a game version of the Rambo movie series, but instead, it became an original work that was the second highest-grossing game of 1986.
The player takes control of the protagonist, colonel Ralf Jones, whose job is to reach the ikari village. Many opponents try to kill the players on the way, which is why the player kills their enemies. They do so by gathering beneficial power-ups.
Choplifter is a scrolling shooter game released in 1982. The game became a top seller within a month of its release. Usually, companies release home versions after selling arcade cabinets, but this one came out as a home version first. Only later did it get an arcade release.
The player works as a helicopter pilot whose job is also to rescue hostages taken by the Bungeling Empire. The goal is to save the hostages and safely drop them off at the U.S. Postal service building. The player will have faced many obstacles before succeeding.
This Japanese gem became a household name within a few months of its release in 1978. The arcades generated a $1 billion profit only within three years. Japan supposedly went through a shortage of 100 yen coins due to people using them all up in arcades.
Players are given three lives and a shooter to fire at the alien invaders overhead. The rows of aliens trickle downwards. The player must destroy the invading aliens before they reach the bottom. Otherwise, the player loses and it’s game over.
Stargate is actually the sequel to the hit game Defender, which gained mass popularity in 1981. This version also has many new additions that the previous edition did not have. It was not as popular as its predecessor, but it still belongs on the list of top 100 games.
The game has many inside jokes that make it more hilarious. The player drives a spaceship which will lap back to the same starting line. The ship is heavily armed and has many qualities that the previous versions did not have.
The 1983 game is considered a cult classic. Regarding superior graphics, Dragon’s Lair had usurped all of its peers. The franchise slowly diversified and was re-released for each generation. They also had many hit television series and comic adaptations over the years.
The protagonist, Dirk the daring, is tasked with rescuing the beautiful princess Daphne. The damsel in distress was abducted by the evil dragon Singe. The player maneuvers Dirk as he attempts to kill off all the enemies and rescue the princess. It is said this was the first true 3D game.
Hang-On was another gem that was way ahead of its time. Released in 1985, it was one of the first games to use 16-bit graphics. They also released a deluxe version later and it was a motion controlled arcade cabinet. The game was dubbed as the most successful cabinet within a month of its release.
The player rides a motorcycle and runs laps within the designated time. There are five stages of the game; the players win if they manage to finish all of them. The player can speed up by using the throttle and accelerating.
Donkey Kong was created by Nintendo back in 1981 in an attempt to overthrow Pac-Man. This kickstarted a glorious legacy as the Italian brothers Mario and Luigi were first introduced to the world. Even if you’ve never picked up a game controller, you’ve probably heard of them.
In the game, Donkey Kong — the mighty humongous gorilla — abducted Pauline. It is the duty of the plumber twins, Mario and Luigi, to overcome all obstacles and rescue her. To this very day, they remain two of the most iconic characters in the gaming industry.
This ranks very high in the list of cute games. It was the fourth highest-grossing arcade game of the year in 1983. Undoubtedly, it was a commercial success in both Japan and America. The catchy images from the games give ’90s kids the feeling of nostalgia.
The player controls the adorable red penguin named Pengo. This little arctic creature is tasked to crush Sno-bees and gather points. The game has a two minute timer. The player will win if they manage to survive within that time frame.
Live out your cowboy fantasies in 1975’s Gun Fight. The game was globally a commercial hit. Japan ranked in the top 10 games within a year of its release. In addition, the game is noted for being the first one to depict a realistic looking human death.
It’s the classic gun duel you see in the movies: two cowboys shoot at each other until someone drops dead. The phrase “GOT ME!” appears when the opponent has been shot down. Each player is also given the limited ammunition of six bullets.