If you’re a gamer worth your salt, then your love affair with video games probably started at the arcade. For hours and hours of your childhood, you spent your time hunched over the latest titles, inserting coins like it was going out of fashion.
But which games were the best? Here’s our list of the 50 Arcade Games You Need to Play Before You Die!
PONG (ATARI, 1972)
Pong is one of the earliest examples of an arcade video game in existence. It seems incredibly basic by today’s standards, in fact, it looked old only a decade later, but it is an essential experience for any and all gamers worth their salt.
Chances are, you won’t get to play an original arcade stack of this these days, but there are tons of new versions that recreate the simple but addictive magic of Atari’s 1972 classic.
SPACE INVADERS (TAITO, 1978)
While Atari was responsible for one 1970’s classic, Tomohiro Nishikado was responsible for the other. Inspired by Star Wars, Nishikado took his simplistic shoot ’em up design to Taito who immediately recognized its potential, and turned it into one of the most iconic – and profitable – video games of all time.
Unlike Pong, Space Invaders has been successfully modernized through the advancements in graphics, but it is the original two-dimensional shooter that remains a firm favourite with fans, and simply must be included on any and all arcade bucket lists.
PAC-MAN (NAMCO, 1980)
I’m sorry but if you need me to explain Pac-Man to you then you’ve no business reading this list. Unless you’re 5. I’ll let you off if you’re five.
Instead, here’s a bit of useless information courtesy of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World:
“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.”
BERZERK (STERN, 1980)
There wasn’t anything particularly special about Berzerk, except for the rather gruesome fact someone once dropped dead while playing it. The challenge here was whether you could convince your mates to actually play it because obviously, you were waaay too smart to try and defeat a death curse.
FROGGER (KONAMI, 1981)
Did you ever hear the one about the frog that wanted to cross the road? You didn’t? That’s because that damn chicken gets all the glory!
In 1981 though, it was all about getting your very own Kermit to make it across a busy road without getting squashed – which was way harder than it sounds. Boy, it isn’t easy being green.
MS PAC-MAN (MIDWAY, 1981)
According to research carried out by the developers, more women played Pac-Man than men, making it the first commercial video game to appeal to a female audience. So, after the success of its yappy yellow hero, Midway went back to the well one more time and released the even more popular Ms. Pac-Man, which was very similar to its predecessor just with a lot more hairbows and swooning.
DONKEY KONG (NINTENDO, 1981)
There’s not much we can tell you about Donkey Kong that you probably don’t already know. It is as iconic a title as anything Nintendo has ever published since and remains a firm favourite for competitive gamers.
JOUST (WILLIAMS ELECTRONICS, 1982)
I don’t know a lot about Medieval times, but I’m pretty sure Knights didn’t usually enter into jousting contests atop their mighty, flying ostrich. I could be wrong though, because like I said, I’m no expert.
Joust, which is enjoying a revival thanks to the frequent references to it in Ready Player One, is the game most people remember for popularising multi-player gaming. Simplistic in design, but incredibly difficult to master, Joust was developed by Williams Electronics, a company which prior to 1982 had been most notable for its fortune-telling and pinball machines.
STAR WARS (ATARI, 1983)
Star Wars games are a dime a dozen these days, but back in 1983, they were a little less common. Aesthetically this arcade offering from Atari Inc. may not be pretty but it captivated Jedi-fans both young and old, especially with its white-hot recreation of the destruction of the Death Star.
TAPPER (MIDWAY, 1983)
Chances are, if you played Tapper the first time around, then you were probably drunk. That’s because Midway originally shipped all of their machines to bars. Spotting the potential for success with kids, Tapper soon became Root Beer Tapper and found its spot on the sticky floors of the arcade, somewhere between Donkey Kong and Pacman.
MARIO BROS (NINTENDO, 1983)
Even the most iconic heroes had their starting point. Capitalising on the success of Mario’s debut in the Donkey Kong game (albeit as Jumpman), Nintendo released the first Mario Bros. game back in 1983 exclusive to the arcades.
Mario Bros. laid down much of the groundwork for Mario’s backstory, including making him an Italian-American plumber with a brother named Luigi.
Surprisingly, Mario Bros. was not a success, at least not compared to other games of the 1980s. We’re pretty sure that plump little plumber has done OK for himself since though.
DRAGON’S LAIR (CINEMATRONICS, 1983)
Dragon’s Lair was a pioneer of the then-groundbreaking LaserDisc technology that was supposed to reinvigorate the flagging video games industry. Animated by the iconic Don Bluth, it was a stunning piece of arcade gold, complete with a brave knight hero and a gorgeous princess to save. It’s been ported about a million times since, but it’s the original arcade stick that’s found a place in the Smithsonian Institute alongside Pong and Pac-Man.
1942 (CAPCOM, 1984)
After years of blasting aliens in far-off galaxies, it was a breath of fresh air for gamers to finally get a chance to handle some of the greatest flying machines of the World War 2 era.
GAUNTLET (ATARI, 1985)
If you were the sort of person who enjoyed hanging out in your friends’ basement playing Dungeons and Dragons, instead of going out and kissing girls (or guys), then you were definitely the target audience for Gauntlet. Not that there’s any shame in that! Quite the opposite. Gauntlet became one of the most influential and important video games ever made, turning geeks into Gods overnight.
IKARI WARRIORS (SNK, 1986)
Ikari Warriors may have been lacking its own submachine gun attachment, which had helped make games like Operation Wolf so appealing, but it did have a rotating joystick meaning players could run in one direction and shoot in another. It’s only a simple change from the traditional run and gun games of the era, but back in the 1980s, it was innovative shit like this that set some games apart from the pack.
RAMPAGE (BALLY MIDWAY, 1986)
Most kids these days probably only know Rampage as a movie starring Dwayne Johnson, but for those of us with a few more miles on the clock, Rampage was an awesome arcade video game in which players took control of 1 of 3 giant monsters intent on smashing the shit out of various cityscapes across America.
OUT RUN (SEGA, 1986)
Out Run was the 1986 video game of the year, selling an unprecedented 20,000 cabinets in its first year alone. No surprise when you lay your eyes upon the sleek, shiny body of the first-ever sit-down deluxe driving cabinet.
OPERATION WOLF (TAITO, 1987)
Who can forget the temptation of the added Uzi, attached to the Operation Wolf cabinet, calling out to kids all over the world like a submachine gun siren? For many of us, Operation Wolf was our first experience of a first-person rail-shooter and opened our eyes to the gritty realism of 2-dimensional, side-scrolling war.
R-TYPE (IREM, 1987)
Well, well, well. If it isn’t R-Type, the Holy Grail of sidescrollers for me and my friends. Our parents called it the coin-guzzler, as it feasted upon our pocket money hour after hour, day after day. But that was the truly great thing about this game – it had a neverending replay value because you just knew that with one more coin you could beat that ugly alien once and for all and make it to the next level.
DOUBLE DRAGON (TECHNOS JAPAN, 1987)
Meet Hammer and Spike, two badass dudes with serious attitudes, who’ll kick your balls so hard they’ll fly out of your nostrils.
No list of the must-play arcade games would be complete without the ultimate beat-em-up.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (KONAMI, 1989)
Konami were world-beaters during this era of arcade video gaming, and their spin on the then white-hot Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles property was first class.
GOLDEN AXE (SEGA, 1989)
Golden Axe provided me and my friends with everything we could ever have wanted back in 1989 – swords, sorcery and scantily clad babes. Thank you SEGA.
MAD DOG McCREE (AMERICAN LASER GAMES, 1990)
Mad Dog McCree was more like a movie than a video game, and it was also one of the most expensive games in the arcade. It was also highly attractive to young kids who were fascinated with this ultra-realistic gun-slinging graphics, thanks in no small part to the LaserDisc technology previously utilised to great effect on Dragon’s Lair.
STREET FIGHTER II (CAPCOM, 1991)
It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks, there simply wasn’t a more influential fighting game at the arcade than Street Fighter II.
Developed by the legendary team at Capcom, the game capitalized on the success of Final Fight, rather than its own predecessor, which had been a commercial flop, and created the most enduring fight tournament known to man.
WWF WRESTLEFEST (TECHNOS JAPAN, 1991)
Boasting a stacked roster including Hulk Hogan, Big Boss Man, and the Legion of Doom, WWF WrestleFest was a button-bashers wet dream. It may have been 27 years since it ate all of our pound coins at the arcade, but there’s never been a button-bashing wrestling video game that’s even come close to topping this classic.
THE SIMPSONS (KONAMI, 1991)
Konami had all but cornered the market on adapting popular TV franchises by 1991, but struck real gold with this 4-player adventure starring America’s most dysfunctional family. Without question, The Simpsons game is the be-all and end-all when it came to the arcades.
SUNSET RIDERS (KONAMI, 1991)
Developed by Konami, and set in your typical Old West locale, Sunset Riders was a run and gun adventure game in which players could select 1 of 4 bounty hunters who must eliminate the most wanted outlaws in the land, claiming rewards at the end of each successive stage, which they presumably used to buy those fancy yellow pants and ponchos they wear throughout the game. Yee-haw!
VIRTUA RACING (SEGA, 1992)
Virtua Racing didn’t have the best graphics, but you got to sit in a scaled-down Formula 1 race car to play it. Nigel Mansell moustaches were an optional extra.
X-MEN (KONAMI, 1992)
After the success of its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Simpson’s cabinets, Konami smashed through the glass ceiling one more time with this iconic 6-player adaptation of the classic X-Men comic books – and it is a thing of beauty!
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (MIDWAY, 1992)
Taking a page out of Operation Wolf’s book, Midway released this movie spin-off stack with its very own Uzi 9mm in place of a joystick. Also just like Operation Wolf, I was absolutely terrible at aiming and almost never made it past the first stage. It had an authentic Guns N’ Roses soundtrack though, so not all bad.
MORTAL KOMBAT (MIDWAY, 1992)
Street Fighter II set the bar impossibly high back in 1991, so Midway needed to do something pretty special to drag the crowds of children to their new beat-em-up instead. They did just that by adding layer upon layer of ultra-violence! And if there’s one thing young impressionable kids like more than fighting, it’s ripping their opponents beating hearts out of their chests.
PUNISHER: THE ARCADE GAME (CAPCOM, 1993)
“Come on God, answer me. For years I’m asking why, why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice, here is punishment, here, in me.”
DAYTONA USA (SEGA, 1993)
The Guardian newspaper described Daytona USA as “the best racing game ever”, and they might have been onto something.
SEGA RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP (SEGA, 1994)
The arcades were littered with excellent racing sims, especially in the 1990s, but none was more influential and well-received as Sega Rally Championship – and boy, look at those graphics!
TEKKEN (BANDAI NAMCO, 1994)
I’ll never forgive my sister for systematically handing me my arse and obliterating my undefeated streak on Tekken back in the day. Never.
VIRTUA COP 2 (SEGA, 1995)
Unlike many rail shooters of the era, Virtua Cop called for players to actually be able to aim their weapon at the bad guys, instead of simply shooting around them to get a kill. This was made all the harder by the high frame rate and the constant barrage of terrorist enemies.
VIRTUAL ON: CYBER TROOPERS (SEGA, 1996)
This was a real rare gem in the arcades, but it is an essential ’90s title that has to be played to be believed. To look at it, Cyber Troopers appeared to be a run-of-the-mill racing game, but it couldn’t have been any more different. A cult favourite in Japan, Virtual On: Cyber Troopers is a classic that’s much more Gundam than Grand Prix.
AQUA JET (NAMCO, 1996)
If race cars weren’t your thing then you could have a go on an actual Jet Ski instead. Chicks loved a guy on a Jet Ski, bro!
TIME CRISIS 2 (NAMCO, 1997)
Your traditional rail-shooters were all pretty much the same by 1997. So when Time Crisis 2 hit the arcades it was generally expected that it wouldn’t offer anything different to gamers who were familiar with the prequel or similar games. However, this time Namco had added a pedal which allowed players to duck for cover and avoid taking a bullet to the face – something that had never been done before. It’s just a shame that if you were as uncoordinated as me then none of this made you look any less shit playing it in a crowd.
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (SEGA, 1997)
Baring absolutely no resemblance to any of the Jurassic Park movies, The Lost World arcade port was an easy money maker for Sega, placing gamers on the notorious Isla Sorna as they hunt for Dr. Ian Malcolm (hello Jeff!), who is officially MIA – presumably being hailed as a God somewhere by a rogue group of Velociraptors.
THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2 (SEGA, 1998)
House of the Dead did for arcade games what Resident Evil did for survival horror on the home console, and was an instant smash in the arcades. It’s much more successful and gory sequel, which perfected the model is still prominently featured in arcades to this day and can be heard beckoning you over from the shadows, waiting to chow down on your brains … and your money.
DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION (KONAMI, 1998)
If you’ve never got drunk and vomited all over your shoes after 10 minutes on a dance machine then you’ve never lived. There are tons of these around but Dance Dance Revolution was by far the greatest.
POWER STONE (CAPCOM, 1999)
Power Stone is probably best remembered as a Dreamcast title, but for a brief time in the very late nineties, it was also a radical 3D arcade fighter that allowed combatants to make use of their environments as weapons to ensure a hard-fought victory.
SILENT SCOPE (KONAMI, 1999)
There are tons of shooters in the arcade, and plenty of them feature on this list, but what made Silent Scope stand out was that it allowed 10-year-old kids to live out their life-long fantasy of becoming a sniper. Good wholesome family fun at its finest.
2000 AND BEYOND
MARVEL VS CAPCOM 2 (2000)
If you ever wondered who would win in a fight between the Incredible Hulk and Mega Man, then this was the crossover event for you.
TAIKO NO TATSUJIN (NAMCO, 2001)
Before Guitar Hero, there was Namco’s Taiko Master series in which players beat the shit out of a couple of Taiko drums, just for the Hell of it. The series was incredibly fun and interactive, and at the time there just wasn’t anything else like it in the arcades. This one is sure to keep your kids entertained for ages.
MARIO KART GP (NINTENDO, 2005)
Adapting the iconic Mario Kart game for the arcades seems like the most logical port of all time, and yet it’s taken Nintendo until 2005 to actually get around to doing it. Mama Mia!
ALIENS: EXTERMINATION (GLOBAL VR, 2006)
Hands up how many of you who played this shouted “GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH!” at the top of your lungs? Just me then?
CHO CHABUDAI GAESHI! (TAITO, 2009)
Falling under the so weird it’s good category, Cho Chabudai Gaeshi! is one of Taito’s most bizarre offerings, and roughly translates as Super Flip the Table. Players attempt to successfully flip tables, workstations, and even coffins, with the desired result being to cause as much damage, chaos and embarrassment as possible – which apparently is great fun in Japan.
LUIGI’S MANSION ARCADE (CAPCOM, 2015)
Luigi’s Mansion was one of the best received – if not a little bit too short – Mario spin-offs. But nobody was expecting it to get a modern-day upgrade as an arcade game!
Complete with vacuums to suck up those ghouls and ghosts, Luigi’s Mansion Arcade (which is actually based on the Luigi’s Mansion sequel) was developed back in 2015 and was an immediate hit. You pretty much have to travel to Japan to find a stack to play through, which is a real shame. It seems the modern arcade revival has passed the good old British seaside by. Shame on you Blackpool.
What were your go-to-games back in the arcades? Sound off in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow Two Beard Gaming on Twitter and Facebook. If you like our content and want to see more, please show your support by buying us a virtual coffee: