Best arcade games of the 80s: Old school video games

Once upon a time, arcade games were king when it came to video game entertainment. Sure console systems like the Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Intellivision were around at that time. But if you really wanted to play top quality games, you had to visit your local arcade and pop some quarters in your favorite game.

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The video game industry is estimated to be an $81 billion dollar operation.  The industry has come a long way and many things have changed along the way.

By today’s advanced hardware standards, the games of yesteryear seem extremely primitive, limited in scope, and unattractive.

You know what they aren’t? They’re not boring. In fact, in many titles, the fun factor is off the charts! So let’s look back in time at all of the wonderful arcade games from the 80s.

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Donkey Kong is the most successful franchise of all time and considered classic arcade game royalty. Afterall, it did launch several sequels, the massively successful Mario Brothers franchise, and the Donkey Kong Country Series.

Donkey Kong is a Nintendo title, released in 1981. The premise of the game is very similar to the King Kong story. Donkey Kong has kidnaped the princess. You play as Mario the plumber who must rescue her.

Donkey Kong the ape, rolls barrels your way to try to prevent you on your quest. In addition to barrels, you must also dodge fireballs. Once you make it to the top, Donkey Kong whisks the Princess away and you must attempt to rescue her on the next challenging level. Once you complete all level, you have to repeat them again and again. The speed of the game increases each time to make the game more challenging.

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Released in 1980, Centipede is an extremely fast-paced game that is meant to be played with a trackball. The premise is pretty straight-forward. You use a laser cannon to try and shoot the centipede coming your way.

Part of the challenge is that the centipede is not always in one piece. As the centipede approaches, you must also avoid the giant spider. When the centipede makes it all the way down the screen, it will crash into your laser cannon and causes you to lose a life.

Centipede is widely regarded as one of the all time classic video games.

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Released in 1982 by Williams Electronics, Joust features two-player action. The main character is a knight riding an ostrich. Pressing the button flaps the wings of the ostrich. The goal of the game is to knock the other enemy knights off of their buzzards.

Not only must you avoid getting knocked off your ostrich but you must also prevent yourself from touching the lava down below. Luckily the game provides many rock platforms to land on.

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Originally developed by Konami in 1981, Frogger requires you to navigate a frog through a multitude of obstacles. Each push of the joystick causes the frog to hop in that direction.

The screen is divided into a busy traffic intersection and a wild river. Each frog must safely venture across traffic without getting hit by the various automobiles. Once across, the frog must then jump from log to log, turtle, or alligator without falling into the water.

The premise is extremely simple but the fun and addiction factor is what makes this game an arcade classic game.

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Originally developed by Namco in 1982, Dig Dug is an underground adventure that requires you to kill the underground monster by inflating them with your air pump or by dropping rocks on them. There are many types of arcade games from the 80s but Dig Dug was truly unique and set itself apart from others in its presentation. 

The enemies in the game are Pookas or Fygars. Dig Dug will lose a life if either character caught him or in the case of the Fygars, breaths fire on Dig Dug. Dig Dug can also die if a rock falls on him.

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Pac Man is another Namco title that was developed in 1980. The title was a cultural phenomenon that changed the face of gaming forever. Famous arcade games didn’t exist until Pac Man. Video games were novelties that never really gained much of a following that you might find in a bowling alley or pool hall. Early arcade games like Pac Man lacked multiple layers and advanced graphics but they were always addicting and fun. 

When it comes to vintage arcade games, there is only one king of popularity. The massive hit Pac Man was what really got things moving.

As a kid, I can recall seeing a crowd of kids, huddled around the Pac Man arcade cabinet watching their friend being chased by ghosts. Part of the fun was trying to complete the level by memorizing the patterns on each stage.

Pac Man was so popular there was even a corny pop song (Pac Man Fever) dedicated to its name. There was a Saturday morning cartoon as well.

Video game developers began churning out a flurry of titles hoping to capitalize on the fame that Pac Man had garnered. Titles like Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, and Mario Brothers became hits which also brought on the advent of the local video game arcades.  What a great time to be alive!

The game consists of a maze filled with dots or pellets that Pac Man must eat. Once all the pellets are consumed the level is over and a new one begins. a host of ghosts will try to stop Pac Man along the way. Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde will chase you until you eat one the four larger pellets. After eating larger pellets, Pac Man gets to turn the table and potentially eat the ghosts. This, of course, is only temporary. Once your invincibility wears off, you are vulnerable again. If you were lucky enough to eat any of the ghosts, they will regenerate after a short time.

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eveloped in 1983, Dragon’s Lair was the first video game to incorporate real animation. The animation was produced by ex-Disney artist Don Bluth. Unlike other pixel-based games at the time, Dragon’s Lair took advantage of Laser Disk technology that allowed for a larger storage medium. Dragon’s Lair instantly became one of the most sought after and famous arcade games of its time. 

The protagonist is Dirk the Daring. Dirk is a knight who must rescue Princess Daphne from the evil dragon Singe who has locked her away in a castle. The graphics and animation are absolutely gorgeous but the gameplay is the big limiting factor. Unlike other games at the time, the game action does not take place in real time. Instead, the player watches each scene unfold. At the end of the scene, the player must decide the action to take. By pressing the joystick in a specific direction, the scene will play out accordingly. Sometimes you live, sometimes you die. After a few tries, you soon memorize the correct path to choose for the next time you play.

Dragon’s Lair was the first of its kind is considered a classic 80s arcade game.

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Konami released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1989. TMNT is a side scrolling beat em up game that allows you to play up to four players.

TMNT became a famous arcade game because of its source material and ability to play all four turtles at the same time. As in the cartoon source material, the Ninja Turtles must face off against Shredder and his long list of goons in order to save their friends April O’Neil and Splinter.

The bosses include the likes of Rocksteady and Bebop, Krang, Granitor, General Traag,  Baxter Stockman, and Shredder himself.

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Atari produced the arcade version of Star Wars in 1983. Based on the uber-popular movie, the game takes place during the attack on the Deathstar.

You play as Luke Skywalker piloting his X-Wing Fighter. This title is all about survival.

In the first part of the game, you square off in a dogfight against the evil Darth Vader as well as other Tie-Fighter members of the empire.

The second level has you streaking above the surface of the Deathstar.

The third phase has you navigating down the trench leading to the exhaust port. Once you successfully launch your photon torpedo at the precise time, the Deathstar will explode and the game resets back to the first level. The difficulty increases each time the game resets.

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