After posting a few days ago about my plan to build my own home arcade machine I thought I would do a Top Ten based on my own favourite arcade machines.10. Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong just has to be on the list. It’s the first appearance of Mario after all. I find it so difficult that I can’t even get past the second screen but perhaps that’s part of the charm. The sound effects are iconic, up there with the most iconic of all games sound effects. And obviously it reached even cooler status after the fabulous ‘documentary’ King of Kong. You can’t have an arcade list without Donkey Kong.
9. Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf is on the list because it was perhaps the coolest or most exciting game for many years of my childhood. I only really seemed to come across it when I was on school trips where there would be arcades in the motorway service stations or on the ferry, and if this game was there everyone got excited. One of the best bits of the game was when the army dude was doing his whole Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Commando’ sequence of tying his bootlaces, putting his knife in its sheath, strapping on some hand grenades etc. The game itself was pretty damn great and was one of the main forerunners to all the first person shooters that are so prevalent today.
8. Pac Man
Arguably the most recogniseable of all video game characters, along with the aliens from Space Invaders. Pac Man is such a simple game and it’s often the simple ones that are the best or have the most longevity. I find Pac Man still extremely playable today. Anyone can play it. There are no buttons. Just one joystick and just one screen to play at a time. It’s the first arcade game that my son played and it’s a game for absolutely everyone. Still as playable today as it was nearly 35 years ago.
7. Daytona USA
Daytona USA is by far the most modern of all the games on my list, but my main memory of it was while I was at school, so I still think it counts as retro. This was the most viceral, graphically impressive and exciting racer that I had played in the arcades at the time. It just seemed to stand out as head and shoulders above all other racers. And the real key was the link up play. Not just two players but when you managed to get 8 players all playing next to each other it was incredible. You felt like you were actually racing as you all got into your sit down cabs and you looked from left to right as everyone pushed their respective buttons and the voice came on saying ‘Gentlemen start your engines’ (actually quite sexist come to think of it). And that soundtrack ‘Daytoonaaaaa, Daytoonaaaa’. A true arcade classic and one you still see lots of around today.
Galaga is proper old school. Launching in 1981 as the sequel to Galaxian it was the cooler version of Space Invaders and quite frankly one of the best vertical shooters around even to this day. It also achieved iconic status by having a major role in my all time favourite movie, WarGames, when Matthew Broderick is seen playing it twice in the course of the film.
5. Track & Field
For me Track & Field is one of the first games that pops into my head when I think of arcade machines. Bashing those two buttons as hard as you could to make the guy on screen run as fast as he can. There were many methods for how to do this including rolling your hand across the buttons or sometimes using a rolled up magazine or something to help you do it. But the speech and crowd noises too just seemed to give the game a great atmosphere when you played it. A true classic of arcade gaming. It of course spawned many sequels including Hyper Sports and International Track & Field and also several copycat games such as Daley Thompson’s Decathlon.
When you talk about arcade co-op gaming, where you’re playing WITH your mates and not just against them, there are two games that jump to mind. Bubble Bobble (which narrowly missed out on making this Top Ten) and Gauntlet. This 4-player behemoth just felt special. First of all, it was massive. The thing just stuck out further than most other machines, so it demanded attention. Everything else was just different from other games too. The great digitised speech (“Warrior needs food badly!”), the bright colours of the controllers, the fantasy element of the characters, the (at the time) great graphics. But nothing beat the gameplay when you were playing with three other friends. When you’re running around the maze and one person is stuck behind a wall and you’re all screaming at him to get a move on but he can’t get round the wall unless you all come back a bit and let the screen scroll… fun times.
3. Star Wars
It is very rare indeed for a movie tie-in game to be any good. The Star Wars arcade game by Atari wasn’t just good though, it was great. The game itself was classy. Fantastic speech from the film, cool wireframe graphics, great gameplay of the Tie Fighter battles and trench run. And when you experienced it in the sit down environmental cabinet it was an amazing experience. It’s one of the most sought after machines at events to this day.
2. Out Run
To me Out Run is the big cheese of 80s arcades. I talked about how classy it was in my recent blog post about the music in Out Run. Many would say that it was the shining beacon of mid-80s arcades. It was what Hulk Hogan was to wrestling, what the A-Team was to Saturday TV and what Back to the Future and The Goonies were to 80s family movies. When you thought of 80s arcade games where I grew up you just thought of Out Run as being the top dog. The class act. And the iconic music played a massive part of that. Driving along the Pacific Highway in your Ferrari with the wind in your hair and your beautiful blonde girlfriend by your side. I used to play it in rainy arcades in Scotland but the game took me away to sunny California every time. Out Run to me is a gaming experience that just demands respect.
1. Street Fighter 2
When picking my top game I had to choose something that ticked all the boxes. It had to have great graphics. It had to have iconic sound effects. It had to be great to play with a friend. And it had to make you coming back for more. Street Fighter 2 has all of these in spades. It was one of those classic games where you could just stand there for hours and watch other people play. It would often be ‘winner stays on’ and the challenge of trying to stay on the machine would be immense. The thrill of the crowd all watching you and cheering you on. It’s one of those games that I distinctly remember saving up coins specifically to play that game at the weekend. The game had such an aura about it that when it came out on the SNES a year later it somehow felt wrong that such an amazing game could be played in your own bedroom. To me it was a game that epitomised the arcade experience and has left a legacy that is still going strong today.
As always, it was really hard to pick only 10 for this list. Here are some of the close contenders that nearly made it in.
What an amazing game. Possibly the second best game music after Out Run and possibly the second best co-op game after Gauntlet. The only reason it wasn’t in the Top Ten list is that it was so well ported to 8-bit and 16-bit platforms that I don’t really consider it a pure arcade game any more.
This was one of the staples of every road-side service station and was a go-to game for me and my mates every time.
One of the most iconic racers after Out Run. “Let’s go, Mr Driver!”
Hard Drivin’ was absolutely astounding when it came out. It was more expensive than other games at 50p a go I think, but it was worth it as it felt like you were actually driving a real car.
WWF Superstars and WWF Wrestlefest
Both these games have a soft spot in my heart. Wrestlefest is probably the better game in terms of gameplay and the roster you can choose from, but Superstars has a real charm about it and I kind of prefer the simpler graphics.
So they are my personal favourite arcade games. Let me know in the comments what some of your favourites are, or even better give me your own top ten lists in the comments.