It appears that a great many of us are a nostalgic bunch. We love to look back to see what the popular trends of times were in days gone by – actually there are quite a few things that although considered ‘retro’ still command a lot of attention.

People often cite the influence of older movies, fashion and music, but actually retro arcade games have had, and continue to have, a massive influence on our popular culture. Even if we can enjoy the most up-to-date technology used in today’s modern video games, there is still that pull of the vintage classics.

The 1970’s and 1980’s were the greatest success years for amusement arcade games. This was obviously before the times that we could fight alien invaders, save the princess and run away from ghosts in the comfort of our own home. The arcade was a communal place, where a whole generation grew up and could gather together to compete on the latest technology of entertainment.

Nowadays we have retro influences everywhere, with gaming being a massively referenced genre. In the film industry we have had movies recently made such as Wreck-it-Ralph, Pixels, Rampage and Sonic the Hedgehog. In both the movie and book world, we have the excellent Ready Player One story which is due to get a sequel novel, cleverly titled Ready Player Two in late November 2020. In the online gaming sector you can find some of the best retro slots games at letting you try those games that have stood the test of time from the comfort of your own home. And in the music world we have recently had several vinyl LP releases of game soundtracks including games like Out Run, Metal Slug, Streets of Rage, Shinobi and more by Data Discs. Retrogaming references are everywhere, and the influence of gaming has reached far beyond its own medium.

There are of course dozens, nay hundreds, of incredible arcade games from the 70s and 80s. But which ones are amongst the most influential, and that have permeated into our culture and become household names? Let’s take a look at a few of the biggest ones.

Brought to us by Namco, there were in the region of 400,000 Pac-Man cabinets sold, and by 1985 the revenue brought in by this iconic game was in excess of $3.5bn (in today’s terms that would be in the region of $7.96bn)

Pac-Man was highly addictive, easy to play and had simple enemy characters (ghosts) Pinky, Inky Blinky and Clyde. For anyone who has somehow managed to never play Pac-Man, the title character runs round a maze eating pellets for points. All the time trying to avoid getting caught by ghosts. Eating power pellets flips the tables and turns all those ghosts from being the hunters to being the prey – if caught Pac-Man can eat them for more points. If Pac-Man gets hit by a ghost he will lose a life. When you run out of all your lives the game ends. Simple, fun and enjoyed by millions.

Pac-Man actually founded the maze chase game genre and there are some that say that it opened up gaming to females as it was so non-violent. Pac-Man also became the first gaming mascot and turned out to be the most profitable arcade game ever made.

Space Invaders
Space Invaders was brought to us by Taito in 1978, and by 1982 the revenue brought in by the game was in the region of $2.7bn – when adjusted for inflation this would be in the region of $.85bn.

Known as one of the earliest 2D shooters, Space Invaders inspired many similar games in the same genre, including Phoenix, Galaxian and Galaga to name a few. The game is simple yet addictive, which was a plus point for any arcade game designed to part you from your money, and Space Invaders was the best-selling video game and highest grossing entertainment product of its time.

It took a year for the game to be designed by Tomohiro Nishikado who made custom hardware to complete its build. Destroying wave after wave of ever-descending aliens using a lazer cannon is the name of the game, although it’s not quite as simple as that as they counterfire at you as they get to the bottom of the screen. The more aliens get destroyed and the further down they get, the quicker they move – making it even harder to destroy them and stay alive. There is also a mystery ship that earns you extra points if you manage to destroy it.

Space Invaders actually became a global phenomenon expanding the love of games throughout the world and is considered to be one of the most important games ever made for that very reason.

Donkey Kong
Brought to us by Nintendo in 1981, there were in excess of 132,000 cabinets sold earning a revenue of around $280bn in 1982 (adjusted for inflation $710.2bn)

Known as a pioneer of the platform genre, you take the part of Mario (known as Jumpman back then), avoiding barrels and fires to save the damsel in distress (Pauline), from Donkey Kong.

The North American market was broken into with Donkey Kong by Nintendo which was created by the designer Shigeru Miyamoto who then went on to make other popular games like Super Mario Bros and the Legend of Zelda.

This is the first platform game that asked you to jump, and with four different level stages, Donkey Kong was regarded as one of the most difficult games of its time, requiring quite a degree of skill as well as good timing. Anyone who wants to know just how difficult and competitive Donkey Kong can be, needs to watch the seminal The King of Kong movie.