Talk About a Throwback: 10 of the Most Popular Arcade Video Games of All Time

The video gaming industry is now worth over $120 billion.

That’s more than the GDP of some small countries! Seeing how far gaming has come, you could almost forget their arcade origins. But if you’re an avid gamer or just a lover of all things old school, its good to look back and see where it all came from.

Read on for our review of the most popular arcade video games ever invented!

1. Donkey Kong

One of the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto’s first games was the 1981 Donkey Kong. This classic coin-op was a huge hit with gamers due to the innovative gameplay played over 4 screens.

At launch, some considered the game strange and weird to play. when you consider this was the age of space shooters and maze chasers, this is understandable.

It didn’t take long for this new style concept to catch on though. Donkey Kong went down in history and is still much-loved today.

2. Pac Man

One of the most recognizable games, and a firm favorite of most of our childhoods. You have to control the yellow, circular Pac-Man as he tries to navigate his way through a fast-paced maze.

You need him to eat all the little dots on the path of the maze. But watch out! Don’t run into the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde.

In each level, you avoid these pesky but cute foes, but the fast-paced nature of the game gets hectic. The game will continue through the levels until you beat it, or you lose all your lives.

This made Pac Man one of the most competitive arcade video games. People still fight to get through all 255 levels without losing a single life. There is a glitch in the game resulting in a 256th split-screen level. If you can beat that too, it’ll put you up there with the elite few skilled enough to do it.

3. Galaga

Another staple of any arcade center is Galaga. This is a space shooter that was wildly popular in both North American and Japan after its 1981 release.

Released by Namco, it focused on fast gameplay and quick maneuvers. Enemies will come at you from the top of the screen and you need to avoid them. An interesting, not well-known fact, is that Galaga was a sequel to the 1979 game Galaxian.

4. Space Invaders

Developed by Taito in 1978, the player has to stop the space invaders from reading the bottom of the screen. You’re alone, shooting at a line of enemies that speed up over time. This anxiety-inducing gameplay is fast-paced and lots of fun.

What made Space Invaders stand out was the simple, addictive game design. You can pick it up and play as and when you want to and sink right back into the gameplay.

5. Dragon’s Lair

In that irresistible cliche, you play the role of a knight, looking for a kidnapped princess. You get to enjoy some great cutscenes as you choose what path to take on this arduous journey.

This game was the first that used QTEs and was an interactive movie laserdisc.
Dragon’s Lair is well known for the comical death sequences. You need to have cat-like reflexes to react to what’s going on. You need to press the right button at the right time and choose the right path.

Thanks to its appearance in Stranger Things 2, Dragons Lair has begun to test (and punish) a whole new generation of gamers.

6. Tetris

Tetris is the ultimate OG puzzle game. You start with a clear screen and puzzle pieces start to float down. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and you need to form geometric blocks to keep your screen from filling up.

It’s satisfying for the soul when you see those blocks line up. Especially when you think your screen is about to fill up (and end the game) but they all pop and you get a second chance. The more you succeed, the faster the pieces fall. This is what sets the causal players apart from the hardcore score chasers.

7. Street Fighter II

As the highlight of 2D fighting games, Street Fighter II pushed the series to the top. More than 25 years later, the game is still taken seriously as a top-tier title on the competitive scene.

In the mid-80s, arcades went into a decline in income. Street Fighter II was such a hit that it’s said to be a key title that helped set in motion the arcade resurgence of the 90s.

8. NBA Jam

When arcades saw a boost in the 90s, NBA Jam came to pick up where basketball Arch Rivals left off. Arch Rivals never really picked up steam, but NBA Jam became a huge hit.

What set it apart was its official license. This meaning the game could show real team names and digital likenesses of star players.

The gameplay was impressive and there were few rules. This provided fast-paced action, jaw-dropping net shots, and spectacular slam dunks. And don’t forget the NBA Jam catchphrases still burned in our brains today – “Boomshakalaka” and “He’s on fire”!

9. Asteroids

Asteroid by Atari is a vector graphic released in 1979. This gave a more sophisticated end result that the typical shooter formats. With the typical shooter format, the player has limited movement. They defend a single position at the bottom of the screen.

In Asteroids, you have to handle threats from all sides. On top of that, there are missile-firing space ships too. Players viewed the game as a new concept and a challenge. A challenge that kept players coming back for more.

10. Mortal Kombat II

Only a year after the original game, Mortal Kombat II was a clear improvement in every way. Better graphics, new characters, and improved gameplay. The better combos and new fatalities were pretty exciting too.

Like Street Fighter II, no one remembers the first Mortal Kombat but the sequel has gone down as a classic. It’s still considered one of the best games in the Mortal Kombat series. Such was the success of Mortal Kombat II the franchise branched out to include comics, ‘kard’ games, movies, and more.

The Most Popular Arcade Video Games

Arcades defined the youth of generations, so there is no surprise that this list was heavily contested. With hundreds of popular arcade video games vying for position we are sure some of your childhood favorites didn’t make the cut. But that just shows how influential video game arcades have been to the industry.

If you found this article interesting, check out our other blog posts.