The 1980s were a great time for video games because they had two very different halves. The first part was a holdover from the 1970s. Most games just asked you to try to get the highest score, and you could play for as long as you wanted. But by the end of the decade, games could be finished and had a beginning, middle, and end. The gems we played when we were kids.
Not only that, but many games had challenges that felt more fair in terms of how hard they were. Tough but fair wouldn’t be fully implemented until the 1990s, but moves were being taken to get there. Not every best game will be one that everyone remembers fondly, since many are on the list because they changed the business.
The first Pac-Man game is one of the most well-known games ever made. You had to eat all of the dots in a simple puzzle. It was easy to learn but hard to master. Since the game has been around for over 40 years, many people have learned how to play it well enough to get the best possible score of 3,333,360.
Even though there have been many versions and updates over the past 40 years that are better than the original in many ways, they wouldn’t exist without the original. Pac-Man machines are still one of the most popular things you’ll find in real arcades, and companies like Arcade1Up still make them.
Donkey Kong, which was the first game in the Mario series, is just as well-known as Pac-Man. Unlike Pac-Man, which eases you into the game, DK is pretty hard from the start. You’ll keep going through a loop of four levels, with the main goal of the game being to move forward while avoiding any obstacles.
Anyone who has played Donkey Kong 64 can tell you that it is more fun because it is hard. The first Donkey Kong is also very important to the platformer genre as a whole. It may have been the first game to have fall damage, which most Mario games would later get rid of.
Sometimes a sequel is so much better than the first one that it makes the first one kind of useless to play. This is the case with Galaga, which is so much better than its predecessor Galaxian that most kids playing it in arcades today probably don’t know it’s a follow-up. The shooting in space in Galaga is still a lot of fun today.
You could say that games like Pac-Man are too easy now compared to newer games in the same series, but Galaga is still a lot of fun, even compared to newer 2D space shooters. It’s right up there with Pac-Man as one of the most popular Namco machines out there, and for good reason.
Even though Robotron 2084 isn’t a typical 80s game for a lot of people, it has a huge impact and has pretty much started its own genre. With two joysticks, it was easy to play. One lets you move, and the other lets you choose where your shots go. This way of controlling the game worked so well that it would be used in many games afterward.
Even now, Robotron’s fast-paced gameplay is still fun and hard. It started a new type of action game called “horde shooter” and had an effect on games like “Smash TV” and “Call of Duty: Dead Ops Arcade.” Even Serious Sam is a 3D FPS version of what Robotron was like when it first came out.
Joust is another classic arcade game that had a surprising amount of impact on games that came after it. You take on the role of a knight riding an ostrich or stork as you charge and hit the other players. It’s easy to learn and a lot of fun to play, especially with friends.
It feels like a hit indie game that could have come out today because it feels like a party game. Joust has been mentioned a lot in popular culture, like in the book Ready Player One, and it has inspired a lot of games, like Nintendo’s Balloon Fight. That never happens with the big N, because they are usually the ones who start new things.
Like Funny Shooter 2, Marble Madness made its own spot within the platform game genre. Due to the trackball controls, the arcade version of Marble Madness is still the best way to play. Unlike the NES port or when you play on an Xbox 360 with an analog stick, it’s so easy to play and just works. This last one is especially too touchy and not a good way to play.
Marble Madness is hard to get good at, but when you do, it feels great. It’s also one of the few games in this time that can be beaten and requires a high score for speedrunning. Marble platformers are still popular today, and there are a lot of them on Steam. You could even say that this game had a big impact on Super Monkey Ball.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins
Ghosts ‘n Goblins is one of the video games that is known for being one of the hardest ones ever. There are a lot of baddies coming at you, and you can only take two hits before you die. The game doesn’t cheat, though. There’s no way for the AI to read what you type or act in an unfair way. It’s just brutal, plain and simple.
Even though it’s hard, it’s fun and fair because the controls are very smooth and the game is based on almost constant moving. The images were also amazing for 1985, and it might have been the best-looking game out there. Even with hard games like Elden Ring, this game is still fun to play if you like a challenge.
Back in 1987, the very first game in the Contra series came out in arcades. Even though the NES version is better, the arcade version is still a great action game. In many 2D action games, you still have to move from left to right and from bottom to top while shooting a bunch of bad guys coming at you.
The guns in Contra are what make the game stand out, and they’re great. In almost every Contra game and many other games like Cuphead, the Spread Gun is still the best tool to use. It’s a little short, but it’s fun and has had a big effect on 2D action games.
When you think of beat-em-ups, you have to think of Double Dragon. It’s a simple story about two brothers who save a woman from a gang. It’s a great co-op arcade game with a memorable finish. The only bad thing about the game is that it slows down a lot on the original arcade gear.
The Double Dragon Trilogy on Steam fixes that, which is important if you want to play games today. People back then didn’t mind the slowdown, but gamers today aren’t likely to do the same. The beat-em-up action shines so much brighter when the game runs more smoothly.
Capcom has made some of the best beat-em-up games ever made. The best beat-em-ups it made were in the 1990s, but Final Fight was definitely the best game it made in the 1980s. The same internal team that made Street Fighter 2 also made this game. You play as three awesome characters on a trip through Metro City to save Jessica from the Mad Gear Gang.
The beat-em-up action was great, but what really made Final Fight stand out were the characters and the great music. The bad guys in Final Fight look very different from each other and are easy to remember. So it makes sense that many of them were added to the Street Fighter games. Final Fight is still the best beat-em-up of the last ten years.