Top 20 Classic Arcade Games of the 80s

By Old School Tim

Honorable Mention: Space Invaders and Asteroids

Girl playing Pac-Man in arcade in1983

These are some of the originals, so I wanted to at least pay homage. They were never my favorite games, though they did receive a good number of my quarters along the way as well. Both of these arcade games were released back in 1978 and helped start a revolution which is still evolving today into game systems like Wii and Xbox 360 and hi-tech arcade games that cost a lot more than a quarter nowadays.

Dragon's Lair, Rampage, Tempest, & Centipede

20. Dragon’s Lair

Released back in 1983, this was one of the first arcade games that cost more than just 1 quarter to play. It was state of the art like nothing ever seen before and looked as if you were actually controlling a real cartoon.

19. Rampage

A 1986 game that three players could play at the same time. You could control a Godzilla, King Kong or Werewolf type character and the object was to knock down buildings and destroy cities.

18. Tempest

Released back in 1980, this was one of the very first arcade games. You used a dial rather than a joystick to control the game which featured 3d images, but very primitive graphics. This game was at a bowling alley that we used to go to and received countless quarters from my brother and I.

17. Centipede

Another game from 1980, this one used a roller ball to control the game. I always remember the distinctive sound of this game and could hear if someone was playing the game the moment you walked in the door.

Xevious, Donkey Kong Junior, Mario Bros., & Defender

16. Xevious

From 1982, this was a vertical scrolling game where you controlled an aircraft and you could shoot or drop bombs as you proceeded along the course.

15. Donkey Kong Junior

This was the sequel to Donkey Kong which was released in 1982. I always liked the original a little better, though this game was very fun and challenging in its own right. You control Junior who is trying to save his Dad from Mario. As you will see, many of the Mario related games were my favorites.

14. Mario Bros.

This was a spin off of Donkey Kong released in 1983. It introduced Mario’s brother Luigi and allowed you to play with two players simultaneously. The game takes place in a sewer where the two characters have to defeat all of the pests that come out of the pipes.

13. Defender

This game was introduced in 1980 and might possibly be one of the most difficult games of that generation. It required you to use a joystick and five other buttons in fast paced game play. Though the early graphics were nothing special, I always enjoyed this game and the challenge it provided.

Frogger, Zaxxon, Pole Position, & Star Wars

12. Frogger

This game was released in 1981 and is probably ranked higher on many people’s list because it became one of the arcade game icons. The goal of the game was to guide the frog across a busy street and then a river. Like most games, this became more and more difficult as you advanced levels. I love the Seinfeld episode that centered around the arcade game.

11. Zaxxon

From 1982, this game featured a space craft flying through a fortress. “At the time of its release, Zaxxon was unique as it was the first game to employ isometric projection, something of a three-quarter viewing perspective. This effect simulated three dimensions from a third-person viewpoint” which was pretty cool. I pumped my fair share of quarters into this game.

10. Pole Position

Released in 1982, I believe this had to be one of the first driving games and you were able to use an actual steering wheel. That is pretty cool when you are not old enough to drive a real car yet. I enjoyed Pole Position, but I have it on this list representing all of the classic driving games.

9. Star Wars

This game was released back in 1983 and was based around the original Star Wars movie. You pilot Luke’s X-wing fighter through several different levels. I was (and still am) a big Star Wars fan and thus really enjoyed playing this game which also featured some of the real character voices. It was at the roller skating rink that we would go to and I remember playing that game more than I remember actually skating.

Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Burgertime & Tron

8. Pac Man

One of the most famous and iconic video games of all time, it was originally released in Japan in 1980. It definitely became a part of pop culture (including the 1982 pop music hit “Pac Man Fever”) and created a new genre for arcade games. I really enjoyed this game, but as you will see, I enjoyed his wife’s game a little better.

7. Donkey Kong

I always remember this game, introduced in 1981, very fondly. Along with Pac Man and Frogger, it really seems to be one of the classic arcade game icons. I give it additional credit for launching the Mario franchise as well.

6. Burgertime

From 1982, the goal of this game was to create hamburgers by walking over layers of the sandwich forcing them to drop down while avoiding being caught by the hot dog, pickle or egg enemies. Another game that definitely received a lot of my quarters as a child.

5. Tron

This game was based on the Disney film by the same name and released back in 1982. It featured 4 subgames including: tanks, cycles, spiders and a “breakout” style wall. Unlike Star Wars, I was not a big fan of the movie, so I am not sure why we enjoyed this game so much, but we played it a lot.

Q*bert, Ms. Pac Man, Galaga, Super Mario Bros.

4. Q*bert

Released in 1982, this was easily one of my most-played games. The goal was to hop from cube to cube and change the color of every cube on the pyramid without falling off the side or getting caught by any of the enemies. If Q*bert is caught by an enemy a dialogue bubble appears with “@!#[email protected]!” symbolizing swearing. Very challenging game.

3. Ms. Pac Man

Another game released in 1982, it is a sequel to the original Pac Man. The game is almost identical to the original with some subtle changes and of course the main character has a little red bow signifying that she is a girl. The intermissions between certain levels show scenes in Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man’s relationship. I always enjoyed this game a little more than the original and it rates as one of my very favorites.

2. Galaga

Released in 1981, this is technically a sequel to a game called Galaxian. I feel this game requires as much hand-eye coordination than any other video game especially as you get to higher levels. Despite the evolution of video games through the years, I feel this game still holds up as very challenging and very entertaining. When I am able to purchase a classic arcade game for my own home, this will likely be the one I would get.

1. Super Mario Bros.

This was released in 1985, later than any other game on this list. Though it gained popularity more from the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was also an arcade game. I am likely biased a little by the ability to play it later on Nintendo at home, but it was revolutionary at the time and my all time favorite classic arcade game.

It really seems like the golden age of arcade games was 1980-1982. There are several on line websites where you can play some of these classic games for FREE. If interested, here are a couple links…

Check out Old School Tim’s blog called “Kickin’ it Old School” at for more 80s fun.

Author: Pia Sooney

Just a little obsessed with all things 80s, Pia still has her Swatch, her cassette tape collection, and her Converse Chucks. When not making friendship pins or listening to Depeche Mode, she runs a web design business.

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  1. Space Invaders & Asteroids get an “honorable mention……????” Oh, and what the hell is Burgertime, Xevious & Rampage???? Get a clue……

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    • Don’t be a jackass, it’s a list of the author’s personal faves, not the definitive ranking of arcade game history. With that being said, I was a bit surprised not to see Paperboy, Spy Hunter, nor Elevator Action…

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  2. I only played Super Mario Bros on arcade and it seems unique in being able to call itself a Full 8bit console game yet be playable in the arcade giving you a lot of gameplay for one coin.

    To the previous commentor, hopefully when reading any list you expect to find some you love, many you know and some that are new to you. That’s what makes lists interesting. You get to stroke your ego a little and expand your knowledge base.

    I was too young in the 80s to be visiting arcades but my C64 gave me love for the arcade legacy that is OutRun by SEGA a game that improved on the third person racer as a driving experience with tons of style in every facet.

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  3. You definitely missed “Dig Dug”

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  4. If I had to base my opinion of eighties arcade games on this listicle, I’d have to arrive at the conclusion that they stopped making good arcade videogames in 1985, since every title listed here was released in the first half of the decade, with the exception of Rampage (early second half).

    Truth is that videogames evolved very quickly and most titles produced by the end of that decade made the ones listed here look like stone age artifacts.

    Here is a list of games that exemplify what the second half of the eighties looked like: Ikari Warriors, Contra, 1942, After Burner, Black Tiger, Castlevania, Double Dragon, Operation Wolf, R-Type, Rastan, Roadblasters, Shinobi, Street Fighter, Super Hang On, ThunderBlade, Altered Beast, Galaxy Force, Ghost ’N Goblins, Robocop, Alien Syndrome, Vendetta, Dynasty Wars, Enduro Racer, Final Fight, Golden Axe, Midnight Resistance, Ninja Gaiden, Outrun, Space Harrier, Strider, Toki, Bubble Bobble, Rolling Thunder.

    These games are all classics, and they are worlds apart from those created in the first half of the decade in terms of technology, art and gameplay. This is not to say that the games listed here are bad games. They are among the best of what the early eighties had to offer. But in all honesty, they can’t be regarded as representative of the whole decade. At most they are an example of what the EARLY eighties arcades were like. Late eighties were a very different beast.

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