Being stuck in the house for the last few weeks has meant I’ve been gaming a little more than usual and my modded Arcade1Up has given me plenty of distractions. Converting to a RetroPie based system has really inspired me to play it even more than I had previously. As a result I thought it might be fun to list my current top ten arcade games and share them with the world. 🙂
The games listed here span from 1982 to 1990 which was a time when arcade machines were still on top when it came to providing the best gaming experience. Home machines and consoles were gradually improving in their capabilities and were getting close to being able to provide something similar in terms of graphics and audio. At the turn of the decade the tide turned almost completely against arcades and and it was all about being able to play these games at home. Still… it can be nice to go back to playing games “the old fashioned way” at a stand up machine even if the guts underneath all that wood and plastic are not of the same era. Many of these games are also available in retro compilations and digital releases which I think are great alternatives for anyone wanting to relive the old days.
My list below is in no particular order and I’m sure this list will evolve over time but I have to start somewhere!
I’ve already spoken about Robotron: 2084 in the past and I’ll continue to stand by it as being one of those perfect arcade games. One of the early successful twin stick shooters, the game tasks players with saving humans while fighting off (almost) endless waves of enemies. It’s fast, chaotic and requires good coordination to succeed. The game gives players little time to rest as each wave is thrown at you relentlessly, placing you into deeper trouble. It seems designed to wear you down and getting a good score feels like a badge of honour even if it is just beating your own. As much as I love Geometry Wars and its sequels, this game is still king to me.
Describing how to play Joust to people now probably makes them think more of Flappy Bird than anything else but this game has so much more going for it. Taking the role of a knight on a flying ostrich (?) you’re facing off against other flying knights (on vultures, of course!) wave after wave either by yourself of with a friend. Mastering the game is all about position and elevation – button presses correspond to your ride flapping its wings so you’re constantly tapping away to get one over your opponents, literally. It’s a combination of simplicity in controls and challenge in how to apply them. Also a long time favourite of mine thanks to years of playing on Atari machines.
This one is new to my list as I was only recently introduced to Bosconian after learning of an excellent conversion released on the Atari 8bit. A space themed multidirectional shooter, players are tasked with cleaning up their zone of enemy bases while dodging enemy ships, weapons and obstacles. The game has a nice balance of giving players a fair chance of holding their own – your ship’s guns shoot both forward and backward which really helps – while presenting enough of a challenge that forces them to be continually on their guard. It’s become a bit of a “go to” game for me of late and still plays brilliantly.
This cutesy platformer is a real winner for me thanks to some great controls and a gentle difficulty curve that helps players get acquainted with the game’s mechanics. In Rod-Land one to two players are tasked with cleaning up each of the stage of enemies by swatting them away with their magic wands. Jumping up to platforms is replaced with summoning a ladder to climb which adds some unique strategies for dealing with enemies and how you traverse the level. With both this and Parasol Stars I would be hard pressed to split them as they are favourites of mine but luckily the latter was only for home machines and did not get an arcade release.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
A phenomenon when this first landed in the arcades, this four player beat-em-up was an audio-visual showcase that made great use of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles license and holds up incredibly well. It wasn’t easy by any means but the controls are simple enough to pick up and play and if you’re willing to keep hitting that continue button and feed it credits you’ll enjoy it from start to finish. Much money was spent playing this at a local bowling alley when I was younger. It also supports up to four players so an easy one for families to play together and help the kids burn off some of that unused energy.
One of their earlier games based on Sega’s Super Scaler architecture, Space Harrier holds up well thanks to its fantasy elements and sticking to the basics in gameplay. It’s just the joystick to move around the screen and a single button to fire your gun and that’s it. It’s almost like a side scrolling shooter but seen from a third person perspective as you have to fight your way through each of the stages to then take on the end level boss. I played this a lot on both the Atari ST and Commodore 64 so traversing the opening stage is almost hardwired into me now.
Another game that supports up to 4 players and tasks them with traversing dungeon levels full of fantasy beasties to find loot and the doorway to the next level. Gauntlet II is a multidirectional scrolling shooter with VERY light RPG elements, staying alive while racking up as big a score as possible is all it’s really about. I’d rate this one over the original as each player can choose their own class (Warrior, Elf, Valkyrie, Wizard) instead of being restricted to the one based on their player slot. The sampled voices are iconic too… Blue Elf needs food badly…
Atari’s original arcade version of Tetris was the basis of many of the home computer versions of the time (via Mirrorsoft) so it will be familiar to a lot of retro gamers. It might lack some of the more modern nuances of later versions such as the ability to rotate in both directions but the core game is still as good as ever and it even has 2 player mode for facing off against friends. The difficulty ramps up fairly quickly as you’d expect from an arcade game so don’t expect long sessions but it will give you the fix you need.
This is another that I have long lasting memories of thanks to both the arcade version and the many computer conversions that released after it. Much of my time was spent playing it on the Atari ST which does a fair job of replicating the game graphically. A side scrolling shooter, the game was praised at the time for its presentation and its mechanics that included a weapons pod that could be detached from your ship. It’s also pretty punishing too – losing a life starts you with no upgrades and you have to earn them all back. I can handle the first two levels well enough but the third which involves navigating around a giant megaship boss, my success rate is not so good. Many shooters have surpassed it in spectacle but I still have a soft spot for it. A game I get into when feeling like I need a challenge!
Bursting bubbles seems to be a popular pursuit of many games and Pang takes that concept into a game that’s part Asteroids and Space Invaders. The goal in Pang is for players (up to 2) is to burst a number of bubbles bouncing around the screen using your harpoon like weapon. Large bubbles burst into two medium sized ones which then burst down into two small ones so you’re having to be careful with how you manage the problem as contact with any of them cost you a life and you’ll have to restart the level. A few power ups are thrown into the mix too but you may have to be selective on when they are appropriate so there’s a little bit of strategy in the gameplay too.
What do you think? Did I make some bad choices? Any better games out there? Feel free to comment below!
Categories: Fun & Games, Gaming, Opinion
Fantastic choices. Especially Rod-Land. I frigging love Rod-Land so very much. And it’s one of those games that hasn’t had any home ports since the Atari ST! I want it on my Switch, dammit!
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I’m really surprised we didn’t get to see more games like it… or I haven’t seen them anyway! Rod-Land plays so well it just seems like an easy win to build on that. Was really glad that I had a chance to play it on the ST too, even if it was a demo. 🙂
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God write up, but you forgot A New Zealand Story. Awesome little Kiwi trying to find his little brothers and sisters.
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New Zealand Story is a really great game too and when I think of games from the era it comes up often. 🙂 I think I need to sit down with it more and get a better handle on the flight aspects. Whenever I get a balloon or one of those little floating platforms I waste them and lose a life too quickly!