From Space Invaders to Ms. Pac-Man: Ranking the 80s most influential arcade games

For those who grew up in the 80s, the mention of arcade games brings back a flood of memories. The neon lights, the blaring music, and the sound of coins jingling still linger in our minds. But beyond the nostalgia, the 80s arcade games had a lasting impact on the gaming industry, shaping it into what it is today. Here, we take a trip down memory lane and rank the top influential games of the decade.

1. Space Invaders (1978)

Space Invaders ushered in the golden age of arcade games and is widely regarded as the game that put them on the map. The simple graphics and gameplay may seem rudimentary now, but at the time, it captivated a generation. In Japan, the popularity of Space Invaders was so great that it caused a coin shortage as people exchanged yen for more game time.

2. Pac-Man (1980)

Pac-Man is one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time, and it all started with this game. Its success went beyond the arcade, with spin-off merchandise, a pop song, and even a Saturday morning cartoon show. The game’s appeal lies in its simplicity, as players guide Pac-Man through a maze of dots and avoid ghosts. Pac-Man also introduced the idea of power-ups and bonus rounds, which became staples of future games.

3. Donkey Kong (1981)

Before he was known as the plumber who rescued Princess Peach, Mario was just a guy named Jumpman in Donkey Kong. The game introduced players to platforming, as they climbed ladders and jumped over barrels to rescue Jumpman’s girlfriend from the titular gorilla. Donkey Kong’s success launched Mario into the spotlight and paved the way for other platforming games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Crash Bandicoot.

4. Galaga (1981)

Galaga is a classic shoot-em-up game that’s still fun to play today. The game’s mechanics build upon the success of Space Invaders, with more complex enemy movements and power-ups. But what sets Galaga apart is the iconic challenge stage, where players must shoot down swarms of enemy ships for bonus points. Galaga’s influence can be seen in modern-day twin-stick shooters like Geometry Wars and Stardust.

5. Ms. Pac-Man (1982)

Ms. Pac-Man may not have been the first game to feature a female protagonist, but she was the first to truly resonate with players. The game is essentially a refined version of the original Pac-Man, with new mazes and faster gameplay. But the addition of Ms. Pac-Man injected a bit of personality into the game, and her popularity spawned a slew of sequels and spin-offs.

6. Dig Dug (1982)

Dig Dug is a unique game that blends elements of strategy and action. Players control a character armed with a pump, using it to inflate and pop underground enemies like Pookas and Fygars. The game popularized the “digging” mechanic, where players could create their own paths through soil. Its impact can be seen in modern games that utilize environmental destruction, such as Red Faction and Minecraft.

7. Joust (1982)

Joust is a game that’s hard to describe, but it’s undeniably fun to play. Players control knights mounted on giant birds, jousters if you will, that use lances to defeat enemies. What sets Joust apart is the physics-based movement of the characters and enemies, which leads to some truly wacky moments. Joust’s influence can be seen in games that prioritize physics-based gameplay, like Gang Beasts and Human: Fall Flat.

8. Dragon’s Lair (1983)

Dragon’s Lair is an oddball game that’s more like a cartoon than a video game. Players control the hero Dirk the Daring, as he navigates through a series of quick-time events to defeat a dragon and rescue a princess. The game’s success relied heavily on its innovative LaserDisc technology, which allowed for more detailed animations than was previously possible. Dragon’s Lair’s influence can be seen in modern games that blur the line between interactive media and cinema, like Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human.

9. Track & Field (1983)

Track & Field is a sports game that’s all about button mashing. Players compete in various Olympic events, like running, long jump, and hammer throw, by rapidly tapping two buttons as fast as possible. The game was notorious for breaking arcade machines due to its intense button mashing, but it also spawned a number of imitators in the sports genre.

10. Gauntlet (1985)

Gauntlet is a four-player dungeon crawler, where players battle hordes of enemies and collect treasure. The game’s biggest innovation is its cooperative gameplay, allowing players to work together to progress through the levels. The game’s impact can be seen in modern games that prioritize cooperative play, such as Left 4 Dead and Warhammer: Vermintide.

In conclusion, arcade games of the 80s paved the way for modern games, and without them, the gaming industry would not look the same. These games, with their crude graphics and simple gameplay, captured the imaginations of millions and left lasting impressions. Whether you’re a fan of shoot-em-ups, platformers, or sports games, there’s an 80s arcade game that influenced your favorite genre.