The Best Side-Scrolling Action Games of the 80s

The 80s was the era when video games became mainstream. With the release of Nintendo’s NES, video games became a household name and a staple of popular culture. Among the many genres and types of games that became popular during the 80s, side-scrolling action games were one of the most beloved. In this article, we will take a look at some of the best side-scrolling action games of the 80s that captured the hearts of gamers then and still hold a special place in the hearts of many today.

1. Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Super Mario Bros. is perhaps the most beloved and famous of all side-scrolling action games from the 80s and for good reason. The game released in 1985, set a new standard for side-scrolling action games. It introduced us to Mario and Luigi, two plumbers who had to journey through the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser. The game had simple but effective gameplay mechanics with intuitive controls that allowed players to jump, run, and shoot fireballs. The game’s music was also legendary, and the game became the best-selling video game of all time until it was eventually dethroned.

2. Castlevania (1986)

Castlevania is another hugely popular side-scrolling action game that was first released for the NES in 1986. The game has players take on the role of Simon Belmont, a vampire hunter who must make his way through Dracula’s castle and defeat the Count to save the world. The game had tight controls and challenging gameplay that tested players’ skills and patience. The game’s detailed graphics and gothic atmosphere added to the game’s charm, making it one of the most memorable games from the era.

3. Metroid (1986)

Released the same year as Castlevania, Metroid introduced us to the badass bounty hunter Samus Aran and tasked players with exploring the planet Zebes to stop the space pirates from using Metroids as biological weapons. The game was a sci-fi masterpiece and provided players with one of the greatest twists in gaming history when it was revealed that Samus was a woman. The game’s non-linear gameplay, challenging boss fights, and power-ups, including the iconic morph ball, made it a fan favorite.

4. Contra (1987)

Contra was released in 1987 for the NES and became a cult classic among gamers. The game had players take on the roles of Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, two soldiers on a mission to stop the evil Red Falcon Organization from taking over the world. The game was known for its co-op gameplay and insanely challenging difficulty. The game’s power-ups, including the spread gun and laser rifle, made players feel like total badasses once they acquired them.

5. Ninja Gaiden (1988)

Ninja Gaiden was released in 1988 and was one of the most challenging games of the era, but that didn’t stop gamers from falling in love with it. The game followed Ryu Hayabusa and his quest to avenge his father’s death. The game featured fluid animations, intricate level design, and an engaging story that kept players hooked. The game’s difficulty may have been high, but players loved the challenge and feeling of accomplishment once they finally beat the game.

6. Bionic Commando (1988)

Bionic Commando was a unique side-scrolling action game in that it didn’t let players jump. Instead, players had to control the game’s protagonist, Rad Spencer, and use his bionic arm to swing from platform to platform. The game’s story had Spencer going on a mission to stop the evil organization, Albatross, from launching a missile. The game’s mechanics and story were unique for the time, and the game remains a cult classic.

7. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1988)

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts followed the adventures of Arthur, a brave knight who had to rescue his beloved Princess Prin-Prin from the clutches of the evil demon Astaroth. The game had players going through various levels, killing enemies, and collecting power-ups. However, the game’s difficulty was infamous, as players had to beat the game twice to truly beat it. Despite the difficulty, the game’s graphics, sound, and challenging gameplay made it one of the most memorable games of the era.

8. Double Dragon II: The Revenge (1989)

Double Dragon II is the sequel to the hit game Double Dragon and was released in 1989. The game had players take on the role of brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee as they went on a mission to avenge the death of their girlfriend Marian. The game had co-op gameplay, special moves, and new moves, and improved mechanics over its predecessor. The game’s addictive gameplay and improved mechanics make it a classic that is still played by fans today.

9. Dragon Spirit: The New Legend (1989)

Dragon Spirit: The New Legend is a game that may not be as well-known as some of the others on this list, but it’s still a gem. The game had players control a dragon on a mission to rescue a princess. The game’s graphics were fantastic for the time, and the game’s power-up system, which allowed players to transform their dragon into different forms, added a new layer of strategy to the game. The game’s challenging boss fights and engaging gameplay made it a hidden gem that any fan of side-scrolling action games should play.


The 80s were a fantastic time for side-scrolling action games, and these are some of the best examples of the genre. These games introduced us to iconic characters, stories, and gameplay mechanics that are still being used today. These games are part of gaming history and remain favorites of many gamers even after all these years.