Our top 5 favourite classic arcade games

November 12, 2008

The other day my wife and I were shopping at Costco, and as we wound our way through the Pac-man-like maze of pallets and shelves of ultra-economy-sized stuff towering high enough to make the top secret warehouse in Indiana Jones look like Lego blocks, we came across a rare and impressive find. It was one of those gigantically expensive, not quite but may as well be one-of-a-kind toys like a fully-functional one-man mini-sub that they bring in I think more for braging rights than any real hope of actually selling one. It was a retro-look standup arcade game (okay, maybe not quite so expensive as a mini-sub, but none-the-less a tad pricy for my Christmas list budget). Fitted with twin joysticks and fire/movement controls, as well as a rollerball and complete with glossy 80’s art on the frame, this baby was loaded with a suite of many oldstyle games. It immediately took me back to the old days (the heyday of the arcade games being the late 70’s through until the early 90’s) when pretty much every community had an arcade of some size where most of the kids would go at some point to dump small fortunes of quarters into the machines and see what the latest clone of last year’s popular game was, or what funky new game was finally making its way out to your neck of the woods.

So I figured it was time for the denizens of Not A Planet Anymore to put on our headbands, fire up the synth-laden pop music and journey back to the 80’s to indulge in a little reminiscing about our favourite arcade games. Didn’t take much to convince harrysaxon, since he is the meistro and will anthropoligically delve into the orgins of his video game passion at the drop of a hat.

But with so many favourites from the early days, and with our choices being so personal, we decided that just one Top 5 list wouldn’t do it. No, the only way to indulge in this level of electronic nostalgia is to do a two-player head-to-head game: two Top 5 lists! It’s like dumping in a single quarter and getting a bonus round of play!

bloginhood’s Top 5 Favourite Classic Arcade Games

5) Burger Time
You’ve gotta love a Donkey Kong rip-off that in order to win requires you to focus on beating the pickle.

4) Galaga
For me this was the most entertaining of the Space Invaders-style games. Granted, no significant difference in game play, but the graphics were nice (for the time) and for some reason I love the intro music they cooked up for it, which, for some reason, always makes me think it should be pounded out on an old organ at hockey games.

3) Ms Pac-Man
I have fond memories of playing on a table-top version of this game with a bunch of other kids at a service club our parents were members of. Pac-Man may be the original, but it was the Ms. that I spent more time with.

2) Rampage
A bit of a late-comer as far as the classics go, but my friends and I had a lot of fun on this one down at the corner store. Who wouldn’t love a game where you get to play the giant monster that’s tearing apart the city, eating the inhabitants, smashing cars and helicopters, and even putting the smack-down on the other players?

1) Tron
The Tron arcade game was a great 4-in-1 that started you off in a maze – depending on which exit you made it to, you’d find yourself playing either Light Cycle, the tank battle, something where you had to fight electronic bugs, and going against the MCP. Never really spent much time on the bugs or the MCP, but back in the day I kicked ass at Light Cycle and was fairly adept at wrangling a tank. One of the most bitter disappointments – in a video game sense, that is – in my adult life was a few years ago when my wife and I went to Disneyland for our honeymoon and I went into the arcade in Tomorrowland and there was no sign of the Tron game. It was their game inspired by their movie! There’s just no respect for history these days.

Honourable mentions:

-Gauntlet (I still come across one of these old relics once in a blue moon when I walk past the little arcades aboard the BC Ferries)
-Pole Position
-Donkey Kong

harrysaxon’s Top 5 Favourite Classic Arcade Games

5) Bubble-Bobble
The second co-op game to really get me and my friends hooked, its gameplay felt very unique for its time; almost like the first sandbox game, with multiple solutions to each level’s problems.

4) Tempest
Totally different feeling than other games in its time, with its pseudo-3D graphics and knob/button control system, and totally addictive.

3) Double-Dragon
The first co-op game I can remember playing, one where it really mattered, and not the half-assed 2 player modes that mostly came before, with the 2 players alternating turns at the same 1P game. The graphics were sweet for the time, the combat with pickup weapons new and fun, and best yet, at the end the co-op turned competitive when you and your brother had to duke it out for the girl.

2) Defender
One of the most challenging games ever made, frustrating and deeply addictive. Just ask Dave Nelson. The controls were beyond complicated for its time – in an era dominated by joystick/one button games, it had an up-down lever and 5 (or was it 6?) buttons.

1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The first 4-player co-op game I ever played; arguing over who got to play Donatello and Raphael with your friends was at least as much fun as the game itself, which was terrific. This is one of the last games I really played to death on a cabinet, as the home consoles were catching up by this point.

Honourable mentions:

-Dragon’s Lair
-Karate Champ


  1. harrysaxon is closer to the mark for me, although I’d have gone for Rainbow Islands rather than BB

  2. A couple that you missed, that I think are significant just due to their being unique or groundbreaking…

    1) Gyruss – this game, which I personally enjoy much more than Galaga, had one of the best early soundtracks in video games. Not only that, but it was in stereo.

    2) Elevator Action – name me another game where you have to go from the top to the bottom of the screen. That and a simple, addictive gameplay.

    3) Super Mario Brothers – had it not been for the original arcade game that little Japanese company (which has a larger market cap that Sony – think about that for a second) may not have broken into the North American market.

    4) Gauntlet – This was actually the first multi-player co-op game I remember playing. EIther that or the old black and white Atari racing game that had a big square version with a steering wheel on each side (though it wasn’t co-op).

    5) Virtua Fighter 2 – groundbreaking graphics that still define the whole genre of video games. It really was more than just the only reason to buy a Sega Saturn

  3. Well, that’s why it was our “Top 5 Favourite”, not “Top 5 Greatest”. 🙂 I wasn’t going with significant, but ones that stand out in my mind as having fed quarter after quarter into the machine, often in 7-11 and Mac’s. I remember clearing all of Bubble Bobble down at that little convenience store in Beach Grove, one of only 2 games I finished on a cabinet (the other was Golden Axe, which has not aged well).

    As you know, I was a huge VF2 fan, but it’s a little more recent than I was thinking for “classic”. I was generally sticking with the 70s and 80s, but it would definitely make my top 5 if I’d considered 90s games as well.

  4. I’m definitely a fan of Gauntlet – lots of quarters were dumped in that game. Many’s the time the machine’s staticy voice would lament “Red Warrior needs food badly” cueing me to turn and bash fellow players aside to get to a haunch of beef or whatever was stashed around the corner behind a pile of bones or something.

    I agree that if we’d included more modern fare, VF2 would definitely have made my list.

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