My Top-10 Classic Arcade games

I’ve never really considered myself a serious arcade guy. Though the history of arcade gaming fascinates me, I unfortunately missed the prime era during my childhood when these types of games were available. In addition to which, I definitely belong into the “I’d rather play it at home” crowd.

However, I have a special affinity for Classic, sometimes referred to as the Golden Era, Arcade titles. By these, I refer to arcade video-games made before 1985, just before Nintendo reinvigorated the video-game industry in the West. These games have endured as classics despite or possibly because of their simplicity and I never pass up an opportunity to play one of these timeless classics.

These are the ten arcade games that I enjoy the most…

10. Pong

One of the earliest and simplest, some might say primitive, video-games ever conceived. However, there’s a reason why between 1972 and 1977 people went crazy over Atari’s Pong. It was simply put a fun a game. Pong is the very testament to the gaming logic that less is more (although ironically Pong was technically an upgraded version of the very first video-game system already out, Magnavox Odyssey).

If you think I’m crazy for putting this relic of a game up here, pick a friend and play a free version of Pong online. You’ll quickly realise why it’s so much fun and just how competitive you can get over something so simple.

The only reason Pong is number-10 is because, unfortunately, you do need a second player for it to be any fun.

9. Battlezone

If you missed my last blog on games I’m currently playing, I admitted to hating modern First Person Shooter games – but the oldy-moldy classics still hold a strange appeal to me. Battlezone is in effect the world’s very first FPS game and it was released as early as 1980.

A game composed entirely of vector outline graphics, your mission is to guide a tank around and blow up other tanks until you run out of lives. It’s simple, but with everything in the game being a vector outline, it creates that cool unreal atmosphere, plus it’s technically the first true-3D FPS game, made a full decade before the first so-called 3D FPS titles Wolfenstein 3D, Doom or Duke Nukem 3D (which represent the cardboard cut-out phase of this genre).

Admittedly though, Battlezone does get rather repetitive after a while, even with the occasional UFOs to blast, but its a novel game experience from the early history of video-gaming and worth checking out.

Breakout on Atari 2600

8. Breakout!

If Pong’s weakness was that you could only play it with a friend, then Atari definitely fixed that problem with their other ball and pad game, Breakout. The idea is simplicity itself, guide a ball into breaking blocks and prevent it from hitting the bottom of the screen. Sounds ridiculously easy and simple, but the changing speed of the ball and the angles it flies at really test your ability to predict its course.

Breakout has been imitated countless times and it’s one of those games I can never get tired of despite how often its been done. Admittedly, my favourite Breakout clones were made by Taito. First came Arkanoid, which made it feel more like a game and then came Puchi Garat with its colourful cartoonish characters.

However, Atari were the ones who came up with the original idea, so I have to give them credit for it.

7. Star Wars the Arcade Game

Sadly, I never got to experience the cockpit controls of the original arcade, but I have to admit that the Star Wars arcade was one of the few things worth while about Rebel Strike, the disappointing third instalment of the Rogue Squadron flight-combat/action game-series.

Another vector graphics classic where you blow up Tie Fighters with Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing, as you make your way to the surface of the Death Star, to the trench leading to the core ventilator shaft and then finally blow it up at the end. This game got everything right. The awesome vector graphics, the intense gameplay and the actual voice-samples taken directly from the movie it was based on.

Admittedly, it’s a very quickly expended game experience, since once you blow up the Death Star there’s nowhere else to go. But it’s admittedly the best of the very early Star Wars video-games and therefore truly deserves a spot on this list.

6. Donkey Kong Jr.

Considered as one of the earliest good sequels to video-games, by some accounts one of the best in the history of video-gaming, Donkey Kong Jr. showcased Nintendo’s and Shigeru Miyamoto’s originality and inventiveness at an early stage in the company’s history.

In DKJR, the premise of the first game is flipped upside-down as you now try to free Donkey Kong, the villain of the last game, from imprisonment at the hands of Mario, the hero of the last game. The gameplay has changed considerably with climbing mechanics and a heavier emphasis on avoiding obstacles and far more tricky stage design than the first game. It’s an entirely different game, but brilliant in that regard.

However, it just barely misses being in the Top-5 because, I love the first game so much more…

5. Q*Bert

We like to chastise modern video-games for their gratuitous violence, sexual content and teaching the kiddies how to swear. But long before Mass Effect, long before GTA, long before Duke Nukem 3D there was already a game where a video-game character swore like a sailor when things didn’t go his way. That guy was f@!#ing Q*bert.

Q*Bert is a simplistic puzzle/platformer where the idea is to turn all the blocks the same colour, but with increasing intensity of enemies and obstacles, some of which undo your hard work. Q*Bert also required some spatial understanding since pressing down didn’t mean the same as going down.

Q*Bert has to be one of the most adorable profane figures in video-gaming and his title is also extremely memorable and deserving of inclusion in the Top-5.

4. Asteroids

In the early 80s, most games were about space-ships flying around and blasting enemies, either other ships or aliens. Asteroids broke the trend with a game that not only required precision firing, but reflexes and a good sense of space (heh, heh). In Asteroids you must blast giant space rocks that keep breaking up in to smaller pieces that fly off at greater speeds. When an asteroid flies off-screen, it pops out from the opposite side, requiring the player to know where the space-rock debris will be shooting towards to prevent a horrible space-accident.

Asteroids is truly a game of skill and I never get tired of blasting space-rocks and trying dodge them. The occasional UFOs also add a bit of extra challenge, but in my view the intensity of Asteroids is in having to deal with something that doesn’t want to destroy you, but will if it touches you.

It’s truly a timeless classic and worthy of this spot on the list.

3. Space Invaders

Taito was the company who really pushed the envelope on video-games in the late 1970s when they created one of the first, truly anxiety inducing video-games: Space Invaders. You are trying to stop an alien invasion by blasting an army of extraterrestrials to bits. At first it appears to be an easy task, but the more aliens you destroy the faster they move and very soon you’ll be struggling to hit anything.

Space Invaders’ genius again lies in its simplicity. It’s just you and the aliens (and the occasional UFO) and if you don’t get rid of the aliens fast enough, you’re history. The thumping music gets your heart racing and very soon you’ll forget it’s just an army of eight pixel aliens you’re fighting.

Space Invaders is one of the best aged games I can think of, a true classic.

2. Pac-Man

Pac-Man stands as a testament to the fact that just because you make a game that is intended to appeal to the women as well as men, doesn’t mean it has to be a crappy  Fitness title. Toru Iwatani was specifically thinking of a character that female gamers would find adorable and a game that would still be fun to play. Thus, the maze pill-eating title Pac-Man was born.

Pac-Man is one of those games where its simple nature is its strength. You not only need to cover every spot in the maze, but also avoid cartoon ghosts that want to show up and ruin your day. It’s a simple formula that you never get tired of. The ghosts and super-pills bring some nice variety.

Pac-Man is also one of the very first Video-Game mascots and still continues to be an icon of video-gaming. He truly deserves to be this high on the list.

1. Donkey Kong

The game which more or less ushered the young platformer genre into public consciousness, Donkey Kong is truly one of single most significant titles in the history of Nintendo. It not only made them the single most succesful game developer on the planet, but also contributed a timeless classic to their library of games and two iconic figures who would both enjoy success in the future, Mario and Donkey Kong.

What’s more, DK was born more or less by accident. Nintendo released an unpopular space-shooter called Radar Scope in 1980 and had to rework the game into something better or at least playable. The project was the title that made Shigeru Miyamoto the company’s leading game-designer. Donkey Kong was simply his attempt at having a video-game with a story, where a courageous moustached carpenter tries to save his girlfriend from a love-sick ape.

Donkey Kong, even with its four levels of gameplay, just never loses its appeal with me. Everything from the music to the sound-effects, to the gameplay is classic. No wonder it found its way on to my list of favourite Mario games. It truly is a timeless gem in my book.