The 10 best arcade games of ALL TIME

Ain't nothing lame about some old-school MAME

If you were alive and had access to coins at any time between the 1970s and the mid-1990s, chances are you'll have spent a bit of time in a video arcade, hammering buttons, frantically waggling a sweaty joystick and pumping a week's worth of pocket money into Wonder Boy. The arcades have all but died out now, their venerable cabinets put out to pasture in vintage hipster bars, seaside towns and B-road service stations, but here are the ones to look out for...

10. After Burner (1987)

Back in the late ’80s, no-one thought it weird that a child would want to be Tom Cruise, and this slice of Sega genius was as close as most of us could get. It had an exciting cockpit cabinet but it was a simple flyer/shooter at heart, with that must-survive-a-bit-longer-next-time level of compulsive difficulty that made so many Sega games so bewitching.

9. Gauntlet (1985)

The dungeons and simple top-down views of this dungeon-crawling RPG may not have been revolutionary, but Gauntlet became hugely popular thanks to its narrator and its co-op play. It taught kids valuable lessons in life, such as the value of working together and not firing arrows at your food.

8. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

There was a period when Sega ruled the arcades and could do anything. It could, for example, buy the Jurassic Park license, build a fake jeep for players to sit in, then make this completely bonkers dinosaur-based shooting game to wrestle change from children. Mad. But good.

7. Virtua Fighter (1995)

This futuristic punchfest took fighting games into the third dimension. Where fighting games (and most others) had been content to bask in the shallow waters of 2D, Virtua Fighter's chunky, texture-free polygons brought depth to the arcades, and gave the game a bizarre, sci-fi look. It was fast and fun and - a few years later - still good when ported to the Sega Saturn. 

6. Operation Wolf (1987)

A blood-spattered icon of the Rambo era, Operation Wolf let you grab a real gun (it was the first to really popularise lightguns as peripherals) and use it to hose wave after wave of enemy soldiers with bullets. It wasn't all spray 'n' pray, though - in between smearing bad guys all over the trees and jungle floors, there were innocent hostages who you were technically supposed to avoid killing.

More after the break...

5. Golden Axe (1989)

The best from a huge selection of side-scrolling fighting games you could spend your Saturday plugging metal money into during the 80s and early 90s. With excellent two-player swordplay, scantily-clad characters and some ludicrous enemies, it was worth every penny. Its sister title, Altered Beast, was another classic fantasy merk-'em-up.

4. Sega Rally 2 (1998)

Sega invented the bombastic race genre in the 1990s with Daytona USA, made it faster and more precise with Sega Rally, then added sexier visuals with Sega Rally 2. The key was how it managed the transition from loose gravel to grippy tarmac, a feeling no other racer captured so well.

3. Time Crisis (1995)

Arcade gun games blew up in the mid-’90s, when the 3D rush brought Sega’s Virtua Cop and the House of the Dead series. Namco's Time Crisis added a pedal to let players take cover, which brought a realism and depth of gameplay that had been missing from previous charge-through shooters. As a result it (or one of its sequels) is still one of the best ways to kill 20 minutes in a motorway service station.

Pac-Man (1980)

Obviously you don't need to be told what Pac-Man is. The only way you could have avoided hearing about Pac-Man is if you're an 87-year-old judge who has assiduously avoided taking any interest in popular culture, or you're some sort of rare Arctic moose. If you're either of those things, welcome to a bewildering reality: people will spend billions (an estimated US$2.5bn in the first decade) on playing at being a small yellow cheeseperson who eats ghosts in the dark.

1. Street Fighter II (1991)

It was far from the first fighting game, but SFII epitomised the best things about arcade games: it was multiplayer, it was a bit weird in an imaginative (and very Japanese) sort of way, and if you gave it time, you could string together fiendishly complex special moves that made a bespectacled 11-year-old feel like Chuck Norris. Don't agree? Well, tough: Street Fighter II is now legally the best arcade game ever. It's on the internet, so it must be true.

1/4 next last
You have to login or register to comment.