Ever since the Magnavox Odyssey was released to the public in 1972 and video games became available in people’s homes, the institution of the arcade has experienced a slow death. No longer did kids have to walk down the block with a sack full of coins to play video games. They could just hook up a few cables to their television set and start playing.
At first, the only game you could play was a ping pong game based on the classic arcade game Pong. Today, in-home gaming has become extremely complex and realistic and has even advanced into the world of virtual reality.
In modern VR games like Stride, you can have the consequence-free experience of dangerous freerunning right from your home. In role-playing games like Elden Ring with unthinkably immersive worlds, you can see just how far video game technology has come.
However, there’s still something to be said for the nostalgia of the classic cabinet arcade games that used to line the walls of traditional arcades. The arcade in the 1970s and 1980s was a community hub where the youth would congregate to try and usurp each other’s high scores, with the high score-holder getting supreme respect from their peers.
This community aspect of gaming has largely been lost over time, especially with the rise of online gaming. But we can still look back on the so-called “golden era of gaming” and reminisce on some of the classic games that defined this time period.
Many of these classic arcade cabinets are still trading hands between collectors. Some are contained in museums. Others have even been adapted to newer consoles. So, in memory of this amazing era in gaming, here are the six best arcade games from when arcades were still a thing:
Street Fighter II
There are a ton of amazing arcade-style fighting games out there from the Tekken series to Mortal Kombat to the Marvel vs. Capcom games. However, none of them were better than one game in particular that came out in 1991: Street Fighter II.
While the gameplay may have improved somewhat in later installments of the Street Fighter series, Street Fighter II was undoubtedly the most iconic and influential of arcade-style fighting games and is largely responsible for popularizing the genre.
From the special abilities that were easy to access to the incredible cast of characters, Street Fighter II just had it all. Speaking of the characters, Blanka was definitely the best in this game, followed by Dhalsim. If you disagree, then you’re just flat-out wrong. Sorry.
Time Crisis II
The Time Crisis series of games has always had a special place in my heart. I used to spend hours at an arcade in Point Pleasant, New Jersey playing this game gunning for the local high score.
The best game out of this entire series, though, has to be Time Crisis II. Why? Well, whereas the first Time Crisis game was only available in single-player mode, the second installment in the series allowed you to play in co-op mode, which propelled the fun level of this game to an entirely new level.
Now, not only could you use plastic guns to mow down virtual mercenaries, but you could also collaborate with one of your friends to form a well-coordinated squadron of killers. Naturally, this led to players screaming at each other to duck down or squeeze the trigger, which could be heard all across the arcade. Time Crisis was the best arcade-style shooting game series ever, and the second game they released was definitely the most iconic.
Another one of the best subgenres of arcade games has to be driving games. The one that I remember the most fondly is Out Run, which first hit arcades in the year 1986. The game gave players the opportunity to navigate a pixelated Ferrari Testarossa Spider from a third-person perspective through the streets while avoiding obstacles and trying to reach the finish line before time ran out.
To promote the series, the company even created some full-size Ferrari-shaped booths where players could experience the game in the most realistic way possible.
While most of the game’s cabinets were not shaped like actual Ferraris, they did have the ability to move the seats back and forth to more accurately simulate the experience of driving.
That was certainly a cool aspect of Out Run, but the game’s legacy is mostly tied to its soundtrack, which was a major contributor to the popularization of the synthwave genre of music. You could actually customize the soundtrack within the game based on which of the synthwave selections were your favorite.
You can’t mention classic cabinet arcade games without mentioning the iconic game about frogs getting smushed by oncoming traffic. Frogger, which came out in 1981, probably taught kids an important lesson about looking both ways before crossing the road.
Of course, the fact that playing an hour of Frogger meant watching countless animated frogs get squished by trucks was kind of messed up. Still, Frogger was undeniably addictive and, apparently still is. The mobile game Crossy Road (which is essentially the same thing) recently took the App Store by storm.
What’s so wonderful about Frogger is how simple yet exhilarating it is. Yes, all you’re doing is moving your character forward. But, the game did really give you the temporary sensation that life and death were at stake.
Now, I admit that I played a lot more Galaga than I did Space Invaders. However, we have to give recognition to the originator of the “shoot ‘em up” genre of arcade games. The absolutely legendary Space Invaders represented such a large cultural revolution that there were countless songs and albums named after it. The game has been referenced in countless films, and one of the most prominent street artists of the modern generation was inspired heavily by Space Invaders.
The gameplay was fairly simple. You had to move a laser cannon horizontally across the bottom of the screen and shoot down incoming spaceships while trying to avoid getting hit by them or their lasers. That’s pretty much it. Get destroyed by one of the incoming alien ships three times and it’s game over.
Jurassic Park: The Lost World
In general, most Jurassic Park-themed video games have been absolute trash. However, there is one exception, and that’s the cabinet arcade game Jurassic Park: The Lost World. The cabinet for this game was shaped like one of the jeeps that they used to traverse the park in the film. And the game involved cruising around in the jeep and mowing down vicious dinosaurs with light guns.
Should killing off hordes of animated dinosaurs be considered a form of virtual animal cruelty? Perhaps. But I will say that, in terms of an exhilarating gaming experience, Jurassic Park: The Lost World was very hard to beat.
This game would make you jump out of your seat when you turned a corner and looked straight into the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex. And, for a game that came out in 1997, it had some pretty unbeatable graphics.