The Top 10 Old School Arcade Games

February 4, 2009

The days of the traditional arcade seem numbered today. Every modern console has a virtual “arcade” with downloadable content of all their classics. Why go to the corner and pump quarters into Street Fighter when you can fight the same fights on your couch? It’s because they’re not the same. Just as Netflix isn't the same as going to a movie in an turn-of-the-century opera house, there's nothing that beats an old school arcade game.

Source: Getty Images/Royalty Free

By Reverend Danger

The following article does not represent the opinions of Spike TV or its affiliates.


10. Mortal Kombat


Source: Sega

Mortal Kombat is one of the youngest members of the list, but still qualifies as old school for two reasons: 1) I’m not super old so it’s old school to me, ya bunch of grayballs...and 2) It’s old enough to have caused quite a stir with its now-tame gore among soccer moms nationwide.

9. NBA Jam


Image Source: Midway

NBA Jam was successful as a console game and an arcade game because it did what I wish every sports game did: make it not like that sport at all.  You can punch dudes in the face in NBA Jam and all that happens is you get the ball and do a quadruple summersault from the 3-point line while you’re on fire.  It doesn’t take an hour to set up your roster of thinly-veiled player avatars for a game that doesn’t have the full NBA license.  Plus, did I mention the fire?  I think I did.

8. Space Invaders


Source: Midway

Space Invaders sort of really opened up the entire field of coin-operated arcade machines.  It was just a 2D shooter much like other entries (later in this list), but as one of the progenitors of the genre, and by extension, a fuel for the entire gaming industry, it deserves placement on this list. 

7. Defender


Source: Williams Electronics

Defender is a side-scrolling, alien-killing, humanoid-protecting shooter that was incredibly difficult. In it, you shoot all sorts of aliens, but the most important are the Green Landers which spend their time trying to abduct your human brethren for who-knows-what-level of anal probage.

6. Galaga


Source: Namco/Midway

Galaga is a simple and epic game.  You play a space pilot trying to blow up a seemingly-endless march of space enemies flying out you in alarmingly uniform rows.  There’s a few different varieties of ships, but Galaga is brilliant in its simplicity.  Shoot the aliens.  That’s all, dude.  Just shoot the aliens.

5. Missile Command


Source: Atari

One of the awesome things about the Cold War (and there were many) is that it was the impetus behind Missile Command.  The idea of the game is basically the same thing as Star Wars.  You’ve got six cities to protect from a relentless hail of ballistic missiles that lead (of course) red con trails.

4. Centipede


Source: Atari Inc

Centipede is a vertically-oriented shoot ‘em up arcade game that, to the unstrategic eye, is much like Galaga and Space Invaders.  However, Centipede introduced an interesting variable in the little barriers placed randomly around the screen.  You could shoot them out of the way, or you could leave them where they were.  In this way, you can corral your enemies into killing chambers a la the movie 300.

3. Super Street Fighter 2


Source: Capcom

Street Fighter 2 revolutionized the fighting climate on both consoles and in the arcade.  As one of the best built and most engaging fighters of its time, it has secured a place in the pantheon of face punches to a degree that there are still competitive Street Fighter II leagues. 

2. Pac-Man


Source: Namco

Pac-Man is so ingeniously simple and addicitive – so fiendishly perfect for American consumers – that it damn near made the #1 spot in this list.  I bet you can hear the wakkawakkawakka sound of a Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man gobbling up pellets right now if you thought about it. It’s even spawned a cartoon, a movie, and a hilarious web comic. 

1. Donkey Kong


Source: Nintendo

Donkey Kong stands atop the gigantic, red, tower of girders that makes up this list and throws barrels with abandon at all the suckas below him.  This game was the one of the first to have levels, is the source of the documentary King of Kong, and gave video-birth to Donkey himself and the Mario Bros.  All of this is important, obviously, but what really put it over the top for me, is I view this as the seed which eventually grew into the tree of Super Smash Bros.