13 Best Arcade Games that Defined a Generation | Tokens and Joysticks

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Looking for the best arcade games? You’ve landed in the perfect place.

Gaming has evolved into one of the best forms of entertainment, developing skills and engaging in broader social circles in a healthy yet competitive way.

Most of us are aware of video game consoles or the newer ways of enjoying it via our mobile phones. But do you know about arcade games that took the entire world by storm when they came out?

You must have seen people in movies having a gala time on a machine with their friends. Well, this machine is an arcade game machine designed to give you a gaming experience on a small yet engaging screen.

Nowadays, you’ll find arcade games in almost every mall out there, and if you’re aiming for that, game zones are the perfect place to be.

Now, if you want to play arcade games but don’t want to leave your couch, the best idea is to bring it home. In this post, we’ll explore some of the best arcade-genre games and arcade game machines that’ll keep you hooked.

What are Arcade Games?

To keep it as simple as possible, arcade is a gaming genre based on fast-paced gaming activity and relies on hand-eye coordinative ability. You can play them at game zones or at home by purchasing the games.

Arcade-Games

What you see in public places, such as malls, amusement parks, and gas stations, are coin-operated machines specifically designed to give you a quick and intense arcade gaming experience. Mind you, it requires lighting-fast reflexes and skills.

All you have to do is insert a token or coin or swipe a card to dive into the arcade game straightaway. The added bonus is that it increases the sales of the areas where it’s installed, increasing its adoption widely over the globe.

A sheer nostalgia for our parents and grandparents, these games have left an indelible mark in the world of gaming. And the best news is, it’s back in the trend, with the GenZ opting for arcade gaming for a fun night out with friends.

History of Arcade Games

Arcade video games were introduced in the early 1930s with pinball machines. Later, in the 1970s, Pong was introduced and became the first commercially successful game. It was soon followed by “Space Invaders”, which captivated people worldwide.

Space-Invaders
Source: Wikipedia

This gaming mechanism laid a strong foundation for modern-day games and also created an industry that was unknown to the world. As the money started rolling in, more games were introduced, but this time with advancements in graphics and gameplay. 

The popularity of these machines waned with time as people could now enjoy games in the comfort of their homes with the introduction of gaming consoles.

If you’re intrigued about the experience these games have to offer, you can lay your hands on the best arcade games you’ll discover in this post.

Arcade games gained its share of popularity as it was the primary means of gaming introduced back in the day for the first time. But there are other factors that contributed to its success: 

➡️ Simplicity

All a gamer had to do was insert a token or coin to get the game started. Along with this, the games also had straightforward mechanics, which made them adaptable to the young and old.

➡️ Social Component

As these machines were installed in public places, you could team up with strangers or simply join a crowd cheering someone who’s on the machine making their way to the finish line.

Social-Component

This gave rise to a sense of unity, friendship, and acceptance from strangers turning into friends.

➡️ Gameplay

The games were challenging and competitive yet friendly. Each of them had unique narratives, characters, and elements, which were timed in a way you could finish it in a day. This offered an instant adrenaline rush, making it addictive for people to spend hours on arcade games. 

➡️ Nostalgia

The best part about these games is you can play them efficiently in the same manner as they were released, making them timeless and enjoyable even for the present generation.

Now that you’re briefly acquainted with arcade games, let’s dive into the list.

Donkey Kong

Meet Mario in this timeless classic where you have to rescue your damsel in distress from a giant ape. This was the very first game that introduced Mario as a jump man to the world.

The characters in Donkey Kong are very simple – Donkey Kong (The Ape), Pauline (Mario’s girlfriend), and Mario himself, who sets out on a rescue mission to save his girl. This was Nintendo’s first-ever launch success in collaboration with the famous designer Shigeru Miyamoto.

Donkey-Kong

You step into the shoes of Mario and find yourself in an arcade setup full of hurdles. In this game, you will be climbing ladders, leaping over barrels, hitting your enemies hard, and saving yourself from getting killed to reach the top.

Even though the levels look easy at first glance, you will find yourself in the middle of various challenging moments between checkpoints and your progression journey to the top. It was the first time people tried, tested, and played around with Mario’s acrobatic abilities, resulting in the game being a super-duper hit in the first week of its release.

Guitar Freaks V & Drum Mania V

Two of Asia’s most popular arcade games, Guitar Freaks and Drum Mania, were gems hardly noticed by gaming fans in the Western world.

Known as a trailblazer of the rhythm game genre, it empowered gamers to be rockstars. This was all thanks to its guitar-shaped controller through which you could strum music in time. This idea was so radically different in gaming that it became an instant classic hit in no time.

guitarfreaks

The concept was similar to modern-day karaoke. But the main difference is that you have to play the melody along the lines of accompanying music. You must be precise and hit the right notes to reach the next level.

Preview Product Rating Price
Guitar Freaks V & Drum Mania V [Japan Import] Guitar Freaks V & Drum Mania V [Japan Import] No ratings yet $95.06

It contains a diverse song catalog, including rock, classical, and pop, offering a unique and immersive experience. You’ll be awed by this musically thrilling concept as you groove to your favorite tracks and become a music legend for a while.

Joust

Joust simply means a sporting contest with the other opponent on a horseback fight with lances. But this game comes with a twist. You will be atop an ostrich in this classic battle of the bird’s game.

You’ll need fast reflexes, critical thinking, and common sense to thrive and emerge as the winner. The gameplay is pretty simple, which was one of the main reasons for its wide adoption among gamers.

joust-1

All you have to do is tap the button to fly around the screen and knock down other competing players off their buzzards. The game’s distinctive feature is the ability to defeat enemies by landing on them from above, which requires the correct strategy, move, and calculation.

It also comes with a cooperative multiplayer mode where you can team up to conquer waves of foes and take the entire arcade experience to another level.

This classic action-strategy game had taken all the pizza parlors by storm, boosting the pizza sales as well. So, are you ready to become the greatest ostrich warrior in your land?

Defender

Humanity’s worst fear has come true – the aliens are here. They have started abducting humans with an unknown intent, destroying everything that comes their way. Soon, you realize that the abducted humans are converted into deadly mutants, threatening humanity. Earth’s future now lies in your hands, and you must become the Defender the world needs.

With its release, this side-scrolling shooter game pushed the boundaries of gaming in the early ‘80s. The game was hard to master, a novelty of that time and had players continuously trying their hands on it.

defender-arcade

It was complex, as players had to navigate a horizontally scrolling landscape as opposed to the traditional vertical one, rescue humans, and defend against an array of alien foes simultaneously.

The game is generally played in waves, and each wave gives you a pile of enemies you need to take down. You’ll be aboard a spaceship. Operate it skillfully, as you need to shoot down your enemies without losing your own life.

Preview Product Rating Price
Defender Defender No ratings yet $4.00

While the ones in the sky are easy to take down, you need to closely watch the landers responsible for causing more damage and trouble. Brace yourself, for you’ll experience strategic gameplay, high-level skill moves, and frenetic pace, all on a single screen. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

A favorite among the young and the old, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brought the popular animated series to life in the arcade zone. Like the series, you can choose your favorite turtle – be it Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, or Raphael. Battle your way through New York City to save April O’Neil from the clutches of the Shredder.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles

This coin-op version of the movie offers an old arcade combat-style gaming experience that you can cherish. This is thanks to its vibrant and crisp visuals on the small screen to keep you engaged throughout.

The game is accompanied by catch tunes you can groove to as you beat your opponents. You can also enter the cooperative multiplayer mode with your friends. Team up with your favorite heroes and defeat iconic villains, like the Bebop and Rocksteady.

Preview Product Rating Price
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (Renewed) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (Renewed) No ratings yet $29.61

This was one of the first arcade games to include up to 4 players in a single cabinet. It also comes with an original adaptation of the series’ characters and locations, making it an instant hit and enabling people to relive old memories.

The Simpsons

If you’re a big fan of The Simpsons, just like me, you need to lay your hands on this brilliant arcade machine right now! When the game’s maker, Konami, brought The Simpsons to life in the arcade space, this became a cult hit in the early 90’s.

As a player, you are invited to step into the shoes of the Simpson family members – Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Homer as they set out on a journey of a side-scrolling adventure through various Springfield locales. The game flourished through pixel characters, vibrant visuals, and interactive gameplay. 

the-simpsons

You can play it with up to 4 friends or family members. This makes it perfect for a gaming night. Together, you brawl with familiar foes from the series, like Mr. Burns and Smithers, while collecting iconic items, such as Donuts and Krusty Burgers.

It perfectly captures the original series’s look and feel, topped with some additional in-game features. The best part is you can spot the famous Bleeding Gums Murphy on one of the stages. Which one, you ask? Well, play the game to find out! 

X-Men

A popular game from the beat’em up genre, X-Men’s 4-player arcade machine invites you and your friends to team up against enemies in the maddening universe of X-Men. You and your friends can assume the role of Cyclops, Storm, or Wolverine and fight your way to glory against the famous villains of the franchise, including the Magneto and the Sentinels.

x-men

The arcade machine comes with cooperative multiplayer functionality, which is an easy and fun jam with your friends. Its combination of colorful graphics with intricate details brings the mutants to life even on a small screen.

The plot is pretty simple – you and your friends have to stop Magneto and his evil brotherhood from carrying out acts that harm society. Though the storyline differs from the original narrative, this game manages to engage a multiplayer group and remains an exciting name in the world of arcade games.

Golden Axe

Released in 1989, Golden Axe is a fun game when played with friends. This fantasy game takes you on a quest to defeat the evil Death Adder and rescue the kidnapped King and the Princess.

golden-axe

There are 3 characters to choose from:

  • Tyris Flare – A hefty, muscled barbarian with the skill to summon the power of the earth with a double-handed battle sword as his weapon. 
  • Gillius Thunderhead – From the deep jungles of the Amazon, she possesses the prowess to handle fire and bears a slender sword as her weapon.
  • Ax Battler – A dwarfish dueler, his weapon is a golden axe, and he can use the mighty and deadly thunder to crush his opponents. 

Each one of them has their unique abilities, backstory, and moves. This combat-styled game is also a mix of fantasy and bits of role-playing, where you will be making decisions in bits and pieces.

Besides the well-applauded graphics and soundtracks, this game offers some unique features on the table. It also increases the level of difficulty with each challenge passing by.

Preview Product Rating Price
ARCADE1UP Golden Axe Arcade Cabinet ARCADE1UP Golden Axe Arcade Cabinet No ratings yet $699.00

You will take down your enemies and bosses in epic battle fights. The game combines captivating storytelling, good characters, and a vibrant world filled with mythical creatures. Trust me, you’re going to love this one! 

Ms. Pac-Man

A timeless classic, Pac-Man needs no introduction. A sequel to the original Pacman, this game was specifically developed to take the arcade gaming world by storm, and oh my, it was successful.

ms-pac-man

It features new maze layouts, faster gameplay, and more complex patterns to tackle the ghosts. As a player, you must gobble up dots while evading these colorful ghosts and kill them after gobbling the mega dot while navigating challenging mazes.

The game was, and still is, undoubtedly one of the most addictive games ever. Its simple and intuitive gameplay has made it a hot favorite among kids and adults.

People remember it fondly as the game where it was impossible to pass through an arcade parlor without spotting someone playing it. Moreover, the game keeps you wanting to play more in pursuit of high scores. You can also play in turn with your friends and see who masters the game with the highest scores.

Sega Rally 2

Racing enthusiasts assemble, here’s a game that is definitely not to be missed! One of the best racing games in the world of arcades, you’ll have to fasten your belts for Sega Rally because your speed is the only limit.

This adrenaline-pumping off-road racing game set the bar high for the other racing games. You simply have to choose from a vast collection of cars and compete on diverse tracks across different terrains, including mud, asphalt, deserts, blizzards, nighttime, and gravel.

sega-rally-2

It made a mark within the gaming community mainly due to its realistic physics and dynamic weather system, adding an extra layer of challenge to the races.

As players sat in front of the arcade machine, the game’s beautiful graphics and thrilling soundtrack made them feel like a part of an actual rally circuit.

Preview Product Rating Price
Sega Rally 2: Sega Rally Championship Sega Rally 2: Sega Rally Championship No ratings yet $79.95

To perform better in this game, you must master the skill of the dynamics between speed and control, and before you know it, you’ll be the winner. It comes with 17 challenging courses you can race on. Be careful; you’ll want to finish the races in the best time to get on the leaderboard.

Time Crisis II

Time Crisis II is a light gun arcade video game developed by Namco. As you’re on the run after being framed for murder, you have 48 hours to capture the real killers and clear your name in society.

time-crisis

Battle your way through assassins and network with spies before the timer goes off, and the police send you to jail. This time-based game gives you the perfect rush needed in a light shooting game, and it’ll always keep you on your toes.

The most challenging part of the game is that the enemies speed up with each level, so you’ll have to master your shooting skills and develop new techniques to tackle unforeseen danger. You’ll find yourself in different environments, such as a ship, a courtyard, and a military base.

Preview Product Rating Price
Time Crisis II Time Crisis II No ratings yet $39.80

Once you master shooting, you can start using the multi-hiding feature that allows you to move around while you’re shooting to take your enemies by surprise. The game’s backstory, cinematic presentation, and intense gunfights will ensure you keep returning to it.

R-Type

R-Type is a classic shoot’em up game perfect for people who enjoy strategy and rush in a single setting. This game is challenging to master but unique from any other game you’ve played.

r-type

It’s known for its challenging gameplay and intricate power-up system, leaving you in awe. You will pilot the R-9 spaceship and battle alien adversaries in waves in a visually striking, unforgiving universe. 

As you tackle your enemies, fly to victory in 8 levels and 3 control options. It gives you the option to choose between 2 difficulty levels. When you earn more and win more, you can upgrade your weapons and spaceship attachments and gain bonus power-ups.

Preview Product Rating Price
R-Type R-Type No ratings yet $1.90

The graphics are detailed with mechanical alien hybrids, a never seen before in any game back in the day. The game’s imaginative enemy designs, epic boss fights, and space-friendly soundtrack fascinated the players with an immersive experience on an arcade machine for the first time.

Dance Dance Revolution SuperNova 2

A game responsible for revolutionizing the arcade experience by blending physical activity with rhythm-based gameplay, Dance Dance Revolution is still a popular title.

Have you seen teenagers dancing to the grooves of a music track in an arcade gaming zone? Yes, that’s the game we’re talking about here. You and your friend can step onto a “dance pad” with arrows corresponding to the on-screen cues.

dance-dance-revolution

You must hit the marks in time with precise timing and coordination while grooving to the rhythm of your selected music track. The game has a diverse song catalog consisting of varied genres, from country and pop to techno, inviting almost everyone to play this game.

You can play the friendly mode or enter the competitive multiplayer mode to challenge other players. This also meant more participation in the form of a dance-off with new moves to score more.

Soon after its release, Dance Dance Revolution became a cultural phenomenon, with fans waiting for their favorite soundtracks to be launched into the game. The teenagers adopted this with love and style as they got a chance to enter into an energetic yet unforgettable gaming experience.

Closing Thoughts

Those were some of the best arcade games that left a mark in arcade gaming history. Even though they’re usually played in a more traditional way, they’re sure to give you a memorable experience – one that takes you back in time.

If you don’t want the trip down memory lane to end, you can check out our picks of the best retro games as well!

Adnan Rehan
Adnan Rehan
Adnan is a BMS graduate and a senior games writer at Sparkian. He's a gaming enthusiast with plenty of knowledge of the gaming world, including the latest games, strategies, and epic adventures. Besides gaming, he loves to write about tech over at Geekflare.

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