The 80s was a pretty wild time for video games. By 1982, video games were the ascendant form of entertainment, bringing in more money than Hollywood, the music industry, and any American sport. It was during this period that arcades and arcade games flourished, with some of history’s most popular games being released over the decade. Kids flocked to arcades, marveling at the frantic and dazzling displays of colors, before plugging a quarter into the machine and playing until their fingers hurt. To this day, just hearing the familiar startup jingle of these games is enough to send shivers down our spines, and get our button-pressing fingers twitching once more.
A sequel to 1979’s ‘Galaxian’, 1981 video game ‘Galaga’ took arcades by storm, improving on its predecessor in every way and cementing itself as one of the most popular games of the 80s. The game is very much in the ‘Space Invaders’ tradition but ramps everything up to 11. Colorful graphics, engaging gameplay with energetic and complex action, and magnificent enemy designs helped to make this a hit among arcade-goers at the time – earning ‘Galaga’ a place among the true greats of the arcade era. Even today, the game remains an infinitely replayable, honestly challenging and engaging experience.
Released in 1981, ‘Donkey Kong’ might be the single-most impactful video game of all time. The platformer features the efforts of a plucky plumber named Mario to save his girlfriend Pauline from the eponymous Kong, jumping over an inconceivable amount of barrels along the way. The game was a smash hit upon release, but its greatest legacy is perhaps the debut of its two main characters. Donkey Kong himself is a hugely popular character, having been in over 35 games since the release of the original ‘Donkey Kong’. However, the crown must go to Mario who, since appearing in ‘Donkey Kong’, has gone on to helm the most popular and successful video game franchise of all time. Not bad for a game with about 20 pixels in its entirety.
Ms. Pac Man
Never send a Pac Man to do a Pac Woman’s job. Although the 1980’s ‘Pac Man’ is undoubtedly a classic, and has influenced games for generations, it can’t really hold a candle to ‘Ms. Pac Man’, the 1982 sequel. ‘Ms. Pac Man’ improves upon the first game in subtle ways – the color scheme and level graphics are infinitely more appealing, the sound design is richer – and Ms. Pac Man is sporting a frankly stunning red bow. These might seem like small changes, but they refine and polish the near-perfect base of the original game enough to make ‘Ms. Pac Man’ – indisputably – one of the most fun arcade games of the 1980s.
Thanks to the popularity of ‘Donkey Kong’, Mario was soon to feature in his own game – alongside his brother Luigi to boot. In 1983, ‘Mario Bros’ hit the scene, cementing Mario as the undisputed king of platformers. The game features Mario and Luigi battling against various creatures to keep the sewers of New York safe, and it would cement what is now seen as classic hallmarks of the ‘Mario’ series. The design of enemy creatures, the blocks, and pipes that comprise the levels, Mario’s teaming up with Luigi – the game cemented these as fundamentals of Mario games, and to this day they remain constant features of the games. As such, ‘Mario Bros’ isn’t just a fun platformer – it’s also a pivotal piece of gaming history.