Arcades have mostly gone the way of the dodo in the United States, but they’re still alive and kicking in the Land of the Rising Sun. Some of you older Western readers probably had the privilege of experiencing arcade gaming at your local shopping malls, movie theaters, and/or play an arcade game at your local 7-11 like Marty McFly claimed in Back to the Future Part III. While we can enjoy games in the comfort of our homes, the arcade has a distinct experience you can never replicate. For the past generation in gaming, we’ve been playing with other people online and that’s great. Unfortunately, people abuse the anonymity of the Internet to trash talk or SWAT people’s homes. In arcades, where the encounters are face-to-face, you are in a better position to interact in a much friendlier matter and a good number of gamers miss those social aspects that the arcade offered.
Not only could you make friends outside of school with similar interests, but you could also find time to share a pizza, maybe play some bowling, mini-golf, or shoot some pool. Most arcades had these options besides video games to have fun. But when you got to play, what were the hottest games to show off your skills in front of a crowd? Let our list help you!
10. Cruis’n World
- Publisher: Midway
- Developer: Midway
- Release Date: 1996
Racing is one of the most international sports, and what better game can represent that than Cruis’n World? As the title implies, your destinations include Australia, China, Egypt, England, and so on. While this game doesn’t include real life cars like other traditional racers, you are free to go top speed and pull some wild stunts! As a kid, you probably popped wheelies on your bicycles or dirt bikes, but no way you can do that with your car. Maybe you wanted to be like Evil Knievel or Super Dave Osborne? Ever wanted to do a ridiculous spin in mid-air like in a Michael Bay movie? This game lets you do that! While some racing games emphasize more on drifting or trying to get first place, Cruis’n World adds a lot of torque and thrills by allowing you to try these other stunts besides driving from start to finish. While you can play this game on the N64 at home, it just doesn’t feel complete unless you sit in a seat that simulates a race car seat, lets your put your hands behind the wheel so you can put the pedal to the metal.
9. Mortal Kombat II
- Publisher: Midway
- Developer: Midway
- Release Date: 1993
On the heels of Street Fighter, America faced the wrath of Mortal Kombat. While Street Fighter takes its artistic influences from anime and manga, Mortal Kombat is more of a tribute to martial arts cinema such as Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport. Aside from its groundbreaking graphics, what makes Mortal Kombat both a hit and a controversy is its use of fatalities in the event you win the fight. Shortly before the internet age, people were dying to find out how to rip out a dude’s head from his body, take out their heart, blow the kiss of death and so on from trial and error, or by reading gaming magazines such as GamePro. The comedic and excessive violence became its appeal to the point that it would wind up as the subject of a US Senate hearing!
So how did Boon and Tobias respond to the controversy? They kept on making fatalities in its sequel but they introduced non-violent alternatives such as Friendships where the winner gestures an act of friendliness, or Babalities where the winner turns the loser into a baby. In addition, the sequel presents new environmental fatalities such as upper cutting your opponent into a ceiling full of spikes, acid pits, or down to the hardest of concrete. The game is easy to control and the moves are pretty universal to all characters such as the crouching uppercuts and the spinning back kicks. So if you want a game with blood, gore, easy controls and some toasty humor, Mortal Kombat II is the game for you!
8. The Simpsons
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: 1991
While there have been numerous console releases of The Simpsons throughout the 1990s, the game that gives players the chance to fully explore its world is the 4-player arcade Beat ‘Em Up. Though the idea of making The Simpsons as a Beat ‘Em Up game may seem ridiculous, it is very in tune with the nature of the series. In this game, Maggie accidentally gets her hands (or her mouth) on a diamond, and Mr. Burns and Smithers kidnap her to reclaim it. It is now up to the Simpsons family to rampage through Springfield to get Maggie back.
If the player chooses Homer, he just punches and kicks. While Marge uses a vacuum cleaner as a weapon, Lisa whips people with a jump rope, and Bart smashes with his skateboard. The game plays like your standard Beat ‘Em Up and is filled with unpredictable challenges. The game takes some creative liberties with who you fight such as a kabuki performer, a man in a bear costume, a giant bowling ball in a dream sequence, a random drunk at Moe’s, and finally, you face Mr. Burns, who pilots a multi-layered human-sized mech. You can enjoy this by yourself, but good luck because you may need the entire family in 4-player mode to help you get through this game.
7. Dance Dance Revolution
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: 1998
If there is one series we have to thank for the rise of the music genre, it has to be Dance Dance Revolution. It is probably one of the best arcade experiences between the late-90s and the early-2000s where players can step on stage in front of a crowd and try to dance like you have Saturday Night Fever. With its various difficulties, players could master the step routines, make a freestyle that goes to those steps, and burn some calories. As a concept, it is simple to pick up but difficult to master. With dedication, you can learn to react to the steps with proper timing and energy conservation. The great thing about DDR is that there is a double mode where if you feel one side of the stage is not enough, you can play on both sides of the stage!
Many dedicated Western veterans of the series prefer the Japanese releases for featuring songs that are not mainstream, thus giving the game more of an identity. Between 4th Mix and Max, players have the chance to dance to English remixes of famous anime theme songs from Cat’s Eye, Lupin III, and Rurouni Kenshin. Communities in the west coast arcade scene were booming and tournaments were huge in the early-2000s thanks to this game. Some Japanese-exclusive releases would also be famous for exposing players to the explicit lyrics of the German singing duo, E-Rotic with tracks like Do It All Night. Even if you can’t dance, DDR is certainly worth a shot for a distinct kind of challenge in terms of coordination and rhythm, and exposing yourself to some unique songs you wouldn’t catch on the radio or when MTV played music.
6. Virtua Fighter
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega AM2
- Release Date: Oct 1993
Released after Street Fighter was popularizing the fighting genre, Yu Suzuki wanted to make a fighting game that was more in tune with his style of making simulations/experiences as opposed to being simple games, which is why he made it in 3D and had it rely more realistically on actual martial arts techniques as opposed to fireballs. It uses Aoi’s style of Aikido, which emphasizes using the opponent’s aggression against them with counter-grappling. Her offense isn’t her strong point but if you know how to use her in accordance to the real principles of Aikido, you can break the opponent’s limbs by grabbing and throwing them before their strikes can make impact.
Plus, it is very easy to stick and move which is another principle with not only boxing, but in combat sports as a whole. This is demonstrated with Jacky Bryant, who uses a striking-based style. Just dodge, throw in a combo, and repeat until victory. At times, the game does get gimmicky such as introducing sumo wrestlers, lucha libre wrestlers, and ninjas in its progressing roster. So if you want something that combines MMA realism and cinema in the martial arts, this is it.
5. Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Date: Dec 1992
If one game solidified the arcade fighting game market, it would be without a doubt Street Fighter II. With Street Fighter II Turbo, players are given the option to play as a total of 12 characters with the four bosses now being selectable. Furthermore, Chun-Li is given her fireball, Dhalsim can teleport, and Ken and Ryu can use their hurricane kicks in mid-air in this installment. The game excellently balances defense, offense, and countering to give players the right mindset about what it takes to win the fight.
The movements of the characters excellently represent their martial art and their build. Chun Li’s moves appropriately revolve around her kicking and have a speed advantage over a majority of the roster. Balrog only punches, though he throws in the occasional head butt. Sagat’s striking has excellent range that represents his behemoth body and the long-range nature of Muay Thai.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: 1989
Between the late-1980s and the early-1990s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage. While the franchise continues to thrive to this very day with a CG animated series, its present popularity isn’t near the prime of the first animated series. Throughout its run, the Ninja Turtles have also had their fair share of video games and one of the best releases is the 4-player Beat ‘Em Up classic. While the older console games for the NES, Genesis, and Super NES were two-players, where’s the fun if you can’t play with all four turtles at once? Long before four-players were a must for consoles, the only way you could achieve that was at the arcades. In this game, you fight through numerous stages to save April, Splinter, and the world from the Shredder and Krang.
Everything from the original Fred Wolf cartoon is pretty much present in this game. Its intro even uses the original cartoon one to capture the audience to put in a quarter. If you are playing by yourself, good luck getting past the first stage. But with some help, will it be enough to take on an army of Shredders when you get to the end of the game? For some players back in the day it was pretty hard, but unfortunately, many younger players may not have the novelty of playing this game in arcade form. It was the ultimate Ninja Turtles experience; from fighting in the alleys of New York, the booby traps of the Technodrome, and finding pizza as health items. It was everything you could ask for in a Ninja Turtles game, which is why it is not only a great game for the franchise, but for the arcades.
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: 1992
Sometime before the X-Men in video games became popular through Capcom’s versus series, they got their first hit through Konami’s Arcade Beat ‘Em Up. While the Capcom fighters take influence from the hit Fox Kids cartoon, this game is an adaptation of the 1989 Toei animated pilot. While Ninja Turtles and Simpsons are four-players, the X-Men game has the distinction of being six. You can play as Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Dazzler, and Storm and you must save Professor X and Kitty Pryde from Magneto and his henchmen. Throughout the game, you fight human-sized sentinels, The Reavers, Pyro, The Blob, Nimrod, The Juggernaut, Mystique, and Magneto himself to save the world.
So if you can get together with five of your friends, this game adds a lot of fun and will make this game much easier since hordes of enemies can be overwhelming for only one player. Like in the comics, you can use your characters’ powers. But as a Beat ‘Em Up, using those powers can be limiting, so choose wisely. Last, we promise you’re going to get a kick out of Magneto screaming “WELCOME TO DIE!”
- Publisher: Namco (Japan), Midway (US)
- Developer: Namco
- Release Date: May 1980 (Japan), Oct 1980 (US)
Coming in at a close second is Namco’s Pac-Man, which would become a pop culture icon. In fact, Namco originally wanted to name him Puck-Man due to his design resembling a hockey puck but English speaking employees discouraged this spelling out of concern that people outside of Japan would spray paint over the p with an f. Upon its debut, a majority of the genres in arcades were space shooters and Pong. Pac-Man offered something new by creating the maze genre where you have to avoid ghosts while trying to eat every single dot on the maze.
If in the event a ghost touches Pac-Man, he loses a life; so this is a game that offered a new kind of challenge that was fresh upon its release. Its overhead layout is easy to follow but you have to find a way to avoid getting cornered by the ghosts. In addition to its revolutionary gameplay, the sound effects that go along with Pac-Man’s movements and consumption of dots have also entered pop culture, which the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie pays homage to.
1. Donkey Kong
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: July 1981
Topping this list would have to be Donkey Kong, the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi. It was one of the biggest hits at the arcade during its prime and put Nintendo’s name in the Western market. In fact, it popularized the concept of trying to be number 1 in the score rankings. While it is the game that introduces Mario, his name was Jumpman and his design was made to accommodate the limited technology of the time to make players recognize him as a human. Just like in other Mario games, Jumpman has to save a damsel-in-distress; not Princess Peach, but Pauline, his then-girlfriend. In each stage, Jumpman has to climb to the top and avoid obstacles such as barrels. If Jumpman happens to go down, it’s game over! As opposed to stars, he uses a hammer to destroy obstacles and have limited invincibility.
While younger gamers may find older games frustrating and challenging, gamers of those times were intrigued by their challenges. They felt like they had a legitimate motivation to save their girlfriend from a silly villain who takes inspiration from King Kong. As opposed to shooting him down with fighter jets, this time you play as a regular guy who has to climb to the top to save her. For players, it was fun being a hero who has to save a damsel-in-distress and he didn’t have to wear armor or a cape, just overalls and a cap that symbolized anyone can be a hero. So if you want to play the true original Mario game, Donkey Kong is it.
Making this list took a great deal of difficulty, and for this reason, lists like these are why sometimes we wish we could make top 25 or top 50 instead. For that, we would like to make some honorable mentions to Final Fight, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, Daytona USA, Beatmania II DX, and Star Wars Arcade.
And if you ever find yourself in Japan, if there is one arcade you must visit, it has to be the Kawasaki Warehouse just outside of Kawasaki station. The arcade is modeled after the old Kowloon Wall City in Hong Kong. If you have played Shenmue II, you are likely to recognize it. You have not truly experienced arcade gaming until you’ve visited Kawasaki Warehouse.
Last, we can’t deny that a great number of you have a largely different idea of what some of the best arcade games are. So please share yours in the comments!