The 80s proved to be a pivotal decade for gaming and acted as crucible. The gaming industry crisis of 1983 nearly ended it all, putting the entire industry on the edge of total collapse. With hard work, clever game designs, and the creation of the most iconic characters in videogame history; it was clear by the end of the decade that video games were here to stay. So it’s no surprise that some of these games have managed to withstand the test of time and remain enjoyable decades later (just like these 6 games of the 00s and these 7 games of the 90s).
Ms. Pac-Man (1981)
Taking a page from her “husband’s” book, Ms. Pac-Man had you roaming around the screen gobbling up dots like there was no tomorrow. While it featured nearly identical gameplay from the original (avoiding ghosts, traversing mazes, increasing difficulty as you progressed, and collecting power pellets), this game added in some personality to the experience, which was missing before. The bonus fruit would move around the screen, as if it had a life of its own. There were humorous “acts” between certain levels, where you’d see a silly story like Pac-Man chasing Ms. Pac-Man in a passionate frenzy and vice versa, or you’d see a bundle of baby joy delivered to the loving couple.
Ms. Pac-Man also introduced different level designs, which then required you to memorize new patterns of play. It’s a wildly addictive game, which challenges players to achieve incredible scores, all the while still gobbling up your quarters. Go to nearly any pizza restaurant in the world and you can still find a Ms. Pac-Man game in the corner.
Running off of the popular Galaga hardware, this vertical-scrolling shooter game is still fun to play today. Originally created by Namco, it’s still considered one of the greatest arcade games of all time, and it’s possible to still find cabinets set up all over the world. The game was notable for letting you bomb things on the ground, as you flew over a variety of terrain from forests, airstrips, military bases, to desert.
Xevious was the first game of its kind to utilize both air and ground enemies, forcing the player to be ever vigilant against all attacks. Xevious was also one of the first shooters to feature hidden bonuses (weapons and maneuvers), and players were treated to a surprisingly deep game that required you to memorize an optimal pattern of play. It also has the odd notoriety of being the first arcade game to have a television commercial in the U.S. prompting many gamers to wonder if they were “Devious enough to beat Xevious!”
Bomberman actually started life as an unnamed enemy in the NES version of Lode Runner, which was published by Hudson in the 80s. But it was his solo outing in 1983 that solidified him as the king of multiplayer gaming (for the time). Fundamentally, what makes this game such a treat to play is the gameplay hasn’t changed since its first iteration. Even after 70 different games released on just about every platform, dozens of new power ups, spin offs, and wacky level designs, the core concept remains the same. And that’s a good thing, because it still works so well.
Unlike many games of its time, Bomberman was challenged with being able to kill enemies in a rather passive way. He had to lay a bomb on the ground, and hope that an enemy sashayed over close enough to get blown up. The strategy of clearing a room full of blocks and destroying enemies without getting yourself trapped between a block and a bomb added some clever puzzle solving to your arcade action.
Duck Hunt (1984)
Many remember this game solely for being packaged with the original Mario game, but old school gamers can tell you this was no simple tag-along. Duck Hunt was the first game to make use of Nintendo’s first – but far from last – foray into game enhancing peripherals: the light gun. While there were other light gun games before, Nintendo added in a colorful theme and packed it into their initial system, making the game a guaranteed hit when your childhood friends came over to your house.
Duck Hunt along with the NES Zapper brought the light-gun market to the home console successfully. If you were to break this game out today, it still plays great. You have to aim well, and shoot fast, and the accuracy is surprisingly still pretty spot on. Granted, the fun may last just a few minutes, but Duck Hunt really was the Wii Sports of the 80s.
The quintessential puzzle game, this title created by Alexei Pajitnov started a phenomena. No other game before it had proved so addicting and it’s deceptively simple gameplay kept gamers riveted for hours on end, trying merely to top their last score. Many players can claim to have gone to bed with the vision of tumbling tetrominoes seared into their eyes.
Tetris features the distinction of being the most ported game ever; available in some form or fashion on nearly every console to have been released. Tetris even managed to find it’s way onto graphing calculators and cell phones long before they were ‘smart’. This is truly the one game that no matter how you improve it with fancier graphics, new gameplay modes, or functionality, the game is just as fun in its original form.
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
There was little doubt that this game would make this list. Easily one of the most important games of the decade – if not all of gaming history – SMB was the biggest reason for the NES’s success (which had been largely overlooked in America until this point). It’s also credited for ending the two-year slump caused by the aforementioned 1983 video game crisis. The ingenious design of this game is still what makes each game in this long-running franchise so fun to play.
Staples of the the Mario franchise (jumping, crushing, kicking turtles, cleverly hidden secrets, and power-ups) all were derived from this title. Players still find themselves returning time and time again to the lovable plumber for its imaginative levels and easy to pick up controls. During an age of simple arcade action, where you would shoot an endless wave of aliens, or chase dots while avoiding ghosts, Super Mario Bros opened up the world of gaming by introducing platformers requiring a clever mind and nimble thumb.
The ultimate multiplayer experience at the time, this game’s crushing difficulty level drove gamers to challenge themselves to see who could survive the longest (or if you were like many gamers, you discovered the Konami cheat code that actually made the game more fun to play). Even with the cheat code, it felt like a badge of honor every time you were able to beat another level, trying to make your way into the final boss. Many of the conventions that have made this series great over the years find their origins with this Arcade/NES title. Your characters moved lightly, able to jump, flip and maneuver quickly out of the way of incoming enemies and projectiles, giving players freedom they had never before enjoyed. Power-ups were a must and many a childhood argument could be blamed on which of the two players got them. The introduction of the scatter gun and angled shooting made this game stand out from the crowd.
Combine these gameplay elements with the impressive “3D view” which allowed players to move forward and backward in a fixed background in order to progress through the levels and beat over the top, creatively designed bosses. Popular games like Metal Slug and the several successful Contra sequels borrow heavily from this first smash hit. It remains a fun and challenging game today.
Mega Man 2 (1989)
While the first game in this series was far from a critical or financial success, Capcom approved the creation of a sequel which went on to become one of the biggest games in history. The many improvements to the sequel is one reason why this game made the list, instead of the first one. Lauded for it’s graphical and gameplay improvements, this title stood out (among other reasons) for its stellar soundtrack. Composed by three different men, the soundtrack made 8-bit sound phenomenal, and unlike anything preceding it.
On top of the higher production values, this game introduced new power-ups and abilities to give the player more freedom, encouraging them to experiment. A new item called the energy tank allowed players to refill Mega Man’s health at any time, and the game also integrated a new password system. Mega Man become one of those games, that ironically seems to do better with nostalgic gamers, as the recent Mega Man 9 and 10, have both gone old school and been 8-bit-icized for today’s new generation of gamers.
While the early boom of video games nearly died out completely at the beginning of this decade, the 80s went on to prove that the industry could withstand hardship. Had it not been for the innovation and creativity of these games, the gaming world might look very different today, and lacking some of it’s most iconic characters.