If your kids ever shrug when you hand them a quarter remind them that back in your day a quarter went a long way. I’ll probably never figure out how many quarters and tokens I spent on some of the best arcade games from the ’80s. Probably could’ve bought a better first car, but the memories spent in front of an arcade machine will remain long after that car would’ve been on the junk heap.

While the arcade games of days gone by were lacking in the graphics department compared to your modern PlayStation, they still were a source of endless joy and some great games. Really, who could forget Street Fighter or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? These are games that have even been remade for the modern age.

A tough question back then and still today is which game was the best? That’s a hotly debated issue here are Nerdy Dads and probably for you as well if you’re old enough to remember. Here we break down some of our favorite games.

Best Arcade Games From the ’80s

Pac-Man

Released in 1980 by Namco, Pac-Man is a clear winner for me. Likely ranked as one of the all-time best games for many people, Pac-Man is a maze game that was a hit from the start. It’s really tough to even discuss arcade games without bringing up a little yellow ball and some ghosts. Odds are even the kids know of Pac-Man.

Space Invaders

They.just.move.so.fast.

That’s all I could think as those little pixelated aliens dropped closer and closer. Space Invaders is a game that I’ll love forever as it’s possible to spend hours playing the game and you never get bored. I can testify to this. Initially released in 1978 it’s a classic shooter/action game. Again, like Pac-Man, Space Invaders is something your kid has probably played. If not the original, then some derivative game.

The question is: who will win in a head-to-head match to save the planet?

Frogger

Ah Frogger, a game that involves the most famous frog since Kermit. Admittedly, frogs as a whole don’t have a lot of famous representatives.

Frogger made its debut in 1981 as an arcade game developed by Konami. The game is considered a classic by many experts and this guy. The objective: get that frog across a busy road without getting squished. If you traverse the road you then have to cross a river. This was a great game for killing some time and could get more than a little competitive.

Tetris

So Tetris is a sticking point here at Nerdy Dads. I am more “meh” about the game. Mike, however, ranks Tetris right next to his wedding as his fondest memory. Wish I could say just joking…

That aside, Tetris was the original puzzle and strategy game. First twisting its way into our hearts is appeared in 1984 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tetris is a game where the player tries to match tiles as they fall. If the shapes match they disappear and the player gets more space (time) on the board and points. However, if the tile pieces stack up too high you lose. Many, many times the latter happened to me.

For a fun fact Tetris was the first game to be developed in the USSR and exported to the USA and is one of the best-selling video games of all time.

Mario Bros.

Just the name Mario and I hear that music. You know it if you’ve played the game and now it’s stuck in your head.

Mario Bros. was released to the world in 1983 and they’ve been in our hearts ever since. Mario and Luigi are famous around the world. They have been updated and appear in newer games on Wii and the Nintendo 3DS.

Navigating a series of levels Mario and Luigi explore the sewers of New York. They defeat enemies, jump over balls of fire and collect coins all in a day’s work. Mario Bros., and any game in the Mario franchise for that matter, are as much fun to play today as they were when I still had to mow lawns for quarters to spend at the arcade.


I get some folks might think this list of best arcade games from the ’80s incomplete. I agree, it’s totally incomplete. The ’80s had so many awesome games it would take me forever to write about them all. Honestly, I’ve probably also had a few slip out of my mind as the pixels dim. However, fond memories of being in an arcade with friends is something I wish my kids could enjoy. Now if only we had more arcades around these days.

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Sports spectator, cicerone in my dreams, and dad of two amazing kids. I've been known to mess around with some PHP, SQL, R, and other alphabet soup-esque languages.

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