I’m not saying arcades aren’t fun anymore, because they certainly are. Uncovering a good one can feel akin to finding a treasure. But it’s safe to say that they aren’t a contemporary cultural icon by any means. They aren’t where mall kids hang out, because there aren’t really as many malls. Also, online gameplay and powerful consoles have made a lot of them superfluous anyway. But there was a time when arcades were some of the absolute best ways to spend your time, and some really good games came out of them. Here is a look at just seven of the most iconic arcade games of all time.
Dance Dance Revolution
I love this franchise, but I’m not about to get into the argument over which one of these titles is the best. They are, for the most part, all good. Their core gameplay is really what makes them memorable. There are four simple squares, arranged in compass directions, that player stomp on according to the beat. The music is great, but the dancers are a spectacle. Being great at the game doesn’t just mean getting high scores. In my book, the truly great players are operating both pads and flipping over the handlebars and whatnot. I once saw a kid eat a grande combo from Taco Bell before doing a long set. His score was great, but his relationship with the mall janitor took a serious hit that day when he threw up next to the Marvel vs Capcom 2 machine.
Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes is a game that has a lot going for it. Not only is it rife with fanservice, containing an absolutely gigantic roster of beautiful sprites consisting of characters from both the Capcom and Marvel universes, but it has what is, to this day, some unrivaled gameplay. Players pick three characters, the assist moves, and tactically switch them out as they pummel their opponents. Oh, and the theme song is a pretty righteous jam that might just get stuck in your head for decades.
Time Crisis II
A lot of the shooters in arcades prioritized shooting objects out of the air and dispatching enemies quickly in order to stay safe. That wasn’t quite the case with Time Crisis II . Sure, you still had to be quick in dispatching enemies, but a pedal affixed to the machine allowed players to take cover. The effect made the game feel more dynamic. Beyond that, the gun was the most satisfying tactile experience you could get at the time. It felt hefty and had recoil built into it.
Street Fighter II
It’s hard to imagine where the fighting game genre would be without Street Fighter II . This title found international success, and rivalries sprung up around the local cabinets. The game left a lot to be discovered and is deceptively deep. Its characters are very unique, and learning your opponent’s character, your opponent’s style, and your own character are all keys to victory. Eventually this game, which lead to many successors, produced its own celebrities at a time where gaming celebrities weren’t common by any means. Also, we got a couple movies out of it and the iconic “Hadouken” move, which even found a place as a weapon in Mega Man X . Street Fighter is a force to be reckoned with.
One simple game is the subject of a popular documentary, marks the first appearance of Mario, has addictive gameplay, and offers a simple to grasp premise. It’s no wonder Donkey Kong became one of the biggest names in gaming. It doesn’t have a great deal of levels by any means, but its increasing difficulty and optimal routes to high scores lend the game quite a bit of replayability. It may have eaten its fair share of quarters, but deaths always felt fair compared to more predatory titles. As with all the best games, it’s challenging, but balanced.
Four player games are great. It’s a lot of fun to crowd around a cabinet with family and/or friends in order to traverse a game’s levels. It is all the better if the game features familiar characters like The Simpsons . Each character played very differently from one another, having various speeds, ranges, and moves, and because they were so profoundly different, it was easy to pick a favorite. I, as an angsty little kid, gravitated toward the skateboard-toting rebel, Bart. It was a beat-em-up, so devouring quarters sometimes felt integral to its design.
It’s hard to overstate just how cool Dragon’s Lair is as a game. When I encountered it at age nine, it was mind-blowing; I’d never seen anything quite like it. The gameplay mostly revolves around making choices to aid the protagonist Dirk the Daring as he endeavors to rescue Princess Daphne. The animation was also top notch, which makes sense because it featured animation from Don Bluth. (He previously worked as an animator for Disney.) That style definitely comes across when you look at the game.