When it comes to retro games, you can’t go wrong with the classics. Thing is, the golden age of arcade gaming produced hundreds of them (prolific game developers and publishers like Taito, Sega, and Namco were known to push multiple titles out in the same year).
The question isn’t is there anything good to play, but which iconic title you should sink your teeth into. To make picking easier, we’ve curated the best of the best from our very own 2992-in-1 emulator that comes with most of our built-to-order arcade machines.
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars is a 1987 platformer from Sega. Like many entries on this list, the game is a sequel. Players first meet Alex Kidd in Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which was released a year earlier. Miracle World was known for its fairly novel game mechanics. Specifically, Alex’s ability to punch through obstacles and enemies.
Even without punching, Alex still made quite the impact
The Lost Stars pulled Alex’s punches, removing the feature in favour of traditional jumping and side-scrolling action. But even without its haymakers, the game was a success, becoming one of the best table arcade games in Japan of that year.
How do you defeat waves upon waves of perfect organisms whose structural perfection is only matched by their hostility? Spear-wielding Predators and bullets, lots of them. Capcom’s Alien vs Predator brought all of that and more. The 1994 hit is one of the most celebrated beat ‘em ups of all time. Praised for its visceral graphics and explosive animations, the game shares much of the DNA that made Street Fighter 2 a commercial success.
Hunting for Xenomorph heads to add to the trophy wall
Coupled with a deep character class and combat system, the game squeezed many a player for their pennies. A player and up to two of their friends, in fact. Alien vs Predator allowed for up to three people to participate in the mayhem.
In Asteroids Deluxe, players can utilise the entire screen and move in any direction. But so can danger. Unlike in the original Asteroids, enemy shots pass through screen boundaries and continue onto the opposite side. Players had no corner to cower in, and that little change opened up the map and forced more strategic maneuvers into play.
You don’t need next level graphics to have a good time
The game also brought “deluxe” into the space of intergalactic shooters. Compared to notable predecessors Galaxian and Space Invaders, Asteroids Deluxe’s graphics and controls were next level, thanks in part to Atari’s Digital Vector Generator, the publisher’s first vector processing software.
Bomber Man World pits you against King Bomber’s army of robots, which for some reason includes chickens and ninjas. The game is the second Bomber Man title to hit the arcades, succeeding 1991’s Bomberman.
Who needs friends when you’ve got high scores?
The style of play doesn’t deviate much from its predecessor. But unlike the first Bomber Man, World allows you to play with up to three other people. And that’s where World outshines the original. Friendly fire from ill-placed bombs is probably the leading cause of untimely death in the Bomber Man universe. Throwing in three other players into the ring, each one trying to rack up points by killing the most opponents, makes for plenty of frantic and unforgettable mayhem.
Bubble Bobble puts players in the shoes of Bub and Bob, human brothers-turned-dragons who are out to rescue their girlfriends from monsters. The story is as goofy and basic as most of the games of its time. But narrative excellence isn’t what makes Bubble and Bobble one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Behind the cute veneer was a punishing enemy chase algorithm. Opponents move erratically. The Cave of Monsters is 100 levels deep, with each arena sporting a different layout than the rest, making it even harder to plot your next move.
Bubble Bobble–as cute as it was difficult
Coupled with a wide assortment of chaotic enemies, Bubble Bobble took some serious strategising, and had hundreds of players sinking coin after coin. For many, the payoff was well worth it.
Released in 1980, Centipede is the oldest–and one of the most recognisable–games available on our 2992 in 1 emulator. The simple yet challenging gameplay meant it appealed to casual and hardcore gamers. Trackball controls also set it apart from button-and-joystick games of the time.
I think we’re gonna need more bug spray
Centipede is a game made for the trackball. The Bug Blaster’s darting movements lent itself perfectly to the trackball’s sensitivity and multidirectional input, something that even modern ports on mobile phones fail to recreate today.
Contra is one of the greatest shoot-em-ups of its time. The run-and-gun classic has become one of Konami’s most prolific franchises, spanning countless sequels and spin-offs.
Contra, where you can walk away with a new friend–or enemy
The side-scroller became a hit for its Alien-inspired visuals, pseudo 3D levels, and co-op play, which was rare for similar action titles at the time. And Contra didn’t just toss co-op in as a gimmick in itself. Your teammate can die from an ill-timed scroll, since touching the edges of the screen kills your character. That means players had to sync movements while dodging bullets that kill instantly on contact. Not surprising then, that Contra remains one of the rock hardest games to beat in this genre.
Darius Gaiden is the 5th installment in the Darius franchise. The series is recognised as one of the first that started the trend of punishingly difficult side-scrolling shooters, and Darius Gaiden is no different. The game pits you against numerous opponents blasting hundreds of projectiles from every direction, testing the dexterity and reflexes of even the most seasoned shoot-em-up enthusiasts.
Dredging up the denizens of the deep
But what truly made the game unforgettable was its beautiful and often trippy level design. The game’s amazing and strange mix of symphonic arias and synthwave further highlights the dream-like atmosphere: “If you were looking at something and it changed in front of your eyes, and you suddenly realized that everything you thought was an indisputable truth a second ago wasn’t true at all, that would be a considerable shock to you” says Hisayoshi Ogura, Taito’s director of music at the time. “People in such situations would be unable to maintain their composure. They’d start to break down mentally. That’s the kind of concept I wanted to convey.”
The beginning of the golden age of arcade gaming was a thing of wonder. Bolstered by new and exciting technology, game developers were coming out left and right with crazy and genre-busting concepts.
With great freedom of movement comes great difficulty
One of these games was Dig Dug. It wasn’t a platformer like many games of its time, and not quite a maze chaser like Pacman. Instead, gamers instead dug their own path out of stone. Your sole weapon is an air pump you use to inflate and pop enemies.
That, and your wit. Dig Dug is lauded for its simple yet difficult gameplay that forced players to calculate their every move. You could go air pump blazing and chase after monsters, but after a while that can lead to getting overwhelmed–you can only pop one enemy at a time, and exploding them takes multiple huffs and puffs. Experienced players would learn to use the environment to their advantage, setting up traps for extremely satisfying combo kills.
No classic arcade game collection would be complete without one of the most recognisable franchises of all time and the game that introduced a certain Italian plumber for the first time. A veritable progenitor of platformers, the game is the brainchild of legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, who then took on the project as a neophyte developer.
Jumpman doing what he does best
The game would turn out to be one of Nintendo’s most iconic, birthing an entire universe that now consists of beloved characters such as Mario (then called Jumpman). It also introduced many firsts to the video gaming world, like an actual storyline and the mechanic that would go onto distinguish every platformer today: jumping.
That’s right. Before the big ape muscled onto CTR screens, characters were limited to walking or running to navigate platforms. Universal’s Space Panic, released only a year before Donkey Kong, was the closest anyone got to moving vertically through spaces through the use of ladders.
Earth Defense Force (EDF) is a horizontal, side-scrolling shooter from Jaleco. In it, you play an unnamed pilot fighting against an intergalactic threat who wants to destroy the Earth simply because, like many space shooters of its time.
Half of the battle is remembering which projectile belongs to what ship
Released in 1991, EDF is known for its unforgiving difficulty. You’re given three shields for the entire game. Coupled with relatively long levels and many different types of enemies that shoot and move in different patterns, only the best and most hardcore players won bragging rights for finishing the game. That doesn’t mean many didn’t try, though. The game ranked the 11th most successful table arcade unit in Japan the year it was released.
What do you get when you mix Contra with towering skyscrapers that are somehow filled with goons and criminals? Not Die Hard, but Elevator Action Returns. The game is a sequel to highly popular Elevator Action.
In EAR, even the elevators get an update
Released nearly ten years after the original, Elevator Action Returns elevates the franchise into true action shooter territory with its gritty graphics and a fully fleshed out plot about stopping a terrorist group. In-game locations are no longer limited to buildings or vertical play. You’re also given your choice out of three agents, where the first game only had Agent 17.
SNK’s fighting game Fatal Fury was released 9 months after Street Fighter II, a game many consider to be the timeless classic of the genre. Why then, do so many people consider Fatal Fury the spiritual successor of SF, instead of one of many copycat games riding on the Capcom hit’s coattails?
How to defend against Terry’s Power Wave: Not with your pecs
For one, Fatal Fury began development years before Street Fighter 2. But perhaps most importantly, the two games are both the brainchild of Takashi Nishiyama, the creator of the original Street Fighter. While the second sibling can’t compare to the eventual Capcom sequel, it still introduced novel mechanics to the genre, such as the addition of lanes you can use to move around the arena, and quirky mini games between rounds.
Final Tetris throws a new competitive twist to the Tetrominos fight by pitting two players against each other. While a versus mechanic in a Tetris game was nothing new by then, Cheil Computer’s unofficial creation made play quirkier by letting you pick from a roster of characters, some of which are inspired by real-life pop culture icons.
Not your nan’s Tetris
You actively mess with your opponent’s strategy by sending “garbage”, or lines you’ve previously cleared–sans the block that you used to complete it. Garbage lines deplete players’ life bars; it’s game over once it reaches zero, and you get a cute little animation of your character kicking the ass of your opponent’s avatar.
Nevermind why the chicken crossed the road. Frogger made thousands of players hop across roads, logs, and alligators to break that ever elusive high score. Released in 1981, the game’s colourful graphics and simple albeit addictive gameplay made it an instant hit amongst both teens and adults.
Frogger and his family taking on the world’s busiest motorway
Frogger quickly leapfrogged ahead of the competition, earning £94 million in the US alone. That’s the equivalent of £271 million today, quite a good payoff for bringing frogs safely home.
Galaga is the sequel to Galaxian, Namco’s attempt to combat the popularity of rival Space Invaders. The original was known for popularising dive bombing aliens, and as being one of the first games to render graphics in colour.
Gonna have to pass on that beam, Scotty
Galaxian was a huge commercial success, which only makes the fact that Galaga surpassed it much more impressive. The sequel was praised for new game mechanics such as unique enemy patterns and the addition of the “Boss Galaga”–aliens who could capture the player’s ship and potentially turn it against them.
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the spooky sequel to Ghouls ‘n Goblins, in which our dashing Knight Arthur still can’t catch a break. Set three years after the original, the game sets you on another journey through hordes of demonic beasts, this time to bring back your Princess from the dead (and loads of unfortunate villagers who were simply trying to go about their day). Because, obviously, Lucifer doesn’t like being bested and came back and killed them all.
Our valiant knight, going head-to-head with evil in his underpants
The game uses much of the core mechanics of the original, with the addition of being able to fire your lance upwards or downwards even in the middle of a jump. And players will need this new ability to get through this game, which is as frantic and punishingly difficult as its predecessor. The most notable difference, though, would be the immense improvements in graphics. Ghouls n’ Ghosts features beautiful, eerie pixel art several disembodied limbs above Ghouls ‘n Goblins.
Golden Axe stands bemuscled at the top of the retro gaming world’s hack-and-slash scene. Released in 1989, it quickly became a favourite of sword-and-sorcery fans everywhere. PC Gamer included it in the top 50 best arcade games ever in 1991. It’s one of our favourite beat-em-ups to play with friends, a nice break if you’re tired of gallivanting around with caped crusaders.
Choose your near-nude crusader wisely
Gameplay is also made fun with the use of mounts. While enemies can also ride on these fantastical creatures, your character can knock them off and steal the beasts, in what is probably one of the earliest instances of grand theft auto in the video gaming world.
Compared to other classics on the list, Grand Striker 2 is a quiet contender. But it still kicks off as one of the best-looking football arcade games to come out of the 90s, before FIFA dominated much of the scene.
Of course, it’s not a proper arcade game until something strange happens, like a military chopper dropping off an extra team after you win the finals
Grand Striker 2 can be considered the actualisation of earlier football titles Tecmo World Cup ‘90 and Exciting Soccer, which featured simplistic mechanics and graphics. In comparison, Grand Striker 2 uses a variety of character sprites who celebrate after a goal, catchy music, and smooth 3D movement across realistic, verdant turf.
Street Fighter II is hailed by many as the best fighting game to come out of the Golden Age of Arcade Games. Hyper Street Fighter II: Anniversary Edition brings all five Street Fighter IIs together in celebration of the franchise's 15th year. It’s also the final title to release on arcade machines, making it a suitable farewell to the platform that started it all.
Relive the glory of all five Street Fighter IIs
The game is a great treat for fans of the franchise and anyone looking to experience the best of retro Street Fighter. Choose from one of the seventeen SFII characters, and then pick one of the 65 versions of these renowned fighters.
Fighting games dominated in the ‘90s, boasting a roster that includes Tekken and franchise giants Street Fighter II Turbo and Mortal Kombat 2.
KoF’s 3-team system roster
Released in 1997, The King of Fighters ‘97 held its ground amongst all the heavyweights. Itself the fourth game in an established franchise, the ‘97 title further improved play by incorporating both the “Advanced” and “Extra” modes from previous games. Basically, the system allowed players to lean into either offensive or defensive play styles, which added another layer onto the franchise’s already dynamic metagame.
Before everyone’s favourite red-and-green clad plumbers started hopping across the Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Bros, they were schlepping through the sewers of New York.
Exterminating vermin, one jump at a time
Mario Bros took and improved the jump mechanic, which Donkey Kong first introduced to the world two years before. Instead of being just a way to move through a stage, the game used jumping as a way to quash opponents, albeit not quite in the way many players today are familiar with. In Mario Bros, monsters have to be “flipped” first before you can jump on them and kill them.
Everyone loves a good crossover, and Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter delivered just that. The game took the genre’s biggest names and put them in one arena, to great effect–it became Japan’s third best-selling arcade game the year it released.
Dan doing his best against an actual Prince of Hell
MSH vs SF isn’t the most innovative, sporting many of the same elements you’d expect from a Capcom fighting game: bright aesthetics, screen-filling super moves, and flashy special effects. But a game doesn’t have to be genre-defining to be fun, and that’s exactly what MSH vs SF offered: a fast-paced romp with an all-star roster of heroes.
The golden age of arcades saw no dearth of games about war and beefy commandos pitted against terrorist organisations. Metal Slug had it all: a never ending hail storm of bullets and bombs, tanks and fighter planes, and wave after wave of opponents. Plus one other thing many games in the same genre didn’t: a sense of humour.
The terrorists have apparently recruited Mr. T
The game’s chaotic gameplay is matched only by its cartoonish and unique sprite style, which it quickly became known for. You can even double the fun by bringing in a second-player to help you quash the rebellion.
In the world of Lode Runner, the road to victory is lined with gold coins–and the bricked up corpses of your enemies. The 2D platformer, released before Mario’s jump became a defining attribute of platformers, required players to change and change the level itself to avoid enemies and collect gold eggs.
Run around enemies...or on them
The game is known as one of the first to use a level-editor as a way to attack. The enemy AI also moves counterintuitively, which makes telegraphing difficult and adding to the replayability of the game. There was no memorising your way through levels, only skill honed through trial and error–and lots of quarters.
Mega Man: The Power Battle rolls into our list as the first Mega Man game to make it onto arcade cabinets. The adorable robot hero never quite became as popular in Europe as it did in his home country of Japan (although he was also very popular in North America), but The Power Battle provides addictive fun for arcade game fans across all regions.
Petite in size, mega in power
Vibrant levels, adorable anime-style sprites, and straightforward yet fast-paced gameplay, the game has everything you need to make an arcade favourite. Players fight as one of three characters: Mega Man, Proto Man, and Bass. Unlike similar games where you need to fight through levels to reach the boss, you’re pitted against them immediately in a Street Fighter-esque brawl. Defeating bosses grants you their weapon, which can be more powerful against other bosses.
Millipede is the sequel to the highly popular Centipede, which was released only a year prior. The game retains many of the mechanics that made Atari’s first creepy-crawly jaunt incredibly addictive. And it’s a formula that works: Millipede became one of the top-grossing games of 1983, behind fellow classics Ms. Pacman and Pole Position.
Play as Archer, an elf with an infestation problem
The titular Millipede still bears down on the player, with multiple other bugs occasionally skittering across the screen in all directions and generally making life more difficult. The few new additions include an attempt at an actual plot. The character is no longer an unnamed bug blaster, rather an elf called Archer. We can only assume his heroic defence against the swarm of angry bugs is all for defending his mushroom kingdom.
A game that crashes into the list guts first, Mortal Kombat made a splash when it first released in arcades in 1992. The fighting game forever changed the genre with its ultra-violent finishing moves.
‘Tis but a scratch!
Unlike Street Fighter, there was nothing cartoonish about Mortal Kombat. The realistic, digitised graphics made the Fatalities even grislier, which understandably caused much condemnation from certain quarters. It was also the first fighting game to introduce a dedicated block button, which would become integral in succeeding fighting games like Tekken.
When it comes to the Pacman franchise, the missus is truly the better half. Ms Pacman is the sequel to Namco’s Pacman. The game started as a mod for the original game. For legal issues, it was eventually brought into the fold.
Don’t let the bow fool you–Ms Pacman packed quite the chomp
Ms Pacman was notable for improving much of the original with new mazes and different behavioural patterns for the ghosts. But perhaps Ms Pacman’s most enduring legacy is introducing a female protagonist into a video game industry that was then largely the realm of spaceships, aliens, and men.
When Toru Iwatani looked at pizza and came up with Pac-Man, he probably wasn’t expecting to create a character that would rival the popularity of the food itself. But that’s exactly what happened. The ghost-nomming yellow character has steadily chomped its way through generation after generation of gamers, still topping charts even on modern mobile platforms.
Pac-Man, munching his way through billions since 1980
To date, the Pac-Man games have grossed a total of around £10 billion. The character is also Bandai-Namco’s official mascot, has appeared in movies, and has had songs written about him.
You play as a tiny red marker trying to claim a black rectangle bit by painstaking bit. The goal is to box in at least 65 percent of the playing field while avoiding “Qix”, a sporadic collection of lines, and “Sparx”, which chase after you using the paths you’ve made.
Qix: As addictive as it was strange
The game’s unique premise set it apart from other heavy hitters of its time, which included Frogger and Galaga. Qix quickly climbed charts upon release, charming players with its abstract design and impossible-to-predict mapping systems. One doesn’t master Qix–you can only hope the next turn takes you closer to the high score instead of a Game Over.
The recent release of Returnal on the PS5 has introduced a new generation of players to the wonderfully frustrating experience of dodging hundreds of projectiles (a genre that has come to be known as ‘bullet hell’). But way before Housemarque’s trippy sci-fi horror hit, Raiden was doing the same thing to gamers–but in arcades, where you can’t hide your tears or wails of frustration.
Flying at hyperspeed into bullet hell
The top-down scrolling shooter was lauded for its frenetic gameplay. For gamers who aren’t gifted with preternatural dexterity, winning in Raiden feels less strategy and more blindly shooting everything that gets in your way and hoping you don’t get hit by a projectile you thought was your own.
The 80s was a great time to be a monster. To be a monster in a booming arcade scene, even better. Inspired by monster films such as King Kong, Bally Midway’s Rampage let players finally let out the beast. Suddenly, you’re the one beating your chest atop a tower and shovelling civilians into your gaping maw, not the scrappy hero trying to save the city.
Ralph, Lizzie, and George running amuck without Dwayne Johnson
Unlike other games of its time with set objectives, Rampage was pure fantasy fulfillment. Your only job is to destroy buildings and eat people. Once your health bar reaches zero, you revert back to being a naked human, after which you can walk sheepishly off-screen to lick your wounds and return in your monster form.
Irem’s R-Type is the personification of 8-bit excellence. Released in 1987, many fondly remember the side-scroller for its diverse enemies and weapons. And of course, its stunningly grotesque artwork.
R-Type: If H.R. Giger made shoot ‘em ups
Born in the era of facehuggers and John Carpenter’s The Thing, R-Type looks like a nightmare fever dream, and makes every gritty shoot ‘em up look like child’s play in comparison.
Rolling his way onto screens in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog was an instant success for developer Sega. It gave platformer fans a speedier and snazzier-looking alternative to Nintendo’s more established Mario franchise
While the game was originally made for the Megadrive (or Genesis if you’re outside the UK), the fast-paced gameplay, eye-poppingly bright backgrounds and sprites, and catchy music made it a hit in arcades. It also helps that much of the level design is reminiscent of old-school pinball games: you never really know how a level will shake out until more than a couple of tries, which kept the quarters rolling in.
Players, both casual and hardcore alike, are always ready to sink their teeth into well-made food games. That’s why games like Overcooked and Diner Dash conquered charts for so long.
Way more than a pint-sized serving of addictive fun
Our fascination with food-service games can be traced all the way back to 1983. Tapper entered a video gaming scene filled to the brim with jet fighters, muscled heroes, and 8-bit aliens. The game, with its novel premise and addictive gameplay, slaked the thirst of many arcade gamers for something new and quickly became one of the most successful titles of the year.
Kicking ass, eating pizza, and the world’s most beloved band of half-shelled reptiles: there’s little not to love about the gamified version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Lean, green, and mean, this arcade game was every TMNT fan’s dream
While a part of the success of the TMNT arcade game can be attributed to its popular IP, the game is no slouch in the entertainment department. The four brothers are given their own specialised attacks and perks, and the interactivity of the environment also allows for unique, creative ways to bash through each level.
One can’t talk about fighting classics without mentioning Tekken. Released years after greats Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, Konami’s entrant into the genre managed to introduce new mechanics to an already established scene.
Kazuya brawling his way up the King of the Iron Fist Tournament, one controllable limb at a time
Tekken was the first major fighting game to assign buttons to individual limbs, making way for a more complex experience. It’s also one of the first to bring the brawl onto 3D space, an improvement that visually sets it apart from competitors. One could mistake King of Fighters ‘97 for Street Fighter II at first glance, but Tekken’s unique polygonal, 3D character models set it apart from every other fighting game of its time, leaving no doubt in your mind what game you were looking at.
As games go, Tetris is as simple as they come. No background story, no flashy animations or pixel art--just you and some blocks plodding down your screen. And it became a smash hit. In fact Tetris is arguably the most famous and addictive puzzle video game of all time. For the most part, it’s because our brains don’t like when things are messy, and literally removing disorder by clearing lines makes us feel good. “We have an inherent desire to create order out of chaos, and Tetris satisfies that desire on a very basic level,” says Alexey Pajitnov, the man behind the blocks himself.
Digital, pixelised towers of Babel: Colourful, loud, no longer makes sense
Originally created in 1984 by Russian American Alexey Pajitnov while working for the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the game was adapted for arcades in 1988 by Atari. The cabinet version added a two-player mode, which only further cemented the iconic status of Tetris. Tetris lives on today, with modern variants like Tetris Battle a testament to the longevity of this brilliant puzzle game’s appeal.
With its loud music and irreverent and hilarious animations, The Simpsons arcade game is everything you’d expect it to be. The game lets up to four-players control Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Bart as they race to rescue Maggie, who was kidnapped by Smithers and his lackeys after the baby switched out her trademark pacifier for a diamond.
Ridiculous, irreverent, and colourful, as all The Simpsons content should be
The game plays like your typical beat ‘em up, with waves of enemies bearing down upon everyone’s favorite dysfunctional family. Each character is given a special way to attack, and two characters can team up for combo attacks. For example, Homer and Marge can form a human pinwheel, while Lisa can team up with Bart to mock enemies to death. It’s great fun for both fans of the series and retro games.
Professional wrestling isn’t quite as popular today as it was in the 80s. But back then, it was a phenomenon that created a multi million dollar industry of toys and merchandise. It was totally the norm to have posters of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior covering your walls.
Accurately modelled wrestling moves and oiled muscles in full retro glory
WWF Wrestlefest is one of the better games that came out of the pile. The game did a good job at animating popular wrestling moves, from head locks to suplexes. Just like in real pro-wrestling matches, fights could extend outside the ring. Players can pick up objects like steel chairs and stairs to bash opponents in, or just whip them onto the metal barriers.
As with the other games on the list that are propelled to popularity by an established IP, the 1992 X-Men arcade game draws from a deep pool of lore and characters to draw quarters in.
X-Men: Assembling on the big screen way before the Avengers did
In terms of attacks and graphics, X-Men doesn’t do anything revolutionary. Characters can punch, kick, and use a special move that clears the screen of enemies. But what the game lacks in complexity it makes up for great co-op fun. It’s one of the few titles that let you play with up to six players.