Grab a pocket full of coins and a can of Coke as we check out the best arcade games of all time!
There are some epic titles in this list. Of course I’d say that; I know I wrote it, but it’s true. It was hard only choosing 20, and to be honest, I’m probably going to come back and update it with another 10 real soon as there were so many classic titles that deserve to be mentioned.
From the first arcade game back in the 70s to recent belters like Number 17 in this list, this compendium of the best arcade games of all time highlights some of the major successes and pivotal points in the history of the video game industry.
And before anyone trolls us, they’re not in order.
This time, I’ve just mentioned 20 titles that mean a lot to me and titles that everyone should play once if not own in some way, shape, or form.
There’s so much gaming brilliance crammed into this article that you might want to go and have a lie down before and after. Take your time; there’s a lot to get through!
Table of Contents
Donkey Kong is always going to be first arcade game that comes to my mind in lists like these. It’s one of the best and most influential arcade games of all time and provides a snapshot of the golden age of gaming.
I bet you didn’t know one game could be so many things!
This title proved Nintendo had a winning formula and they the would go on to big things. It’s the grandfather of platform games (I may say this more than once through this article) and it introduced the K.O Hammer to the world for the first time.
Just think how sane Smash Brothers would be without it!
Back when Mario was known as ‘Jumpman’, he had to navigate ladders and platforms to save Pauline from ol’ Donkey Kong, King Kong’s more famous cousin. It’s tricky, it’s nail-biting, and it’s a game that will never die.
Pac-Man needs no introduction. This game was always going to feature in this list of the best arcade games of all time. It was destined to be in a list like this the moment it was first played, in fact!
Pac-Man is a video gaming institution. Not only is he one of the most instantly recognisable video-game characters of all time, but he’s also a cult hero too. I’ve seen kids wearing Pac-Man t-shirts who have never even played the game!
The premise is simple; eat dots in a maze and don’t get caught by those brightly coloured ghosts that, while hard to miss, always get you in the end.
The levels get harder as the game goes on, giving fans plenty to play through and lots of joystick-slamming, controller-smashing frustrations along the way.
Of course, Pac-Man isn’t the only circular dot eater on the scene. Miss Pac-Man is a collectors best friend and regularly decorates man caves and games rooms around the land. She had it all and more, including an updated version of the classic game.
It’s safe to say that Miss Pac-Man, voted woman of the year, is one of the best arcade games ever to be found in American arcade halls.
She was the first female protagonist in any computer game and stood apart from Pac-Man thanks to her pink bow, ‘swooning’ defeat animation, and brighter levels.
Like her husband/boyfriend/pixel eating friend with benefits, Miss Pac man is often found in lists of the best titles on any console such as the best Atari 2600 games and even the best Atari 5200 games.
They’re two pretty good lists, though I guess I’m biased…
Mario Bros. takes the next slot in this list of the best arcade games of all time, and what a title it is. We’re going way back for this one, before Mario began karting with Luigi and friends and even before he fought Sphinxes in Super Mario Land.
This game is a Miyamoto and Yokoi classic collaboration. It’s what started it all for the Mario series and a title that often gets included in newer Mario games as a way of paying homage to the plumber’s roots.
There’s no Bowser to beat in this game; Mazza and Luigi are carrying out their plumberly duties in the sewers of New York, stomping on enemies and clearing screens.
The ever-useful ‘POW’ block is a key feature in this game, knocking all enemies onto their backs for a limited time. You gotta’ keep those wits sharp and fingers fast to succeed at Mario Bros!
Space Invaders looks super simple today, but like Pac-Man, it’s instantly recognisable and considered by many to be the best of the best arcade games of all time.
It’s not that advanced anymore, but back in the golden age of gaming, this was like turning on Call of Duty on a PS5 for the first time.
Shoot em’ up and space-age titles like the next two games in this list certainly wouldn’t exist without it.
And, with a revenue of over $13 billion, it’s one of the most successful titles ever created too. Taito certainly knew they had a winner with this one!
Aliens slowly move down a screen as you, a lone gunner, shoot them while avoiding their blasters. It’s so simple it hurts, which makes it all the more addictive and easy to get to grips with.
Travel to Zardon and take part in the fight against Krytol in Missile Command, one of the best arcade games every gamer needs in their collection.
Developed by Sega and closely mimicking Space Invaders, players protect six cities on Zardon from enemy attack, shooting lasers from the planet’s surface.
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!
Watch out for enemy fire sprouting off into cluster bombs, lasers shooting from all angles, and more hordes of fighters than a Wallmart on Black Friday.
Galaga carries on those space-age space-invader feels with some new and exciting upgrades to make play even more fun.
For many, this is Space Invaders 2.0. The enemies are much more active, pulling the player’s ship into a tractor beam in order to draw it nearer to enemy fire.
Yeah, turns out aliens play dirty too!
Galaga is one of those games that has appeared on pretty much every console at some stage in its life. It’s a true classic and one that is far better when played on a home console sporting a joystick.
Can you destroy the Galaxian Flagship without perishing? Good luck; you’re going to need it!
Either way, it’s another of the best arcade games that changed the way we game today.
An Atari classic, Centipede is like Snake on steroids. Using the Bug Blaster, players try to destroy a centipede continually moving across the screen.
Any parts that gamers hit instantly become mushrooms, creating an obstacle that fire power won’t pass through. Add spiders and other nasty creepy crawlies into the mix, and a simple game suddenly becomes hard as nails!
If you suffer from a weak heart or are prone to stress, then this probably shouldn’t be on your list. It’s one of those games that you have a love hate relationship with, which is probably why so many people spent so many quarters on this thing back in the day!
It’s 2084, and robots have declared war on human kind. That’s Robotron 2084 in a nutshell, and this Hyrule Warriors-style enemy-smash-fest was one of the most commercially successful arcade cabinets of all time!
Your mission – to wipe out as many robots as possible while staying alive. It’s a cybernetic slaughter, folks, and players need to save human hostages along the way.
From the picture above, you can see that this game is pretty chaotic. It’s action from start to finish with no breaks or slow periods. Rack up points and save the day; job done.
It’s also one of the titles accredited with making two-stick-games a popular arcade feature and never failed to instil panic into the hearts of players.
You needed two sticks for when one hand got too sweaty!
Next up in this list of the best arcade games of all time is Street Fighter II, my ultimate favourite fighting game.
That’s high praise considering titles like Smash Bros and SoulCalibur are out there in the world, but I’m sticking to it.
The levels and the characters are timeless, and although the backgrounds aren’t the most textured in the world, they’re so iconic that I’ll never get bored of kicking ass in them!
The arcade version of this game is one of those titles that everyone needs to play once in their life. Pulling off Yoga Flame with Dhalsim or hearing ‘Hadouken’ blasting out of a cabinet speaker is just the best.
Not everyone has room for a retro cabinet in their house or office, so it’s a good job the home console version is just as tight. Fight against all your favourite characters from the comfort of your living room in a best of three battle, button mashing combos and praying you don’t lose to your mates again!
Spy Hunter made the leap from the arcade to become one of the best colecovision games of all time. It brought exciting car chases in vehicles that wouldn’t look out of place in Altered Carbon to the arcade hall and into living rooms.
Not only that, but it also incorporated super-swish spy weapons and big explosions!
This game is similar to the epic title ‘Bump ‘n’ Jump’. It’s top down racing action at its finest and sees players chasing down villains in futuristic cars while a helicopter drops bombs on everyone.
Talk about a stressful drive. I’ve never heard a satnav say ‘bomb approaching, make a U-turn’ before!
Four players, four turtles, one game based on the epic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series.
This arcade title is multiplayer madness at its finest. It’s exactly what you might expect the kids from Stranger Things to crowd around at the weekend, kicking ass with Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and Leonardo in screen-clearing, beat-em-up action.
The TMNT arcade game was big news in 1989. It came out when the series was at its peak, further heightening Turtlemania and spawning ports for all the home systems.
The storyline follows the usual Turtle action. Shredder has taken April and Splinter, and it’s up to the heroes in a half shell to get them back. Krang and other enemies make an appearance, and the whole game is just like an extension of the TV show.
Konami sure know how to make epic arcade games! TURTLE POWER!
Golden Axe takes the 13th spot in this list of the best arcade games of all time!
Battle the Death adder with one of three pent-up warriors out for blood. Players choose from either a Dwarf, a Barbarian, or an Amazon, each character having a different beef with Death Adder over the death of a loved one.
None of them are type to ask questions first either.
Fans of Gauntlet Dark Legacy will love this hack ‘n’ slash arcade title. It’s pure enemy-slaying, button-mashing madness with huge bosses, epic spells, and cool collectibles. The seres is timeless, and we have this 1989 classic to thank for it.
Could anything get the heart going more than a countdown timer on a racing game? Sega Rally 2 made me feel like a proper rally driver back in the day, another bonus of taking up bowling lessons to play on the arcade games afterwards!
This game looked and played brilliantly. With epic cars and stunning locations to race around, Sega Rally 2 was the kind of game you could play all day, and we frequently didt.
The main premise is to beat opponents while passing through checkpoints to up your remaining time. It’s a classic arcade feature and one used in games such as Crazy Taxi and Simpson’s Road Rage, as well as the home console ports of Sega Rally 2!
Climbing into the drivers seat and controlling the pedals and wheel with music blasting out of the speakers… you haven’t lived till you’ve experienced that!
Remember playing R-Type back when it was one of the best Gameboy Color games of all time? Well, it all started out in the arcades, bringing one of the best Metroid-esque shooters I’ve ever played onto the scene.
How can a game that has a special move based on a Dung Beetle be so good? It’s just perfect from start to finish, the R-9 Arrowhead ship gliding through the vibrant levels towards bosses bigger than a planet, wielding all manner of beefy guns along the way.
Avoiding obstacles and taking down bosses is hard at the best of times, but R-Type was notoriously difficult. They should have called it the ‘change chomper’ back in the day as it gobbled up coins faster than Pac-Man gobbles up those tasty pixelated dots.
Bubble Bobble takes the next spot in this list of the best arcade games of all time, starting off a series of games that would span multiple consoles and spawn thousands of copycat titles.
If you’ve ever played Mr. Driller and wished it had two dragons that were once people as the main characters, then you’ve come to the right place.
While later Bubble Bobble titles would resemble Beehive Bedlam and other dot-joining games, Bubby and Bobby’s first adventure has more of a Mario Bros. feel to it. Fans of Parasol Stars will also see how that spin off series came about too.
Clear enemies off a stage and move on, sticking it to Baron von Blubba along the way. The game has 100 levels which provide great value for money on every console and it’s a great title to kick back with after a hard day.
It also marks the first ever two-player arcade game, which is a pretty big deal!
Speaking of two-player arcade games, Time Crisis was one of the best titles to play with a mate back in the day.
Kicking that footplate to dive out from behind a crate or a wall knowing that a bullet could be flying towards you was one of the best gaming moments of my life. It’s the reason I took up bowling just so I could spend all my money on this game afterwards.
Like an extreme version of Bubble Bobble, players kill enemy soldiers while moving through a set of levels with a first-person view point. Going in all guns blazing will get you killed in an instant; it’s all about strategic shots, though the timer is always counting down!
If you can pick up a copy for the PS1 with a light gun on an older TV, then I urge you to go back and replay this game. It’s classic arcade action and one of the greatest two-player co-op games ever.
Pong could possibly be the most simple game of all time. Still, that doesn’t mean that it’s not one of the best!
This game first came onto the scene back in 1972. It’s a staggering 49-years-old now, so I think we can excuse the simplicity of it and concentrate on just how addictive it still is after all that time.
Who would have thought two sliding table tennis bats on a screen could be so exciting? This game could well be the grandfather of arcade gaming and the video games industry as we know it today. Imagine a world without Zelda or Halo just because Pong never existed!
Who will be the first to reach 11 points? If you’re playing against me, then you better get ready to lose!
Frogger proves that some animals will risk life and death just to get home to bed for a snooze. In this game, frogs have to pass heavy traffic, crocodiles, and hungry turtles just to get back to their lillypads.
Which begs the question; how did they manage to get over these obstacles without us helping them in the first place?
Seriously though, this game is 1000% addictive. The number of frogs players must get over the obstacles changes depending on the difficulty of the level. Movement is via one hop at a time, and those cars travel pretty fast.
This game is the ultimate title to test your timing skills. I have been known to fist bump the air when completing a level, but don’t tell anyone… alright?
Talk about ending on a high! Metal Slug is a run ‘n’ gun game that sparked a series of epic Neo Geo games that are still super popular today.
Players control members of the ferocious Peregrine Falcons, a band of fighters who seem to have to kill all manner of evil villains intent on taking over the world.
We’re not just talking humans here; gamers must battle against aliens, undead fighters, and other ghoulish entitites hell-bent on stopping the Peregrine Falcons in their tracks.
Some of the weapons in this game make Earthworm Jim’s barn blaster look like a Nerf Gun too. The firepower is insane, and the side-scrolling worlds are full of interesting features that add to the apocalyptic feel of the game.
Pilot tanks, collect weapons, pull off melee shots, and save the world. The human race is counting on you!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 33 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.